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Tag: bham eats

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!

Weeknight Breakfast at Carrigan’s Downtown

breakfast at Carrigan's

breakfast at Carrigan's

We’ve all hit that point midway through a particularly grueling workweek that demands more than your average comfort. The kind of week that demands breakfast food. Luckily, the good folks at Carrigan’s Public House launched a solution this fall: a “breakfast for supper” special each Wednesday evening.

Carrigan’s has marketed the meal as a reward for making it through your Wednesday. And at $10 for the breakfast dish plus mimosa, it definitely is. It’s also a genius antidote to any hump day blues. As the great Ron Swanson said, “There has never been a sadness that can’t be cured by breakfast food.”

This is no ordinary diner menu, though. It’s a single dish, and it may or may not be announced ahead of time. Past examples have included sausage and egg in a waffle sandwich, goat cheese-topped eggs in a basket nestled against curls of prosciutto, and a bagel and lox served with the prettiest poached eggs. All in keeping with the downtown loft district’s gastropub vibe.

One of our favorite things about the neighborhood is its rotating roster of specialty brunch availability–Saturdays at El Barrio and Feast & Forest, select Saturdays at Yo Mama’s, and Sundays at Trattoria Centrale–but Wednesday evening is a whole new ballgame. We frankly wouldn’t complain if every day was some sort of brunch day, but we’re perfectly happy to celebrate incremental wins.  

True brunch may be a meal reserved for leisurely weekends, but fancy breakfast food need not wait that long. The Carrigan’s solution seems both fancy and spartan, going out with a hint of staying in. All in keeping with the mixed use dynamic of downtown loft living.

We can’t promise a solution to all your hump day problems, but breakfast at Carrigan’s is a fine start. Or at least a merciful end. Here’s to hump day!

 

 

Boutique Food on the Downtown Revelator Coffee Menu

downtown Revelator Coffee menu

downtown Revelator Coffee menu

You’d be forgiven for not knowing the downtown Revelator Coffee menu includes food. It’s not online after all, and there are only passing references to it on social media. It’s worth paying attention, though, because there are some easy treasures here.

Focused on basic staples–avocado, hummus, boiled eggs, and fresh veggies–the lunch menu is a fancy version of what you might pack yourself or throw together at home. But with this presentation and price point (around eight dollars, with add-ons from one dollar to one-fifty), why would you?

The presentation is gorgeous but not overdone, as though the space’s architecture has been translated into food. The PM bowl reminds us of bibimbap: an artful arrangement of bite-size color and texture begging to be eaten. There’s creamy hummus, lightly-dressed arugula, and sticks of raw veggies for a lunch that feels positively virtuous in its healthiness but will still fill you up.

The avocado toast is another popular option (they were out of it by the time we swung by for a late lunch). Asher Lutz, son of local style blogger Lindsey Lutz of Life Lutzurious, reportedly loves the avocado toast here. And this is a kid with a favorite Bottega dish, so he clearly knows what’s what.

Food here is slightly less secretive than the coffee cocktail–food options are at least printed–but there’s no permanent online presence. The menu seems designed as an additional offering for an established crowd rather than a real marketing draw. And that strategy makes sense with Revelator’s boutique feel.

It’s as though they cleverly foresaw the move toward actual boutiques downtown and established themselves early in the game. Revelator’s been on the vanguard of this end of the loft district, after all. The Lyric wasn’t yet operating when it opened here, nor had the Pizitz Building or Thomas Jefferson Tower redevelopments begun. So it seems like no accident that they’ve added more complex offerings as this area has become one to linger in.

So, whether you’re looking for a non-sad working lunch or an easy, open-ended chat, it’s worth putting Revelator on your list.

 

Understated Arts at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe Brunch

woodlawn cycle cafe brunch

woodlawn cycle cafe brunch

Our love of brunch is well-documented, but as a meal, sometimes it’s frankly too time-limited. If nothing says weekend quite like brunch, why do most restaurants serve it only one day per week? Clearly simpatico, Woodlawn Cycle Cafe brunch is an all-weekend affair.

We can’t say what exactly they’ll offer when you go. That’s the beauty of a rotating menu, after all. But there will likely always be some variation on the toastie and salad combo, in keeping with their understated arts. On a visit in early November, we fell hard for a fried egg, cheese, and bacon version built around a sweet potato biscuit and topped with pepper jelly.

The biscuit was tender beyond measure and flaky only where it needed to be. Basically, it’s a biscuit sandwich you’ll want to eat with a knife and fork. And we say that for informational purposes only, not as a complaint. A hit of heat from the pepper jelly offset any added sweetness from the biscuit or any heaviness from bacon and cheese. It was a nearly perfect breakfast bite.

Add in some bright sunlight in a whitewashed space plus one of our all-time favorite lattes, and getting out of bed on the weekend starts to look appealing. The crowd ebbs and flows, so don’t be alarmed if it seems busy when you arrive. It’ll settle out and leave plenty of room for a leisurely meal.

But what would brunch be without a bit of walking around afterward? A handful of small shops in the same block–Open Shop Woodlawn, Public Office, and Club Duquette–offer post-meal options. Their related aesthetic and unique product lines make brunch at Woodlawn Cycle Cafe not just a meal but an event. And if your Saturday doesn’t come together the way you’d planned, you can always try again Sunday. That’s the beauty of Woodlawn’s brunch weekend.

 

Check back Wednesday and Saturday for posts on Open Shop and Public Office, so you can plan your weekend in Woodlawn.

 

Saucy Fun at Cashio’s Meatball Market in Lakeview

cashio's meatball market in lakeview

cashio's meatball market in lakeview

From the outside, Cashio’s Meatball Market in Lakeview looks quaint. Historic, even, as though it could belong to owner Mary Susan Cashio’s grandmother, who inspired the recipes, according to AL.com. But this is no grandma restaurant. Cashio’s combines small neighborhood charm with modern restaurant polish to create a thoroughly fun new option.

Taking a page from fast-casual dining, Cashio’s has built its entire menu on the meatball. Pretty literally, in fact. The menus aren’t simply a list of available options; they’re the canvas for your own meatball masterpiece. And the restaurant website’s food photography is sure to get you inspired.

Pick your meatball meat–or the veggie option–and build from that, adding sauce and then a side. Mark your choices on the menu as you calculate your perfect bite. If by chance you can’t choose, there’s even a meatball flight. The man at a neighboring table seemed pleased with that decision, reporting that he even loved the veggie meatball.

For the ultimate comfort bite, you’ll probably want either the classic beef or the Italian sausage meatball and the spicy marinara over pasta. The sauce is chunky enough to stand up to a meatball and adds a subtle kick. The marsala sauce is also worth a try. We’d pair it with the risotto, which had a great texture–a hint of creaminess without losing the rice grain.

Cashio’s genius is really in the buildable approach, where you can hold onto part of a favorite meal but branch out with different pairings. And it’s just plain fun.

The bold interiors by Appleseed Workshop are a pleasure to sit in–the statement banquettes are incredibly comfy–and the staff is friendly. It’s the kind of atmosphere where you could easily be a regular. And with the location walkable to housing in Lakeview and Highland Park, that’s a distinct possibility.

Melt in Avondale: Basics, but Better

melt in avondale

melt in avondale

There are few things more basic than a grilled cheese and a cup of tomato soup. So basic, perhaps, that they’re often overlooked. But not at Melt in Avondale. The grilled cheese headquarters will remind you why you’ve always loved them and make you come back for more.

We’ve talked before about Avondale being a nostalgic kind of neighborhood, and Melt is certainly in that vein. But there’s a danger in nostalgia. Things we’ve carried around for decades in our subconscious are hard to live up to. And even if our mammas always burned the grilled cheese in an unseasoned cast iron skillet, well, they did it with love. That’s an ingredient that’s hard to beat.

The folks at Melt won’t love you like your mamma, but they’ll sure make you love their grilled cheese. They’ll also let you watch football at the table, which was always a sore spot growing up. (Pro-tip: warn the host which game you’re watching, since there’s one TV that doesn’t get the SEC network.)

Ironically, the key to the Melt grilled cheese isn’t the cheese at all. The cheese, in fact, does its job of being of rich but not overwhelming. At Melt, the toast is boss, the Texas toast. It crisps well on the outside but melts away on the interior. It is the perfect frame for cheese, the perfect vehicle for your culinary delight.

It’s also emblematic of the Avondale food scene, where subtle shifts make old favorites into foodie phenomena. The crust at Post Office Pies. Sweet Tea fried chicken at Saw’s. The “blue collar” spin on a Big Mac at Fancy’s on Fifth (a member of the Melt family, naturally). Big kid versions of childhood favorites, all of them.

And Melt has plenty of those kinds of favorites–an updated take on your favorite fast foods. Among them is the buffalo chicken, which we also love. But for all the menu’s delights, the basics are its real home runs. The things you well might have prepped at home but likely never will again. Your toast will never compare.

Even in dessert Melt steals the show, adding the perfect hint of salt to the nutella and honey charms of the Banana Stand. It’s all home-inspired comfort with a style  all its own. Like the neighborhood, Melt is a nostalgic charm that’s not stuck in the past.

Avondale Comfort Food Goes Mexican at Taco Morro Loco

taco morro loco in avondale

taco morro loco in avondale

There are things you don’t realize are missing, until they’re not. A Mexican restaurant in Avondale, for instance. After all, what suggests food that’s satisfying on the palette, easy on the wallet, and enjoyed in a casual setting quite like your favorite Mexican joint? Welcome to the brick-and-mortar version of Taco Morro Loco.

In true Avondale style, Taco Morro Loco offers more foodie versions of Mexican classics. It’s a place you can still get a burrito with rice and beans–south of the border comfort food, in our book–but with more-interesting-than-average fillings.

The real standouts are their tacos, though. The tortillas are generously stuffed, and the meat-y flavors are spot on. The al pastor includes pineapple chunks for a nice play on savory and sweet.

We’re also a little in love with their sauces, which make all the difference between food we expect and food we get excited about. Chips and salsa are a given, after all, but Taco Morro Loco’s salsa has some real, smoky heat. Bad news for folks who don’t like spicy food; good news for anyone tired of pureed pico de gallo.

The guacamole’s another standard done really, really well. It tastes incredibly fresh, with big cilantro and onion flavors coming through to enhance the creamy avocado base. 

The taco and burrito sauce was a fascinating vinaigrette, with the sour kick of tamarind and we’re not sure what else. We just know that we’d like it by the bottle.

Taco Morro Loco’s location–bordering a gas station–shouldn’t be good real estate. But it works. It builds on the former Avondale Grill’s draw for Mexican specialties, adding actual dining space from the adjacent former laundry. And it has some parking.

There’s cute outdoor seating during nice weather, and TVs inside let you keep up with seasonal sports while you eat. A tiled bar top ties in Mexican style with the restaurant’s take on Avondale communal seating.

Perhaps most importantly, Taco Morro Loco is one of the few neighborhood places you can go at peak time on a Friday night without facing a long wait. You could just as easily pick up tacos for a brewery visit or headed home to your own place in Avondale.

Still looking for that place? Check our Avondale listings.

Artful Balance at Saigon Noodle House

saigon noodle house avondale

saigon noodle house avondale

There’s plenty to say about the food at Avondale’s Saigon Noodle House. But if there’s a single symbol  of the restaurant, it’s a mural.

Taking up an entire rear wall, it’s Saigon Noodle House’s defining artwork. In more ways than one.

It features a bubble tea stall and a cart called “Saigon Noodle House” surrounded by iconic Birmingham structures. AL.com describes the cart’s presence in this “mash-up of the old and the new,” that the restaurant’s Vietnamese heritage remains in the foreground.

We say it’s also a declaration of intent: that Saigon Noodle House will make its mark on the Birmingham scene. And it should, blending Vietnamese flavors with the slim menu and high style of Birmingham’s urban food scene. It is a grand balance, indeed.

As in so many Avondale hot spots–Saw’s, for instance, and Post Office Pies–pork is a standout at Saigon Noodle House. It’s tender but not moist, which sounds odd but highlights the marinade flavor. There are also plenty of plays on texture: the crunch of fresh cucumbers, the brittle crispness of fried wrappers, the crackle of crunchy French bread.

Cocktails are a new addition to Saigon Noodle House offerings, AL.com noted. A delightful one, in our opinion. We’re fans of the Tet-a-Tet, with its sweet citrus profile plans and charming umbrella topper. There have also been Jack and Coke slushies. Both appeal to the kid at heart who enjoys a grown-up libation. The drinks are “playful,” which is exactly how AL.com described that mural.

It’s also how we think of the Avondale scene.

Perhaps more than anywhere else in Birmingham, Avondale tends to be a family-friendly evening out. It’s charming and creative and fun. And the fast casual setup at Saigon Noodle House is no exception. The right blend of style and substance, both neighborhood and restaurant are a delight.

 

Back and Better: Birmingham Restaurant Week 2016

Birmingham Restaurant Week
Birmingham Restaurant Week
Image via Birmingham Restaurant Week

 

We love a good Birmingham Restaurant Week, and this year’s is set to be better than ever. There will be the usual delights of prix fixe menus that showcase our city’s culinary range, including additions over the past year. But a new BRW event highlights our own meal obsession. (It’s true, we even tagged it). That’s right. This year there will be brunch.

On Saturday, August 20, BRW is offering a grand brunch sampling. Participants include local institutions like Rojo and Silvertron, along with the newer Harvest and Ovenbird.

And if food and drink — including Royal Cup Nitro Coffee and a Mimosa bar — weren’t enough, the BRW team has put together a true event: live music and foodie shopping opportunities are included in the ticket price. All this magic will take place in Woodlawn’s Social Venture space, which only proves our own Matt Neal’s point that Woodlawn is a neighborhood to watch.

There’s also a very worthy beneficiary of your brunch ticket dollars in the Urban Food Project. The REV Birmingham program coordinates area farmers and underserved urban markets to bring fresh produce where it’s needed and boost local food production, according to its website.

Don’t stop with brunch, though. Dive into all of Restaurant Week’s amazing foodie options. Tempting new menus and long-time favorites always battle for the finite space in our calendars and stomachs.

As much as we talk about the foodie culture of the downtown Loft District and Avondale, it’s worth noting that those areas aren’t Restaurant Week’s biggest participants. That honor goes to the Five Points South neighborhood, which includes the fine dining gem of Highlands and the paper napkin delicacies of Dreamland.

There’s a reason our culinary scene is earns so much press, and Birmingham Restaurant Week is the ultimate reminder.

 

Birmingham Restaurant Week runs Friday, August 12, through Sunday, August 21. Restaurant menus and event tickets are available on the BRW website.