People often ask us to name our number one favorite restaurant in Birmingham. This, of course, is an unfair question. If you read our blog, you know that we are enthusiastic about many, many restaurants. Because we only blog positively, our blog is essentially a long list of our favorite restaurants. Picking our #1 would be like picking a favorite child. Not cool.
Regardless of all of that…. we can often agree on our favorite restaurant “right now.” Meaning, a restaurant that for whatever reason, is having a moment. This usually means it’s a great place that just opened, or an old place that is doing something new that stands out. And right now, there’s one restaurant in town that is quietly having a very big moment in the latter category: Woodlawn Cycle Cafe.
A few months ago, we blogged about WCC’s outstanding breakfast/brunch. We have been there several times since for breakfast/brunch and can confirm its continued success. Several weeks ago, however, friends of the blog Tom and Jane told us that they had been to WCC for dinner. Dinner? We were shocked-how did we not know? We immediately made plans to go.
The first thing you’ll notice about WCC’s dinner menu is that it is very focused, which we love. It’s great when restaurants have a limited, high quality selection. Basically, the WCC dinner menu can be summed up as cheese, bread-related things, and homemade pasta. Sorry Dr. Atkins, I’ll have one of everything. And with prices this reasonable, you can (especially if you bring friends).
Here are various versions of the dinner menu:
We have eaten dinner at WCC several times in July and August, on our own and with friends. Our delay in blogging about it has nothing to do with any lack of enthusiasm, and everything to do with summertime work and travel schedules. And the plus side is, we’ve tried everything on the menu, often multiple times. So here, we have a mash up of many WCC meals, photographed by a combination of me (Ms Foodie), Mr Foodie, and our good friend Leight (@leightse).
First, the crostinis. Birmingham Bread Works bread topped with all kinds of goodies. First, the roasted red pepper and manchego cheese. A perfect pairing. As one of my friends put it (ahem Dustin), I could eat this all day.
Next, the tomato and basil. Fresh heirloom tomatoes, perfectly ripe as they should be in August in Alabama, topped with basil and olive oil. Amazing.
And then the boquerones, or anchovies. Stay with me here. I’m not an anchovy fan, but Mr. Foodie is an anchovy aficionado. And it turns out that tinned fish in general is becoming a thing, as this Epicurious article explains. It’s healthy, it’s soaked in olive oil which makes the fish tender and delicious, and it’s sustainable. This is not the canned tuna of your childhood – it’s premium fish caught in season and prepared at the height of flavor. It’s also a staple of Spanish Tapas, which automatically makes it a good thing.
Since I didn’t partake in much of the boquerones due to my general aversion, I’ll tell you that Mr. Foodie, in addition to all of our other friends who tried them, got pretty excited. And you have to admit, they are absolutely beautiful.
And another take on boquerones from another meal at WCC:
Next, the other apps. Some are staples, some are rotated in and out. All are amazing:
The gazpacho. A very finely minced tomato soup, fairly mild with just the right amount of spice. So refreshing.
This salad. Oh my goodness. Like a nicoise salad, with hard boiled eggs, tuna that is poached fresh daily,and miso-based dressing. The perfect light start to what will most certainly be a hearty meal, and delicious.
Next up, the cheese course. As you can see, they offer a variety of cheeses depending on the day. There’s usually a variety of sheep, goat, and cow, mild and sharp, blue and non-blue. A full board is four cheeses, the smaller version is two cheeses. We’ve eaten the full board with just the two of us, and with a large group of friends. Because there’s never such a thing as too much cheese. The cheese is served with a jam – blackberry in these photos – and bread.
There are a few things that make this cheese plate so great. First, the balance and variety of flavors. Second, that delicious jam. Third, the bread is topped with the most amazing olive oil I’ve ever had, which turns out to be smoked olive oil that they also sell:
Don’t be afraid to order extra bread if you run out. No cheese left behind.
Another way to pick up that delicious cheese is with some salted marcona almonds bathed in delicious olive oil. A must, in our opinion:
Next, the big event. The pasta. They have a different homemade pasta every night. We’ve had a few preparations.
The pappardelle with ham and rosemary in brown butter sauce:
A linguine with ham in brown butter sauce finished with lemon-lime:
And the carbonara:
Once you’ve had homemade pasta, you can never go back. It’s a fact. Boxed pasta has its place, that’s for sure. But once you’ve tasted the rich but also melt-in-your-mouth texture of homemade pasta, you’ll be won over in an instant. It’s a totally different experience. Our conversion occurred during the three years we lived just a few blocks from the Italian Market in Philly. Back in our better metabolism days, we ate a pasta course from Tallutos every single night. I wouldn’t say we are homemade pasta experts by any means, but by South Philly standards, WCC makes outstanding homemade pasta. Craveworthy homemade pasta. And I’m aware of maybe one other place in town that makes homemade pasta at all, let alone homemade pasta this good.
The last time we ate at WCC, they had a new addition to the menu: dessert. Yes, please. This plum crumble was crispy on the outside, juicy and tart on the inside, and served with just the right amount of cream.
Just a suggestion: if you want something cold to drink, wash your meal down with a Topo Chico. I have no idea why this stuff tastes so good but it just does.
They also have a bar, if you’re looking for adult beverages, and some incredible coffee.
What’s remarkable is that in all of our meals at WCC, everything was always of the same quality. Fantastic. We can honestly say that we didn’t eat anything that wasn’t a 10/10, as Mr. Foodie would say. All of it was blogworthy. That’s a rare occurrence in our world – even the best restaurants miss sometimes. I can’t recall a time that has happened at WCC.
WCC is very focused fine dining served in a casual, artsy atmosphere where you can also inflate your tires and buy bike stuff. And it’s one of a very few places in town that regularly serves homemade pasta, alongside what is our favorite cheese plate in town (right up there with Bettola). So to sum it up, we are going out on a limb and say that right now, Woodlawn Cycle Cafe’s dinner service is our favorite dining experience in town. Dinner hours are: open till 10pm, Monday-Friday.
This post is dedicated to our fantastic friends who ate these meals with us: Jo and Leight, Veny and Philip, and Dustin and Lindsey. So many calories, so little time.