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Tag: five points south birmingham

The Garage Take on Neighborhood Character

garage birmingham

garage birmingham

Nothing quite captures the borderlands between Highland Park and Five Points South like the Garage. On an orphaned block behind an apartment building, it’s a bar you head to rather than stumble upon. Not anxious for outsiders, despite GQ’s travel recommendation. But it’s the ultimate neighborhood hangout for folks who love the eclecticism of Five Points South and the restful air of Highland Park.

To get there, park on 10th Terrace South (or walk from your Highland Park home). Then walk past scattered garden urns and reclaimed doors accented with holiday lights and neon beer signs. Inside, you’ll find a dimly lit, cash-only bar surrounded by simple wooden booths. It’s perfect in its bare-bones appeal, where the fanciest cocktail you’re prepared to order is a Bloody Mary (which Southern Living recommends, by the way).

But the real magic is out back, which looks like the domain of a twentieth century Miss Havisham. Filled with the detritus of another age, it’s now the perfect host for an evening with friends. Particularly ones you’re inclined to reminisce with.

Accented by fairy lights and studded with slightly uncomfortable seating, the patio may be the most authentic space in town. Some perfect amalgamation of Dave’s Pub, Rojo, and the Donnelly House, the Garage could only exist right where it is.

Main Street America says that downtowns are attractive because they’ve aged in a way that suburban communities haven’t. Yet the organization also recommends the kind of creative rehabilitation we’ve seen (and loved) in downtown Birmingham.

But the Garage suggests an alternative approach to celebrating an area’s age. The French way, at least as the New York Times describes it, which involves quality products, perhaps a treatment or three, but no harsh remodeling. That’s generally been the story of places in Highland Park and Five Points South, where things wear their age with grace but also comfort. In the way of tile honed by decades with a hairline crack for character.



Birmingham for Everyman at Bottega & Bottega Café

Bottega Café

Bottega Café

We’ve been known to describe Bottega Café as Bottega’s more affordable option. Which is true–entree prices average a good $10 lower on the café side–but almost missing the point. Where Bottega is a tailored fine dining experience, Bottega Café is the everyday foodie option.

Still, the magic of Frank Stitt’s fine dining is that he’s also carved out entry points. Like the blend of historic apartments and grand homes in the Five Points South and Highland Park neighborhoods surrounding Bottega and Bottega Café, there’s something for everyone. Wherever you are on your professional course, there’s a version of the Stitt experience you can (and really should) manage.

The café menu is eclectic, covering your dining needs from light snacks with wines by-the-glass to a multi-course meal with a bottle of bubbly. Or, as the café website describes it, a “relaxed spot where you can come for lunch and stay for dinner with a menu celebrating the warm spirit of Italian cuisine, while honoring the purest seasonal ingredients of the American South.”

It’s the easy fun of Five Points mixed with the grand influences of Highland Park. It’s also emblematic of the way Frank Stitt has helped define the Birmingham food scene and, with it, the city. He’s famous for his fine dining, but, as the Birmingham Business Journal reported in 2013, Stitt also helped lay the track for our city’s accessible foodie finds. The big flavors and easy atmosphere of places like Trattoria Centrale are rooted in Stitt’s food culture.

Then there’s the building, Bottega Favorita, for which the restaurants are named. “The overall structural form, massing and building materials reflect historic associations with the Italian Renaissance,” noted the building’s application to the National Register of Historic Places, “but the architectural detailing is typical of the popular 1920s trend toward the precision streamlined appearance of the modern machine age.”

Like so many Birmingham buildings of its era, there’s a reverence for the old coupled with ideas of its age (see also: the John Hand Building). And Bottega’s food, described on the restaurant website as a blend of Italian traditions and Southern foodstuffs, is the ultimate example of revival style on a plate.



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.

Bham Eats: Bangkok Street Food at Cahaba Brewing Co.

grilled squid thai street food
Image of grilled squid with spicy seafood sauce via Kay Stk


Early on, we raved about Five Points South’s Chai Market. And these days, there’s even more to love. Owners Kay Stk and Golff Sudchodayon launched their Thai food pop-up at the old Cahaba Brewing Company last fall, and they’ll be joining Cahaba at its Avondale location for the second pop-up installment this Saturday, February 27. We sat down with Stk and Sudchodayon while they took a break from weekend food prep to find out more about the coming menu and their future popup plans.

“It’s definitely going to be street food because we love street food,” Stk said of the weekend offerings. They won’t be repeating their original menu, choosing instead to add four totally new dishes to their rotation, she said. But they are making one exception for a crowd favorite: pad ka pow.

“The stir fry basil with the fried egg,” Sudchodayon said. “Everybody loved that.”

They described the new menu options — grilled squid with spicy seafood sauce, crispy stir fried noodles with brown gravy, tofu panang, and larb chicken with sticky rice — as Stk displayed photos of the dishes on her phone.

They’ve designed plant-only food choices since their customer base includes plenty of vegans and vegetarians, Stk explained. The crispy noodles are vegetarian and the tofu panang vegan.

In fact, Stk said they may have an entirely vegetarian pop-up menu in the future, inspired by a longstanding vegan festival in Thailand. An entire city avoids meat throughout the seven-day festival, which Stk estimates has run for the past 30 or 40 years. “The menu from that festival is very, very good,” she said. “Maybe one day we can try.”

Both women think Birmingham can handle more Thai culture than their pop-ups, though. The “ultimate goal” is to stage a Thai food festival, Sudchodayon said. Besides dishing up authentic cuisine, she described entertainment elements like Thai boxing or a Thai cooking challenge.

“I think Birmingham is ready,” Stk added. “We see Greek food festival, Turkish food festival, Chinese festival, why not Thai?”

Bham Eats: Winter Restaurant Week

winter restaurant week


Birmingham Restaurant Week used to be a late-summer fling, something to look forward to before the busy fall season and the inevitable march of winter kicked in. Now, it’s also a post-holiday beacon, shining through the cold, dreary slump between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. As inveterate fans of Birmingham’s food scene, both restaurant week and otherwise, we couldn’t resist weighing in on the premiere winter season offerings. We combed through the posted options within Birmingham, and flagged the following dinners as our dream menu options.


Bottle & Bone (Uptown):

We’ve mentioned our love of bacon flights before, and now’s your chance to score a bargain tasting. We’re all in for their $20/person menu, of a bacon flight, joyce farms free range airline chicken breast stuffed with crackling corn bread with potato gratin and green beans, and bacon praline bread pudding. All of our pork-y dreams surrounding a delicious-sounding entree? Yes, please.


The Wine Loft (Loft District):

Just down the street from our offices, the Wine Loft has a $20/person menu basically guaranteed to warm the cold nights. We’d start with the cup of house made clam chowder, move on to the pan seared salmon with fried corn salsa and oven roasted brussels sprouts, and finish with the oven baked apple pie drizzled with port reduction and a side of ice cream. Between this menu and the restaurant/bar’s cozy interior, our money’s on the Wine Loft as a perfect date night plan.


BYOB (Lakeview)

One of our friends swears by the BYOB experience because you can actually have your burger at the temperature you crave — no solid gray medium-well nonsense when you want a true, pink medium. Burger cooking preferences aside, they had us at the golden tots appetizer with house made queso, cilantro, garlic, scallions, and ghost pepper cheese. We’d go classic Topper Price for the entree — essentially a classic cheeseburger jazzed up with lemon aioli — though the Cheesebroker, which includes bacon and pimiento cheese, may be the winner for heartier appetites. The dessert of white chocolate and raspberry bread pudding with lemon whipped cream and fresh mint sounds fresh enough to end a heavy dinner on a high note. Bonus points to BYOB for offering an old fashioned-inspired Bulliet bourbon cocktail accompaniment. Dinner menu is $30/2 people.


Iron City Grill (Five Points South):

You’ve been to Iron City for shows, but have you had dinner at the grill? We’d start with crispy chang mai cauliflower with crispy Asian slaw and sweet soy reduction, then move on to blackened gulf coast shrimp, whose sides include sweet corn couscous and an avocado lime crema. The vanilla creme brulee is a more classic dessert pairing, but we say lighter flavors might as well culminate in true decadence: salted caramel cheesecake with dark chocolate custard, graham cracker crumbs, and house-made marshmallows. It’s our version of culinary balance.


The J. Clyde (Five Points South):

The thing we appreciate about J. Clyde’s $30/person menu is that it’s an all-in experience. There are no tough decisions here, since the slate has already been paired down to a single “reception,” appetizer, entree, and dessert, all with suggested beer pairings. The brilliance of their menu is that it seems to balance hearty, heavy flavors like smoked riblets, gouda grits, and brown butter with lighter notes of leeks and apple cabbage slaw. But this menu that begins with a “traditional Scottish winter soup” closes with a pub-appropriate dessert (Fatso pudding) that’ll surely have you ready to brave the rest of winter.

Bham Eats: Pho Pho Vietnamese & Sushi Bar


We’ve been known to venture south of the city to satisfy a Vietnamese food craving. So it feels like a watershed moment to have a Vietnamese option within city limits, and Pho Pho Vietnamese and Sushi Bar did not disappoint.

The sushi lunch specials, for instance, are hard to beat. A sushi/sashimi combo is served with edamame and chicken broth soup, a soup that tasted surprisingly delightful for, well, broth. In fact, our strongest memories are of those accessory details like the broth, or the shrimp and pork spring rolls, which seemed crisper and more flavorful than we remember at other places. They were somehow both lighter and meatier than other spring rolls we’ve tried, however that’s possible.

If, however, you’ve come armed with appetite, the extra large pho bowls are basically daring you to leave hungry. Our very best eater friend could only manage a light supper after his extra large lunch, which is good news for student budgets in the area.


Southside’s student vibe is what makes Five Points’ funny little food paradise possible. It’s also part of what keeps Five Points South a neighborhood of value. There’s a mix of housing options and prices, much like the mix of food. “Most of our dishes cost $8 or $9,” owner Young Shin told AL.com. “People can get hot, fresh pho, and it is not like it is expensive dining.” Prices at Pho Pho are closer to what you’d see at a secret foodie hole-in-the-wall than to a stylish, convenient place with broad appeal.

Decor at Pho Pho is simple and modern, with hints of the neighboring Hotel Highland in its sleeker style choices. There are also Asian influences, including a private dining room with sunken seating. What we’re especially interested in, though, is the way this section of Five Points has become a delicate balance between maintaining the neighborhood eclectic and bringing in new development.

Pho Pho lies along a once dive-y strip north of the Five Points intersection, but we think that vibe is changing. That’s not to say that it will become fancy and high end; it wouldn’t be properly Five Points without an operating tattoo parlor. But we envision a more stroll-friendly stretch thanks to anchors like the relocated Black Market Bar and a new hotel development in the old Five Points Music Hall spot across 20th street.

As exciting as new things are, it’s also nice to see some echoes of the not-too-distant past. AL.com points out that Pho Pho’s location is the same as the old Sekisui, home to many great weekends of midnight sushi in the mid-aughts. It feels right, then, to see a sushi menu here again, even if the focus is on earlier hours.

The Anderson House: Meet the Architect

anderson house renovation

The Anderson house, currently undergoing renovation by an H2 client, is not just an innovative Birmingham home of historic value. It’s also linked to Birmingham’s own development story through its architect and original resident, Frank Hartley Anderson.

Anderson was not a Birmingham native. Instead, notes the Birmingham Historical Society’s, Designs on Birmingham, Anderson was part of Boston-based George H. Miller’s group designing the planned community of Fairfield. Anderson stayed in Birmingham even after Miller’s Fairfield work was finished and became a champion of Linn Park “as Birmingham’s major civic space.”

The plan Anderson developed with architects Warren and Knight was not specifically enacted, but their idea of important public buildings lining the park became a reality, according to the society.

The plan was in Warren H. Manning’s City Plan of Birmingham, the society notes, and when we dug up the original text we realized that Anderson also wrote the plan’s introduction. Or, more precisely, he pulled quotations from publications of the period that he felt encapsulated the plan’s spirit. They’re quotes that seem just as relevant for Birmingham’s current revitalization efforts, so we’re including them here as well.

The first was from the April 1918 Architectural Review:

The art of city planning is most directly concerned with an ability to so analyze the problem as to determine, and then to make the most of, those peculiar and distinctive qualities, either of geography, occupation or commerce, which,–when developed, will tend to make each separate, individual city the most distinctive example of its kind,–and at the same time as different as possible from others of its general size, topography and type.

But Anderson argued that the city needed more than a solid plan for its improvement, and he directed readers to Leon Rosenthal’s “The Re-Birth of Civic Idealism” for continued meditation:

If we are to regenerate our cities, to preserve their beauties and to make them better, more is required than the good intentions of a group of technical experts or public servants; for this end a veritable civic conscience must be developed in all citizens.

In the rest of the excerpt, Rosenthal writes that city planning should promote a shared investment in the city by its citizens, an enduring affection for the place they inhabit and a belief that their fortunes are intimately linked with the city’s as a whole.

It’s a perspective worth remembering, and we’re excited to be involved in some small way with perpetuating Anderson’s civic vision. Stay tuned for more on the house renovation plans and, eventually, its availability for a new owner.

Bham Brunch: Stout Fare at Buck Mulligan's

buck mulligans all day breakfast

There are some days brunch isn’t meant to be a chic, pretty midday meal. There are some days when its purpose is less about lazy champagne ambience and more about filling up. For those days, we now have Buck Mulligan’s Public House. Located in Black Market Bar’s old Five Points South location, its pub-inspired brunch eats like a Guinness stout.

The All Day Breakfast option, for instance, includes eggs, rashers (something between bacon and a thin cut of pork), a nicely seasoned banger, and white pudding (an onion-y patty made from sausage and oatmeal, a nice substitute for blood pudding). Rounding out the massive meal were baked beans, fresh tomatoes, brunch potatoes, and soda bread.

The crowd pleaser is likely the Irish Benedict, which offers a bit of familiar brunch flair plus a hearty pub attitude. Beer cheese stands in for the benedict sauce over poached eggs, while crispy French fries, fresh fruit, and soda bread add a range of sides.

buck mulligans

But the soda bread is Buck Mulligan’s real brunch standout. Its texture slices like toast with the buttery crumb of a well-made scone. Our best advice is to brunch with someone who avoids gluten so you can snag an extra serving.

Our other Buck Mulligan’s pro tip: eggs here are runny by default, which is handy for an instant sauce. If you prefer an over-medium fry or a firmer poach, mention that when you order.

Of course, no brunch menu would be complete without the beverages. We stand behind our assessment that this is not a champagne atmosphere, but mimosas are certainly on offer. We suggest the Bloody Mary or Irish Coffee as more appropriate accompaniments, though.

The Bloody Mary has a not-too-heavy consistency and a flavor with just enough spice. Plus it’s garnished with a rasher in addition to the usual citrus and veggies.

brunch drinks at buck mulligans

If you’re the type to bemoan the way a brunch beverage makes you want an afternoon nap, Irish Coffee might be your perfect option. You’ll get the soothing relaxation of the Jameson’s spike with a coffee base that offsets the afternoon slump. Whipped cream and Bailey’s are optional.

This hearty old-world brunch makes perfect sense in a neighborhood with lots of European architectural influences. And the Buck Mulligan’s space boasts a pub-style interior that’s more or less intact from previous incarnations our parents frequented in the ‘70s. Five Points has a mostly continuous commercial history, and you’ll feel that here.

Their take on brunch also feels like good business in an area with plenty of late-night bar options–places you may well have shut down the night before. It’s the right combination of hearty food and hair-of-the-dog you might need to salvage an otherwise wasted Sunday.

But it’s plenty satisfying even if you’re not hurting from Saturday night. It offers something just a little bit different, which is what we’ve come to expect of Five Points, Birmingham’s own bohemian beauty.

Bham Eats: Birmingham Restaurant Week

Image via Birmingham Restaurant Week

If you love food the way we do, Birmingham Restaurant Week is basically another holiday season. As big believers in our local food scene, we support restaurant week’s goal “to encourage residents and tourists alike to get a taste of Birmingham’s culinary scene and to fill the seats of the city’s eating and drinking establishments.” This year will be its sixth year of operation, and we’re looking forward to it like kids to Christmas.

The week kicks off with a preview party on August 12th, offering a taste of multiple restaurant week vendors, not to mention some of the city’s best views. If you’re having trouble singling out restaurants to try, this may be your best option. It also brings a range of options from around the metro area to the city center, an arrangement we can always get behind. And since ticket sales support REV Birmingham’s Urban Food Project, there’s even more reason to get a jump on the Restaurant Week action.

When the week starts in earnest, BRW’s website has a location recognition option to help you identify participating restaurants nearby, taking some of the scrolling off your hands if you’re content to focus on your own neighborhood. In case you’re not, we’ve listed participating restaurants by neighborhood below to give you a sense of the flavor profiles available across the city.

Part of the draw in events like this is to try new things, after all. So we’re excited that newcomers like East 59 are participating. We also enjoy the range of price points, with lunches from $5-15 per person and dinners from $10-30. And let’s be honest, $30 per person for a complete fine dining meal is practically the deal of a lifetime. Even if you keep your spending modest, there’s something special about signing up for a fixed menu and seeing what the restaurant itself selects as the perfect representative bites.

So go forth, eat, and enjoy the best of this city.


East Lake:

East 59 Vintage & Cafe


Southside/Five Points South:

Ted’s Restaurant

5 Point Public House Oyster Bar



Chez Fon Fon

Galley & Garden




Downtown/Loft District:

Bistro 218

Brava Rotisserie Grill


Continental Bakery Downtown

John’s City Diner

Oscar’s at the Museum

Rogue Tavern

The Summit Club

The Wine Loft

Urban Standard


Highland Park:








On Tap



Forest Park:

Little Savannah


From Five Points to the BMA: Frank Fleming's Birmingham

five points birmingham storyteller fountain

If you’ve ever marveled at the Storyteller Fountain in Five Points South, you understand the magic of Frank Fleming. Knowing that, you should plan to visit the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Between Fantasy and Reality exhibit showcasing his early catalogue.

“Infusing Southern traditions of storytelling with humor and superstition,” the exhibit brochure explains, “Frank Fleming’s sculptures walk the line between fantasy and reality.” Brochure notes also point to the Bear Creek, Alabama native’s childhood lack of speech as the source of his imagery: “This silence had a major impact on the way he formulates thoughts; he thinks in images more often than in words.” The exhibit works aren’t the compositions for which Fleming has become famous, the notes point out, representing instead the period before Fleming’s more notable bronze age.

Most of the pieces on display are small and cast in unglazed white porcelain. Yet the combination of cleaner materials and close exhibition angles makes it that much easier to appreciate the detail and texture of Fleming’s work. And despite the mostly monochromatic palate, the trueness of expression in Fleming’s subjects suggests startling color.

Visit the exhibit, and you might notice the anthropomorphic angle of a lounging pig’s leg or the knowing look of a still rhinoceros. You might marvel at the textural detail of an alligator’s skin, or shudder at the nail beds and skin folds on a human hand scepter. There’s a theatrical whimsy, to be sure, but Fleming’s most iconic talent is the combination of realism and weirdness and mild horror usually limited to dreams.

His famous Storyteller, for instance, reads both Peaceable Kingdom and Brothers Grimm, which sounds about right for its neighborhood. Five Points is Birmingham’s longstanding bohemian enclave, after all, where Frank Stitt’s fine dining has long coexisted with tattoo parlors and dive bars. In our minds, it’s no accident this is the setting for Fleming’s most visible work in Birmingham.

Before keeping Portland or Austin or any other city weird was a thing, Five Points South was quietly celebrating it. And it’s a special kind of weird in Five Points, less descriptive as hipster or yuccie or any other generational culture. It’s old school, equal opportunity weird, and that may be the very best kind.

Between Fantasy and Reality runs through August 9, 2015 at the BMA.