February 24, 2013 § Leave a Comment
There are a great many things Birmingham has to offer that let you feel that you are enjoying life to the fullest. I’ve often found myself searching for just the right suggestions for out-of-towners searching for somewhere to go, somewhere to truly experience Birmingham. The city has several attractions: the Civil Rights Institute, the Vulcan, Birmingham Museum of Art, Sloss Furnace, Railroad Park (just to name a few), or just driving around beautiful, historic neighborhoods and experiencing the architecture and the culture.
If this locale fits the crowd you’re with, I suggest a boozy afternoon at Avondale Brewing‘s taproom.
First, head two doors down over to Saw’s. (I reviewed this place some time ago, when their only location was in Edgewood, but the city now boasts two more locations: Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale as well as Saw’s Juke Joint in Crestline. This little establishment has seen some well-deserved growth.)
Back to your to-do list: place an order at Saw’s. I recommend one of their Baker’s—the pork one is incredible. On top of this oversized baked potato, you have an entire layer of tender, juicy, divine pulled pork with crispy, charred edges. Then as you dive deeper in, you get a layer of cheesy potato with green onions and more pork. And if you order a side of white sauce, it’s just all over.
Or you could also get the Saw’s Burger, which is a darn good burger. And on the side, order onion rings or fries—you can’t go wrong either way.
Then carry your food over to the Avondale taproom, and find a spot to sit and eat while sipping a beer, perhaps a seasonal Peach Saison, which is light, crispy, and delicately sweet.
Finish that beer, then order a flight of their flagship beers.
My personal favorites are the Spring Street Saison which is citrusy and crisp (I’ve mentioned this before), the Scottish Ale with its sweet flavors and buttery aftertaste, and the Vanillaphant Porter, with chocolate and coffee undertones.
February 12, 2013 § 2 Comments
About five minutes down the road from where I work sits a shiny, brand-new doughnut shop. Walk through The Heavenly Doughnut Co.’s doors, and this Christian-run operation is filled with the sweet smell of doughnuts baking, and a case full of tempting options sits in front of you.
Christina and I ate doughnuts for lunch last week. These doughnuts, to be precise:
This was easily my favorite of the bunch. I appreciated what a bit of salt and savory can do to a sweet maple glaze on a yeast doughnut. Next time I go in, it will be to try one of these or the one below.
2. Blueberry Cake
Whenever I eat a blueberry cake doughnut, I’m transported back to after-church snacking when I was little. I’d make a cup of tea with way too much cream and sugar, then I’d grab a blueberry cake doughnut and go find my friends. This was a great version of, what is for me, a classic. I didn’t find the cake too heavy and the blueberry flavor was sweet and prominent.
3. Bavarian Cream
The cream was as rich as you’d hope without being over the top. I love how light the yeast doughnuts were.
4. Chocolate-Peanut Butter
Ok, this one crossed a line for me—it’s way too rich. I had one bite and had to stop eating.
So have you been by yet? What did you order? What do you think? I would suggest liking Heavenly Donut Co. on Facebook – they have special deals and trivia questions with free giveaways often posted there. YUM!
January 30, 2013 § 2 Comments
We FINALLY went to Little Donkey a couple of weeks ago with my sister Brynn and her husband. I had been dying to try this Mexican-barbecue fusion spot in Homewood for oh so long.
There has been plenty of buzz about this restaurant, as it is founded by Birmingham restauranteurs Nick Pihakis and Joshua Gentry of our beloved local chain, Jim ‘N Nick’s. Pihakis and Gentry took their homegrown, slow-cooked barbecue expertise and used that to season their take on Mexican fare. What I appreciate very much about this place is that this is apparent throughout the experience.
We started off with horchata! What else? This is a nostalgic drink for me. It takes me back to family trips to La Fogata in the San Fernando Valley. Little Donkey’s version of this sweet beverage is rice water flavored with almond, cinnamon and vanilla.
We also snacked on their chips and salsa, which had a deep, savory roasted flavor. Of course, my only issue here was that just one basket was complimentary.
For lunch, I enjoyed the Torta de Cerdo, or the Drunken Hog, which a cross between a Southern pulled pork sandwich and a Mexican torta. Tender, Jim ‘N Nick’s-reminiscent pork was topped with pinto beans, pickled red onions, cheese and guacamole with their homemade bread. It also came with tomato broth on the side for dunking. Biting into this tasted as a torta should, with a bit of Southern comfort.
As my side, I chose the elote—street vendor-style corn on the cob topped with crema, cotija cheese and cayenne.
And truly, one of the best tamales I have ever tasted lives at this restaurant (Arguijos, don’t be mad! Notice I said ONE of the best). My sister ordered a taco alongside a pork tamal.
I reached over and grabbed a bite of it with my fork, and the tamal sang. The maza was so well flavored and moist, and the meat was as tender as could be. Both components married each other in flavor—you could taste it.
And finally – one of my favorite things – was La Concoccion: Mexican rice topped with black beans, cotija, a poached egg (omg!) and green onions. Decadent, comforting, perfect. I’m so making this at home.
We didn’t stay for dessert … we ran over to Steel City Pops next door! Tales of that adventure are coming soon. Have you visited Little Donkey? What do you like to order?
January 3, 2013 § 2 Comments
I went to lunch awhile ago with a fabulous lady just a week before her wedding day. I still hadn’t tried Tin Drum AsiaCafe at the Summit, and I wanted to give it a shot. My dear friend so willingly obliged.
This casual spot is quite accurately described as an “Asia” cafe. Its menu didn’t pick an allegiance to any specific country within the continent, but featured Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese fare. It certainly put its own spin on classic flavors and boasted a menu that had a long list of street-food type dishes I wanted to try. Also, after a bit of reading up on the semi-local chain, I was surprised to discover that the first Tin Drum was on Georgia Tech’s campus and had expanded from there. The service was great, and the staff was friendly.
When we went to order, we were told that nothing was frozen and that everything was fresh and prepared daily in-house. That’s always a plus.
So, to start, I tried the Crab N Cheese Roll, which was delightfully fried and greasy and cheesy (three of my favorite food characteristics), however, I couldn’t detect very much crab; I definitely would have appreciated more.
And then I went with the Thai Basil Spring Roll. I liked the first bite—the brightness of the basil with the deep savory tamarind sauce was a nice pairing, but as I continued into the roll, I felt a lot to be lacking. It felt a bit too dry to continue, even with the addition of the sauce. Plus, due to its spring/summer roll nature, it started to fall apart.
As my entree, I chose the Tin Drum Curry.
The chicken was tender, the curry was spot on in depth, spice, brightness, and that hint of sweetness. The rice was perfectly sticky. I enjoyed the fresh spinach, but I felt there could have been a bit more of it and perhaps a bit more to it. I would have enjoyed some additional flavor added to the spinach—a quick sauté perhaps? A bit wilted? For some reason it seemed a bit out of place in the dish, but then again, I liked how the warm curry handled the wilting of it. So I guess overall I’m undecided on how I feel about those baby spinach leaves. I would definitely take them rather than leave them, though, as a bit of freshness is always appreciated.
Everything aside, the prices were good. My little rolls only set me back about $3 altogether, and my curry dish was $8. I will be giving this place another try (I’m anxious to sample their street tacos), and I recommend you do, too.
December 14, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Ok, so confession — this post is extremely delayed because I’m a bad blogger. I don’t think I’m going to review this restaurant, I’m just going to highly suggest that you go there and try it for yourself.
Our last night on our honeymoon in San Francisco, James and I had a serious sushi craving. And after some research, James discovered that our hotel was just a few blocks from Ryoko’s, a family-owned little spot with great reviews. We hungrily headed over in the blustering July breeze. It opened at 6 pm, and we arrived at about 5:50. We were the first ones there, and a line started to form as we waited outside. I knew we had found a great spot.
The atmosphere was rockin’. The restaurant was small, underground, dimly lit, and chill music was playing. I hear they have DJs weekend nights starting at around 8.
The service was great, and we started with a Sapporo on tap.
The sushi was so fresh and flavorful. I recommend the Alcatraz, the barbecued eel with avocado—that was our favorite. We also enjoyed the Spicy Golden Gate, which was spicy salmon, shiso, cucumber, and flying fish roe over the top.
Sushi by the sea—nothing I’ve had since that last night in San Fran has come close to this. I miss you, Ryoko! I will visit you again one day.
December 13, 2012 § 2 Comments
I hope you all will forgive my absence. I feel so bad about it! I think the truth is that a 1-hour commute to and from work has made me a little less inclined to spend free time on my computer and more anxious to savor precious time with my little family. But every time I blog, I realize how much I miss it. So please pretend it hasn’t been so long, and let’s pick up where we left off.
About, uh, two months ago now (sheesh), James and I had the splendid opportunity to take a quick trip home to California (James got a work invite to a press event, and I was his guest!). It was such a quick trip that it almost felt like a secret. We literally touched down in LA, had a quick couple of days, then turn around and left.
That Friday we landed, headed to our hotel, and my parents + Brikk met us for lunch. Ever since my family had brought it up what felt like a year ago or so at this point, I had been dying to try Umami Burger.
There are about a handful of locations within five miles of where we were staying. (Actually a Pasadena location just opened up! It wasn’t open at the time). So this a local chain, and a darn good one. We chose to head to the one at The Grove so we could follow lunch with some shopping.
As the name of the restaurant indicates, its focus is on deep, savory flavors. It is said that umami is one of the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and, of course, umami, which can be translated from Japanese to mean “pleasantly savory.” This flavor profile was first proposed in 1908, according to my lengthy research on Wikipedia, and was officially added as a scientific term in 1925.
The restaurant boasts that it has mastered the art of “creating the perfect mouthful.” Their house-ground beef is fused with their Umami Master Sauce which is the base for each burger. Going over the menu took quite some time as I deliberated each beautifully described burger. At the end, I chose the Port and Stilton.
This burger has blue cheese, onions caramelized in port. It was rich, so deep.
This was probably one of the best burgers I ever had. I don’t think I’ve ever had a burger where I can taste how well thought out each flavor truly was. The meat was cooked to perfection and I could taste the subtle sweetness of the caramelized onions with the depth of the savory meat. The saltiness of the stilton was the perfect finish.
Next time I am in Pasadena, I’m going back for more! Have you been here? Did you enjoy it?
On a finishing note, I’m so grateful for this precious time spent with my parents and youngest sister. As it turns out, James and I won’t be able to head to California this Christmas. So this trip was truly a blessing. Thank you, Lord!
September 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This little review is way past due. In fact, these photos are from multiple visits to this favorite place of mine.
I love eating lunch at one of the picnic tables sitting right beside the Shindigs Catering truck, which makes appearances at various locations around town. Their food is fresh, local, affordable, and insanely delicious. I’ve also been very impressed with how quick and efficient they are when waiting on a line of hungry people.
I’ve visited them at a couple locations. The first time, it was the night of the BCS championship game. We watched it at Workplay (a neat place to watch a sporting event, actually). They parked outside, and I fell in love after sampling their steamed buns and truffle fries. Then they made a visit to FoodBlogSouth, where I tried their spaghetti squash with vegan meatballs—fantastic.
The next time was a trip to their Mountain Brook stop. And the most recent was in downtown Birmingham. That location was a little bit busier—plenty of students and doctors and business people were in line, but the food was still superb and it came out quickly.
First in line: their steamed buns ($3 each!). Two is just enough for lunch, but you might be tempted to finish it with a third or a side of truffle fries or chips (depending on what they’ve got). On the left: Pork Belly with Sesame and Shiso Hoison. The flavor is insane. There is crunch, sweetness, spice and tender, savory meat. But my favorite is on the right: the Crispy Catfish with Spicy Selma Slaw. I think the spicy slaw says it all—I have a love affair with this little guy. Well, let’s be honest—with both of them.
Next in line (pictured at the top of this post): their Melon & Mozzarella Salad, which is made up of bites of different melons, balls of mozzarella, cherry tomato halves, a bit of arugula, and fresh basil chiffonade (all for $3). It’s simply bright, sweet, and beautiful in flavor. It’s enough for a light lunch on its own, or to accompany a steamed bun (or two).
And finally: the Delizioso Burger.
It’s a salmon burger with crispy prosciutto, smoked mozzarella, balsamic onions, arugula, and basil yogurt served on a sweet potato roll with Wickles Pickles on the side. This is truly amazing. The flavors are balanced just right. It’s crispy, savory, and and the arugula and basil yogurt add a brightness that finishes it perfectly. Agh—my mouth is watering right now as I write this.
August 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Lately there have been plenty of mini food adventures here at home—both in Birmingham and Northport. But I still have a few more memories I’d like to share from our honeymoon. So, real quickly, I’ll share the lunch of a tourist in San Francisco: clam chowder in a bread bowl from Boudin Bakery.
Boudin boasts that it is the original purveyor of sourdough bread in San Francisco. Founded by the Boudin family in 1849, their single bakery has multiplied, and smaller locations are spread throughout the city. Sinking your teeth into that chewy crust to find your way to the tangy, spongy, warm bread is only part of the experience. The other is simply watching loaves upon loaves make their way through the factory overhead as you place your order.
The bread was heavenly—it was everything I love about sourdough bread. And I found the chowder to be quite a treat as well. The clams tasted fresh, and it was well seasoned. A wonderful accompaniment to the local brew.
This may be so touristy you might contemplate staying away, but I suggest just going for it and sitting outside with a nice lunch. We opted not to dine in the restaurant, but went to the lunch counter, put it on our order, and brought it to the tables on the sidewalk. I mean, where else can you dine on soup alfresco in early July and be completely comfortable wearing a light sweater? Well, probably plenty of places, but definitely not in Alabama.
July 30, 2012 § 4 Comments
For quite some time, my sister has been urging me to try this place.
Saigon Noodle House sits off 280 in the same shopping center as Target. I was allured by Brynn’s raving reviews, a good price, and the novelty of Vietnamese food for me. So let’s be clear right now that this was my first time trying Vietnamese food, so I do not claim at all to be any sort of connoisseur. However, from what I tasted, I am absolutely in love.
The facade of this restaurant is quite unassuming. It sits beside the Pets Supplies “Plus” and Mattress Firm. Sure, the ambience is a little dated, and it’s definitely casual. But the food is spectacular. The entrees were large enough to split, so we ordered two things to share.
We poured the sauce over the dish and tossed it together. It was such a unique combination of flavors. I loved the crisp of the fried and sliced eggrolls. I enjoyed the pork’s tenderness. And the dressing added just the right finish to the dish. It was definitely enough for two to share.
However, we couldn’t help ourselves (or rather I couldn’t help myself).
Be still, my heart.
First off, this is an extremely well-priced sandwich. We’re talking $5 here for more than enough food for lunch. Second, it is a quality sandwich. It’s dressed with soy sauce, cilantro, cucumber slices and shredded carrots that gives freshness to the subtly spicy meatballs. If you try this, slip a jalapeno into a few bites—it completed the flavor combo for me. My only complaint is that they just gave us three slices. Thankfully Brynn let me have them all.
This is a perfect spot to pop in and out for a quick lunch. And we each paid less than $8 to split both of these items. So where are you headed for lunch today? I say, go here! Or have you already tried it? What do you think?