50 Restaurants in Crappy Photos: Round Five.

50 Restaurants in Crappy Photos

Okay.

So I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from my mission to blog about fifty new restaurants in Birmingham – not because I haven’t been keeping up with my habit of eating out too often, but because I’ve visited a lot of mediocre restaurants.

And mediocre restaurants do not an interesting blog post make – unless I were to tell you about the one that was a total train wreck of a visit but I’ve blogged enough train wrecks lately to make you and me twitch, so we’ll skip that one.

Instead of explaining what made them bland or boring or just okay, I’ll list the mediocres and move on. Feel free to disagree, and if a large enough mob forms, then I promise to return and give said supported restaurant a second shot.

14. Shane’s Rib Shack
15. Johnny’s
16. Sweet Tea Restaurant
17. The J. Clyde

So. Let’s move on to the visits we did enjoy.

18. FIVE

The atmosphere in FIVE is mysterious and curiosity-piquing. They have a giant painting of Dwight Eisenhower adjacent to smaller paintings of The Beatles. I found myself staring at the antique and well-crafted bar, woodwork, and ceiling, wondering what this building had once been. I’m sure I could have googled it, but that seemed to take away from the mystique that I was enjoying.

Unfortunately, FIVE is also very dark, so photos of said quirkiness were impossible to get for this preferably unobtrusive (and a bit lazy) blogger. And it also contributed to my food photos being even crappier than usual.

The catch at FIVE is that they only have five menu items in each category – five appetizers, five cocktails, five entrées, five desserts…you get the idea.

We started with the Pimento Cheese and Pepper Jelly appetizer. You really can’t create much more of a southern combination than that, and it was flavorful and fantastic.

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I didn’t see an entrée that excited me, so I tried two more $7 appetizers for my meal: the Baked Avocado – which housed within it bacon, shrimp, and spicy sauce.

Stuffed Avocado at FIVE Bar - best $7 you'll spend in Birmingham!

Just looking at it is making me crave another one.

I’m not normally a fan of mixing my shrimp with weird things, but this was so unbelievably tasty that I couldn’t help but eat it way too fast and in gargantuan bites.

I also ordered Yoshie’s Chicken, which is small fried chicken pieces seasoned in soy-ginger with sriracha aioli. These I was not as impressed with – they were pretty much “just chicken nuggets” with a bit of extra flavor.

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I wish I’d ordered two baked Avocados, no matter how ridiculous I would have looked.

Chris ordered the cheeseburger, for which they didn’t cheat him on the sides. It was impressive, and quite pleasing, or so I hear.

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Moving on, I have been woefully behind on trying Italian restaurants in our city for a long time, because – okay I’m going to be honest. I really like The Olive Garden, and every time I’ve eaten at a more authentic Italian restaurant, the food was seriously too rich for me.

(I know – that admission renders useless every foodie opinion I’ve ever had. But we’ve all got to have our guilty pleasures, right? And The Olive Garden is mine. Even when they mistreat me with breadsticks.)

However, I finally forced myself to visit two local Italian restaurants that my fellow Birminghamians have raved about for years, and I am relieved to say that I was tremendously pleased.

So don’t burn me at the stake – today, anyway.

19. Joe’s Italian

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I don’t make it to the Pelham/Alabaster/Helena suburbs often, but Ali desperately wanted to take art lessons this year, and the only place I could find was in Helena. Fortunately, they’ve been great, so it makes it worth the drive.

One evening after art class, we went with a Helena-residing friend to Joe’s Italian in Alabaster. It’s regularly raved about on Social Media, as it should be.

They started us with soft, warm bread and olive oil, and the bread didn’t have a single bit of crunch to it, which is how I think all bread should behave.

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My friend Kelly chose the tomato soup to go with her entrée, and she was kind enough to let me taste it.  Clearly made fresh from scratch, it was strong, rich, and fantastic.

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I made the mistake of ordering the salad with mine, which had the painfully obvious out-of-a-bag look to it. So get the soup, people!

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My kids each got Lasagna, one of their favorite foods. Although it appears to have heavy doses of garlic on top, not to worry – it’s just cubily grated cheese. They loved it.

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I chose the Tortellini Di Ricotta in the pesto cream sauce. It was exactly what I hoped: a mouth full of pesto happiness.

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Since most of what I had heard about Joe’s Italian was centered around their desserts, we ordered two: The Zebra Cake and the Strawberry cake.

Zebra Cake and Strawberry Cake at Joe's Italian - enough to feed a large family!

I really should have placed my own head in the pictures so you could fully understand the girth of these slices. Instead, I’ll have to attempt to paint a word picture:

1. My kids can eat their weight in cake.
2. Kelly and I also enjoyed them.
3. We filled two to-go boxes with leftover cake.
4. They were so good that the over-indulgence did not keep my son from staring lustily at the rest of the cakes.

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Joe’s Italian had both savory and sweet perfected, was surprisingly inexpensive, and they sell Nutella by the bucket – so yes, you need to go there.

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20. GianMarco’s

For my Birthday dinner, we narrowed it down to two new places, and I let Chris surprise me. He chose GianMarco’s, another place that everyone talks about but somehow we’d never visited.

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GianMarco’s is tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Homewood, much like Saw’s Juke Joint is in Mountain Brook – if you’re not looking for it or visiting a friend that lives around there, you’ll never happen to find it.

Their dining room is small and intimate with a view of the kitchen a brick pizza oven.

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We started with the Mozzarella and Chiapatta appetizer, and I’m positive it was the freshest Mozzarella that either of us have ever tasted.

The Freshest Mozzerella in Birmingham - at GianMarco's in Homewood.

I ordered Veal Piccata Scaloppini, which was paired with Polenta and Spinach. It was exquisite –  I love things with a strong lemon flavor, and the white wine sauce had quite the punch. The Veal was delightful when eaten with the spinach, and the polenta was creamy, buttery, and heavenly. I’m going to have a hard time ordering something different next time.

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Chris said that he needed a baseline understanding of the restaurant before branching out, so he got…Spaghetti. As I chided him, he admitted that it was the only way he could try their sausage and meatballs. At any rate, he was happy with his choice, which was a very hearty portion.

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I ordered Tiramisu for my birthday dessert, which had such a strong drenching of espresso along the bottom that after a few bites I ended up eating only the top portion only so that I could sleep that night.

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Chris got the Apple Crostato, as I knew he would, because it came with cinnamon ice cream. He will never turn away cinnamon ice cream.

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And the winner of Round Five is…

Italian in general. But if I had to pick, GianMarco’s.

And for the Bonus Feature, a most unique dish that you need to try:

Kibbeh, Kibby, Kibbee, or Kibbe depending on your spelling preferences. It is my newest obsession, my favorite find, and a common occurrence in my cravings.

It’s somewhat like Middle-Eastern Meatloaf, made with ground lamb or beef, wheat bulgar, pine nuts, and onions. It’s typically served with Tabbouli, which is a fantastically flavorful middle-eastern salad, as well as Greek yogurt.

I’m not going to say it’s the prettiest dish you’ll ever see, but it’s amazing.

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The two places I would recommend trying it are The Pita Stop, which I like because of their generous portion of Tabbouli and a taste of Hummus to add to the mix,

Kibbeh from The Pita Stop

and Nabeel’s, who has a remarkably moist beef version, but you have to be determined to catch it because it’s usually only available on Thursday.

Kibbee from Nabeel's Cafe - one of my favorites!

So go eat, people. And tell me about your tasty finds.

Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. Wow! I haven’t been to Five yet, but it used to be a Golden Rule and before that it was a Jim N Nick’s. I don’t remember what it was before that, though. I’ve been wanting to try GianMarco’s, and this seals the deal. I agree with you about Sweet Tea, although it’s close to my work and they have valet parking, so I end up eating there anyway. The J Clyde is great for beer, but if that’s not your primary reason for going, then I can see your point. Keep up the good work! Go local independent restaurants! (Says the person who went to The Olive Garden on date night last week.)

    • Oh! Yes, I went there once when I was a kid and it was Jim N Nick’s. I knew it was around there but not exactly sure where. Thanks for the history lesson!

      • Actually, when we (well, you’re younger) were little Jim N Nicks was on Clairmont in the shopping center where Piggly Wiggly is now – about where Los Amigos is. I believe it was the original location. I have no idea what was at the Five/Golden Rule/Jim N Nicks.

  2. Shane’s Rib Shack is one of our go-to lunch restaurants at work. Of course, out of the dozens of times I’ve been there, I have yet to see anyone order ribs. However, if you’re looking for decent bar-b-q at a decent price, it’s a good place to go. They won’t be winning any awards with their food, but what we like is that they are quick, the food is consistent, and the portions are good. Faves include the Shack Salad, Boneless Wings, and the Shane’s Spud (which I’m not sure is at all locations). I usually go and order whatever the special of the day is and get out spending around $6,50, which is pretty decent for a good lunch these days.

  3. Really great post. My wife and I recently went to GianMarco’s and it is incredible. I’m regretting not ordering the Tiramisu. Looking forward to the next post.

  4. I’m not in Birmingham, so I can’t add to the restaurant conversation, but I desperately want one of those apple crostatas (crostati?) with cinnamon ice cream. Huge fan of the hot/cold dessert combo.

  5. MM cinnamon ice cream – wish I could get that here.

  6. Yum! I’ve just had dinner and now I’m hungry again! I love Italian food, both dishes like veal scallopini and pasta dishes. Mmm… pasta….

  7. After hearing my girls rave about Five, we went there for Sunday brunch (right after church, of course!) and WOW! It was amazing! I love my local brunch spots (Another Broken Egg, OverEasy, Village Tavern), but this was outstanding! I ordered the Chicken and Waffles. Probably the best dark chicken leg quarter fried I have ever had, no lie! And by far, the best waffles (honey/nut) anywhere.
    Live jazz musicians play while you eat. The weather was gorgeous, so the doors to the outside patio were wide open. So lovely. It was definitely for those who wanted to take a leisurely approach to the day and soak up all the place has to offer. It was busy, but we found a parking spot right in front and were seated within 15 minutes.
    Other brunch items: shrimp n grits, breakfast burritos, and $2 mimosas.
    The highlight of Joe’s Italian is most definitely the desserts. Had the chocolate covered strawberry cake – worth the drive all by itself!
    Still haven’t made it to GianMarco’s, but it is on the list.

  8. Love GianMarco’s & Joe’s!… Also, Olive Garden?! Totally shocked! ;-) I really want to try The Pita Stop! The Kibbee looks yummy! And yeah, Sweet Tea is kind of an overrated Picadilly. There’s a new Puerto Rican restaurant in Hoover called Sazon & some friends have said they have wonderful empanadas. Might be worth a visit :-)

  9. Joe’s Italian is one of our top faves. Wish we got down there more than we do! They are one of the stops on my Birmingham Food Scene series. As you know, we love the Pita Stop. Haven’t tried Gian Marco’s yet, but it’s also on my list. Have you tried Maki Fresh? The girls and I ate there tonight and it was fantastic.

  10. Lindsay D. says:

    Im not a huge fan of italian but those cakes look awesome. I’d have to drive over 50 miles away from home to eat at 50 restaurants! My husband and I just named 13 in our home town. Including a McDonalds and Subway. Two are take out only places. Needless to say we do not live in or around a large city.

    • Wow! That’s not a lot of choices. These are 50 restaurants I haven’t been to before – so that’s not even counting the more-than-fifty that I have been to. Sounds like you need to move to Birmingham! :-)

  11. Please, please, please, please review Olive Garden a la Marylin Hagerty (and, if you end up losing some time googling Marylin Hagerty, your life will be greatly improved. Much like Fargo after it got an Olive Garden)

  12. LOVE The Pita Stop! The Tiramisu at ‘Joe’s is even better than the Strawberry Cake. Thanks for the restaurant ideas!

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