To conclude our weekend trip (yes, back in November) my friend and I went out for one final meal, which started out innocently enough. Two hours later we settled on a restaurant.
We had befriended a local couple, and per their recommendation, went to explore the downtown Five Points area. Stepping out of the car we encountered a handful of homeless men, but no trace of the lively crowd we were expecting on a Saturday night. Peeking into Surin West, we passed because they allegedly specialize in Thai food and sushi (doubtful). Retracing our steps we spotted Highlands Bar and Grill but we were under dressed and it looked overly busy.
Hopping back into the car we drove to Bottega, but found out both the restaurant and cafe were closed for a private party. Back in the saddle, we headed to Giuseppe’s Cafe & Espresso Bar because they’re the best kept secret in town (according to their website). Sadly we went in, got a table, glanced at the menus, opted out and moved on.
From there we headed back to Five Points, destination Highland Grill, but were sidetracked when discovering Chez Fonfon next door. It might have been easier to drive to Paris.
Having never been to France, I can only imagine that Chez Fonfon emulates the same cozy, intimate feeling as a bistro underneath the Eiffel tower. The lights were dim, the quarters close and wine bottles lined a wall.
While musing over our options we torn into a basket of bread and soaked in the glow. To begin, my friend and I split the Little gem bib salad with apples, tomme and tarragon-cider vinaigrette. It was a simply dressed salad, tangy from the dressing and sweet from the fruit.
Craving a healthy reprieve and saving room for dessert, I chose the salmon with lentils du Puy and niçoise olive butter for my entree. The generous portion of fish and lentils were perfectly cooked and complimented by the salty sharpness of the olives. My friend equally enjoyed the Coq au Vin which was tender and moist.
Reluctant to select just one, I settled on the Pear Almond tart for dessert but almost ordered the Chocolate Pot de Creme my friend had. Luckily, she’s the sharing type and let me scoop up a spoonful of the silky smooth rich chocolate mousse. Charmed by the flaky, buttery tart, I savored my dessert with a cappuccino leaving no crumb behind.
I imagine that the croque monsieur and steak frites are delightful, and wish I had room to taste the cheese plate. Chez Fonfon is as enchanting as Birmingham and a fairly inexpensive way to experience the allure of Paris. Just try to avoid the two hour tour to get there.
2007 Eleventh Avenue South
Birmingham, AL 35205
Well, for me at least.
Following a recommendation, we wandered into V Richards looking for breakfast on Saturday morning. V Richards is a neighborhood establishment, part specialty food market, part cafe. The cafe isn’t expensive and is rather reasonably priced, but I love exploring items in markets – the chocolate tea biscuits! the fig jam! oooh the cheese case! – and have a habit of spending a pretty penny on culinary treats.
Ah, but I was there for a meal, bypassed temptations and focused on the task at hand.
Above the prepared foods case, a large board is displayed on the wall explicitly outlining the three step ordering procedure. I was amused that step one is to look at the menu. They must have frequent problems with confused customers.
The breakfast menu is served from 8-11 a.m. and I was having trouble deciding between the basic two egg plate, daily special and famous salad sampler. Then, I spied another special and was sold on the Breakfast Casserole with ham, peppers, cheese, eggs and bread cubes (I want to say it was brioche). Per step two, I placed my order and paid at the register.
Subsequently, you are given an number and if eating in, seat yourself. There are two dining choices, a small indoor area or tables with umbrellas scattered about on an outdoor patio. We chose the latter option and enjoyed the morning sunshine.
We sat for awhile waiting for water and beverages, but observantly deduced you are responsible for retrieving your own water, drinks, utensils and condiments. No one mentioned this protocol so we were sitting ducks – let this be a helpful tip.
Shortly after figuring this out, my cappuccino was deliver as well as our food. V Richards is a food market, not a coffee shop, so the drink was mediocre at best. I’d pass on the espresso drinks.
My friend and I both ordered the breakfast casserole, which came towering on our plates, accompanied by a cup of fresh fruit and plain grits. Bread pieces were the main binder and there was scarcely any egg, it was more like a bread pudding than breakfast egg casserole. It started out tasting pretty good due to the crispy crust, but grew tiresome, too dense and too thick.
A passing waitress kindly let me switch out the pale white grits for the cheese variety which were okay. As a Yankee, grits are hard to enjoy without being doctored up somehow and Primo’s Cafe has really spoiled me. The fresh fruit was a nice ordinary cup of cut fresh fruit.
The cafe was busy and many others were enjoying their dishes. I would go back and simply ordered something else next time. Unlike Paris Hilton, the famous salad trio must be famous for a reason.
Nevertheless we did our best to comply with step three, enjoy our meal and have a great day.
3916 Clairmont Ave
Birmingham, AL 35222
How I feel about Shipp’s Harbour Grill is similar to The Time Traveler’s Wife movie, both had great potential but fell flat in execution. Let me explain.
Way back when in October we took a brief trip to Orange Beach, AL and had the chance to eat at Shipp’s Harbour Grill.
Having never heard of Shipp’s Harbour Grill, I turned to Urbanspoon for more information and grew uneasy from a couple reviews. A disgruntled bride and the owner have each posted counter claims, airing their grievances in regards to an event at the restaurant. It’s a modern day internet spar. Taking such instances with a grain of salt, we headed off to dinner on a Friday night.
For our large party we had a small room reserved off of the main dining areas, where tables had been pushed together to form a gigantic square. I felt like we were at a medieval council because there was enough room in the middle to place a roasted pig. Fittingly, the menus were as cumbersome in size as our seating arrangement, big enough for a giant.
We placed our drinks orders and waited. I believe only one waiter was assigned for our group of nine and he also had other tables. Needless to say, we enjoyed a lengthy meal.
To start we split a handful of appetizers and my husband and I selected the Jumbo Crab Cake. The crab cake was nicely seasoned and had a ample portion of crab meat. The peach chutney on the side was a bit too sweet and went mostly untouched.
Eventually we received bread, cinnamon honey butter and our salads. The warm bread did wonders for our impatience and the house tomato feta salad dressing was a welcome change from comeback or a plain vinaigrette, it was light and flavorful. Then our entrees began to trickle in, one or two at a time.
I chose the Gulf Coast Grouper which came accompanied by smoked Gouda mashed potatoes and haricot verts, lovingly garnished with a small, bright orchid. A massive piece of grouper was breaded, sauteed and blanketed with crab meat. I don’t say this too often but the fish could have benefitted from more Tasso Burre Blanc sauce. The dish was lukewarm, needed salt and the mashed potatoes lacked any flavor, never mind the smoked Gouda. Our entrees were delivered sporadically and some must have been sitting for awhile, evident by the soggy fish crust.
Reluctant to order dessert, we caved and split a Drunk Brownie between the table. Again, you really can’t go wrong with a homemade brownie topped with pecans, caramel, chocolate sauce and ice cream, unless it was drenched with Kaluha in one concentrated area. The alcohol was so strong I couldn’t eat it, but imagine the possibilities if the brownies were baked with Kaluha (like these) or the Kaluha had been incorporate into the chocolate sauce.
Similar to Shipp’s Harbour Grill, The Time Traveler’s Wife had the basics for a solid win. Eric Bana, Amy Adams, an unconventional love story surpassing an unique obstacle, and did I mention Eric Bana? It’s really too bad because after a few adjustments a mediocre meal could have been great, much like The Time Traveler’s Wife movie.
To no fault of his own, our waiter was running around doing the best he could but we sat for a very long time between each course. The entrees probably would have been fantastic if served hot and properly seasoned. Maybe it was an off night, or they were slammed, or hoard of their staff called in sick, but this was my experience.
Otherwise the seafood was fresh, the generous portions were fairly priced and they will cook your own catch if you bring it in. I’d advise trying to dine there on a slower week day. Oh, and read The Time Traveler’s Wife but skip the movie.
Shipp’s Harbour Grill
27842 Canal Road
Orange Beach, AL
One perk to living in Mississippi is leaving town.
Meaning, we are very close to New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and the beach. Yes, it’s one of those backhanded compliments like, “You drive so well, for being an Asian!” or “Those pants make you look so skinny!”. Take it for what it’s worth.
In October we took a weekend trip to Orange Beach, Alabama and ate lunch at Magnolia Blossom Cafe.
The route from Jackson to Orange Beach took us through Hattiesburg and Mobile, leaving long stretches of deserted highway between cities with few dining options other than fast food. We held out until Robertsdale and immediately pulled off highway 59 for the first decent looking restaurant in sight.
We darted across the road, walked into the cafe and made a beeline towards the lunch buffet.
Piling our plates high, I was thrilled to see fried chicken, greens, mashed potatoes, corn bread, rolls and a paltry salad bar. My husband was excited about the fried okra, butter beans and cabbage (he loves him some Southern vegetables). We snagged a table and the waitress brought us two glasses of tea, half-sweet half-unsweetened, the best of both worlds.
I’m fairly certain the gravy can from a jar and the mashed potatoes were instant. The beef pan was empty except for a few stringy remnants. Otherwise the fried chicken was juicy, the spicy cornbread had nice crust and the tea was fresh.
Passing up a second plate from the buffet, I chose to search out the dessert table and came back with a slice of homemade coconut cream pie. Apparently they also have a full service bakery and the desserts disappear fast.
Although the instant mashed potatoes were disappointing and the buffet options are limited, it was a decent, inexpensive meal. Proving to be popular place among the locals, they also have an extensive menu and are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Magnolia Blossom Cafe
22667 Highway 59 South
Robertsdale, AL 36567
I have a good reason for that four day gap in posting. We took off for the second annual Hangout Music Festival and returned a little sandier, tanner and tired.
After the Gulf Coast took an oily beating last year, this music festival was created to boost tourism, local economy and restore the image of the beautiful area beaches. Basically it’s three full days of enjoying music, chilling on the sand with a crowd of 35,000 people.
The lineup wasn’t as diverse as the first year, but bands we saw were: The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Pretty Lights, Trombone Shorty and The Honey Island Swamp Band among many others.
Luckily we scored tickets off Craigslist at face value after the festival sold out. We camped at the Alabama Gulf State Park which is a convenient four mile bike ride (took less than 20 minutes) away from the fun. I even got to do yoga on the beach one morning.
Unlike Jazz Fest, there wasn’t much notable food except for a booth called “Asian Sensation”. I resisted making Ben taking my photo in front of it.
Hangout Music Festival
Gulf Shores, AL