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Tag: melt

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 Spotlight: 41st Street Eats & Drinks

Spring Street, renamed Forty-First following the annexation to Birmingham in 1907, was the center of the new city. It extended from First Avenue, North, to the park, a distance of about five blocks. The surveyors made it wide to provide for the heavy traffic that they foresaw when Avondale grew to be a city of importance and Avondale Park should be developed into a popular pleasure and recreational place.

the Birmingham News-Age Herald, 1929

41st street

Avondale’s 41st Street commercial center maintains a comfortably rustic vibe that sets it apart from other Birmingham food scenes. It forgoes the fine dining peaks of Five Points South or the high design urbanity of the Loft District to forge its own foodie destiny, despite the popular Brooklyn comparisons. If Five Points’ drink identity alternates between a draft beer and a well-aerated Bordeaux, and the Loft District is a craft cocktail, then Avondale is the beer cocktail ⏤ self-assuredly casual and quirky and no less irresistible for it.

There’s an old-school, almost-kitsch food atmosphere in Avondale, a place where nostalgic references and comfort food can be taken to a deliberate excess. (Think Post Office Pies’ Swine Pie or Melt’s Mac Melt.) But there’s a sincerity to the food choices that’s hard to resist, a grounding in just-plain-good food and drink we always love. Rowe’s Service Station, for instance, describes its meals as “belligerently simple,” offering the no-frills comfort of a meat-and-three without the cafeteria line.

Our other favorite part about Avondale is that many of its offerings aren’t designed to be stand-alone options. Instead, it’s a kind of brick-and-mortar food truck park crossed with a modern main street. Its different specialty food and drink items are best mixed together, often when settling in at 41st Street or Avondale Brewing. (To help plan your Avondale experience, we’ve identified the most iconic food and drink options along 41st Street below this post.)

But it turns out we’re not the first to notice its main street feel. The Birmingham News raved about 41st Street in 1925 as the symbol not just of Avondale but of its progress. And, indeed, 41st Street’s emergence as a foodie mecca has transformed the neighborhood in recent years. So we’ll close out with the paper’s words, since many of them hold true today:

If every town has its ‘Main Street,’ few have any thoroughfare which has dominated its life and business as has Spring Street, Avondale, for more than a quarter of a century. It is what Twentieth Street is to Greater Birmingham, and then some. …It is really a remarkable street and its opening⏤paved its length⏤on Labor Day was significant in that at last Avondale was casting aside its swaddling clothes and putting on grown-up togs. The town was merging into city ways, and from now on keep your eye on it, for it’s going forward by leaps and bounds.

41st Street’s Most Iconic Choices:

41st Street Pub & Aircraft Sales: Moscow Mule

The Abbey: Coffee, Bagel with Bacon Jam

Avondale Brewing: Miss Fancy’s Tripel or Vanillaphant Porter

Avondale Grill: Tamales (Friday and Saturday only)

Melt: Mac Melt, Bham Bloody Mary

Post Office Pies: Swine Pie, Arnold Palmer or Pachyderm Pale Wheat

Rowe’s Service Station: Chicken Paillard, Eggs Vulcan, Fried Snickers, Build-Your-Own Bloody Mary

Satellite: Rocket Booster

Saw’s Soul Kitchen: Pork & Greens

Bham Eats: Vegetarian in the City

urban standard food
Image via Urban Standard

Remember when eating out as a vegetarian meant ordering grilled cheese and fries or a sad side salad? Those days weren’t that long ago, but thankfully, they’re no longer. The new Birmingham dining scene may celebrate the pork arts and other meat-loving specialties, but it offers delicious meat-free choices as well. Here’s our roundup of menu picks by neighborhood for a food-loving vegetarian in the city.

Loft District

Urban Standard is a standout option, offering the broadest array of non-meat entrees, including a veggie reuben, hippie gumbo, and a veggie burger of mushrooms and barley. And despite our complaint about the grilled cheese as a default option, you’ll very much want their grilled cheese.

El Barrio offers guacamole, chile rellenos, veggie quesadillas, and enough delicious meat-free sides to craft a meal of your choosing. We highly recommend either the sopa seca or the oaxacan donuts for brunch, depending on your sweet or savory preference.

Continental Bakery Downtown has a solid veggie option in every menu section, including peasant garlic soup, a salad featuring stone’s hollow goat cheese, a roasted eggplant sandwich, and red pepper farci.

Other neighborhood choices are the tofu base at Tau Poco, fill-you-up falafel at Pita Loco, veggie-filled mac ‘n cheese at John’s City Diner, and meat-free pizzas and pastas at Trattoria Centrale.

Avondale

Post Office Pies not only has a classic margherita pizza with house-made mozzarella but also seasonal salads like the roasted corn and tomato.

Melt is another grilled cheese feature, but it’s not relegated to the kids menu. Other options include pimento cheese, fried pickles, the mac melt (mac ‘n cheese grilled cheese), and tomato basil soup.

Hotbox has a small menu, but they’ve made room for five spice tofu and spicy soba noodles. Try a side of marinated edamame or cucumber kimchi while you’re at it.

Lakeview

Slice Pizza & Brew offers baked feta (!), raw kale salad, and an impressive array of veggie pizzas, not to mention the build-your-own option.

Babalu boasts tableside guacamole, a black bean burger, veggie tacos, and a host of meat-free small plates.

Cantina‘s molletes (basically a spanish bean sandwich), vegetarian tacos, and cheese enchiladas cover your entree base, along with great sides like saffron rice and beans and corn in a cup.

Five Points

Surin West is your place for vegetarian noodle dishes and tofu-based stir fries at varying degrees of spiciness, along with tofu coconut soup.

The Garage Cafe has loaded veggie sandwiches of your own design, served warm or cold on hearty Big Sky bread.

Other neighborhood favorites are pizza options galore (Cosmo’s, Mellow Mushroom, Little Italy’s), Golden Temple’s menu of meat substitutes and latin-inspired bean plates, and the falafel and seasoned fry arts at Mediterranean staples (Al’s, Purple Onion, Makario’s).

Highland Park

Rojo‘s veggie choices like black bean burgers, summer burritos, Kate’s salad, and totchos (tater tot nachos) are tempting even for meat eaters. The menu’s broad enough you could probably eat here weekly and still want to come back.

There you have it. If you’re a vegetarian who fancies living within walking distance of great local food, consider this your neighborhood cheat sheet.