Winter Restaurant Week BONUS: Rowe's Service Station

FullSizeRender (4)Winter Restaurant Week is officially over, but I have one last meal to write up. Being a blogger for these events has been a really fun experience. I've gotten the chance to connect (or reconnect) with dear friends over delicious meals and eat new meals at fancy joints and old favorites. With all that done, I'm also excited to go overboard on fruits and veggies for the next week or so. As y'all know, I'm all about some rich food, but I need to bring a bit more balance back into my life. But my last meal before reestablishing healthy eating patterns was a great one to end on: brunch at Rowe's Service Station. When Haley and I got there, it was just about full, but we were able to quickly snag a table. FullSizeRender (5)In the interest of sampling as many of the brunch menu offerings as possible, I ordered The Shop Floor, while Haley got the Eggs Concord.

They'd pretty much thrown everything including the kitchen sink onto my plate, and it looked delicious. There was a lot of food on both our plates. Luckily, it's solid, tasty, rich Southern food -- AKA the best kind. The home fries were crispy and tender, the flaky biscuits were topped with rich, chunky gravy, and the fried eggs were salty. What brought it home was the crispy-around-the-edges bacon, sausage, AND country ham: not one, but THREE breakfast meats. Seriously, who can say no to that?

With this post, I relinquish my title of Birmingham Restaurant Week blogger. With that said, I got to be part of the first annual Winter Restaurant Week, and I'm looking forward to seeing what other additions they have in mind.

For more coverage and information about future developments, visit the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Billy's Sports Grill

FullSizeRender (15)Billy's Sports Grill has been a Birmingham institution since before I was born. With hunting trophies and TVs on the walls, it looks like a place where you can get a solid (and reasonably priced) sandwich and fries. You'd be right: like the restaurant's appearance, the food looks simple, but is delicious. The lunch rush had mostly cleared out by the time we got there. It's been kind of a crazy week, so we took the time before lunch and dessert to decompress. I'd been pretty excited to see what their meal was like: after all, who can say no to a prime rib sandwich?

FullSizeRender (14)It didn't disappoint. Before the prime rib is cooked, it's covered in a house rub, then cooked for several hours. Since it's cooked as a whole, they usually only serve it for catering gigs -- or special events like Restaurant Week. It's labor intensive, but the resulting meat is rich and tender. At lunch, it was served on a warm roll that had been buttered and toasted. A liberal dose of their mild horseradish cream sauce was available to top it, and a salty, dark au jus was served on the side for dipping. Yum.

FullSizeRender (16)The fries rounded out the portion -- not too salty, not soggy, and nicely crisp. According to our friendly and knowledgeable server Brandy, the dinner meal was a slight variation on the theme: instead of a prime rib sandwich, the prime rib was served without a bun, with a tossed salad and broccoli on the side.

My next-to-last Winter Restaurant Week meal was capped off with a warm, dense brownie. Served with a chocolate drizzle and melty whipped creamy, the rich dessert also had chocolate chips hidden within for added decadence. Man, I'm gonna miss this gig.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Bottle & Bone

IMG_1432At Bottle & Bone, the word of the day is always "bacon." Earlier this week, my friend Taylor and I ate lunch at the restaurant and bottle shop in Uptown. I hadn't been in there in almost a year, and saw that they'd rearranged the space, which culled their bottle offerings but opened up more room for tables. IMG_1434For the Winter Restaurant Week lunch, you choose between a half bacon flight and an arugula salad for the appetizer. Since there were two of us, we ordered both. The bacon flight was made up of two or three pieces of three different bacons. All were cooked so that they were nice and crispy (just the way I like it), but the results were different for each.

FullSizeRender (12)Next came the sandwiches. To maximize what we could taste, I ordered the burger with potato gratin, and Taylor chose the avocado BLT with chips. The modestly sized burger came with the standard toppings: cheese, lettuce, tomato, and creamy sauce all on a buttered and toasted bun. Because there was one piece of bacon leftover from the flight, I added that onto the burger. It was tasty, but make sure you're hungry: it's rich and a bit on the greasy side. The potato gratin was also rich, but who can resist potatoes and cheese?

FullSizeRender (13)The avocado BLT was an interesting combination. It was served cold, so the rich and creamy avocado played off the more intensely smoky notes of the chilled (but crunchy) bacon. The mild tomato rounded it out, while the lettuce provided a little crunch to finish it off.

For dessert, the chocolate cookie was a nice, lighter way to top things off. Crunchy edges, white chocolate chips, and a soft center made it a nice way to wrap up the meal.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: JoJo's on Broadway

FullSizeRender (4)When I was a kid, my across-the-street neighbor and I would ride our bikes down to Lag's Eatery for chocolate milkshakes. Although Lag's has since closed, what took its place is JoJo's on Broadway, a family-owned and operated restaurant. Most of Joe and Zelda's recipes are -- or are adapted from -- recipes their parents used in their own restaurants years ago. It's a little fancier than Lag's used to be, but it's still super-accessible food in a casual setting. FullSizeRender (5)The Restaurant Week meal offers a LOT of options. For the soup and salad course, I ordered the New England clam chowder and my friend got the grilled romaine heart. The chowder was creamy, with chunks of clam and tiny bits of veggies that don't get in the way of the creamy soup. The romaine heart was grilled to a crisp and topped with their dad's blue cheese dressing.

Then came the starters. The jerk chicken appetizer was smoky grilled chicken with creamy, spicy jerk sauce. It's hard to describe exactly how good the result of these simple ingredients was, but they came together well and were still really good cold. I will be coming back for more of that (and the Reuben. Apparently the Reuben is amazing). FullSizeRender (10)Next up was the entrée. Both of us opted for the shrimp pesto pasta, which was more creamy than basil-y, but was deliciously rich. By the time the main course came out, we were having a blast: the music was all '90s and early '00s, and the company (and service!) was excellent.

FullSizeRender (11)Though the pie doesn't come with the Winter Restaurant Week meal, it's definitely worth checking out. The chocolate pie was like chocolate pudding on pie crust in the best way possible. I'm not huge on coconut pie, but my friend really liked it, and the texture was nice. Our mutual favorite was the key lime: tangy, not too sweet, and lacking the mouth-coating fattiness of most key lime pies. To quote Arnold, I'll be back.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Galley & Garden

IMG_1411Winter Restaurant Week has been a seriously nostalgic time for me. Yesterday, I visited Galley & Garden for the first time for lunch. Six years ago, my first experience with Birmingham Restaurant Week happened in the same building when it was called The Veranda. Since I was last inside right before they closed for renovations, lunch gave me the chance to marvel at all the changes in the building. A window into the kitchen really lit up the bar area, and the whole space seemed lighter. That's not even to mention great service (thanks, Max!), and really good food.

IMG_1406As for the meal itself, the Faroe Island salmon was the first up. Accompanied by a lightly dressed butter lettuce salad topped with a brown butter vinaigrette on the side and roasted veg, it looked just about as good as it tasted. There were a couple brussels sprouts in the mixture, but I could've eaten a whole bowl -- they were slightly charred on the outside, but sweet and soft on the inside. The fish was cooked to a perfect medium (by my inexpert estimate), seared to a lovely crisp on the outside and warm and tender when you cut into it.

IMG_1414Then came the dessert. As most Southerners can attest, every bread pudding is a little different. Galley & Garden's was deliciously divided -- the pudding portion was soft, with crispy apples, a Granny Smith apple compote and a touch of rich chantilly cream on the side. I was almost full before dessert, but it was worth it. Man, my job can be awesome.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: Jim 'N Nick's Community Bar-B-Q

YUM Jim 'N Nick's has been a constant in my dining life since my family moved to Birmingham. Over the last 18 (!!!) years, their cheese biscuits have been a constant through job changes, breakups, and moves. On one particularly memorable night, I ordered a twelve pack and ate them all in between tutoring sessions.

Luckily, every meal begins with a basket of them, including the Birmingham Restaurant Week lunch and dinner specials. They're slightly sweet, with crunchy, browned cheese on the outside and melty pieces on the inside.

FullSizeRender (14)The biscuits were quickly followed by the bar-b-q chips -- the app for the lunch special. These kettle-style chips were lightly dusted with a tangy, lightly spicy flavoring and accompanied by a blue cheese dipping sauce. The creamy sauce offset the spice of the chips, and balancing each bite. There weren't any left when we got up from the table.

The deviled eggs -- the app for the dinner special -- could be next to the dictionary definition of "deviled egg." The filling was creamy with little bits of crunchy pickled goodness, and the whites were perfectly cooked.

IMG_1399Then came the entree. On a cold day like yesterday, the mountain of mac and cheese topped with pork (or the meat of your choice) was filling. The side salad added a nice lightness, and with the vinaigrette, it also provided a lovely, slightly acidic counterpoint to the heavy loaded macaroni and cheese.

For more #WRW2016 coverage, check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website.

Winter Restaurant Week: John's City Diner

Birmingham, you purty. Like the 1970s AlkaSeltzer commercial, I can't believe I ate the whoooole thing. Last night, the husband and I went to John's City Diner for date night. We ate, and we ate, and we ate, and then we spent a couple hours zoning out. For having just rolled out a new menu on Thursday, the service was top notch.

FullSizeRender (5)The meal started off with a light side salad. The simple mixture of greens, tomatoes, and teeny bits of carrots was accompanied by a generous dollop of apple cider vinaigrette for me and one of spicy ginger peanut dressing for Adam. The vinaigrette was a bit sweet, and I ended up stealing some of his spicy ginger dressing for my own salad. The peanut added some richness, while the ginger gave it a subtle spice.

FullSizeRender (10)For the main course, I ordered the gulf shrimp and grits, while Adam ordered the famous meatloaf. The McEwen & Sons grits were creamy, and had corn kernels mixed in, giving it a great, slightly varied texture. The whole dish was topped with sausage gravy. While it might not be the most photogenic dish, it was goood.

IMG_1380I've had the famous meatloaf before, and it's delicious. Sourced from Creekstone Farms, the beef is light and fluffy without having a whipped texture. It was served over creamy smashed potatoes, sauced with a rich beef and mushroom gravy, and finished with a pile of lightly battered onion rings and a spear of spicy pickled okra.

FullSizeRender (4)After the main dish was finished off, dessert was served. In a great meal, the Belgian chocolate bread pudding was the highlight. Made with dark chocolate chips, the rich, well-textured pudding drizzled with Belgian chocolate ganache and accompanied with rich homemade whipped cream and an Bordeaux cherry. The hot, chocolate pudding melted the whipped cream into a tasty bittersweet slurry, and the cherry was effervescent. Yes, lawd.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

Winter Restaurant Week: Cantina

The table at first... During Restaurant Week, every day is Taco Tuesday at Cantina. Their lunch deal is a side of chips and salsa or chips and queso with two tacos of your choice. It's a lot of food: the portion of chips and dip is generous, to say the least. Lucky for me, I can eat queso all. day. long. Their tacos are solid. I went with the carne asada and fish tacos. Each taco is served with a wedge of lime to take the edge off the fat of the avocado. The steak was well-done, but not tough, and the texture was rounded out with refried beans and pico de gallo. The fish taco, one of my Cantina staples, was nice and crispy, with fried tilapia finished off with some mildly creamy slaw.


But in comparison to my lunch buddy and best friend Haley, I chose poorly. Her standard meal at Cantina (or their food truck, Cantina On Wheels) is two veggie tacos with an order of garlic fries. Her meal today was a bit different, but in her words, "I would like to be buried with these veggie tacos."

They're really simple: crunchy grilled bell peppers, zucchini, avocado, cilantro mayo and avocado piled onto a flour tortilla. With a couple dashed of hot sauce, a generous pour of the salsa verde, a squeeze of lime, and a bit of queso the taco comes together beautifully.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

It's Baaaaaa-ack: Birmingham Restaurant Week, Winter Edition

BRWWIf you were missing my (amateur) food blogging posts, fear not! This week, Birmingham Restaurant Week is launching their first annual winter edition. As part of the deal, they've invited me to reprise my role as their food blogger. Steel yourself for an onslaught of gratuitous food photos and blog posts, and make your plans to treat yourself this week. Here's the deal: for one week, you can sample lunch and/or dinner from some of the best restaurants in town for ridiculously low prices. These places are offering prix fixé lunch and dinner menus for $5, $10, $15, $20, or $30.

Needless to say, I'll be eating a lot (eight meals, to be exact). Luckily, I now have a gym membership, so hopefully I can find a balance between eating too much delicious food and staying active.

In any case, I'll be visiting Cantina today for lunch and John's City Diner for dinner. Stay tuned!

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more coverage.

Without the right spoon

At some point, you just end up breaking down and buying the damn grapefruit spoon. Photo credit Freelancing is a lot like eating a grapefruit without the proper spoon sometimes. It can be frustrating, barely rewarding, and energy consuming. Sometimes, it feels like you spend more energy trying to dig out just a little more fruit or juice with a blunt spoon. But once you've finally eaten the fruit and are squeezing the last drops of juice into your poorly paired spoon, you miss and spill the juice all over your shirt.

Or is that just me? Even better.

Over the past month, I've blogged my butt off for Birmingham Restaurant Week and been contacted by three different new clients. I've invoiced for more money this month than any other since I started freelancing full-time -- a welcome change after having to dip into my savings in July. Even with all of these things going right, I'm still trying to figure out how this writing thing will work going forward.

Several of the sections of my blog have gone on to become recurring paid columns. Cocktail of the Hour is now a regular part of my articles for mental_floss. I was blogging about health and fitness in exchange for personal training, but the gym has since closed. In the past, I'd used blogging to keep myself accountable as a writer or for my own health, but it hasn't stuck.

What I'd like to do is a weekly or monthly roundup post of what I did that week/month -- where I fell short, what frustrated me, and any victories. I'd love for my blog to be a place where I can focus on what I've done rather than leaving it in my head to loop endlessly through a montage of small victories and overwhelming obstacles. I can and will do this thing, and I will do it right. I hope.


Second Helpings: Slice

IMG_0787I love food. I love fixing it, eating it, and writing about it. After finding out that I would be one of the bloggers for this year's Birmingham Restaurant Week, I was excited for the excuse to eat all the food. But I was also extremely relieved to reach my last meal for BRW. Ain't it the truth

Slice is a great place to go for date night. Splitting a pizza, talking over a couple beers, enjoying either the AC or the patio -- there's not much that can beat it. Their Restaurant Week entrée is meant to be split, and it's enough food for even the hungriest couple. There are also a lot of different possible meals that can be put together since the meal is your choice of a salad, a pizza, and a dessert.

FullSizeRender (2)Adam and I chose the Summer Salad to start. This massive pyramid of watermelon, snap peas, tomatoes, feta, and peach vinaigrette brought together a lot of different flavors in a great was. The watermelon brought the cold sweetness, while the tomatoes and balsamic glaze added a bit of acid for balance. The feta rounded it out with a bit of fat and richness.

FullSizeRender (3)We decided on The Chilton. Almost every summer food I look forward to every year topped this pizza: braised pork shoulder, Chilton County peaches for sweetness, peppery arugula, well-cooked caramelized onions, and three types of cheese. All of it was topped off with a generous drizzle of balsamic glaze.

IMG_0786As the last dessert of BRW, we went with the salted butterscotch cheesecake drizzled with molasses. The texture was spot on: creamy and smooth, but not mouth-countingly fatty or sickly sweet. I'm not usually huge on butterscotch, but this worked for me. Adam and I spent the first few bites savoring it with lots of nodding, but without talking. The bit of saltiness balances any bitterness from the other ingredients (it's science), and made the filling's texture seem richer without adding weight.

While we were eating, the sun was getting lower. If we'd been on the main patio, we could've watched the sun set behind the Slice building, but we had places to be and things to write. Next time, we'll stay and watch.

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist

Second Helpings: ROJO

FullSizeRender (1)At one point in my early adult life, Rojo was a line item in my budget. Almost every Wednesday, I went to play trivia in their side room. I'm not great at trivia itself, but I'm awesome at making up snarky and inappropriate non-answers. Even if we didn't win, we won a few things for being imaginative. FullSizeRender (6)They're also participating in Birmingham Restaurant Week's Second Helpings. Until the 29th, their BRW special meals are still available at the same price. Because it's still patio weather, we sat outside on theirs. It was packed out for Sunday brunch/lunch, and there was a line to order food for the entire time we were there.

FullSizeRender (8)Since Adam went with me, our two appetizers together covered six of the seven dips you can choose from for their appetizer. Queso is one of my favorite dips that exists, and Rojo's is classic and delicious. If you're in the mood for something a bit sweeter, the pineapple salsa is sweet without being spicy. The guacamole is also well-balanced, with a varied texture and just enough cilantro.

FullSizeRender (9)Out of the entrées, Adam and I both preferred the tomato and basil quesadilla to the tilapia sandwich. Tilapia isn't my favorite, so I'm a bit biased against it to start. I like the creamy sauce that comes with their mahi mahi tacos and this sandwich, but it didn't save the sandwich.

The quesadilla, on the other hand, was like a warm caprese salad between two tortillas. The cheese was creamy, with a nice acidity from the tomatoes and a bit of spice from the basil. With a touch of salsa and sour cream on the top, the variances in temperature and texture were tasty.

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist.

Second Helpings: Moe's Original BBQ

A gift from Good People Brewing Co. During Restaurant Week, I've talked a lot about how fortunate I am to get to check out my friends's work. Believe it or not, Moe's Original Bar & BBQ (my tenth stop) was the second place I'd checked out that I didn't know anyone. But by the time Adam and I left, we'd made friends and are already planning to make their patio our hangout for football on Saturdays.

Located in a hundred-year-old house in Lakeview, Moe's is a bar-b-que joint with a thing for local beer. Though the night's music hadn't started yet, the continuing patio weather made their porch an easy choice. If it hadn't been for a late night Friday and Adam thinking about going for a run, we would probably would have hung out for longer over a beer or a Bushwhacker.

Daily drink specials

This year was their first time to be part of Restaurant Week. According to General Manager Cody Sellers, Moe's wanted to participate to get more involved with the community. "The atmosphere puts us in a different niche than a lot of other restaurants in town," he says. Out on the patio, it's definitely true -- with the swamp cooler going and a mild breeze, it almost felt like the beach.

Then the food came. One of my favorite things that I've had before is the Redneck Nacho plate. On its own, it's a full meal. The last time I had eaten it -- potato chips made in house and seasoned with dry rub, cheese, meat, jalapeño, and tomato topped with both red and white sauce -- was Sidewalk Film Festival 2013. Its name might not be my favorite, but it was as delicious as I had remembered.

IMG_0712Some Southerners might say that cornbread with sugar in it is cake, but I enjoy a bit of sweetness. It was toasted to a slight crunch, and was one of my favorite parts of the meal. Though the pork was delicious, I favored the turkey over the pork. It's well smoked, and drizzled with both red and white sauce. Paleo friends, rejoice: their meats and their slaw can be served without sauces. Another highlight was the wings. Before being fried, they're brined and then smoked with white oak (previously hickory). They're spicy, vinegary and all around tasty.

We also got to try all of the sides. All of them. Though they were all tasty, we did have a few favorites. The sweet potato casserole side was sweet and buttery and creamy with a bit of crunch from the nuts and corn flakes on top. The mac and cheese was creamy and rich, while the potato salad was creamy and refreshing. If you're feeling extra Southern, the collards are salty and meaty with a bit of acid.

IMG_0723In eating so much food, we wanted to get to the desserts, but we were both so full that we just couldn't. We ended up eating the leftovers and desserts for dinner. At that point, we figured out that the banana pudding is a tasty blend of fruit, baking spice, and vanilla. It's banana flavor is much milder than most others, but it's still very tasty. The Mississippi Mud Pie dessert is a delicious chocolate mousse with chocolate sauce and Oreos.

Moe's porch is a great place to hang out. It's obvious that their employees are passionate about their food: several different people told us about coming back to work after the Snowpocalypse a few years ago. The common thread was that they had missed the food so much during the storm that they came back and ate all of their favorite dishes in one sitting. Many of the employees have been there for years. Their passion shows -- in Sellers' words, "I just want guests to love this place as much as I do."

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist

Birmingham Restaurant Week: Second Helpings

Clockwise, starting from top left: Rojo's appetizer sampler, Oscar's pepperjack chicken sandwich, Primeaux's bourbon cherry dark chocolate tiramisu, and Moe's Original BBQ's turkey, pork, and all the sides "But, Clair," you might say, "Why are you still posting about Birmingham Restaurant Week? It ended yesterday!" You'd be partially right since Restaurant Week itself ended yesterday. But 11 local eateries are extending their special menus until Saturday for a good cause. Called Second Helpings, this limited BRW extension gives people the chance to keep eating for a good cause. A portion of the proceeds from every meal purchased between now and Saturday at these locations will go towards to REV Birmingham's Urban Food Project's Farm to Corner Initiative.

During the ten original days of Restaurant Week, we bloggers managed to hit most of the Second Helpings participants. Links to reviews that have been published are included below.

Black Market Bar & Grill - Five Points South Chez Lulu (review is of the Continental Bakery DT menu) East 59 Café The Grill at Iron City Little Savannah Moe's Original BBQ - Lakeview Oscar's at the Museum Primeaux Cheese + Vino ROJO Silvertron Café Slice

For more Restaurant Week and Second Helpings coverage, check out the BRW website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist

Birmingham Restaurant Week: East 59 Café

IMG_0697East 59 Vintage & Cafe was founded in Eastlake as a place for community members to hang out, grab a cup of coffee, and check out their vintage offerings. I'm not usually able to work in coffee shops because of the music/friends/acoustics, but everything about this café was extremely laid back. When I got there, I was also surprised to see that the shop was quite full. It was on the early side -- about 11:30, but there was already a bit of a wait to get food. IMG_0692Their Restaurant Week lunch special, a grilled cheese with a side of tomato soup, was a grownup spin on a childhood favorite. The nostalgia was compounded by the use of American cheese and white bread, but the addition of cheddar and pepperjack added a touch of spicy heat. The cheese was pretty melty, and the bread was toasted to a light crisp.

The tomato soup was a bit heartier than I was expecting, but while I was eating, it started pouring down rain outside. As I've said before, rain makes me crave tomato soup, and Saturday was no exception. Unlike a lot of other soups, the tomato wasn't puréed into oblivion, so the texture was varied all the way through.

IMG_0699I was apprehensive about the white chocolate blueberry cookie since I'm not huge on white chocolate, but it was vanilla-y and not overly sweet. It fit perfectly with the trend of remaking childhood treats into grownup food, and seemed to be sized so that you could nibble on it for a quick treat at the end of the meal.

Though it's a bit out of the way, I'll probably be going back the next time I need to get out of the house and knock out some work. I'm also looking forward to poking around their vintage store, since there are very few things more satisfying than finding a one-of-a-kind piece to complete a room or wardrobe. With Counter Culture coffee and tasty looking pastries, who wouldn't?

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist for more Restaurant Week coverage. 

Birmingham Restaurant Week: Vino

FullSizeRender (4)Outside of a few tiny sprinkles, Friday's night weather was pretty much perfect. It wasn't too hot or too humid, which made it ideal for spending time on porches and patios. Serendipitously, I had scheduled to eat dinner at Vino that night. Vino's patio is perched in English Village, which makes the patio prime people watching real estate. FullSizeRender (3)About 90 percent of it is in the shade, which means that you get a nice breeze without direct sun. Though it had been a pretty mild day, what was left of the day's heat was lingering, so we each started off with a glass of rosé. It was light and refreshing while still simple enough to pair well with pretty much everything they made.

Photo taken by Laura Foster

Since this meal made the tenth meal I've eaten out in nine days, I opted for the salad. The fruit was tart and fresh, and the sweet raspberry dressing was complemented by the candied walnuts. Laura got the butternut squash soup, which was creamy and rich in flavor but not very heavy.

IMG_0651Both of us got the Salmon Farfale entrée. Even though it wasn't too hot, the pork and chicken dishes looked a little bit heavier than what we wanted to eat at the time. The fish was light and cooked through, but not overcooked. The fresh spinach and tomatoes added some variety to the pasta's texture, and the capers gave it a bit of saltiness. The portions are generous, and I had enough to bring home for Adam to snack on.

IMG_0671Picking a dessert was a tough call. I went with the key lime cheesecake because I (foolishly) thought it would be the lighter option. The cheesecake was delicious, and the limes' tartness came through without being bitter. Since I love desserts' crusts as much or more than the filling, I was glad to find that the graham cracker crust was crisp and fresh.

Photo taken by Laura Foster

Laura went for the apple fritters, which were fried until the outsides were crispy and the insides were still fluffy. The slices of apple and vanilla ice cream contrasted the fritters' temperature and sweetness, rounding it out well. I've had a lot of overly crispy or just plain bad fritters in my time, and this was definitely a highlight in that category.

The next time there's a mild, breeze night, I'll be sorely tempted to revisit this patio. Few things are better in life than people watching with a friend and a glass of rosé, and sometimes you just need to take the time to enjoy life like that.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist for more Restaurant Week coverage. 

Birmingham Restaurant Week: MELT

That farmhouse ale though. Sometimes, life is hard for all the right reasons. I've eaten a lot during Restaurant Week, but as much as James and I joked about doubling up meals to boost the number of places we could cover, I didn't imagine I'd actually do it. Then Adam got invited to Dinner Lab for the same night I'd made plans to go to MELT. So, I did what any rational food lover would do and decided to eat two dinners.

I first heard about MELT when it was a food truck. After a hot yoga class at the Yoga Circle, I treated myself to a Mac n Cheese grilled cheese. Whether it was the yoga high or just the sandwich's deliciousness, I've been hooked ever since. When they opened in Avondale, I was stoked. Though I don't eat out often, I end up at MELT pretty often for lunch meetings. Pro tip: for the lactose intolerant folks out there, they have vegan cheese for the burger. Even with the fake cheese, it's tasty.

I'm partial to sitting at the bar because the bartenders are awesome (hi, Stephanie!). After my happy hour cocktail, Janice recommended a basil farmhouse ale for me to try. It was light, but still had a bit of kick from the basil. At the bar, you also get a show from the open kitchen. I don't mean witty banter, I mean a full-fledged show. While we were there, the kitchen serenaded us with ballads about cheese, fries, and cheesy bread.

IMG_0583Their Restaurant Week menu played to their strengths. I started with the tomato basil soup, a creamy mixture with just a touch of spice from the basil and a bit of richness from the olive oil garnish on top. Although I hated canned tomato soup as a kid, I've come to love it as a rainy day food as an adult. This soup was exactly what I was looking for after the solid five minutes of rain we'd had earlier in the day.

IMG_0594To experience MELT's offerings fully -- and to revisit an old favorite -- I ordered the tomato salad and Haley ordered the mac 'n cheese grilled cheese. I would say I was trying to eat more vegetables, but really I just wanted to try the salad before it wasn't available any more. The basil aioli brought together the spicy basil with the depth and creaminess of the aioli. This balanced the acid from the tomatoes while pulling together the flavors of the corn, black beans, and bacon.

FullSizeRender (2)Even though I was headed directly from this dinner to the pop up, I still ate about one-third of  Haley's grilled cheese. It's creamy, crunchy, salty, and just nice, something we in the South call stick-to-your-arteries good. With fries, it's a meal fit for the coldest of winter days or their hungriest summer counterparts. Though we polished off the tomato salad, there were some fries left after we had both eaten our fill.

It's a lot of food, especially if you get a sandwich. It's well-crafted, indulgent food that lives up to its name. It melts in your mouth and on your plate, and will satisfy even the deepest craving for something cheesy and delicious.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist for more Restaurant Week coverage. 

Birmingham Restaurant Week: Primeaux Cheese + Vino

IMG_0548After thinking about Primeaux for a while -- and if you taste their cheese plate, you'll be thinking about it too -- I've come to the realization that it wasn't what I was expecting. They're located out at the Summit, but aren't in a ridiculously large space. Both their food and wine are top-notch, but none of it is pretentious. Considering the people involved, I shouldn't be too surprised. Full disclosure: Chef Cory Bolton, his wife (!!!) Ashley AKA Primeaux's pastry chef, Sous Chef Grayson Taft, and Front of House Manager Melissa Pickering, all worked with my husband at Ocean. They're friends, and they know their shit, so it's not too surprising that my friend Taylor and I had a fantastic meal.

That freaking rosé. Can I have some more?

To start the meal, I ordered the budget-friendly rosé. With summer still in full swing, rosé is one of my favorite ways to cool down. It was dry with a nice bit of acid and a mineral-rich finish, which you may have guessed is what I like in wine. After a bit, Melissa replaced that with a glass of the Domaine Gueneau Sancerre Rosé which was exactly what I wanted but didn't know I wanted. Trust your servers, bartenders, and industry friends, y'all.

IMG_0545The apps came next. I started out with the charcuterie and cheese board, while Taylor chose the crabmeat cheesecake.* For the Restaurant Week version, they scaled it down to be closer to a single portion. Cured meat and cheese are two of my very favorite things, and the speck (a type of prosciutto) and salami were on point. Then there was the cheese. Oh my goodness, the cheese.

IMG_0558The cheese board itself included tastes of D'Affinois and a slightly firmer cheese, but Cory also let us taste the sottocenere di tartufo, a soft cheese made from raw cow's milk that had pieces of black truffle. Ridiculously good. I was enjoying the food enough that I forgot to take the photo until after a couple pieces had been eaten. Oops!

Taylor's appetizer was a riff on a crab cake. Instead of adding new ingredients to simple crab cakes, the crabmeat was worked into a rich, savory cheesecake with a pecan crust. It was rich, but the crabmeat was tender without being rubbery. It was also so good that both of us were discussing the likelihood of the existence of an entrée-sized version of the dish.

FullSizeRender (15)We'd both ordered the Cubano as our main course. Like the cheesecake, it's also a riff on a classic dish. It's pretty much cheese, housemade pickles, and spicy mustard with as much meat as can be physically stuffed into a sandwich, but it's done intentionally, and it shows. This sandwich is not a traditional Cuban sandwich, nor is it meant to be, but it hits all the notes of what you want a sandwich to be.

IMG_0559To finish, we had two desserts. The lemon icebox pie isn't on their Restaurant Week menu, but the well-spiced crust set off the tart and sweet filling just right. To be honest, I barely touched the pie because I was too busy contemplating and devouring the bourbon cherry dark chocolate tiramisu. At many other places, desserts flavored with bourbon use it very subtly. This dessert is bourbon-forward, with the tangy whole cherries and dark chocolate flavors filling out the flavor of the light, fluffy cake and rich filling.

With great food, better friends, and an excellent wine selection, I'll be back for more. Who wouldn't?

*These appetizers are available at both lunch and dinner. The Cubano is part of the lunch menu, not the dinner menu, and the desserts are only on the dinner menu.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist for more Restaurant Week coverage.

Birmingham Restaurant Week: Ocean

IMG_0506Two weeks ago, I told Adam that I was taking him on a date to a mystery location during Restaurant Week. Although he had worked at Ocean for four-and-a-half years, he had never gotten to eat there as a guest. It was entirely a surprise until an hour and 45 minutes before our reservations, but that's a story for another day. I've eaten at Ocean a few times when Adam misfired (accidentally ordered) something and once as a guest. After meeting Adam's restaurant family over the years, it was awesome to get to treat him to a meal. And what a meal. As a heads up, this post will be longer than most others since Adam and I ate the entire Restaurant Week menu. All of it.

FullSizeRender (13)Apparently the restaurant has recently switched over to bread from Birmingham Breadworks. We got to try some of the crostini and some of the Breadworks baguettes with a ramekin of olive oil and parmesan. While we were still working on the bread, the appetizers came out. The first one I tried, the papa à la pomodoro, was a rustic tomato soup. The garlic and basil added a bit of depth and spice, and as Adam said, it was like a texture-rich gazpacho.

Photo credit to Adam Evans.

Adam's first app, the beet salad, combined a lot of different ingredients to craft a much more complex dish. Both the golden and red beets were earthy, and golden beets gave it a bit of sweetness. The blood orange and avocado oil drizzled on top was a nice counterpoint to the beets' earthiness, while the dried kalamata olives gave it a tidge of saltiness. The goat cheese and candied pecans added creaminess and crunch, respectively, and rounded out the dish in a lovely way.

FullSizeRender (12)When the main course was served, I started with the salmon while Adam gave the snapper the first treatment. The salmon's risotto set (what was served with the fish) was buttery and creamy, and the bit of peach bar-b-que sauce was both sweet and tangy. But the fish itself was cooked to a perfect mid-rare, which made it the perfect counterpoint to the creamy set.

FullSizeRender (9)Adam's snapper was more of traditional Southern comfort food. The succotash that went along with the fish was a comforting mix of fresh summer vegetables. The snapper was mild, and the tastes blended almost perfectly. I had no trouble finishing the rest of the dish even though I was already full of bread and appetizer. We each got a different white wine -- Adam's was really close to the one I drank at Satterfield's. Mine was slightly less acidic, but paired quite nicely with the fish.

FullSizeRender (11)Then came dessert. The fig and cipollini tart wasn't the dessert I was most excited to try, but it was quite different from others I'd experienced during Birmingham Restaurant Week. The bruléed figs that were served with the tart were amazing -- the sugar on them was crisp, and the fruit itself was tender. Though the figs were the dominant element, the onion flavor came through in the second half of the flavor of the tart. The texture was quite lovely, and the flavor combination was unique.

After dinner, we headed to Octane for Daiquiri/Gimlet?/Daiquiri night to round out our tour of previous employers and to see some friends who had headed that way. If anything could round out a night perfectly, that was it.

Check out the Birmingham Restaurant Week website and James Martin's blog The Sipologist for more Restaurant Week coverage.