2012 1st Ave N.
Birmingham, Al 35203

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Tag: rowe’s service station

Bham Brunch: Rowe's Service Station

rowe's service station brunch


Once upon a time, there was no brunch in Avondale. It seems out of character for Birmingham, but it’s true. You could nod your cap at it — adding a fried egg to your lunchtime Post Office Pie — but biscuits and Bloody Marys weren’t in the neighborhood. Then came Rowe’s, which offers a brunch so truly Avondale it’s hard to imagine the area without it.

The menu is compact, straightforward, and appealing. It includes items like toad in a hole that aren’t broadly available, plus plenty of non-egg dishes if you prefer lunch food with a festive brunch drink.

We think the beer-raised waffle will put you in the mood for brunch staples, though. It has a slight yeast-y flavor that we loved, and which prompted a fierce internal debate over whether or not to request butter. (In the end, we chose not to.)

The chicken tender sandwich is perfectly fried and heavy on the honey mustard. It’s served with nicely crispy french fries that also come perfectly salted, which is always aces in our book.

The huevos rancheros was the underdog surprise — it sounded far less exciting than either the waffles or the chicken. Yet it was creamy and salty and satisfying, and a dish we’ll surely order again.

Let’s be honest, though. Brunch is as much about the beverages as it is about the food. Bloody Mary bars have become popular on the Birmingham brunch scene, but the quality varies wildly. The biggest gripe we hear tends to be a lack of hot sauce options.

Rowe’s apparently heard it too. They’ve dedicated two wall-mounted shelves to DIY Bloody Mary prep, and one is filled entirely with hot sauces. The other is split between Bloody Mary mixes and pickled garnishes.

The atmosphere echoes the menu — appealingly casual. There are concrete floors and raw wood rafters. You secure your place on the waitlist by pulling a ticket from the counter. Drinks come in disposable cups and food on plain steel trays. It’s low on frills, befitting a space that was once a working service station.

“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. As Atkins suggests,this embrace of the past is a neighborhood ethos. There’s something nostalgically American about the area: a simultaneous ode to working class roots and the picnicking fun of Avondale park.

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