French Colonial/Moroccan soul food brunch in downtown Birmingham. Yes, you read that right.
Continental Bakery Downtown is an offshoot of the very popular Continental Bakery and Chez Lulu restaurant in English Village that has always been one of my faves. They started by serving weekday lunch, which is very similar to Chez Lulu’s lunch – outstanding – I’ve visited several times in the past few months and always forgot to take pictures for the blog. Last week, I heard through the grapevine (aka a very helpful fan-thank you!) that they are now open for weekend brunch on Sundays only. So, Mr Foodie and I did what all reasonable and responsible foodie bloggers would do – we cleared our Sunday morning schedule.
The space is so adorable. Sorry for not taking any interior shots, but just trust me. It has the feeling of a French bistro. I’ve never been to an actual French bistro, but I can Google image search just like you can.
We were there on the second weekend they were open-something we usually try to avoid since places are typically still working out the kinks.
But that didn’t seem to be the case here. We were cheerfully greeted by the hostess, then the chef who poked his head out of the kitchen, and the owner. Everyone told us how excited they were about their menu, and made some suggestions for us.
First, the tagine. This is a dish I’ve only ever seen on the menu at middle eastern restaurants but is turns out to actually be a Moroccan dish- a stew cooked and served in a traditional earthenware dish that has many variations – can be meat-based or vegetarian.
The tagine presentation was gorgeous. Look at this. This is what gets delivered to your table:
Then the server dramatically removes the super-hot lid to reveal:
I’m sorry, but tell me that isn’t gorgeous. A rich tomato sauce with large cherry tomatoes, other vegetables and a soft boiled egg over top. Served with slightly crispy homemade naan and spicy olive tapenade.
We ate the entire dish by putting the delicious tagine on the naan and at times adding the tapenade. Absolutely fantastic-light and healthy, and also very filling. I’ve never seen this on a menu in Birmingham before-and it is the best tagine I’ve had anywhere.
Ok, I know I’m being gratuitous but here’s one more close up. Ahhhh.
Next, crepes. The tagine is meant for two and was more than enough. But, I mean, this is a Chez Lulu offshoot, and there are so few places to get good crepes in the Ham. So we got the pear crepes with whipped cream. They were served with a delicious berry salad.
Now, in cross section:
The pears were just a little crunchy and a little sweet. With the pillowy whipped cream, it couldn’t have been a better midday dessert to cap off the tagine. Wow.
At this point, I have to assume that the waitstaff and kitchen staff had observed our glee. We try to be discreet but sometimes we have trouble containing ourselves. The over the top number of pictures we were taking didn’t help things. The chef (or one of the chefs?), Joshua, came out with a smile to greet us and ask how we were enjoying our food. As we like to do, we asked him a little more about his vision for the restaurant. His excitement about the food he serves was infectious-if we weren’t already fully infected by the meal. He explained that he wants to create a French/Moroccan soul food experience. Not fusion, but rather, authentic dishes from former French colonial areas. Ultimately, he plans to be open for dinner as well (more blog posts, hooray!). This place is certainly unique in the Bham food scene in terms of the type food it serves, and having a passionate chef like Joshua makes the experience an all around win.
Brunch was ending and he sent us on our way with some kitchen leftovers-an extra “birds nest”-a pastry with sprouts and an egg. I’ve never seen anything like it. Mr Foodie ate it for lunch the next day and loved it. Ordinarily I wouldn’t write about something I haven’t personally tried but 1. Mr Foodie is pretty reliable and 2. I mean, I had to show this spectacular picture:
I’m going to go out on a limb and say something controversial. Yes, I know there are a small handful of good places to grab brunch downtown. And everyone has their favorite. This one is my favorite. So next time you’re in the mood for a hearty, heartfelt urban brunch-this is the place.