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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I chose the Tortellini Di Ricotta in the pesto cream sauce. It was exactly what I hoped: a mouth full of pesto happiness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We started with the Mozzarella and Chiapatta appetizer, and I’m positive it was the freshest Mozzarella that either of us have ever tasted.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
So go eat, people. And tell me about your tasty finds.