The Graveyard

Just like people, restaurants have an expiration date. Here, we present posts from restaurants that have crossed over. RIP.

Continental Bakery Downtown

In Memoriam:

Deep, deep sigh. I remember when I first posted about your “birds nest” and shakshuka. At the time, your post had the most number of Facebook likes and shares of any post. Birmingham so desperately needs great brunch (and French soul food for goodness sakes), and you were among the first to help fill that void. And you did it well. I have heard that you may come back as a tenant in Box Row. Until then, you are in the Graveyard. And also, at Chez Lulu’s in Mountainbrook for some of your offerings (bread, crepes on Sundays). RIP, CBD.

The original post:

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:

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Then the server dramatically removes the super-hot lid to reveal:

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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.

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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.

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Now, in cross section:

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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:

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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.

 

Leonard’s BBQ and Burger Hut

In Memoriam:

It is with a heavy heart that I tell you about the passing on of one of the best burgers in town. It took with it a fantastic steam table and some extremely legit BBQ. Loyal blog fan Kelly initially alerted me to this tragedy, stating “Sign on the window, seized by U.S. Government…. so disappointing.”  Kelly, we could not agree more. Last week, I drove by Leonard’s and confirmed our worst fears. Goodbye, Leonard’s, we hope it is not forever but I have to admit I’m not feeling very optimistic.

The original post:

Dear Loyal Blog Fans,

First, an apology.  It has been 6 weeks (6 weeks!) since our last post.  Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that a plague of several minor yet incapacitating and highly inconvenient illnesses has passed through the Foodie household.  These are illnesses that, let’s say, make it harder to enjoy a delicious multi-course meal.  (Use your imagination.)  And while we had planned to send our unpaid intern and staffers to cover new places – wait a minute, we don’t have any of that.  That was all a fever dream.

So, do not think we have abandoned you, friends.  Au contraire – we have emerged literally hungrier than ever for new hidden foodie gems.

That brings us to our first stop on the post-plague recovery trail:  Leonard’s BBQ and Burger Hut.   Back in February, we brought you what remains one of our all-time favorite meals in Birmingham:  Robert’s Cuisine,  an incredible soul food spot in Titusville (a neighbhorhood just north and west of UAB). As we were heading out of Robert’s, we noticed this sign, and a parking lot full of cars to go with it:  (Address: 104 6th Avenue South, Birmingham)

 

Phone is ringing…. it’s for you!

I added this to my ever-growing list of must try restaurants, and waited for the perfect opportunity to present itself.

That opportunity came two weeks ago, during the Sidewalk Film Festival.  This is an event that Mr. Foodie and I attend religiously every year, as do many of our friends.  So on Sunday afternoon, during a 2 hour lull between movies we wanted to see, we headed out to Leonard’s.

Another exterior shot:


The place is not fancy.  It’s more than a “hut” – it really resembles a 1980s-90s Denny’s.  Homey and a little bit plain, but totally welcoming.   You walk in, step up to the counter, take a look at the menu on the wall, and place your order.

Here’s the menu:


Exactly what I expected.  Mr. Foodie let me do the ordering for us, and I knew exactly what I wanted.  I wanted to try everything in the name:  BBQ and burger.  So I ordered a large burger with “the works,” and a chopped pork plate.  One of my friends ordered the ribs and ranch cheese fries, promising to share.

As I was paying, I noticed that our other friends were lingering just beyond, a little further into the restaurant.  They were peering into a case and oohing and aahing…. what was going on?

It was the steam table.  I have to say (and maybe one of you can help enlighten us) – I had never heard of a meat and three or a steam table before we moved here.  As usual, Wikipedia provides some good basic info, as does this incredible website, where you can actually find the meat and three closest to your house.  For those of you who don’t know, as best I can understand, a meat and three meal is literally a meat served with three “veggies” which may include mac and cheese, collards, fried okra, french fries, or other fried things.  This is typically served with cornbread and sweet tea.  And often, the food is kept hot in a device called a “steam table,” which can apparently be conveniently purchased from online restaurant supply stores and is just what it sounds like.

Here’s the steam table menu.  Enough to keep you busy for awhile, and quite reasonably priced I might add.

Our friends were steam table pros.  While I had taken 10 minutes to decide, they quickly ordered the oxtail, collards, black eyed peas, and cornbread.

While we were waiting for our food to come out, we tasted theirs.  Here it is in all its glory:

I mean, it was all good, but let me tell you about the oxtail. Rich and fall off the bone tender, it was drink-the-gravy delicious.

Oxtail glamor shot:


Next up, the burger.

Take a look under the hood, folks:
I don’t want to get dramatic here, but: this ranks in the top 2 or 3 burgers I’ve ever had in my life. Patty was the perfect thickness-probably a half inch but still nice and juicy. Bun was soft and a little flaky. Slathered with mustard, ketchup, mayo, pickles, and just a tiny bit of grease, I devoured this burger bite by juicy bite.  I want one RIGHT NOW.

So they had lived up to the designation of burger hut.  What about BBQ?  There’s so much great BBQ in town, it seemed impossible that we could really find a new BBQ gem, right?  Wrong.  Take a look:


Everyone who tried it had the same observation-in addition to being juicy and cooked to perfection, it had a deep smokiness to it that made it stand out.  The sauce was sweet and a little tangy, and complimented the meat perfectly.  The Mac and cheese was cheesy but not overly so, and was clearly made from real milk and cream.  The collards had a smoky pork flavor and were a nice lighter complement to the meat.  All in all, our group agreed:  this was some of the best BBQ in town, and could holds its own with Saw’s and Jim and Nicks.  High praise, to be sure.

Now for the true test of BBQ:  the ribs.  The size of Fred Flintstone’s dinner, these were just ridiculous.  So meaty, so juicy, so tender, again that smoky flavor with the sweet sauce.  By the end, there was BBQ sauce everywhere-I was still finding spots hours later.  Totally worth it.  And a special shout-out to the ranch cheese fries poking out in the back.  I have no idea what made these so especially good but-they’re a must.  The creaminess and saltiness next to that BBQ.  Even my Jewish grandmother would have made an exception for this pork mixed with milk dish.

Another shot just to prove the point that they are supersized:


As we left, we ran into a regular customer in the parking lot who told us the only oxtail better than Leonard’s in town is hers.  I believe that statement completely.

So to sum it up, we’re back, Birmingham.  As if we were ever really gone.  As if.  Because in a town like this, where you can still “discover” hidden foodie BBQ and burger hut gems that have been right under your nose (the sign is visible from the highway), there are plenty more foodie gems to be found.  And that means we have a lot more eating to do.

A special thanks to Ashley, Reza, and Michelle.  You ate a lot, you took one for the team, and for that, we salute you.

Miami Cafe Express

In Memoriam:
Miami Cafe Express, we loved your chicken stew and sweet plantains, and the sound of the carwash announcer in the background as we ate your food. Alas, according to your Facebook page, a landlord dispute caused you to close. However, you are in some sort of state suspended halfway between being a restaurant and being a fond memory, as your Facebook page also indicates that you still exist in the form of a catering company. Miami Cafe Express the Restaurant, we bid you aideu. RIP.

The original post:

If you’ve been following my blog posts, you probably realize that I’ve become obsessed with finding hole in the wall ethnic restaurants in strip malls or attached to gas stations. Today, I struck foodie gold yet again. I found a hole in the wall ethnic restaurant attached to … wait for it … a car wash.

Not that Miami Cafe Xpress is a secret. To the contrary, it has a devoted Urbanspoon following. When we went today, a Saturday, at noon, it was absolutely packed.

Miami Cafe Xpress
is a Puerto Rican/Caribbean restaurant located on Lorna Road in Hoover next to the Riverchase Car Wash:

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Once inside, you wait for your food practically inside the carwash lobby. This genuinely adds to the restaurant’s charm.

But what makes this place really great is the owner. He is a one man show. When we arrived, he was behind the counter using a mortar and pestle to make what he explained to us was mofongo, a dish of fried green plantains mixed with pork and other goodness. He is in business by himself, and is a greeter, cook, cashier, and storyteller all rolled into one.

I arrived with a group of 4 friends with the specific purpose of trying as many menu items as possible. Here’s the menu:

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Several patrons and the owner guided us as we got one of almost everything to share. We took a seat outside, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the car wash and parking lot on either side of us. Was the perfect day for an outdoor meal – finally nice and warm after the polar vortex.

First, the owner brought us some Jesus Cake. Yup, like the sign says, don’t forget to try it. We hadn’t ordered it but he heard us talking about it and since we ordered so much at once and had to wait, he brought us one to share as an appetizer. You will have to get him to tell you the story behind why it’s called Jesus Cake – it is really an incredible tres leches cake. If you don’t find religion after you eat this, well, you probably won’t. It was moist but not soggy like tres leches cakes can be, and was sweet and delicious. And beautiful:

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After that start we had great expectations for the rest of the meal and were not disappointed.

First, the special of the day, a chicken salad sandwich. The board said “chicken salad” and we were all confused when we received a dish wrapped in tin foil, but this was a serendipitous mistake-it was one of our favorite dishes. Had the perfect amount of mayo and some mustard on a delicious roll:

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Next, the chicken stew with huge pieces of chicken and bones, rice, carrots and potatoes, mild and comforting while still flavorful:

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Fried sweet plantains, as sweet and buttery as you can imagine:

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A Cuban sandwich – ham and shredded meat (?pork) with melted cheese and pickles – perfect balance of ingredients, and really, the perfect sandwich:

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Ground beef empanadas, aren’t they adorable? Crispy on the outside, soft and perfectly seasoned on the inside. Very filling:

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Pork chunks with tostones, which are fried green plantains. The pork was juicy and wonderful. Tostones can be dry and flavorless, but these were moist and salty, with lots of great flavor. The best I’ve had. The lettuce looked like just lettuce but was actually salad with a light vinegar dressing that was a perfect complement to our heavier entrees:

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Had to try the rice and beans. They were not spicy like I expected but had good flavor, and the rice was slightly salty in a way that I really liked:

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Then, the mofongo, with pork chunks. Of course I had to order it. This dish was incredibly rich. Diet food it is not, but wow. Really amazing. The mound of mashed fried plantains is seasoned with pork (I think), and tasted delicious alongside the pork chunks.

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I can’t believe there are 2 amazing Caribbean restaurants in Birmingham (not a city known for its ethnic food), one in a gas station and the other in a carwash, run by guys who cook food they love. (If you don’t know about the other one, see this blog post). Pretty incredible.

Freshfully Cafe
In Memoriam:
Freshfully Cafe, you brought us delicious (if pricey) sandwiches, fancy fruit salads, and smoothies. Your food was healthy and delicious, and we are not entirely sure what led to your untimely departure. Although your sign has remained, you are most certainly closed. We miss you and will hold you close to our hearts. RIP.

Original post:

Freshfully is a store that sells local and regional produce, meat, and other products – like honey, granola, and canned preserves. I love going in there when I’m looking for really high quality cooking ingredients. Recently, they started serving lunch Monday-Saturday. I was in the neighborhood and decided to stop by for a quick bite.

I love the design of their logo:

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Eating in their cafe is like eating in a farmers market crossed with a coffee shop-which amounts to a really unique experience. And their menu has the same quality-it uses food and other items from their market, and bread from local bakeries:

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I was in the mood for something on the sweet and refreshing side. The peach sandwich lived up, and the combo of fruit and pesto was great:

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I love it when places give you fruit you actually want for a side, like peaches and pears:

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