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
Burgers aren’t normally found in boutiques.
Boutiques are places for sequin dresses, sparkly jewelry and trendy shoes. They feature the latest fashions and things like glittery stilettos. Patrons of boutiques aren’t shopping for burgers, but Flip Burger Boutique just might change their minds.
Prior to a day of exploring pretty parks in Birmingham, my friend and I rolled into town famished and on the hunt for dinner. She insisted we eat at Flip Burger Boutique, her only restaurant request for the weekend, and I was happy to oblige.
Flip Burger Boutique is brought to us by chef Richard Blais, a former Top Chef reality t.v. cooking show winner who started these restaurants in Atlanta, Ga. Top Chef isn’t part of my regularly scheduled programs (Boardwalk Empire all the way), but my friend is a big fan.
Pulling into Birmingham late on a Friday night, we made a beeline to the restaurant and window-shopped while waiting to be seated. Thirty minutes later we slithered through a bustling throng of young hipsters and were shown to the back of the house. The room is split by a long line of tables in the middle, flanked by a row of padded booths on one side and bar stools on the other.
Much like a boutique the space is small and stylish, but mercifully absent of full length mirrors. The furnishing are white and a large avant-garde mural decorates the expanse of the ceiling. Settling into our narrow area we began the menu examination.
Being a traditionalist, it was hard to resist the classic beef burger and french fries combination. There are plenty of unusual options to consider such as a raw steak tartare burger, blackened shrimp burger and sweet potato tots sprinkled with chocolate salt and marshmallow foam. Swept up in the excitement of having so many unique variations to choose from, I selected the Butcher’s Cut burger and Thai Bouli Couscous. (My friend had the Ossobucco Burger and roasted brussel sprouts.)
Perched on a toasted bun, the petite burger was piled high with bleu cheese, caramelized onions, frisee and red wine jam. Far from the super-sized servings of what we Americans have come to expect, the meat patties are 5.5 ounces. The burger was perfectly cooked and a lovely balance of sweet and savory. And a refreshing change from fried potatoes, the couscous had a nice chewy bite, lightly flavored with coconut, mint, cucumber and red onion.
It was a challenge, but I resisted ordering a vintage, 100% cane sugar Coca-Cola or Dr. Pepper in favor of splitting a Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow milkshake to round out our meal. Good thing I didn’t cave, because the milkshake was decadently thick and playfully topped with a mound of charred mini-marshmallows. (I wish the marshmallows were more camp-fire gooey, c’est la vie.) It would have been easy to finish off one by myself. Then boutique clothes would certainly be out of the question.
Infamous for using liquid nitrogen to rapid cool drinks and creative burger toppings like seared foie gras, Flip Burger Boutique employs some slightly theatrical elements. The place feels fashionable, the food is hip and you might pay more than you expected. The boutique description then seems rather fitting.
Flip Burger Boutique
214 Summit Blvd, Suite 140
Birmingham, AL 35243
As mentioned, I took a trip to Birmingham a couple of weekends ago.
A fellow foodie friend (who I met through this blog) and I took a couple days to explore the city and of course, hit a few restaurants. Coincidentally, in addition to our mutual passion for all things culinary, we also love the outdoors. To balance the best of both worlds, we visited Vulcan Park and Oak Mountain State Park between meals.
Vulcan Park is home to the largest cast iron statue in the world. Vulcan has a long and sordid history which includes ancient gods, Greek mythology and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. I learned this when I got home from the park website because we passed on paying to enter the museum.
When I was there, the most noticeable characteristic was his buns of steel. There wasn’t much of a trail, only a small loop, so we moved on to Oak Mountain.
Autumn in Birmingham is beautiful and Oak Mountain State Park displayed it’s glory. The leaves were an array of warm, glowing colors, there aren’t many mosquitoes and the landscape actually varies in elevation. We hiked to the Peavine Falls and then did a white/blue trail loop, about two to three miles total.
Although we do like the Homochitto National Forest, I’m looking for a free weekend to go back with my husband as soon as possible. There are over 50 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, a long list of available activities and primitive camp sites.
Forget the Vulcan, we can work on our own buns of steel.
Time to pull out my handy dandy checklist because no camping trip is complete without smores!