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The Story Behind 2112 Morris Avenue – Now Listed for $389,900

It’s 1998 and the scene in downtown Birmingham is 180 degrees different than the scene we know today. The “Loft District” was not yet a sought after downtown community but Elisa Crowder was ahead of the curve. Already occupying space downtown at the Wheelock Building for her business, Elisa was in search of a live-work space that she could customize to suit her needs and aesthetic preferences.

When she initially viewed the space she now calls home, it was the open floor plan, high ceilings and storefront windows that drew her in. Formerly an art gallery, Elisa saw it as blank canvas to design the live/work space she was imagining.

Overall Elisa wanted the condo’s aesthetic to feel industrial and contemporary with a soothing color palette and almost everything in the space is custom. She added curved walls to create visual interest, aluminum baseboards to tie in the exposed ductwork, solid birch doors and earth-toned marble flooring can be found throughout. 3-Form translucent and polyresin architectural panels were incorporated in several areas and feature a design of grass, leaves, and water to bring earthy elements into the mix.

It’s fair to say that beyond the architectural details, this condo offers amenities that aren’t often found downtown. The master bathroom features a Jacuzzi tub, walk-in shower, dual sinks and heated towel racks. A sound system was also installed throughout the home so Elisa could enjoy music in every room.

“Downtown Birmingham is developing so quickly and this property is in the center of it all, “ said Elisa when describing her favorite aspects of the home. She has loved being walking distance to numerous restaurants and bars (The Atomic is right next door), taking exercise classes at Railroad Park, popping into of art galleries and going to shows in the Theatre district. “It’s nice to have everything so close.” From new restaurants like The Essential to The Famous Peanut Depot, Barons games, breweries and clothing boutiques, everything is at right your fingertips.

“Having a work-live space right in the center of and in walking distance to all of this activity has been wonderful and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Birmingham.”

Now this fabulous 2,0000 square foot condo could be yours and features a new price! Contact us today to view this unique 2 bedroom / 2 bathroom loft-style condo in the heart of downtown. View the listing here.

 

Local Spotlight: The Essential

Downtown Birmingham is definitely having a moment. This summer has been full of exciting additions to the area and the H2 office is buzzing about our new across the street neighbors, The Essential, a new concept from the founders of Baking Bandits and Feast & Forest. We stopped by the recently opened restaurant – located at the bottom of Founders Station on Morris Avenue – and chatted with owner Kristen Hall about her vision, how she got here, and of course, food!

 

“When we opened Feast & Forest the long term plan was always to expand and find a bigger space, but that need ended up coming much sooner than expected,” Kristen explained over coffee. Architecture was key to their vision, which led Kristen and co-owner Victor King to search for the right space for two years. When they initially looked at the location The Essential now occupies, it was a bank drive-thru that was partially underground. The building itself dates back all the way to it’s construction in 1887 so needless to say it took some creative vision to turn this spot into a charismatic restaurant. The cobblestone charm of Morris Avenue and untapped potential of the historic street were key factors in selling the space to the restaurateurs. “It has been a long time since this beautiful street has seen it’s full potential,” Kristen noted. In the end, they felt that choosing this new home on Morris Avenue would hopefully spark more businesses to join them.

The renaissance of downtown is evident, making it an exciting time to make the move into the city for professional or residential reasons. Kristen, who is passionate about the ‘rebirth’ of the area, told us there was no doubt in her mind that the new restaurant would follow Feast & Forest’s lead and occupy a home in town as well. “The downtown spirit is so different. There is so much heart in the city and it’s exciting to see so much opportunity for growth. Endless possibilities!”

While it’s apparent that Kristen and Victor have found their professional sweet spots, their paths weren’t always headed in this direction. Kristen, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and masters in public health, had spent her first twelve years working at UAB in medical education and community relations. But, she was always dreaming of new things, and eventually the time was right. “Sometimes things chose you.” The mom of two, soon started baking with her daughters and would leave treats on neighbor’s doorsteps, ring the doorbell and leave. Hence they became known as the “Baking Bandits.” That venture spiraled into Saturdays at the Farmer’s Market and eventually led to Kristen entering and winning Birmingham’s first “Big Pitch “ competition.

Co-owner Victor King who has a degree in entrepreneurship from Samford University has worked in restaurants for most of his professional career. He spent over 3 years working at Highlands Bar and Grill before pursuing a role in butchery. The pair met in late 2014 and realized that their perspectives on food worked well together, and they began building a plan for a brick and mortar. A few months later, construction began on 24th Street and Feast & Forest was born

Photo Credit: Mountainside Photo Co.

So why rebrand from Feast & Forest to The Essential? “Feast and Forest was a season, a chapter in a book, and it was very specific to that space,” Kristen detailed as she described why The Essential needed a story of it’s own. Victor and Kristen’s love for food and produce led them to want to do the minimal amount of things to it in order to make the food taste it’s best. They wanted the space, menu and name to honor this straightforward approach, thus “The Essential “ was born.

Fans of Banking Bandits need not worry though, just like these famous pastries were a part of Feast & Forest, they’ve once again found their new home at The Essential and Kristen is excited to announce the imminent launch of her new blog which will be centered around the fundamentals of baking pastries.

The Essential offers unique options for every meal. The menu will change seasonally so be sure to stop in every few weeks for a good sampling of what they offer. If you’re headed over there for the first time, Kristen recommends trying the Eggplant and Okra “It’s the perfect collaboration for summer.” She also recommends trying the Chicken Liver Mousse Éclair – the perfect collaboration of Kristen and Victor’s pastries and savory tendencies. “It’s the best of both worlds, I love to take pastries to unexpected places.” If that’s not your speed, they make all pastas by hand and Kristen suggests trying the rigatoni, paired with the roasted beet salad, and pork shoulder with peaches, cucumber and peanuts from next door! Try the blackberry almond cake and lemon meringue tart for dessert.

The aesthetic at The Essential is dripping with charm – a unique marble tile pattern lines the floor around the bar and a rich blue tone is carried subtly throughout the restaurant. “One thing we wanted to accomplish was to be open 7 days a week so that we can be part of every person’s, every day – from breakfast to cocktails. We wanted to create a home away from home for people who live and work downtown and love our city.” The end goal with the design was always to transform people’s experience of Birmingham and both owners are proud to know that their Parisian-esque spot transports people out of their typical Birmingham environment.

Photo Credit: Mountainside Photo Co.

Welcome to Birmingham!

            We’re so excited you decided on Birmingham for your new home. This city we love has so much to offer from food to the great outdoors. We know it’s not easy being in a new city so we’ve pulled together a guide of our favorite local spots. Enjoy!

Food

Highlands Bar & Grill

Recently named “Most Outstanding Restaurant in America,” this is an iconic Birmingham spot. Don’t forget to try the award winning coconut cake while you’re there!

Chez FonFon

Another charming Frank Stitt spot. Slightly more relaxed atmosphere and excellent French inspired cuisine.

Hot and Hot Fish Club

Classic Birmingham. We recommend sitting at the chef’s table for the full experience.

Jack Browns

Although Birmingham has some outstanding burgers, Jack Browns is arguably one of the best. The extensive beer offering, secret sauce and outrageous burger selections (try one with mac and cheese or peanut butter) make this spot unlike any other.

Fancy’s on 5th

Another great spot to grab an out-of-the-ordinary burger, or oysters. Fancy’s often has live music on the patio and a creative cocktail menu that never disappoints.

El Barrio

The best Mexican food in town. Try their seasonal guacamole and margarita for a real taste of something different!

Bamboo on 2nd

Right across the street from El Barrio, downtown. You won’t find more delicious sushi!

The Essential

This charming new spot on Morris Ave is known for their homemade pop tarts but don’t miss out on their lunch and dinner menus!

Bottega

Dine on the casual side, formal side or al fresco. Bottega is a classic Highland Park spot with a little something for everyone.

Hotbox

A unique dinning experience – don’t let the airstream and low key atmosphere fool you, this food is no joke

.

Drinks

Breweries

The Bham beer scene is pretty strong. Head to Good People before a Barons game, take your dog to Avondale or try out the new Back Forty. Did we mention Trim Tab, Cahaba, Ghost Train and Red Hills? Explore multiple stops in one afternoon when you book a Pedal Tour.

The Collins Bar

Let these mixologists create the cocktail you never knew existed and play a few board games while you wait. This is a great spot to grab a drink after work.

The Atomic

Take a time machine back to the 1960’s at this downtown bar. You can even choose a costume off the costume menu. It’s a unique cocktail experience to say the least.

Brat Brot

Birmingham’s first German biergarten. The indoor/outdoor space is uniquely charming and offers bocce and fire pits. Enjoy both German and local beers as well as German food selections.

Lou’s

It might not look like much but you’ll feel right at home with the friendly and knowledgeable staff. Don’t forget to play a round of Yahtzi for a chance to win some cash!

Marble Ring/Zeldas

Birmingham’s 1920’s speakeasy experience. Enter through a phone booth in Hot Diggity Dog’s and enjoy a throwback to the flapper era. Now you can enjoy a glitter themed dance floor out on the patio at Zeldas!

Moon shine

This rooftop bar can be found at the top of The Elyton Hotel. Comfortable seating and great view make this is laid back spot to catch up with friends.

Pilcrow

Coming soon to Morris Ave, we can’t wait to try out this Mezcal speakeasy! A first for Birmingham!

Music & Entertainment

Iron City

This restaurant and event space doubles as a concert venue and when they’re not hosting live music, they’re offering family friendly events, sports viewing parties and more.

Saturn

Coffee shop, bar, concert venue and all around entertainment center thanks to their selection of board and video games. There’s constantly something fun going on here.

Alabama Theatre

This Birmingham landmark offers plays, concerts, and even movie nights! Catch a different Christmas movie every night of the week during December!

Lyric Theatre

The oldest theatre in Birmingham has been restored and is used for concerts, ballets and entertainment of all kinds!

Outdoors

Rufner Mountain

Get some fresh air and hike the beautiful trails of this nature preserve. You can also enjoy family and community events a couple times a month at the nature center.

Railroad Park

This 8-block green space in the heart of the city is a great place to spend time outdoors. Enjoy free exercise classes, summer concerts and ice skating in the winter.

Vulcan Trail

This two mile trail has been recently expanded and leads straight to The Vulcan and Vulcan museum.

Zyp Bikes

The easiest and most affordable way to get around the downtown area. You can rent a Zyp bike at one location and return it to another.

Rotary Trail

A nod to Birmingham’s history, this is a great place in the city to take a stroll!

Loft District Spotlight: Sweet Mornings at We Have Doughnuts

wehavedoughnuts

Doughnuts are a ubiquitous part of American food culture, not to mention coffee culture, yet they’ve never really been our favorite treat. But We Have Doughnuts’s Loft District perma-pop-up just might be changing our minds. The same solid craftsmanship that Loft District neighbors have applied to bar food and the classic cocktail shows up at We Have Doughnuts, and we’re officially impressed.

We Have Doughnuts specializes in “old fashioned” cake donuts, a style that has forever altered our ideas of what a doughnut could be. It’s lighter than we thought possible for a cake doughnut but with enough heft to feel like a solid treat, and that combination is what won us over. We’ve been known to complain that a standard glazed is a bit too much like eating sugared air. Regular cake doughnuts, on the other hand, can feel like eating a powdered brick.

If you’re suckers for a salty/sweet palate (like us!), the brown butter doughnut will make you a convert. We can personally recommend the blueberry doughnut as well: a yummy marriage of fresh blueberry muffin flavor and old fashioned doughnut texture, with a lingering hint of lemon for a perfect finish.

As much as we love their product, we’re equally impressed by their business approach, which combines social media outreach and a creative footprint. We Have Doughnuts’s regular space is a simple stand framed by the gorgeous marble facade of an empty downtown building. It’s basically a food truck with a reserved spot, and we think it’s a perfect display of the neighborhood’s energy for rapid transition and a crafty, entrepreneurial spirit.

These donut wizards have also been active in downtown events like Sidewalk Film Festival and Art on the Rocks ⏤ where they showcased a doughnut wall installation with a quippy gallery placard. It’s only a matter of time until we see wedding photos from Bridge Street or the Florentine with donut tiers subbing in for a groom’s cake.

In the meantime, catch them bright and early Tuesday through Friday at 112 20th Street North.* They open at 7:30, which is the perfect time for Loft District dwellers to stop by for a vaguely decadent (but somehow wholesome) breakfast. Just don’t wait too long. When the doughnuts run out, they close up shop. Based on recent Facebook posts, this seems to happen around 9am.

We’re around the office by then, should you want to stop by and share. Happy sugar high!

 

 

*Should you need a Saturday fix, place your order online for pick up at Satellite in Avondale, where you can also score a stellar latte.

 

Loft District Spotlight: St. Paul's Cathedral

st. paul's cathedral

These days, St. Paul’s cathedral boasts a diverse congregation, beautifully maintained historic structures, and bells that mark the hours for Loft District residents. But its back story is far more complex than the casual passerby would imagine. From its architecture to its role in a shocking murder, St. Paul’s Cathedral reveals forgotten histories of Birmingham.

The Building

The congregation has been downtown since 1872, according to the cathedral website, beginning in a more modest church near the current site, not acquired until 1880. Construction on the current cathedral began in 1890 and was completed in 1893, the site explains. The most complete description we found of the building’s architecture comes from its application to the National Register of Historic Places, which notes that St. Paul’s was established in a brand new Birmingham and grew with the city:

The present cathedral was built during the city’s first major period of expansion, which was touched off by the ironmaking and real estate boom of the late 1880s. In addition to its importance as an individual structure, it is an important remnant of the city’s first major public square, the heart of which was the Jefferson County Courthouse (1889-1930), which stood on the western half of the cathedral block. The spires of the cathedral and the bell tower of the nearby First Presbyterian Church (1888) contribute to a distinctive urban skyline that was formerly dominated by the central tower of the Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse.

Its chosen Christian imagery represents the parish’s ethnic origins ⏤ St. Anthony for the Italians and St. Patrick for the Irish ⏤ while a Holy Family image features the carpenter father Joseph, who resonated with the many laborers in early congregations, notes the cathedral website. But the symbols that now appear as historic markers of an immigrant community also hint at that community’s outsider status in the Magic City, demonstrated most dramatically with the murder of Father James Coyle in 1921.

The Murder

“The assassination of Father James Coyle is a memorable tale of early Birmingham, played out at the intersection of romantic love and religious hatred,” writes  Weld columnist Courtney Haden. “The ensuing trial caused a national sensation and the chief attorney defending the murderer went on to become one of the most influential U.S. Supreme Court justices in history.”

Haden describes Coyle as an eloquent advocate for Birmingham’s Catholic population, comprised largely of immigrants, who penned letters to the local news rebutting anti-Catholic rhetoric. Coyle was a man used to being threatened for his vocal defense of an unpopular faith, according to Haden, but it was a marriage that would prompt his ultimate end.

Popular versions of the story from long-time St. Paul’s parishioners will tell you that Fr. Coyle married the daughter of a Methodist minister to a Catholic and that the enraged minister shot Fr. Coyle on the rectory porch the evening of his daughter’s wedding.

But the version Haden tells provides a more complicated view of the events, starring a strong-willed daughter who had herself become Catholic and who sought marriage to escape her father’s corporal methods of control.

Haden also details the role that Birmingham’s racial tensions, fueled by a revived Klan organization, played in the murder and the resulting trial of shooter Edwin Stephenson. Stephenson turned himself in immediately after the shooting, and he was represented at trial by future supreme court justice Hugo Black, she writes. Stephenson claimed to have fired at Coyle in the midst of a fight and in self-defense, but Black pursued a more persuasive defense strategy, Haden explains. He argued that Stephenson had been temporarily insane following the extreme stress of his daughter’s conversion and marriage, both enabled by Fr. Coyle. The jury found Stephenson not guilty.

Each year the cathedral holds a mass on the anniversary of Coyle’s death. The event is a remembrance of Coyle and his leadership, but the event invitation also highlights Coyle’s ministry and death as a continued reminder of the challenges Birmingham’s Catholic communities once faced.

Bham Development: Creating a Bike Culture

bike

Birmingham does not have the most bike-friendly reputation. Dedicated lanes are basically non-existent, and as drivers we’re still learning how to share the road. But if the explosion in bike culture options in recent months is any indication, things are changing quickly. Two recent business startups ⏤ Parkside’s Wheel City Rentals and Woodlawn’s Cycle Cafe ⏤ highlight the potential for bikes in our urban leisure culture.

Wheel City Rentals offers ridiculously adorable vintage-style bikes in cruiser, tandem, or “Adult tricycle” configurations, available by the hour or the day. Operating out of Railroad Park, their location should be even more attractive once the Rotary Trail is ready, allowing renters a lovely and almost car-free ride all the way to Pepper Place.

Even now, though, the Loft District offers a relatively easy bike experience over less congested weekends, and the Wheel City website suggests downtown as a destination for independent renters. For folks less interested in solo cycling, Wheel City also offers tour options, using either cruisers or a 14-seat “party bike.” It looks unwieldy, but the novelty of a party bike is hard to resist. Either option seems like a good fit with the young, active Parkside branding.

Cycle Cafe has yet to open, but the Birmingham Design Review Committee gave owners the go-ahead in August, reported AL.com. The cafe will be a combination of coffee shop and cycling community hangout, according to AL.com, with co-owner Armand Margjeka telling the site he envisioned hosting screenings of the Tour de France. REV Birmingham will be the cafe’s landlord, AL.com reported, which seems like a nice tie-in with its imminent Zyp BikeShare launch, as well as the millenial-friendly work/event spaces at neighboring SocialVenture.

And of course, Zyp itself is the big debut we’re still waiting for. Will the coming years be the tipping point for widespread biking in Birmingham? We can only hope so. After all, Woodlawn’s business district is less than 4 miles of relatively level terrain from our Loft District offices. If we can make bike commuting popular enough that motorists have to adjust, Birmingham residents could pretty easily ride between some of our most popular urban areas.

Community rides like the Tour de Ham and Redemptive Cycle’s Trample have worked hard to make bike riding broadly accessible. If Zyp can successfully inject the REV Birmingham momentum into local bike culture ⏤ and lead the charge for more bike-safe traffic patterns ⏤ we might just see a local cycling revolution.

Bham Development: Why We Need Uber

birminghamview

Many of us would like to see continued Birmingham growth without the accompanying traffic snarls and parking headaches. And it is shockingly easy to imagine a life in many central Birmingham neighborhoods without daily car usage. Besides, who wants to devote precious downtown real estate to another parking garage? The only way to avoid that, of course, is to become less dependent on car ownership, and we think ridesharing services are part of that progress. But as recent press coverage has made clear, it’s not just our core development at stake; outside perception is on the line as well.

In July, AL.com ran a story composed almost entirely of tweets complaining about transportation problems. “The inaugural Slossfest brought national acts and thousands of visitors to Birmingham and to our city’s rusted jewel, industrial-space-turned-park Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark,” AL.com reported. “But outside the gates of Sloss Fest, it was difficult to avoid the clamoring on social media for transportation options.” Republished tweets complained about taxi wait times and expressed surprise that Birmingham Uber and Lyft weren’t even options.

“Resistance to innovation hurts the Birmingham brand,” wrote Art Carden, an associate professor of economics at Samford University, in an AL.com op-ed piece. “The city’s refusal to accommodate ridesharing innovators is sending prospective visitors and residents the message that they cannot expect the same amenities they take for granted in other cities.”

And if you’re not already convinced, there’s a public health argument for ridesharing as well. The Daily Beast reported on a study by Temple University Professors Brad Greenwood and Sunil Wattal which demonstrated the potential impact of Uber uptake on road safety. “Its key findings were that UberX significantly reduces the number of alcohol related motor vehicle fatalities, that the effect takes between 9 and 15 months to manifest, and during times of likely surge pricing, such as weekends and celebratory holidays associated with drinking, the effect is greatly diminished (most likely because fewer people use the service when its rates are increased).” (Click here for the original study.)

But of course this study points to an important caveat: Uber represents necessary progress, but it can’t be the whole answer to a less car-dependent city. Public transit remains an important stumbling block for this city, and one that no amount of Uber cars can fully replace. As we wait for the 2016 rollout of a bus system upgrade, though, ridesharing is a good place to start. And after a recent Uber meeting with city officials, we’re cautiously optimistic.

In the meantime, follow Magic City Movement for updates on the ridesharing movement in Birmingham. We hope you’ll join us in this push for progress.

Bham Eats: 5 Reasons to Love Avondale Restaurants

avondale eat shop local sign

2015 is the year of the Avondale restaurant. Don’t believe us? Consider the news: 3 new restaurants have or will open this year, increasing the neighborhood offerings by about 75%. That growth means more exploration of the neighborhood’s food identity, which made us set about trying to define it.

But those definitions are impossible without considering the broader neighborhood. Avondale’s southern section is heavy on bungalows and built around a lovely park, so the overwhelmingly homey vibe is no surprise. And it makes its way into the restaurant scene. Between the park and the brewery, Avondale is the perfect spot to kick back. This is not a “scene.” It’s more of a friendly way station for folks from all over the metro area.

Still, it’s a destination nonetheless. So here are the 5 reasons we love eating out in Avondale:

  1. It embraces history: Avondale brewing has always tapped local lore for its brew names, but Avondale restaurants have their own references. Rowe’s Service Station was Rowe’s Auto Service in a past life, and the new owners saw no need to erase that history. “In keeping with the most recent history of the neighborhood, I didn’t want to steamroll the character of the space or turn it into something it wasn’t, and instead, take advantage of the history that’s already built into it,” co-owner Cliff Atkins, Jr. told AL.com. Then, of course, there’s Chef John Hall of Post Office Pies who grew up in the neighborhood, honed his culinary chops in New York City, and came back to offer delicious pizzas and salads in–you guessed it–a former post office.
  1. It’s continuously casual: The dining vibe tends toward picnic casual and is super to-go-friendly. Disposable plates and utensils abound, making it that much easier to tote your food to the brewery backyard in mild summer weather. In fact, AL.com’s Eric Velasco recommends that very trick as the best way to enjoy the “food truck without wheels” experience of Wasabi Juan’s.
  1. It’s deliciously healthy (sort of): Veggies aren’t just a health-minded afterthought. They’re part of the culinary draw, and they tend toward the seasonal. We have an abiding love for Post Office Pie’s salads, but Rowe’s is offering an unexpected seasonal asparagus side, and Saw’s Soul Kitchen has been known to serve pink eyed peas. Even a place wholly dedicated to the cheese arts like Melt offers a surprising array of non-iceberg salads.
  1. It’s a combo special: Comfort food with a chef’s touch and food truck fusion are Avondale’s two complimentary food trends. There’s a homestyle-but-better feel to Avondale eating at Melt and Saw’s Soul Kitchen, which we chalk up to its culinary vision. Like the trajectory of Maurizio Papapietro or the Somershield/Lockert partnership downtown, we think it’s a case of folks with big name experience looking to offer accessible food. Meanwhile, Wasabi Juan’s and the upcoming Hotbox spin-off Wooden Goat are exploring the potential of what Velasco calls “cross-cultural mashups,” and that’s exciting too.
  1. It’s established a neighborhood DNA: Cross-pollination is absolutely a thing in Avondale, with owners of one institution partnering up with new blood to bring something else to the neighborhood entirely. Proof: Saw’s Soul Kitchen’s Mike Wilson and Brandon Cain are partners in Post Office Pies, and the Atkins duo behind 41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales is bringing us Rowe’s. Like Somershield and Lockert downtown, Avondale’s food heavyweights are continuing to invest in the neighborhood. We think that’s a good sign for both food and real estate.

So welcome to the neighborhood Rowe’s Service Station, Wooden Goat, and Mr. Harry’s Chicken De-Lux. You’re in fine company, but you already knew that.

Bham Brunch: Local Hour at El Barrio

Image via Yelp user Jane A.

There’s a special curse that happens when your favorite neighborhood places are popular beyond neighborhood bounds. After all, a steep wait time during peak hours offsets the convenience factor of a great place down the street. Admittedly, El Barrio’s margaritas make even the longest wait fly by, but it’s nice sometimes to stroll right in. That’s why we think of brunch at El Barrio as the locals’s hour.

Show up around eleven, and you’re practically guaranteed a seat. This despite foodie friends in the know swearing brunch is El Barrio’s best offering. And we’re hard pressed to argue.

The flavors and textures here are bigger than your average brunch, less expected and more interesting. Consider the sopaipillas for breakfast, a savory take on what’s usually a dessert item. At El Barrio, it’s a delicious blend of sweet and savory, of classic pork and apples with the fried dough texture of a beignet. Meanwhile, the Oaxacan donuts soothe a morning sweet tooth without the overbearing sugar rush of a French toast breakfast. And of course, you can usher in your day with a batch of El Barrio guacamole. The only real questions is this: Are you hungry yet?

If you’re in the Loft District, you should be.

This is the neighborhood of simple food re-imagined, of a gastropub take on any cuisine. And El Barrio is part of that. It’s a place to get hearty, reasonably healthy real food when you either don’t feel like cooking, or simply prefer a sense of occasion. It’s also a great way to bring friends to you if you’re in the mood to socialize but not to drive.

And the broad appeal of places like El Barrio is a secret strength of this live/work neighborhood. The Loft District saves you a long workweek commute, without sacrificing your weekend social life. In our last brunch post we suggested this meal makes a neighborhood, and we think El Barrio is further proof. The joy of city living, after all, is having everything at your doorstep, and that includes the weekend.

Five Points Spotlight: Everybody Comes to Fat Sam's

fat sam's sandwich

Our favorite thing about Birmingham’s food scene: There’s almost always a local answer to chain options. What’s more, the local answer’s almost always better. A case in point is Fat Sam’s Sub Station, a Five Points South neighborhood staple.

One part Waffle House, one part Jimmy John’s, and all Five Point’s, Fat Sam’s offers high quality comfort food perfect for time-pressed, cash-strapped college students and everyone else.

Its section of five points is distinctively utilitarian, after all, designed to serve the UAB district and its neighbors to the south. There’s a computer repair shop and a laundromat in the same block, a hair salon and package store in the same strip. So it’s no wonder that Fat Sam’s ambience is a serviceable one.

But what’s so special about Fat Sam’s? There are fresh-cut French fries with a hint of skin for extra crispiness, and a 99-cent chicken biscuit on the breakfast menu. There are hoagies you can barely wrap your mouth around, smothered in Russian dressing. It’s not fancy, but it’s fast and delicious and far better than cold cuts have any right to be.

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Five Points is a neighborhood of long-standing establishments, and Fat Sam’s is no exception. They’ve been open for a quarter century, and we expect at least that much more.

Great neighborhoods, after all, hold onto small businesses like so many beloved family members. And that’s the way of it with Five Points South. The problem, though, is that you almost have to be part of the family tree to keep track of its many member branches.

With quick shifts between single and multi-family homes, the ramshackle and the sleekly renovated, the purely residential and the pockets of commercial, you almost have to live in Five Points to be truly in the know. It’s not a neighborhood for everyone, but–like Fat Sam’s–it tends to welcome everyone. And it just might be the neighborhood for you.