Category Archives: Restaurants

Taco Mama: Restaurant Showcase

By CHRISTIANA ROUSSEL

Manager Cameron Wallis and owner Will Haver in the newly opened Taco Mama in Crestline. Photo by Jennifer Gray.

Crestline Village residents have long been accustomed to slowing traffic on Church Street, but a new arrival on this strip has folks slowing down even more: Taco Mama.

Otey’s Tavern owner Will Haver has recently opened Taco Mama at 63 Church Street in the former Crestline Seafood location.

Although Otey’s specializes in fantastic burgers, beers and music, the idea of a small taco joint had been in Haver’s mind for years.

“There’s really nothing else like this in Birmingham,” he said. “We aim to please our friends and fellow Mountain Brook neighbors but hope the word will spread to other Birmingham residents.”

The menu is thoughtfully laid out with build-your-own options on one side and standard specialties on the other. Easy choices include any one of the burritos like the Cheezy Beef, the vegetarian Tree Hugger or seafood-filled Hippie. Tacos are smaller in size, meaning you can mix-and-match several varieties to create a meal: pork, chicken, steak or fish.
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VINO: Restaurant Showcase

By CHRISTIANA ROUSSEL

vino

VINO owner Al Rabiee with the restaurant’s Pan Seared Grouper. Photo by Madoline Markham.

A recent Friday evening had this Mountain Brook resident rubbing her eyes in disbelief: there was a veritable traffic jam in English Village.  From my vantage point at a white-tablecloth-clad table on the pea-gravel-lined courtyard, I saw dozens of people make their way into the new restaurant at the corner of Cahaba Road and 20th Street South. VINO, open now for just a couple of months, is situated in the heart of English Village but diners will immediately find themselves feeling like they’re somewhere on the Cote d’Azur or Amalfi Coast.

Opened by Birmingham restaurateur Al Rabiee, VINO’s menu boasts such offerings as calamari, salmon artichoke skewers, salads, beef and chicken kabobs, simple grilled fish and more. My daughter, Amanda, and I were enjoying a girls’ night out and ordered several things to share.  We started with the Artichoke Castroville featuring large California artichoke hearts filled with Bulgarian feta, plump sun-dried tomatoes and herbs.  There were four pieces in this appetizer, priced at $6.50. Friends at nearby tables were busy enjoying their choices too: VINO Hummus ($5), Spice Shrimp ($7.75) and market-priced crab claws. Continue reading

Ollie Irene: Restaurant Showcase

By CHRISTIANA ROUSSEL

Chef Chris Newsome and fiancee Anna Lakovitch opened Ollie Irene in Mountain Brook Village. Photo by Madoline Markham

A food blogger, a downtown restaurateur, a food truck/catering entrepreneur, a baker and a Southern Living Food editor all walk into a bar.  Sounds like the punch line for a funny joke, right?  But in reality it was just a regular Friday night’s dinner service at Ollie Irene, the newest culinary hot spot in Mountain Brook.

Owners Chris Newsome and Anna Lakovitch opened their dream restaurant in the former Browdy’s location just two months ago and are already getting rave reviews.  It is not just because we love our local watering holes.  It is not just because it is uber-convenient.  It is not even just because the food is so darned good.  Well, it is all of those things and more.  With more than a dozen years working in other people’s restaurants, Chef Newsome knew exactly what he wanted in his own place: incredibly delicious, simple food, served in an atmosphere that is casual yet intimate.  After rehabbing the space, the pair worked with local designer Edee Youngblood of Edmundson+Youngblood to craft the space into just what they had always envisioned: rustic cement floors, folly-green wainscoting and hand-framed hunt-club-esque ephemera, creating an ambiance for their guests to always feel at home.

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The Gardens Café by Kathy G.

By MADOLINE MARKHAM

Gardens Cafe Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad by Kathy G. Photo by Madoline Markham.

The Gardens Café by Kathy G. extends the pleasures of strolling through the Birmingham Botanical Gardens into a culinary experience. You can pick up a brown bag or picnic basket lunch to enjoy in the gardens themselves, or if you prefer more formal dining, you can order their garden bistro menu at a table on the café’s covered patio or the uncovered terrace.

When it’s cold, hot or rainy, you can move inside to the dining room for a view of the gardens and a fresh flower arrangement at your table.

“We really just want to make the restaurant part of the gardens,” manager Tamara Archer said. Continue reading

Gilchrist: Restaurant Showcase

By MADOLINE MARKHAM

Gilchrist owner

Jody and owner Leon Rosato run Gilchrist in Mountain Brook. Photo by Madoline Markham.

Gilchrist is home to many memories. Drinking a limeade or milk shake at the counter. Picking out a candy bar with your grandmother. Getting a snack with friends after school and putting it on your own tab. Stopping by on a visit home from college before you even go to your house. Sitting in the same seat you sat in for a milkshake 60 years ago. Grabbing a table during the lunchtime rush.

Established in 1928, the old-fashioned drug store sandwich counter now welcomes a fourth generation of customers.

“It’s kind of like going to lunch with your friends every day,” owner Leon Rosato said. He said he loves talking to people while he makes sandwiches at the counter. Continue reading

Gus’s Hot Dogs: Restaurant Showcase

By MADOLINE MARKHAM

Gus's Hot Dogs

Ernie Gerontakis, owner of Gus’s Hot Dogs, demonstrates how to properly eat a hot dog. Photo by Madoline Markham.

Gus’s Hot Dogs in Crestline has served its hot dogs—complete with the same recipes for homemade hot dog sauce, slaw, chili and seasoned beef—for the past 42 years. For many, eating there is nostalgic, but for most the comfort food just plain tastes good.

Kids learn from their dads or grandmothers to order a hot dog “regular” (mustard, sauerkraut, onion and sauce) or a “special” (same ingredients with seasoned ground beef on top). “You can tell if someone is not from Birmingham by how they order their hot dog,” said Ernie Gerontakis, who owns the restaurant and has expanded its menu in recent years.

A third generation of customers stops by Gus’s for breakfast on the way to school or after school for an Icee and fries.

Gerontakis took over  the business two years ago. “My first job was doing this, and this is what I always wanted to do,” he said. Continue reading

Chez Lulu & Continental Bakery: Restaurant Spotlight

By CHRISTIANA ROUSSEL

Bohemian.  Eclectic.  Free-thinking.  Spirited.  These are the words that come to mind when you meet Carole Griffin, owner of Chez Lulu Restaurant and Continental Bakery in English Village.  The same words could also define a gypsy-soul, an individual filled with wanderlust, someone who’s very idea of happiness is globetrotting, finding home wherever she lays her head.  But firmlygrounded roots are the foundation to Carole’s success.  She possesses a certain je ne sais quoi.  In everything she does, she goes against type.  Instead of flitting from continent to continent, she has instead become the magnet, the force which attracts all kinds of activity to her eateries on Cahaba Road. Continue reading