First, an apology. As you may have noticed, we have taken a bit of a summer vacation. This is not due to lack of things to write about, or any waning on our part. Rather:
1) we took a 2 week vacation to Atlantic Canada, during which we ate more seafood than I can explain. And then we spent a long weekend in NYC celebrating friend-of-the-blog Michelle’s birthday, which involved more eating than anything else. It was “research,” all for the good of the blog;
2) as you may know, we both have day jobs, which kept us especially busy on the heels of these vacations; and
3) the Pizitz Food Hall project.
If you are a blog fan, you may remember that we are consultants on the Pizitz Food Hall project. (See this earlier post.) In October 2015, Bayer Properties hired us (and Mr Foodie gets credit for doing 99.9% of the work) to collaborate with their amazing team. This project has received some notable press lately. Not to #humblebrag, but the food hall was mentioned in the influential national food blog Eater (swoon!), and the project and a link to our blog made it to the New York Times!!! Big movers and shakers in the national food scene have been taking notice of this project.
Our role in developing the Pizitz Food Hall has been focused on working very closely with the Bayer Team – especially our great friends Tom Walker and Sam Heide – to find and vet the Food Hall’s culinary talent. We’ve also worked with Tom and Sam to help these chefs as they define their stall or restaurant’s concept, menu, and execution-more about that over the coming months.
So how did we — What to Eat in Birmingham and our amazing colleagues at Bayer — approach the daunting task of crafting a food hall?
The easiest way to answer this question is to think about how we approach our blog. As you probably know, the philosophy behind our blog is to only include posts about fantastic food. There’s so much great food in this town, we’ve had plenty to keep us busy over the past two and a half years. We want people to come to our blog and know that, at least in our humble opinions, they’ll get a curated list of fantastic places to eat. We also love to highlight entrepreneurial chefs who are just starting out, who have especially creative or unique concepts, and are passionate about their art. And of course, we love ethnic food. We rarely write about large chains-we love small, owner-operated or family businesses.
Back to The Pizitz project. Our approach was much the same. The word that keeps coming up, both with our blog and The Pizitz project, is “curated.” The stalls and restaurants in The Pizitz building have been painstakingly curated to be the best of what Birmingham has to offer, and also to include plenty of amazing new names and ideas.
Cue drumroll. Here it is, the unveiling of The Pizitz Food Hall and Restaurant List.
The food hall will include some of our favorite local restaurants and chefs, like Lichita’s (Eloy Perez Garcia), Eli’s Jerusalem Grill (Eli’ Markshtien), and Alabama Biscuit Co (Jonathan Burch). There are also some very creative, inspired new concepts from well-loved local chefs like Mo:Mo, a dumpling and banh mi stall from Abhi Sainju of Bamboo on 2nd, and Waffle Works, a soul food and waffles stall with both sweet and savory options from Dan and Audrey Roberts of Robert’s Cuisine. Vinh Tran, brother of the chef and owner of our beloved Pho 280, is going to be the first to bring a place focused on Poke – a Hawaiian dish of marinated sushi grade fish marinated in sesame oil and other goodies over rice or greens, accompanied by avocado or seaweed salad – to Birmingham. (PS: we’ve had his Poke. It’s out of this world.) And another first: Birmingham (and perhaps Alabama’s) first spot dedicated to the delicious Dosa, a savory Indian pancake stuffed with a variety of delicious fillings. And to top it off, Brian McMillan of the Cheese Advocate, supplier of cheeses to the best restaurants in town, will have Birmingham’s first dedicated cheese shop (jumping up and down!) along with a grilled cheese stall called Busy Corner Cheese. To wash it all down, you can grab an adult beverage (or a milkshake!) from the central bar, which will be called The Louis, or a cup of coffee from Revelator.
The Pizitz Food Hall has also represented an important opportunity to bring new chefs and cuisines from around the country and around the world to Birmingham. Our Bayer colleagues encouraged us to think big: what would be an important, meaningful addition to the Bham culinary scene? There’s one answer that kept coming to the top of our minds: Ethiopian food. A few months ago, we told you that we traveled to a nearby Southeastern city (it was Atlanta) to search out the best Ethiopian restaurant. We ate four full Ethiopian meals in one day (special thanks for our friend Victoria for helping us with that task!) in order to find an absolute gem, Ghion Cultural Hall. Ghion is a very traditional Ethiopian restaurant. You sit around a small circular table and use injeera, a delicious bread, as a vehicle to scoop incredible vegetable and meat stews from a large shared platter. The quality of the food was the best we’d had, including in our time living in Philly and visiting DC, both of which have fantastic Ethiopian culinary scenes. We are beyond exited to welcome Ghion Cultural Hall, and its owners Amanhswa Takele and Tizith Kebede, to Birmingham.
In addition to Ghion, our colleagues at Bayer get many props for cultivating a relationship with NYC chef Akhtar Nawab, who will bring a tapas concept called Fero as well as his hit taqueria Choza from NYC’s Gotham West Market. They also linked up with Noel Cruz from Tampa’s hit Ichicoro Ramen to create a ramen stall.
Wow. Let that sink in for a minute. The Pizitz is going to be a place where not only is all of that food available, it is available under one roof.
Now, whenever we travel, we make it a point to visit food halls. We visited serval food halls in July, including four in Manhattan and one in Halifax. We spent our 20s eating at Philly’s Reading Terminal Market, and we’ve been to Atlanta’s Ponce and Krog Street several times. This by no means is a comprehensive national (international!) food hall tour, but it certainly has hit some high points. Our assessment? The quality and mix of food in The Pizitz is absolutely on par with these giants of the food hall world. And with all of the new chefs and concepts The Pizitz will feature, and the sheer diversity of eating opportunities under one roof (think: fancy cocktail followed by Ethiopian food for dinner followed by a sweet soul food waffle topped with homemade Mexican ice cream), Birmingham’s food hall will be an incredibly unique addition to the local AND national culinary scene.
The Pizitz Food Hall will open in December, 2016. That’s only three short months away.