Monday, August 29, 2011

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

Birmingham at Night
What's better than good food and drink? Nothing.  Of all the great things in the world, some of the ones that have the best memories are related to taste and smell. Vacations, great nights out, Thanksgiving at mom's house... So many memories are related to taste and smell. That's why you can smell something cooking and immediately think about grandma's house. Or the smell of popcorn makes you think of the movies. Our brain encodes smells and tastes more easily than the vast amount of visual info coming in. So those meals stick around...

With this in mind (or not, but it sounds good), Jennifer and I headed out last week to experience some of Birmingham's best flavors and company at night at the Alabama Theatre. It was the kickoff party for Birmingham Restaurant Week. Local restaurants are featured and they offer samples to get you to come around (rather than those resto-chains). For a low price, you get dancing, music, all the food, hanging with the mayor, and drinks. What follows is a quick review of some of the places and food, so if you're in The Ham, you have an idea of where you can go eat!

Local Veggies
Maki Fresh is a sushi joint. They had a good cookie bar with green tea icing. The sushi... was sushi. I find few sushi places that amaze or disappoint me. It's mostly the same.

Sysco foods served up samples of a ratatouille made from all locally grown vegetables with a goat cheese crustini. It was good, although the veggies seemed a bit overcooked and had lost some flavor. 

Veranda on the Highland had a pork sandwich with a jalapeno spread. It was tasty, and there wasn't much else to it.

Ted's served up Greek Boston Butt - I'm still not sure what that even means, but it was okay. They definitely didn't convince me to visit their place anytime soon.

Michael's Steakhouse had some great Gulf shrimp and steak medallions. They were definitely good; hopefully it reminds me to actually visit the restaurant soon. It's a mile from our house.

Sweet Tea is a new "meat and three" in Birmingham. I think of these much in the same regard as sushi places. They're all about the same. I was unimpressed. The "whiskey chicken" was dry and didn't have much flavor - very disappointing for an Irish kid - although the baked apples were good. 

Frio en la Paz was excellent. They call themselves premium Mexican cuisine - and it is different from your normal burritos and tacos joint. Deep, earthy flavors really  set this place apart. They served up a creamy black bean salsa, joined with "alb√≥ndigas" - a spicy pork/beef meatball with a smoky chipotle sauce. It almost had an adobo sauce flavor, but a bit more robust and definitely more kick. We ate at the restaurant the next night - they had a tres leches cake, and it was perfect. Milky, creamy, and sweet - with strawberries. Not a strawberry fan, but the acidity balanced the sweetness.

LOSER of the night - The Rare Martini - They served a tuna noodle casserole that was worse than anything you would buy in a can off of a shelf. I appreciate that they are trying to reopen their kitchen, but in an area like Lakeview, you better bring the heat. And come on... WHAT was that? Please, for the love of all that is foodie, stick to making martinis and playing terrible dance music.

Eggplant Brushcetta & White Chocolate Bread Pudding
WINNER of the night - Silvertron Cafe - They gave samples of an amazing eggplant bruschetta (how did they know I love eggplant?) with a rich white chocolate bread pudding with what tasted like a raspberry sauce. The sauce's flavor was faint, or perhaps the bread pudding's taste was so amazing it overshadowed the fruit. Either way, the sweetness and acidity balanced well. It was great - I guess I'll finally have reason to go visit them!

EXTRA POINT - Rush Wines - These guys are a local group that have their own private-label selection of handcrafted wines. They really have some remarkable stuff, but being new, and based in Birmingham, no one takes them seriously. But people should - I think they'll be making a mark soon! I chatted with Rush Garner, the founder, while sampling their varieties as he told me more about them. I think I tasted a few too many as the tastes began to bleed, but the Viognier was by far my favorite. Excellent crisp, fruity flavor that takes a while to really develop. When the flavor finally fully finishes (anyone for some alliteration?), it really leaves an impact. They say it goes well with spicy foods. I love spicy foods. Sounds like a reason to buy more (we've already bought some).

Remember - those resto-chains like Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday don't need your money, and don't support your local communities as much. Try out your hidden gems in town, and if you're in The Ham, make sure you try some of these - or any of the other hundreds of locally-owned places. Many only use fresh, locally-grown foods! Enjoy your food, and eat, drink, and be merry!

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