Category Archives: Upscale

Ovenbird

Located in historic Pepper Place, OvenBird is the latest Chris Hastings restaurant. For those of you not familiar with Chris Hastings, he is the owner and executive chef of Hot & Hot Fish Club, one of Birmingham’s most awarded restaurants. OvenBird is a more casual restaurant; it is not as formal as Highlands or Hot & Hot. They only accept reservations for parties of 6 or more.

OvenBird is a live fire restaurant, which has become very popular among more high end restaurants. OvenBird does not use microwaves, or conventional ovens, the food is cooked using wood-burning ovens. The distinctive smoky flavor of food cooked over a wood-burning oven cannot be matched by a conventional oven.

In addition to being a live fire restaurant, OvenBird is also unique in that it serves small plates, similar to a tapas restaurant. So don’t let the menu fool you, although it looks very affordable, you will need to order at least 2 small plates per person.

Nate and I arrived at Ovenbird around 8pm the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. We only waited about twenty minutes. Our waitress told us that people have typically been waiting for an hour and half or longer on a Friday night. Our wait time was likely much shorter due to people leaving for the holiday weekend. That being said, if you plan on dining on a Friday or Saturday night, I would be prepared for a wait, but please don’t let this deter you from visiting. While you wait, you can enjoy OvenBird’s fantastic cocktails, and even their own OvenBird beer.

The restaurant has a great outdoors seating area. It would be a great place to eat in the fall or spring (probably not late May). The inside feels very warm (not the temperature). The table tops are marble, and true to the wood-oven theme, the chairs and much of the décor are wooden.

Nate and I waited at the bar for our table. I ordered the Wild Hunt, which contains, Four Roses Bourbon, Cynar (an Italian bitter liqueur), lime, Chamomile Syrup, and Hellfire Shrub (shrub concentrated with alcohol). This drink was awesome! All of the ingredients complimented each other flawlessly. The Hellfire Shrub was a very nice touch. It gave the drink a little spice, but certainty was not unbearable. Nate had one as well. He didn’t like that the drink was “spicy,” but Nate also has zero tolerance for any heat.

We sat down, and our waitress explained the concept of OvenBird: the wood-oven cooking and the small plates. Nate and I started with an appetizer: the Tuna and Avocado Toast. If you are going to get an appetizer this is a must-get. Along with fresh avocado and tuna, it also contained pickled onion, raddish, and herbs. Compared to some of the other small plate portions, this one was about average. Nate and I each got two pieces.

Next, we ordered our small plates. Nate and I decided to order 6 small plates. I recommend agreeing on small plates to share with each other. If you decide to each order your own plates and not share, you are missing out on tasting more food. Something else to keep in mind, because the dishes are cooked using a wood-burning oven, your dishes are brought to you once they are finished, not all at once. Some of our dishes arrived 15 minutes after we received our first small plate. We ordered: Ciabatta Flatbread, Roasted Carrots, Beef Shoulder Complex, Braised Goat, Alabama Shrimp and Clam, and the Beef Fat Candle.

The Ciabatta Flatbread had spring vegetables, garden herbs, and extra virgin olive oil. It was very tasty, and the bread had a very good crunch to it. The only downside is it is a small portion compared to other small plates. This is only about two bites per person.

The Roasted Carrots have: harissa, beef fat, yogurt, and heirloom grain. The yogurt serves as a dipping sauce. This was one of Nate’s favorite dishes. He said the dipping sauce was superb. This dish was a decent portion. I highly recommend this one.

The Beef Shoulder Complex was my favorite dish. It had ash baked vegetables, and chimichurri. The meat was very tender, and you could taste so many flavors. The chimichurri sauce was topped over the beef. It was so flavorful. This is a must-get when you visit. I will get this each time I visit. A decent sized portion as well.

Nate’s favorite dish was the Braised Goat. The Braised Goat had a soft poached egg, grits, and preserved lemon. The goat sat on top of the grits, and was topped with a poached egg. Neither of us had eaten goat before, and we were not disappointed. The meat does have a distinct taste, but it was the grits and the poached egg that made it even better. Nate said he would get this dish each time we go. This was also the most generous portion we received. There was probably enough for four people to get several bites.

The Alabama Shrimp and Clam had: fideos, aioli, chorizo, and sofrito. I thought this dish was tasty, but wasn’t spectacular, likewise, Nate didn’t think it was anything special. There are very few shrimp and clams, so if you get this dish with a larger party, you might end up not getting any shrimp or clams. The fideos (a Spanish-style pasta) provides a nice bed for the shrimp and clams, and you do get a lot of it. I wouldn’t say on its own its worth getting though. Just not a ton of flavor here.

Finally, our last small plate was the Beef Fat Candle. This was probably the least tasty dish we had (still good though). It had sofrito, herbs, and jus. This dish is a little gimmicky. When it was brought to us, we were instructed how to eat it. They actually give you a candle and you are supposed to let the candle burn down to help melt the fat. Once the candle burns down, you dip some bread into the bowl. The bread is very crunchy (not saying it as a negative). This is another small portion. We ordered it because several people we knew talked about it, but neither of us would get it again.

During the course of the meal I ordered another Wild Hunt, and also had the Rufus Horneros. The Rufus has: Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey, pecan syrup, chocolate bitters, and Angostura Bitters. I thought this cocktail was very good as well. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Wild Hunt, but I would certainly order another one. Nate had the Gaucho, a mix of Famililia Camarena Resposado (tequilia), Vida Mescal, yerba mate syrup, and lime. Nate was not a fan of this one.

For dessert we ordered the Beignets. The Beignets had a blueberry glaze, lime curd, and blueberry lime ice cream. These are not the typical beignets you would get in New Orleans, so don’t order them expecting that. They were more like donut-holes with blueberry. Neither Nate, nor myself thought these were particularly special. If we went again, we would try a different dessert.

Overall our experience was wonderful. This was one of the best meals either of us has had in Birmingham. Even though we each spent about $100, it was well worth it. We give this Taste of the ‘Ham 5 out of 5 stars!

http://www.ovenbirdrestaurant.com

-Josh Zaslawsky,  Hungry, Hungry Hebrew

Chez Fonfon

chez fonfonChez Fonfon is one of those Birmingham restaurants that we had always heard everyone talk about, but we never knew anyone who had actually been there. I was a little nervous about this one because I really didn’t know what to expect in the way of dress code, the usual clientele, or pricing, but we ended up fitting in just fine.

The restaurant was started in 2000 by the famous Alabama native chef Frank Stitt.  As many Birminghamians already know, Frank Stitt is also to thank for Bottega Restaurant and Café, as well as the world renowned Highland Bar and Grill. Chez Fonfon serves French fare and a wide variety of wine and cocktails, and is decorated to look like a Parisian café.

The first thing we noticed after valeting the car (we didn’t really have a choice), and walking up to the restaurant, was how tiny and loud the inside of the restaurant was. It was a rainy Friday night and we only later found out that there is an outdoor courtyard that usually holds some of the overflow diners, but we were able to snag seats at the bar while we waited (an hour and a half) for our table. The bartender was very nice and helpful in picking out drinks, and we decided to go ahead and have an appetizer of “grilled jumbo asparagus with morels and crawfish hollandaise.”  I’m not a big fan of asparagus, but it was delicious!

Other than the deafening roar of the music and diners, the night was off to a great start…until we met our waitress.  I almost hate to speak ill of the restaurant at all but the service that we got from her was so bad that it ruined our overall experience. It was very obvious that she did not want to be there.  Like the appetizer, our meals ended up being wonderful.  I had the famous hamburger fonfon and Josh had a nightly special of snapper over mixed vegetables. The hamburger definitely lived up to all the hype and though I’m not much of a fish eater, the snapper was tasty too.  We shared the coconut cake for desert by default (it was all they had left), but it ended up being some of the best cake I have ever eaten!

The food was excellent, but this “Taste of the ‘Ham” is getting 3 stars from me, simply because the service was so terrible. We’ll give it another try in the future and see if things change.

http://www.fonfonbham.com/

-Nate Ennis, Foodie in Training

GianMarco’s Restaurant

gianmarcosGianMarco’s is an upscale Italian restaurant in the Edgewood neighborhood of Homewood. The restaurant was founded by Giovanni Respinto and his sons, Giani and Marco in March of 2003.

You enter the restaurant to find a bar lined with couples, young and old, eating and drinking from the restaurant’s extensive wine list. The bar area is separated from the main dining room where there are a fairly small number of white table cloth covered tables. The night that we visited, the bar area and dining room were packed with diners and even though we had a reservation, we waited about 30 minutes to be  shown to our table.

Our waiter greeted us with warm bread, and took our drink order. He did come off as a little snobby, but he was very helpful in selecting a wine we both could enjoy. We selected the Chateau Ste. Michelle Erotica Riesling(that we ended up drinking 3 bottles of…), and ordered the shrimp and grits for our appetizer. The shrimp and grits were delicious!  I had the Veal Parmesan for my entree and I don’t think I have ever seen a piece of meat so big in my life. Josh had one of the night’s specials, Sautéed Grouper with grits and spinach, that he raved about. We both shared the Apple Crostato with Cinnamon Gelato and Caramel for desert, along with yet another bottle of wine.

Overall, we had an amazing experience at GianMarcos.  The food was amazing, the wine was good, and the atmosphere was upscale without being too stuffy. The only downside would be that we ended up with a $250 bill, but it was definitely worth it. It’s not a place that you could go everyday, nor a place to take the kids(though there were several there), but it will be my first choice for my next celebration or birthday dinner. As our first upscale “Taste of the ‘Ham”, I’m giving it 5 stars for overall quality, taste, and selection.

 

-Nate Ennis,  Foodie in Training