For the past several months, Mr. Foodie and I have been hearing about a “cycle cafe” opening in Woodlawn.  Then, in January, some very promising photos began to appear on our friends’ Facebook feeds.  We needed to get over there STAT to see for ourselves.

As you well know, food options for Sunday brunchtime are relatively limited in this town.  So one lazy Sunday morning at 11:30am, with a nearly-empty fridge (pre-Trader Joe’s run of the weekend), we wracked our brains.  Where to eat?  We really weren’t in the mood for a greasy, heavy, or fried meal, so that limited our options further. I consulted my ever-growing must-try list, cross-referencing with Google and Yelp to determine what if anything would be open.  When I realized that this was prime time for Woodlawn Cycle Cafe, which is open from 7a-3p daily, we hopped in the car.  Ten minutes later, we were cruising down 5th Avenue South, past Crestwood, into the community of Woodlawn.

The Cycle Cafe is located at 5530 1st Avenue South, just when 5th Avenue South turns into 1st Avenue South.  If you’re coming from UAB/Crestwood/Avondale, it will be on your left.  It is a very simple, unassuming, yet classic and modern white brick building  Even before entering, we got a sense of the vibe.  Through the large loft-style windows, we saw twenty to forty-somethings hanging out, grabbing a latte and a bite to eat, working on their laptops, reading their iPads.  Comfortable, chill, hip, and peaceful are all words that come to mind, and there aren’t many places in town that hit all of those notes quite so perfectly.   Here are a few pics that illustrate the ambiance:  

  

 

We entered and immediately ran into friends (already a good sign) who were enjoying a light lunch. They gave us some menu recommendations, and we stepped up to the bar to order.  Here’s the menu:

  
It was noon by that point, so we chose from the lunch menu.  Our friend had just eaten the last empanada (that’s what we get for sleeping in), so we chose the “gashouse” and the pork stew.

First, the pork stew.  Very slightly spicy and very slightly sweet.  The pickled onions were the perfect topping and added a little sourness and crunch.  An incredibly comforting dish on a cold day (which it was).  Lovely.

  
Next, the gashouse.  Our friends came over to check out our meal and one exclaimed, “oh, like we used to make when we were kids!”  Being in a completely non-cooking family, I could not relate.  Since then, I’ve shown this photo to several other friends and they confirmed: this dish goes by several names (i.e., “egg in a basket,” “toad in the hole,”) but it is definitely a childhood classic (other peoples’ childhoods).  At it’s core, the dish is a piece of bread with a whole cut out (often using a small drinking glass, I’m told) and an egg cooked inside.  This place definitely elevated that about 10 notches.  The bread was thick, fluffy, and buttery all the way through.  The egg was cooked perfectly (the menu said “onsen egg,” which according to Google is a Japanese term for “slow-cooked”).  The whole thing was topped with shaved mahon cheese and greens, and garnished with a slightly sweet pablano pepper sauce.  Absolutely incredible.

   
A closer look:

 As we were finishing, a man came over to collect our plates.  I had to ask, “what makes this a cycle cafe?”  He responded that the place is cyclist friendly – they encourage folks to bring their bikes inside, and they are going to start selling cycling gear.  I heard what he was saying, but I didn’t totally get the concept.  I decided I’d have to come back on my bike to investigate.

So the next weekend, when Mr. Foodie was out of town (sorry Mr. Foodie…), I rounded up a crowd to make a second visit.  About half of our crowd (including me) was arriving via bike, so that we could fully experience the “cycle” aspect to the cafe.  I also decided that we should get there as early and try out as much of the breakfast menu as possible.

On one of the coldest mornings of the winter (high 20s), our group of four cyclists made the 5 mile journey from Southside/downtown, down 5th Avenue South, then 1st Avenue South.   It was a really nice 5+ mile ride, with one catch.  It turns out that my cold-weather running gear is actually NOT appropriate for cold-weather cycling.  Specifically, my mesh Nike’s and dry-wick socks meant that my toes were frozen solid.  The rest of our cyclists had more appropriate footwear, but we were all really cold and ready for a hot breakfast.

When we entered, we were encouraged to bring our bikes inside.  I immediately realized what a huge thing this is.  I typically bike on the weekends for transportation to and from brunch.  Because I have a kind of unusual bike that stands out, I’m always worried about leaving it completely unattended.  This can make brunch a little challenging.  At the cycle cafe, the bike was just as welcome as I was.  A piece of my foodie cyclist heart melted a  little.  

As you can see, the bikes fit right in with the patrons at this place: 

   
I should also note that when we arrived, the non-cycling half of our group was already comfortably drinking lattes and looking rather smug.  This illustrates that it is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes preferable) to arrive at a Cycle Cafe by car.

We all walked up to the counter.  There were so many of us, we basically ordered at least one of everything.  That was easy.

As we sat waiting for our food, the door opened.  There stood a group of very serious, spandex-wearing cyclists in some of the spiffiest cold weather cycling gear you could imagine.  They had sock-like things over their shoes and all kinds of layers.  Our rag tag group was in awe.  They brought in their bikes and placed them next to ours.

Then our food arrived.

First, two beautiful shots of the morning bun.  Sticky sweet deliciousness.

   

  

Next update, the toastie.   The mustard and bacon were slightly sweet, which paired perfectly with the eggs and cheese in between that amazing bread.  Delicious, and what a looker, too. I adore this photo as much as I adore the toastie.

 Then, the granola, which we got with house-made yogurt. Very nutty and not overly sweet, topped with strawberries and grapefruit.

  


While we were eating, I had to remove my shoes and socks (gross I know) in order to de-frost my toes.  And then I remembered something: last time, they had mentioned that they would start selling cycling gear.  I threw on my socks and ran over to this display:

   
I have to draw your attention to this device…..it prevents your, eh, rear end from being splashed when you run over a puddle.  A must-buy for the cyclist in your life.

  

And then….

  
Socks!  I couldn’t believe it.  Really great high quality cycling socks in 3 cool colors, for about $15 – very reasonable.  I was beside myself with joy.  I purchased the socks and put them on.  Immediate warmth and relief.  Another piece of my foodie cyclist heart melted.

We sat there for a while longer, talking, and ultimately delaying our ride back until it had warmed up a little.  When we were ready to go, one of the cyclist members of our group noticed something – his tire was completely flat, and not only that, it was shredded in spots.  He must have run over something pretty nasty on the way in, and certainly couldn’t go anywhere like this.

One of the cafe workers noticed us peering quizzically at our friend’s tire, not really knowing what to do.  I then witnessed something I’ve never seen in any coffee shop or restaurant.  He sprung into action.  He came over to us, and quietly began to diagnose the severity of the tire problem.  When he determined that it could not be fixed with a new inner tube, he asked us if we had any dollar bills.  He slowly, methodically lined a large portion of the inside of the tire with the dollar bills, until the tire would hold air.  (He claims that this is an old bike trick; he told us there’s a dollar bill in his tire that’s been there for about a year.)  Here are some pics of him doing this (he gave me permission to post them):

   
 
And for the first time ever in What to Eat in Birmingham history, a video to show just how committed this guy was to making sure my friend got on the road safely: 

 
OK, I get it now.  A Cycle Cafe is a place that seamlessly cares for you and your bike as if you were one.  If you aren’t a cyclist, that’s perfectly acceptable – come for a great meal.  And if you are a cyclist, whether you’re in the spandex crowd or not, you and your bike will feel right at home.