It’s Nice to See you Birmingham

A few months back we had an amazing weekend getaway in Birmingham, Alabama. Easily lured by some longtime friends to attend a Martin Sexton concert on Saturday evening, we decided to head up on Friday night and make a weekend out of it.

During the day on Friday, I got a notification that one of our friends was attending a show at Iron City in Birmingham, and it was a new band that I’ve recently been turned on to and desperately wanted to see live, Tank and the Bangas. A New Orleans based band, I first heard of them when they came to Montgomery a few years back to play at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Their music is lively, soulful, playful, fun,  and just makes me want to bounce all over the room smiling. Us getting to see them was fate because we rolled into town right as they came onto the stage. The timing could not have been any more perfect.

After a night of seeing friends and dancing all over Iron City, we retired to an AirBnB that we had rented for the weekend just a few blocks away from Iron City, near Five Points. It was the cutest little bungalow, and it was SUPER convenient for everything. Everywhere we went the entire weekend was only a five dollar Uber ride, and the free parking on-premise was nice as well. It allowed us to have easy access for our daytime adventures further out from downtown.

The next morning, we were up and out early, and we were able to make brunch at The Essential about a mile from our apartment. There was parking along the street, and we were there early enough that we had no wait to be seated. Described as a refined neighborhood cafe, The Essential is located on the historic cobblestone roadway, Morris Avenue. There are two murals close by the cafe, the “Before I Die” chalkboard and the John Lytle Wilson Robot mural just beyond the overpass. As we walked into the restaurant, we were warmly greeted, and I could hear my favorite band of all time playing over the speakers, The Allman Brothers. I knew immediately we had chosen the right place to start our day. My husband started with a latte and a mimosa to drink. I had already had several cups of Mama Mocha’s brew that I always travel with back at the apartment. So I started off with a one of their house Bloody Mary’s. The Bloody Mary, aka the Hair of the Dog, hit the spot! It was spicy and woke my mouth up. I ordered the quiche of the day, which was Gruyere and caramelized onions, and my husband ordered the smoked salmon eggs Benedict. Everything we had was delicious. The service staff was very attentive and we had a lovely breakfast.

After fueling up for the morning, we started our adventure around downtown Birmingham and the Avondale area in search of some of the many murals scattered throughout the city. As you have seen in some of our previous trips, seeking out murals and art in cities we visit is a must on my to-do list. It provides us the opportunity to not only see some great art but also see parts of the cities we may have not visited otherwise. I had researched mural locations online before our trip and knew all of their approximate locations before we set out for the day. I also had discovered a local place called MELT that had a pretty unique, delicious-looking menu. The ambiance of the place was casual and comfortable. It was packed when we arrived, and we bellied up to the bar. We ordered cocktails and a few appetizers to share. To eat we tried out the mac n’ cheese egg roll. Yes that is macaroni and cheese, wrapped, fried inside an egg roll, and served with spicy, sweet and sour dipping sauce. I really was not sure if I would enjoy such a savory dish, but it was incredibly delicious. We also tried the Food Truck Nachos, which were a base of kettle chips, loaded with  BBQ pulled pork, nacho cheese, BBQ sauce, jalapeno ranch, and fried jalapeno crisps. You would not think that we had just had breakfast just a short couple of hours or so before. We devoured both dishes and cocktails quickly! There is a mural directly outside of the restaurant, as well as a waiting area equipped with a corn hole set. Not far from Melt is HOT BOX, another favorite spot of ours for cocktails and delicious food. Located within an Air-stream trailer, it’s a pretty cool scene.

That evening we were able to grab a table at the newly opened Automatic Seafood and Oysters. They had just opened their doors a few weeks prior to our visit. The restaurant is located in what was at one time Automatic Sprinkle Co. in downtown Birmingham. Upon entering the restaurant you are immediately blown away by the breathtaking, stylish interior. Even the bathrooms were unique and interesting. I loved the color scheme, vintage feel, and excellent use of astonishing wallpapers.

Chef Adam Evans, a graduate of Auburn University, and his designer wife, Suzanne Humphries Evans are the visionaries behind this beautiful establishment. With her style and his culinary skills, this place is destined to be a long-standing, hugely successful restaurant in Birmingham. The menu is largely fresh seafood-focused, and they have an excellent beverage selection as well. I tried several of their specialty cocktails, including one of my favorites, frosé. As a group, I think we may have ordered everything on the menu. We shared dishes so that we could experience as much as we could during our visit. The fried whole snapper was amazing. I have only ever had that before in Culebra, Puerto Rico, so being able to have seafood that fresh and delicious in the heart of Birmingham is incredible.

I am ready to start planning our next trip to Birmingham. There are other murals to see and more food to try! I have been so delightfully surprised to see the culinary world in Alabama elevate and progress, most notably in recent years. I am grateful for the risk all of these restaurateurs have made in changing the culinary face of Alabama. I am excited and hopeful for the future food scene of Alabama.

That’s So Fetch mural located at 3027 6th Avenue South.
Know your History mural located in Avondale across from Melt on 4th Ave S.
Miss Fancy mural on the side of a salon located  at 400 41st St S Suite 100.
Tre Lilli Mural located on side of Alabama Ballet 2726 1st Ave S.
Homewood Is Always A Good Idea mural located at 2790 B. M. Montgomery Street.
It’s nice to have you in Birmingham mural located on side of John’s Diner @ 112 Richard Arrington Jr Blvd N.
John Lytle Wilson Robot mural located on Morris Ave just past The Essential.
Before I Die chalk board mural located just past The Essential on Morris Ave.
What’s Up Birmingham? mural by Paul Cordes Wilm just past our AirBnB on 18th St. S.
Tank and the Bangas at Iron City Birmingham.
Very simplistic outdoor area of The Essential on Morris Ave.
Yummy, yummy latte from the Essential. Cocktails not pictured.
Gruyere and caramelized onion quiche at the Essential.
Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict at the Essential.
The “Waterever is Meant to Be” cocktail from MELT.
“Bitter Peach Symphony” cocktail from MELT.
BBQ Nachos on homemade chips with fried, crispy jalapenos on top. Delicious!
Mac N’ Cheese Egg Roll with sweet n’ sour dipping sauce!
Deep Fried Double Stuffed Oreo’s covered in confectioner sugar.
Delicious frozen drink from Automatic Seafood.
“Spring Time In Mexico” cocktail from Automatic Seafood- Tequila, Vida Mezcal, Herbsaint, cucumber, lime, mint.
Menu from Automatic Seafood 4/20/19
Marinated Spring Vegetables from the starters at Automatic Seafood.
Oysters for dayzzzzz….at Automatic Seafood. The Murder Points were my favorite!
Whole B-Line Snapper Fried. Felt like I was ocean side in Puerto Rico!
Chris Trapper opening for Martin Sexton at Workplay Birmingham.
Martin Sexton at Workplay in Birmingham, Alabama.

 

Wagner Family Wine Dinner

Last week we were delighted to attend the Wagner Family Wine Dinner hosted by The Depot in Auburn, Alabama, and International Wines and Craft Beer. We arrived early, as we customarily do, and had a few cocktails at the elegant bar in the entrance of the restaurant. I tried one of the current specialty cocktails, the “Gardner’s Spritz”. It was refreshing and slightly-citrus. It would have been a perfect brunch drink or a dock-side libation. John Mark ordered his usual Maker’s on the rocks.

As attendees started piling into the bar area the wait staff started passing around the appetizers. One them was a crostini-like bread with basil, roasted tomato on top, including a sardine. Chef Scott Simpson explained he wanted to showcase the sardine, as they are a sustainable food. I have tried sardines in the past, and personally, have a strong aversion to anything with a strong fish taste or odor. John Mark enjoyed the bite but agreed that the sardine would not have suited me. The other appetizer being passed around was a black-eyed pea falafel with a Romesco-like sauce and crumbled feta on top. It was absolutely divine. I think these would be a great addition to The Depot’s bar bites menu.

We all promptly seated for dinner and Chef Simpson along with John Mark Davis of International Wines spoke about the courses we were about to be served and the wines that they would be paired with. The Wagner Family of Wines belongs to a family in Napa Valley, California, who have farmed the area since the mid-1800s, beginning to grow grape vines in the early 1960s. They were put on the “wine-world” map in the early 1970s with their Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. The family produces several labels and all of the wines we had this evening were exceptional. The pairing efforts of the chef and sommelier demonstrated beautifully throughout the dinner.

The first courses consisted of a very delicate portion of grouper from the Gulf of Mexico. The grouper was abed a helping of jicama slaw, arugula, and a black-eyed pea puree. Jicama is more commonly known as a Mexican turnip and has a slight sweetness to it. It is often compared to a cross between a potato and a pear if that helps you visualize the texture and taste easier. These flavors were a delightful pairing with the Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay.

For the second course, we were served a wonderful salmon dish. I never order salmon because it can be cooked inconsistently from one restaurant to the next, but this salmon was cooked to perfection. The salmon had been prepared by first having been rubbed in herbs, then later by grilling on cedar planks. It was served atop a bed of spring onion and carrot risotto, which was out of this world good! The blueberry beurre rouge sauce was a very interesting combination with the salmon and risotto, but I was delightfully surprised at how well it paired with the dish and wine, and thoroughly enjoyed trying a blueberry type sauce on a salmon dish; very outside of the box. The beurre rouge is the colorful sibling of beurre blanc, which is more commonly seen on menus. A beurre blanc is a classic French sauce, comprised of shallots, butter, reduction of vinegar, and white wine; whereas, the beurre rouge is made of shallots, butter, and reductions of red wine vinegar and red wine. The blueberry was a nice compliment to the dish, but really brought home the wine pairing of the Mer Soleil Reserve Pinot Noir.

For our third course, chef presented us with a coffee-rubbed Beeler Farm pork cheeks, rosemary fingerling potatoes, broccolini, upon a base of a mole negro demi. Beeler Farms is located in Madison County, Iowa, and they have been raising pigs and selling their pork since 1846. I was pleased to see the cut of pork used, the cheeks. I have had them in the past and knew that the cheeks of the pork were one of the most delicate pieces of pork you can get and that this would be a real treat. The mole negro demi-sauce was excellent, adding great richness and flavor to the pork. This also was another dish I would not mind having again. The Red Schooner Voyage 6 was paired with this course. This wine is a Malbec with grapes grown in the Andes Mountains, that are chilled and then shipped to Napa Valley, California for processing and bottling. The robust flavors of this wine paired wonderfully with the complex and deep flavors of the mole negro demi and pork cheeks.

Finally, the dessert course was brought out. I was very intrigued by the description of the dessert on the menu and was most curious about trying the candied prosciutto. The goat cheese tart itself did not have as much flavor or sweetness as I thought it would. The goat cheese itself was pretty savory. There were honey and Marcona almond base on the plate, which I probably should have scraped onto my fork with each bite of the tart to add the sweetness that was needed. The candied prosciutto was amazing! I would love to see this again and again, used in any way possible. Who doesn’t love candied bacon, in one form or another? The Conundrum Sparkling Rose was a perfect ending and pairing for this dinner. This dry, delicate sparkling wine is the perfect compliment to any dessert and any occasion.

I highly recommend checking out The Depot in Auburn, and/or tasting some of the Wagner Family Wines upon your next opportunity!

Front entrance of the building. Mural by R.C. Hagans.
The “Aperol Lavender Spritz”
Extra dirty Tito’s Vodka Martini
Menu for the Wagner Family Wine Dinner
Falafel bites with goat cheese on top
Sardine Crostini’s with basil-roasted tomato and mint
Thyme Roasted Gulf Grouper with Vanilla Jicama Slaw, Arugula, and black-eye pea puree
Cedar Planked Salmon, Spring Onion and Carrot Risotto, Blueberry Beurre Rouge
Coffee Rubbed Beeler Farm Pork Cheeks, Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes, Broccolini,  and         Mole Negro Demi
Goat Cheese and Candied Prosciutto Tart with Toasted Marcona Almonds