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Tag: local spotlight

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.



Yellowhammer Creative Draws Avondale’s modern heritage

yellowhammer creative

yellowhammer creative

Remember that time Keith Richards wore a Heart of Dixie t-shirt? Avondale’s Yellowhammer Creative was responsible, at least originally, for that moment of Alabama love and certainly fittingly. The design/print shop articulates a modern heritage vibe fitting for a new Birmingham.

Their deceptively simple designs feature bright colors and bold graphics, bringing a modern eye to classic Birmingham symbols. But the letterpress and screen printing methods keeps their work honest. Instead of crisp digital lines, it gives their work an endearing imperfection.

Full of nostalgic inspiration, their work explores what we were to help define who we are now. There are the vintage-inspired posters for the Alabama Theatre’s film series–quite possibly the best local brand collaboration–and the Vulcan items in its museum gift shop.

That emphasis on local landmarks makes Yellowhammer Creative our go-to for gifts to out-of-towners. Our recent visitor from the other Birmingham even showed off her own Yellowhammer tote on Instagram.

It’s fitting that Yellowhammer is in Avondale, which went from no one’s radar to “Birmingham’s Brooklyn.” It’s at the heart of the indie scene that’s charming a nation with a Southern-fried hipsterism that reads more laid back. Avondale’s bearded and letterpressed, sure, but less precious than your Williamsburgs or Portlandias. It’s low-profile but earning plenty of press.

After all, Yellowhammer Creative is only part of Avondale’s modern heritage vibe. Post Office Pies, Rowe’s Service Station, and Fancy’s on Fifth all tip their hats at the Birmingham that once was, refusing to relegate the past to forgotten history.

Its independent storefront is small, but that’s also fitting for a neighborhood to host Box Row. The space is simple stacks, a rolling rack or two, and lots of poster wall art in a plain mid-century building on what will surely be Avondale’s next big push.

But these guys are all over the city, and we’re glad to have them. In fact, we’ll soon have them as neighbors at a grandly renovated Pizitz Building downtown.

Small-Town Charm with Urban Access at Sheppard’s Pet Supply

sheppard's pet supply
Image via Sheppard’s Pet Supply

Natural pet food and spoil-your-pet treats are among the many things that used to require an over-the-mountain trip. Then Sheppard’s Pet Supply came along, combining east side convenience and small business charm. Its new Avondale location still has those things, plus easier access and, says owner Will Sheppard, room for twice the stock.

A mere half-mile west of its old Crestwood North location, Shepherd’s Pet Supply is the first new tenant at the Family Dollar shopping center now owned by the same trio as the Shoppes of Crestwood. He’ll be joined by others, including Tropicaleo and an aerial pilates studio, owner Will Sheppard told us. He’s already been joined by a rescue shop cat named Declan.

We have a soft spot for small businesses with resident pets, and Sheppard’s Pet Supply is no exception. Declan is beautiful and friendly and inclined to spread out across entire patches of sunny floor. He’s also been known to use the store’s shelves and open storage lofts as what one Instagram user called “the world’s largest cat condo.”

Sheppard himself is just as charming, combining social media and pop culture references with old-fashioned most-hours customer service. If he doesn’t stock what you’re looking for, may be able to order it for you. And if changes in hours threaten your pet’s food supply, he’ll work out a delivery arrangement. He’s the guy you’d happily have a beer with. And you can–this is the only pet store we know of with an in-house kegerator.

It’s worth following the shop’s Instagram feed for a reminder of how much small-town community our urban neighborhoods can offer. Sheppard’s new location, at the crossroads between Avondale and Crestwood, is one more sign of how those areas are beginning to overlap. And what a charming, better-than-suburban area Birmingham’s east side is turning out to be.

Art in Full View at Canary Gallery Downtown

canary gallery downtown

canary gallery downtown

While renovations were underway, a giant chandelier was the most distinguishing feature at Canary Gallery downtown. It’s still one of our favorites, but there’s no shortage of things to see now: crisp white walls display work ranging from bold pop art to soft country landscapes. Like its Loft District neighbors, the gallery puts an existing building to stylish mixed use.

What we especially like about this space is its visibility. Even when the gallery is closed, its corner spot with generous windows and ambient lighting means there’s something to see any time of day. It’s a boon for the neighborhood streetscape and part of a block undergoing rapid transformation. After all, Artefact Supply opened this fall, and our friends at Nequette Architecture and Design have their own plans nearby.

Perhaps the gallery’s most intriguing feature is its business model. The gallery describes itself as “a neighborhood art gallery, event space, and gathering spot.It’s a working gallery with art for sale, in other words, but it’s also a flexible multipurpose space befitting its downtown district. Downtown Birmingham is already a booming artistic space, but Canary adds something extra to the mix.

It’s hard not to daydream about hosting an event there. The floor plan’s easy flow and lofted nook invite mingling and lingering. Which is what owner Libby Pantazis had in mind, according to a profile in Iron City Ink.

And the tone of Canary Gallery is more reminiscent of Art Crawl than high society. It’s designed “to be a friendly, welcoming place, not a holy temple of art,” according to the Iron City Ink piece, which noted that gallery hours cater to the surrounding bar and restaurant scene. In fact, the gallery’s blog suggests restaurant patrons could spend their wait time over a glass of wine–available for purchase–and art.

Architectural Heritage, Your Go-To for Lived-In Luxury

architectural heritage lakeview

architectural heritage lakeview

Lakeview’s Architectural Heritage knows how to make an entrance. Life-size statues, garden troughs the size of bathtubs, the fixings for a custom water feature. All greet visitors from an iron-gated courtyard. Part architectural museum and part genteel salvage yard, Architectural Heritage specializes in found treasures on a grand scale.

This is no hodgepodge antiques warehouse but a series of collections. Nor is this your go-to place for the everyday furnishing. It’s more the answer to a style yearning. The search for your home’s statement accessory. It’s the home decor version of estate jewels from Levy’s downtown. Architectural Heritage is your go-to for lived-in luxury.

It’s not all old-world statuary or salvaged stone mantels, though. There are small Oriental throw rugs and vibrant butterfly taxidermy, both items that work with a wide range of design eras.

There are also nice modern hints tucked into the displays of old-world salvage. Leather-bound books cluster on simple acrylic shelves. The tag by a William McLure abstract suggests it’s a contemporary mixer that’s antique-friendly.  

Still, Architectural Heritage’s casually aristocratic air works well with other Pepper Place favorites like King’s House, or Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery. These are places that celebrate the traditional arts. That old-world air also suggests the most natural spaces for the style and scale of these heritage pieces.

Ornate salvaged mantels and crystal chandeliers feel most obviously at home in Highland or Forest Park. But they’re also a way to bring some of the sculpted downtown facades into high-ceiling Loft District homes.

The upper price points reflect those bigger-ticket neighborhoods, with pieces that run into the four figures. Heritage pieces are the kinds of things you keep, though, so we’d argue they’re worth the investment.

Like a grand home, it’s probably not your very first purchase. But it just might be your favorite.

2101 Cafe and the Redmont’s Downtown Balance

2101 cafe at the redmont hotel

2101 cafe at the redmont hotel

Some days you need a shot of luxury as much as espresso. Some days you need to feel like you’re on vacation, even if you’re really on your way to work. On those days, there’s 2101 Cafe at downtown Birmingham’s Redmont Hotel.

There are the places you visit because they ground you in the neighborhood. Then there are those you visit because they feel like an escape. A 2101 Cafe visit does both.

Pass the red-coated doormen at the entry, an enthusiastic greeting at the front desk, and head left to the cafe nook. You’ll find long parsons tables with built-in outlets, a succulent pot of aloe. Bentwood bar stools with triangular foot rests. Past the glitz of the entry, you’ll find the modern energy of the district.

(You’ll also find a nicely stout latte made with Revelator coffee, plus a sampling of breakfast and lunch options.)

This is not the place to hunker down over a business plan or map plot lines for your first novel. There’s a reason all the seating is in bar stools, no individual tables. This is not a coffee shop in the Friend’s sense or even the Starbuck’s one. It’s a delightfully caffeinated way station. The place you charge your phone and your brain while you do one last review of your slide deck, web copy, sales pitch.

But for all its fast modernity, there are hints of history that linger. There are mullioned windows and transoms, built-in shelves with under lighting, a street door with sidelights. Open and modern but not especially industrial, it’s a nice alternative style guide for the district.

The overall experience is the two sides of downtown loft district life–artful buildings and multitasking energy–in one single visit. No need to linger too long; you already live here.

But it’s still nice to visit.

Loft District Staple What’s on 2nd…Now on First

What's on 2nd

What's on 2nd

We’ve always loved to while away an afternoon at What’s on 2nd, but we weren’t sure what to expect from their new(ish) space. Never fear. We’re here to report that everything awesome about What’s on 2nd remains. What’s gone is the excess. Or at least most of it.

Now located near the 24th Street viaduct downtown, the new What’s on 2nd has a sleeker veneer. Inside, it’s less overflowing and more shoppable, with some nice aisles around central cases of delightful sundries.

What once felt charmingly hodgepodge now feels a bit more contained. That puts the focus back on individual collections instead of on the sheer scale. The store still has flea market finds but with a slightly more styled sensibility. And we’re digging it.

What’s really special, though, is its delicate balance. There are finds to thrill specific enthusiasts, but the store remains friendly to a casual collector. Whether your poison is vinyl, games and attachments for your original Nintendo, film cameras, beaded evening purses, or memorabilia from long-gone political campaigns, they’ve got you.

What’s on 2nd remains one of the city’s very best places to find smallish wall decor. That includes–but is not limited to–vintage postcards and civil war-era anatomy prints. There’s also plenty of inspiration for eclectic vignettes, a key part of the Loft District’s found art vibe.

Trying to incorporate youth-oriented memorabilia into a lovely young professional home? The shop is a great resource. That awkward collection of shot glasses from your travels or college triumphs? Put them in a printers tray, and they’re suddenly a curated collection. That’s the wisdom of What’s on 2nd.

It’s fitting, really, that the store has moved to a new location. A sign of the Birmingham Loft District’s inevitable transition from eclectic settlement to urban neighborhood. Fortunately, there’s still a place for that pioneering spirit.

Lakeview’s Motus Motorcycles Earns Celebrity Praise

motus motorcycles in lakeview

motus motorcycles in lakeview

What do you get if you blend Lakeview’s industrial heritage, its crop of automotive shops, and the craftsman spirit of Pepper Place? You get Motus Motorcycles. You also get a local product with a big league fan.

He may have made the requisite Alabama joke, but Jay Leno showed some serious love for the Lakeview-based firm on his YouTube show, Jay’s Garage. The celebrity auto enthusiast featured the Motus MSTR model, along with company officials Brian Case and Lee Conn. The Birmingham Business Journal reported on the episode in July. 

Much of Leno’s praise focused on Motus’s innovative motor. It’s “an engine unique to this motorcycle,” he said. “And it’s an engine we haven’t really seen before.”

It’s commonplace to hang a new body design around a standard engine, according to Leno, but the real art is in the motor. At Motus, he noted, “it’s a bespoke motor.”

“That’s the real sign of dedication to me,” he said. “Because you use somebody else’s motor, the rest of it is not easy, but it’s easier.”

That Motus has created something new and found a way to build it here also earned Leno’s praise:

“I love to see people building something in America. It’s so hard with all these automobile manufacturers and some motorcycle manufacturers going out of business, it’s nice to see these guys coming up with something.”

And to put these motorcycles into perspective, Leno said there are three American-made options: Harley, Indian, and Motus. Just let that sink in for a minute.

We say it’s telling that Motus is located in Lakeview. The neighborhood that revels in rescuing artifacts of an earlier era and bringing them back to life. From family farm stalls to craft beers, this is an artisanal neighborhood. It’s a Maker’s Village well beyond the Saturday market.

“It’s easy to get into lots of gimmicks,” Conn told Leno. “We just really wanted to build something that it was just about the feeling we used to get on bikes, where it was just the throttle and the engine and the road.”

Go Green at Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery

charlie thigpen's garden gallery

From the outside, you might think Charlie Thigpen’s Garden Gallery is another a nice local nursery. But “garden gallery” isn’t just a brand. It’s a really apt description of this charming shop and its role in Lakeview’s Pepper Place.

Situated next to Scene, Ovenbird, and the Saturday Maker’s Market, the Garden Gallery may have set the trend for many indoor/outdoor favorites at Pepper Place. Walking through the winding pathways during a warm market Saturday, the outside gardens of succulent trays and herbs are a visual oasis that we swear makes you feel cooler.

Step inside the high-ceilinged indoor space, and you’ll see the wide range of products the gallery sells to make your home feel similarly inviting. There floor cloths inspired by vintage tile, and glam furnishings from humble materials. Our personal favorite is the tractor seat turned bar stool, which boasts comfy curves and a footrest.

Birmingham has “more green space per capita than any other city in the nation,” the city’s website boasts. It’s fitting that a place like Charlie Thigpen’s exists to help us make the most of it in our own homes. That transition from public to private green space feels most natural in historic neighborhoods like Highland Park, but it isn’t limited to them.

The right plants and outdoor goods could make even a nearby downtown Loft District or Lakeview balcony feel lush. Even with no outdoor space, framed botanical art and small statuary — there are charming little birds and even a friendly gargoyle — brings the garden party indoors.

Indoor/outdoor isn’t just a lifestyle at the garden gallery but part of its very democratic feel. Like Pepper Place, it has offerings for the well-heeled and the student budget. It works for the range of Birmingham, from eclectic Five Points rentals to John Hand Building balconies.

Foodie Fridays at Downtown’s Trattoria Centrale

dinner at trattoria centrale

pasta at trattoria centrale

Friday Night dinners at Trattoria Centrale have been away so long, they almost felt lost to history. We were excited enough when new owners Bryan & Erica promised to bring them back. We were ecstatic when they actually did. Even better, the dinners are just as good as we remember.

Friday night dinners aren’t just a chance to unwind; they’re also a chance to be less utilitarian than a weekday lunch allows. Dessert, for instance, is rarely part of our lunch equation, and appetizers aren’t on the lunch menu. But both were superstars on the dinner menu. In fact, here’s our big recommendation for Friday night dinners: bring at least one friend, order multiple appetizers, split an entree and then a dessert. Or just a bowl of tiramisu for one. Your choice.

Trattoria’s appetizers hit a sweet spot between Southern and Italian influences that’s very hard to beat. The blt crustini featured sweet roasted tomatoes and thick bacon for a fancy take on a classic sandwich. The tomato salad with salty field peas, sweet peaches, and micro basil is a farmers market on a plate.

dinner at trattoria centrale

Without red sauce, the bacon/corn/tomato/basil pesto ricotta pizza felt fresh and light as a main dish. The garganelli entree had perfectly cooked pasta and shrimp, just enough cheese, bitterly tender eggplant and the occasional almond crunch. It was a dish that felt simple but packed in comforting flavors, which is basically the point of pasta.

If you’re at all a dessert person, though, everything else pales in comparison to the tiramisu. We were talked into it with raves about the homemade custard, and we’re so glad. This dish is all about thick, eggy custard with a dusting of bitter coffee and chocolate. Coffee soaked ladyfingers wait at the bottom like a Cracker Jack surprise. We won’t judge if you need to lick the bowl.

The tricky part about the loft district dining options is that some of our downtown favorites are weekday lunch only. But for many of us, spending quality time in them means evenings or weekends — exactly when they’re not open. We tend to think of the weekend brunch or the odd evening open as neighborhood open house time, and we’re glad to have it.

But as much as we love a good brunch, it can be hard to beat an evening streetscape and a well-earned meal at the end of the week. Welcome back Friday night dinners. We’re very glad to have you!