Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bar 31 Soul Food Kitchen- "Homestyle Cooking Behind The Music"

It's not often that you'd find some of the best home-style cooking in a place known for it's bar  atmosphere. Bar 31 in Vestavia Hills has demonstrated that you should never judge a book by it's cover. This live music venue recently made a smart decision to capitalize on it's space and day time availability to begin offering a variety of home-cooked menu items during the weekday lunch rush.
Conveniently located right off the I-65 Montgomery highway exit is a quality lunch experience. Their lunch hours are currently 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. week days.

Atmosphere: This is a live music venue/bar. Located right at the foot of the Comfort Inn in Vestavia. It's spacious, has television, a stage (for evening performances) & a billiards room. The billiards room and stage were not occupied during lunch. This made it easy to transition into a full service restaurant. It was not noisy like a bar would typically be. Thank goodness. If you work in the area, I would definitely suggest this as a regular stop for lunch.

What I had: From the lunch menu, I had the grilled pork chop- (a thick, quality cut of pork) seasoned just right. I also had a side of fresh, steamed broccoli topped with cheese sauce,  a side of delicious fried green tomatoes and a PERFECTLY cooked cornbread muffin. (Nothing like a bad cornbread muffin to ruin a meal.) This one was baked just right.

Staff: Friendly, attentive and overall awesome. Sally provided wonderful service and I will ask for her on the next visit. She did try relentlessly to get me to try one of the most beautiful strawberry shortcake desserts I'd ever seen, but I was good =) . Maybe next time.

Price: The price of lunch is $7.50 for a meat and 2 veggies. A great value for a lunch in Vestavia Hills. The strawberry shortcake was priced at $2.50.

Overall experience: I loved it and I shall return.

Follow their daily tweets & Facebook updates to see the daily lunch menus and other specials at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bar-31/431240960246802?ref=ts&fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Bar_31_Bham

For more information, directions or to order take out or even the "forbidden" strawberry shortcake, you can reach Bar 31 at (205) 824-3160.

Monday, June 23, 2014

John's City Diner- " Birmingham's American Culinary Experience"

When in discussion about John's City Diner, many people I've talked to say that it's one of those places where you can always get a great meal. Others tell me that it's one of those places that they've "always meant to go". If you have not had lunch or dinner at John's, you are missing out.
John's is a Birmingham landmark that has been in the downtown Birmingham area for many, many years. Plenty of time to have demonstrated their passion for great food, great atmosphere and awesome service.

Atmosphere: The restaurant was busy, but spacious enough so that we didn't feel crowded. Booth and table seating was available. Not too noisy. Great nostalgic tunes played throughout the restaurant.

What I/ we had: I had the beautifully plated Beeler's pork chop, with a side of John's famous smashed potatoes. I am not a green bean eater so I substituted for fried green tomatoes and was glad that I did. My lunch companion had the "Famous Meatloaf" topped with red wine mushroom gravy, crispy onions and a side of smashed potatoes. Overall both dishes were bountiful and flavorful. On a separate visit, I visited during John's Happy Hour. I had the "Oysters Rock-A-Fella" from the small plates menu- fried oysters over creamed spinach topped with a balsamic reduction. This dish is insane!!!  (Phylliss you're amazing)

(*all items on the small plates menu are 1/2 price from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. weekdays)

The Staff: Attentive, pleasant and never left our glasses half full. Ralph provided us with outstanding service. (HIGH FIVE)

Prices: John's lunch menu prices range from $8.50 to $16.50 depending on the dish.

Overall Dining Experience: Great!

For more information on John's City Diner or to view the full lunch and dinner menu's please visit http://www.johnscitydiner.com/mobile/index.php or  for catering or to book a private event
call (205) 322-6014

Famous Meatloaf w. smashed potatoes & crispy onions

Pork chop w/ smashed potatoes & fried green tomatoes

Oysters Rock-A-Fella small plate

The Southern Kitchen & Bar- "Providing Southern Comfort Uptown Style"

Anyone that knows me knows that I LOVE celebrating my birthday. Especially when someone takes me out to dinner! This year, a good friend treated me to dinner at one of the new kids on the block. The impressive, new Southern Kitchen & Bar in the new Uptown Entertainment District in Birmingham offered pleasant surprises with both the atmosphere and the food. Miraculously, I found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. YES! The dinner angels were watching over me.

Atmosphere: The décor has a kind of country-meets-city feel. It is stylish, yet not so distracting that it takes away from the dining experience. Contemporary country music played in the background while much of the modest crowd watched various television programs.
This restaurant is VERY spacious and even features an outdoor patio seating area.

What I/ we had: From the small plate menu, we shared the dish called "The Devil Went Down To Birmingham" . One bite of these delicious deviled eggs and I quickly changed my mind about sharing. They are topped with chow, chow, diced tomatoes and paprika. For my entrée, I had The Jefferson- a healthy portion of blackened shrimp over creamy gouda grits with a side of  spicy (and I do mean spicy) turnip greens. My companion had the Vulcan burger, a juicy black angus burger, topped with smoked bacon, a slice of cheddar cheese, onion & tomato on a brioche bun. We also shared a dessert. The banana pudding crème brulee- to die for, to die for, to die for.

The Staff: Friendly &  knew the menu very well. I did not get my glass refilled as needed. Lots of  water was needed to help offset the spiciness of the dish I ordered.

Prices: The prices here start at $6.00 on small plates.Salads and sandwiches start at $8.00 and entree's start at about $13.00.

Over all experience: I had a wonderful time!

Fore more information & to see a full menu, visit their website at http://thesouthernbirmingham.com/
The Devil Went Down To Birmingham small plate

The Jefferson
Banana Pudding Crème Brulee

The Vulcan Burger

Friday, June 20, 2014

Kai's Koffee House in Pelham - "A Sweet Discovery"

Once upon a time, I veered off the beaten path in search of  a shiny, new hidden gem. I happened upon a cozy spot called Kai's Koffee shop. According to their website, all of their coffee beans are shipped in within 24 hours of being roasted.  Even though coffee made with fresh coffee beans is the main attraction, Kai's has a lot of sweets & other things to offer such as a variety of
chicken salad wraps, cake, pastries and more! Only 7 months old, this coffee drinkers dream will definitely perk up everyone that walks through the door. This spot is also perfect for group meetings.  No need to worry about parking, there is a space marked just for you!

Atmosphere: Very spacious, able to handle a large breakfast or lunch crowd. A lot of thought definitely went into the décor of this café. Everything from the seats to the wall pictures is an ode to the coffee connoisseur. Free WI-FI is available for all customers.

What I had: My lunch consisted of the popular cran-apple chicken salad wrap. The wrap was filled with moist chicken salad loaded with chopped pecans and cranberries. But wait.... there's more! Before making my payment, I looked over and spotted something that is a sin in at least 5 countries and a crime in 25 states... a pancake & bacon cupcake! This is the kind of cupcake I'd buy from a guy with questionable character in a dark parking lot in the middle of the night.
Just that good. (my opinion)

The Staff: Amazing! Service with a smile goes a long way with me.

Prices: With a bottled water & apple juice added to my lunch, my total was about $12.00 bucks.
If we pretend the cupcake never happened, the total would have been around $9.00

Overall experience: Fantastic! I shall return.

If you are looking for awesome service, good food and a sinful cupcake, Kai's Koffee Shop in Pelham is the place to go! Perfect for a meet and greet.
For more information on this great new spot, visit their website at www.acupofkai.com
Follow them on Twitter at @KaisKoffee
cran-apple chicken salad wrap w/ chips

Aerial view of the Pancake and Bacon cupcake

Another photo in case you missed it.The Pancake and Bacon cupcake


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Grilling 101: "Mastering the Pitt" #GrillChat With a Pitmaster

Outside of raiding restaurants, one of my personal favorite hobbies is experimenting with different methods of grilling varieties of beef, pork and chicken. I learned through trial and a lot of big fat errors. I sat down for a one on one chat with Birmingham native & local grilling specialist,
 Mr. Washington Day, to get some tips for all of the readers out there that wish to master the art of grilling.
Washington Day, Jr.

Q: What's your age & how long have you been a master of the grill?

A: I am 57. I've been cooking for just under 30 years. I've cooked in the USA and abroad. I cooked in the US Army, Costa's BBQ, Jim N' Nick's, Steak and Ale, Olive Garden, Quincy's & freelance catering. I have won a couple of awards and have experience as a competition judge.
*note some of these restaurants have come and gone*

Q: How old were you when you were introduced to the technique of cooking on a charcoal grill?

A: 7 years old ... My Dad Wash Sr. allowed me to watch him every time he grilled for our family of 9. Including 7 children. Through the years, I learned to love it.

Q:Was your first time a success or did you ever have to go back to the drawing board?
A: No. My first time was NOT a success. However, I was determined to be just as good on the grill as my dad. I loved it so much, I eventually got a job doing it every day; perfecting it gradually along the way. I still strive for perfection still to this day.

Q:What is the one thing that can ruin a barbecue?
A: "To over season the product. Also to have a fire that is too hot can cook the product too fast."

For all of you grilling rookies out there, Washington provides 7 "basic" key steps for people grilling for the first time or with minimal experience.

Tip# 1. "Chose only extremely fresh cuts of meat. Not too much fat. As far as ribs go, I like the large, classic spare ribs myself.  Be sure there are no signs of brown in the meats that you purchase. Pick for the meats that are red in color. Always check the date. Also make sure that your grill or any surface that your meat will touch is cleaned and sterilized."

Tip#2. "Properly clean / cleanse the meat. When it comes to ribs, you want to trim the top of the ribs.
 Meaning cut across the top of the bones to give the ribs a straight, even, "St. Louis Style" look. Cleanse the meat in a cleaning solution consisting of water, vinegar and salt. Then rinse until the water is clear."

Tip#3. "Season your product. I use Liquid Smoke, Dale's & worcestershire sauce first. then any granulated seasoning second. Do this the day before your barbecue to allow the seasoning to infuse well for a good flavor. I also prefer garlic powder or granulated garlic. "

Tip#4. "Don't use cheap, off brand charcoal. My #1 choice of charcoal is Kingsford."

Tip#5. "To get a good fire, I use an electric starter. Pile the coals into the shape of a pyramid, start the fire, let the coals burn until they are all gray. Spread the coals out evenly. Open the vents on the grill. If you are using wood chips, spread pre-soaked, damp wood chips across the top of the coals. Be sure that there are no flames. If the fire begins to die down, open the top of the grill and all vents stir the coals with a long object."

Tip# 6. "Place meat on the grill. If cooking ribs, place the bone side face down. Sear all cuts of meat on both sides in order to maintain moisture inside. Use sturdy utensils. Nothing worse that having food fall onto the ground."

Tip#7. " Smother the fire or rather cutting off the oxygen to the fire will extinguish flare up's. You want to watch out for this so that you don't burn the meat. Keep a spray bottle filled with water close by and also a water supply for safety reasons. "

*Legal Stuff: Grilling safety is also the largest factor. Do not operate a grill with an open flame within 10 feet of a building or structure. Children should not play near an operating grill and definitely not unsupervised. Meat should be cooked to your desired preference, but note that there is a consumer advisory against eating undercooked meats.

If you have any questions or would like more tips, feel free to send your questions to Washington c/o The Bham Restaurant Raider to RestaurantRaidr@gmail.com or you can tweet your questions #Grilling to @RestaurantRaidr

The products mentioned above can all be found locally in most Birmingham grocery stores & big box hardware stores.
Have a great summer! See pics below.

Always examine raw meat for color and fat content.

Always check the "sell by" date

A nice spacious grill is essential for large quantities

This is the electric starter that he can't live without.

"Kingsford Charcoal is my personal choice"

Remember to pre-soak your wood chips if you choose to use them

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stuff to Eat and See this weekend!

Just wanted to share a few events. Unless you have a clone, you might have to play a game of eenie, meenie, mynie, moe!

The 1st Annual Ice Cream Festival

Ice Cream Festival TIX

The 2014 Magic City Brew Fest

2014 Slice Fest Presented by Slice Pizza & Budweiser

The Steel City Jazz Festival in Linn Park