Saturday, March 31, 2012

Little Donkey

Little Donkey Kitchen and Bar

Last night, Jennifer and I were invited out for a preview night at Little Donkey, the new Mexican restaurant in Homewood, just south of Birmingham. As if we needed another Mexican restaurant... But this is something fresh and new. It's not typical Tex-Mex. It's somewhere between Southern food and traditional Mexican fare. Nick Pihakis, a founder of local BBQ staple Jim n Nick's, is behind this bad boy. So after gorging ourselves and taking a few notes, here are my thoughts before it opens this Tuesday.
The first thing you notice when walking in is the open kitchen. This is becoming more popular in restaurants. It's a great aesthetic measure, and also lets you know they really aren't just messing around in the kitchen - it's 100mph. We had two seats at the bar, which was great as we were able to see everything they were doing, as well as the selection of spirits on hand that will be likely featured in LeNell's drinks (LeNell of the same spirit store in Brooklyn). I was pleased with the selection of bourbons and rye sitting on the counter as you can see above.

The bar was a bit tight, but it was a great atmosphere and everyone was talking to each other about the food. Something I really liked was that they were taking the orders on iPads, which were sent to the kitchen, where they viewed the orders on iPads, as you can see below.

The decor was mostly great. The booths and high-tops looked rustic. The walls were warm and inviting. It felt like you could relax there for hours. The only thing that stuck out were the tables. They looked like something out of a Jersey diner. But I'm not really going for the tables.

We ordered a beer first. They only had 5 on tap, but they were great selections - local and regional beers of each general type. A dark lager, two Good People brews (Pale Ale and Snake Handler), Avondale's Spring Street Saison, and one more that was a traditional American-style lager (gag).

During the meal, we had a cocktail - their signature tipple created by LeNell... The Donkey's Daddy. It featured bourbon and tequila (right?), augmented with a hibiscus tea syrup, lime juice, and other secret ingredients. It could include eye of newt, and I'd still drink it. It was crisp and refreshing, but despite the fact it was pinkish, it felt manly to drink.

Donkey's Daddy
The meal itself... We had chilaquiles as an appetizer. After a few bites, I decided it probably was one of the best things I'd ever eaten. It was a flavor explosion. I decided the meal was going downhill from there. I was right. It did. Now that doesn't mean everything else wasn't great. It was. But the chilaquiles were just impossible to beat. Housemade chips that featured a salsa de arbol, delicious tomatoes, cheese (very curious what kind they were, as Jennifer loved them as well), and poached farm eggs. I was told to break the yolks and spread them over the dish. I complied. You have to get this. It's imperative, really. It looks messy. It is. And delicious.

Little Donkey Chilauquiles 
Next we had a salad that was enough for two people to have as a meal. Field greens, black beans, pickled onions, cilantro... Radishes. Queso. Loads of pork. The things that really set it off were the avocado and pumpkin seeds. They really made a huge impact and made it different from just a normal salad with smoked pork.

Little Donkey Salad
We then had 3 entrees. Not by choice. They kept offering more food. I had to actually wave them off at one point. Nick kept coming by to check and ask what everyone thought. Great job Nick. Great job. So the first entree was a torta - a sandwich - called the "Drunken Hog". Pork on bread. From Nick Pihakis. Can't argue that. It was loaded with perfectly flavored and textured pork, with a cheese I could never figure out. It also had those pickled onions (which are really great), guacamole, and tomato broth. It was served with pinchos - a small snack on the side of beans with some meat in them. Really great sandwich. It will probably be my go-to dish there (it's just a few blocks from home).

Little Donkey Drunken Hog
The second entree were tacos. We had one with brisket and one with fish. The brisket taco was great - cilantro and salsa de arbol really complimented the beef without taking the focus away. The fish taco featured chipotle cream and pickled cabbage. The fish was great - meaty and firm, but had a really great char from the grill on the outside. The star of that taco was the pickled cabbage though. I clearly need to start doing that at home.

Little Donkey Brisket and Fish Taco

As if that all wasn't entirely too much food, they threw some tamales in front of us. They were pretty good - served on a corn husk, of course. These are a corn dough, cooked inside the husk, and can be made into a wide variety of preparations. These had chicken in them, and possibly more chile de arbol - I couldn't tell exactly what the flavor was. After so much food, I started losing the sense of taste. They were pretty good, but probably the least favorite thing I had. Jennifer loved them.

We had to wave them off to stop getting food so we could get out to another event we had. I'm looking forward to the opening Tuesday, and depending on LeNell's cocktail-slinging, maybe a new favorite hang-out. You should do yourself a favor and go eat there as soon as you can.

Just leave a seat or two open for me at the bar.

Little Donkey on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Seriously. I want to bathe in the chilaquiles. Twice.