Loyal blog fans,
I’m live blogging from Ovenbird, so let me just cut to the chase: it’s as good as you hoped it would be. And more.
You can read somewhere else about how awesome everyone expected Ovenbird to be. That’s the backstory. And when we heard that they’d be opening tonite, we knew we had to be there to see what all of the fuss was about.
Earlier this evening, we attended the Eat Drink Read and Write festival at the Birmingham Public Library, where we were showcased as “human books.” Earlier today, we realized we would only have a brief hour to eat dinner between work and the festival. And we figured hey, what the heck, we would chance it and go in the first minutes of a highly anticipated brand new restaurant’s existence and see how much we could accomplish in our short timeframe. A sacrifice to be sure, but everything we do, we do for you, the loyal blog fan. So it was a sacrifice we were willing to make.
As we entered here’s what we saw: already some customers but not too terribly crowded. So our timeline didn’t seem too outrageous.
When we were seated we told the hostess and the server of the time crunch. No problem, he told us, everything is made to be ready within 12 minutes. So we began to talk to him about what he would suggest. He lovingly, painstakingly, passionately described everything. Like a parent with dozens of children, he could not bear to identify his absolute favorite, because after all that would be unfair and unkind. But based on our leanings, he artfully steered us around the large yet fairly simple menu of small plates. And let me just point out: this place is highly affordable. Options are mostly in $5-$12 range. They’re small plates, but still.
First, squash and pork belly. Slightly spicy, with crisp, juicy pork belly and slightly sweet kabocha squash. With just a touch of pesto too-a really incredible complement to th rest of the dish. I was seen licking the plate (well, nearly-this is a pretty nice place after all).
Next, the Serrano ham. Over top of the lightest, fluffiest bread that somehow still had a crispy crust, with persimmon jam and topped with cloud like shredded manchego cheese.
Now for a closer view. Check out that persimmon jam, lower left corner, 7 o’clock:
Next up… The beef candle. We must have had a puzzled look on our faces, so were assured that it would be amazing. And it was. A candle of beef fat (don’t eat the wick, we were warned). Let it melt, mix it into the herbs and jus, and dip the grilled bread to soak up the flavor. Like the richest beef stew you’ve ever eaten.
I just want to pause here for an observation. Any of these dishes, served elsewhere, might have felt gluttonous or left the diner with a terribly over-stuffed feeling. But even the heavy stuff was well portioned and tasted quite light.
Ok, next: shishito peppers with a sous vide egg yolk… So creamy and sticky… With chestnuts and a lemon vinaigrette. These flavors were so outstanding together-I just kept smearing the peppers in the egg, and at the end, I cleaned the egg completely off my plate. I could have eaten two plates of this myself.
Beef empanadaz. Flaky crust, perfectly seasoned beef, spicy pepper sauce, creamy red pea salad. The creaminess cut the spiciness perfectly, and the texture of the peas worked so well with the texture of the empanada crust.
Finally, apple crostata. Ok, check this out: delicious crostata, of course, served with homemade honey frozen yogurt topped with bee pollen. The crostata was very “fall”-lots of cinnamon and nutmeg-and the frozen yogurt was a tarte, cool, refreshing accompaniment. Amazing.
As we sat observing the scene, we noticed how excited everyone was-from the servers to the manager who came over to introduce himself to CHRIS HASTINGS (star-struck celeb alert!!!) who checked on us. Remember, we were anonymous-this is just how they roll over at Ovenbird.
So, we left with time to spare. But that’s not where the story ends. Far from it. We went to the Eat Drink Read Write festival, and it was amazing. We met lots of blog fans, heard about some amazing new creative food-related endeavors in the Magic City, and left feeling energized and proud to be a part of it all. And….well, kinda hungry, actually. For food.
So…. yes, I went back. To Ovenbird. Mr Foodie had to do some work, so I went solo. The hostess recognized me immediately, as one of their first patrons of the evening. I explained that I had come back for more. At my request, she seated me at the patio, the perfect place on a beautiful fall evening.
Another server, different from last time and just as passionate and enthusiastic, waited on me. I realized that Ovenbird was especially anticipated for its roasted meats, and, we had not ventured to that portion of the menu. So at his recommendation, I ordered the chicken piri piri.
I have to say, I love piri piri sauce, which is of Portugese origin. I spent some time in South Africa and Botswana, where this flavoring is common on chicken. This did not disappoint. Juicy and tender chicken with the spicy sauce, served with grilled endive and briased black beans in a similar sauce. Incredible.
Now, a word about this photo. When this food came out, I could smell it-amazing-but I couldn’t see it. I’m sitting on the cozy candle-lit patio. So I had to get creative. It’s sacrilege, as far as I’m concerned, to use flash to take a food photo. Just makes it look all washed out. But, desperate times call for desperate measures. So here’s what I’ve got:
I’m typing this on my IPhone 6 on Ovenbird’s patio, taking it all in, in real time. I’m hearing people mingle, rave about the food, and generally have a good southern time. This is what I love about this town-I can do things like this, have an experience like this, and know that it is accessible to food bloggers and non-food bloggers alike.
Although, my very conspicuous photo taking and phone typing got me outed just a few moments ago. I made it nearly to the end without that happening…