Chef driven Avo opens in heart of Mountain Brook.
By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Upscale Avo is a new chef driven restaurant in Mountain Brook Village. It is located in a new, brick building upstairs from its partner, more casual eatery, Dram Whiskey Bar. Tonight we dine at Avo but take a peek inside Dram.
There is a valet in waiting upon arrival. Yet it is early, parking is ample, so we park across the street. Entering the lobby area there is an elevator in the center and a staircase to the right. Both provide access to Avo. To the left is the entrance to the rustic and welcoming Dram.
Avo’s ambience is upbeat and open. A curved wine rack separates the dining room from the hostess stand. Large windows above white candlelit tables, line the L-shaped dining room. A white leather banquette anchors the center of the space. Beyond the banquette is a semi-open kitchen where executive chef, Ben Kirk, and his cooks prepare a light, California style cuisine using fresh, quality ingredients, many of which are local.
Much of Kirk’s culinary experience has been in Nashville, yet he finds Birmingham to be a much more sophisticated as a culinary city. “There are four restaurants in Birmingham that Nashville can’t touch,” Kirk says. “In Nashville, people go out for drinks. The people here are more sophisticated and know food and expect fresh and local products. Here you can’t put half of the fish in the freezer and bring it back out later because Birmingham knows fresh from frozen.”
Tonight we are seated on the outdoor deck situated on the front of the restaurant. Here white aluminum tables and chairs line the space, which overlooks the village’s slate rooftops, intricate brick chimneys, and historic architecture. Dinner begins with a look at the wine list, along with fresh bread and olive oil. Whites are not separated from reds, nor are the wines separated by varietals. Instead regions divide the list. We begin with a—can’t go wrong sparkler, unless the restaurant does not chill it properly—Champagnes, Roederer Estate NV. The bottle arrives very well chilled, to the proper serving temperature, with appropriate, high quality stemware.
There are three courses on the dinner menu, and we will order from all three. A starter selection of Oysters are available. Yet we opt for the Cheese plate and Charcuterie—expecting they will complement each other and lend to sharing. Both dishes are served on small, white rectangular platters, which make a crisp backdrop for the artful presentations. Three rich and delightful cheeses Point Reyes Blue (cow), Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert (sheep), and Midnight Moon (goat) are paired with house caramel, quince paste and saffron honey. The Charcuterie is presented with scrumptious shavings of Newsom’s Prosciutto, Spicy Coppa and Speck with a port Dijon, marinated olives, and a raisin-onion chutney. The protein and acidity of the Charcuterie is a match for the creaminess of the cheeses. I could make a meal off these two starters.
From the “Mids” the Michael Dean Arugula salad sounds tasty—and includes my favorite fruit blackberries, along with toasted almonds, Fromage Blanc, rosemary and preserved lemon vinaigrette. But we are more tempted by the California Roll and Seared Scallops. Three California Rolls are filled with lump crab, avocado, and pickled onion. The rolls are sprinkled with tobiko, which adds a smoky, salty flavor and orange color to the rice. The California Rolls are further enhanced with sweet soy in a side bowl. The three Seared Scallops are seared to perfection for my palate—lightly browned on top, slightly firm to the touch of the fork, a hint of opalescent on the cut, and tender and creamy inside. Although I typically find scallops to be a stand-alone product—no need to get too creative with them—I am surprised and impressed with the accompaniment of roasted shallot and olive nut powder. They round out the delicate scallops with an earthy richness.
Among the mains is a dish so popular that the restaurant is out of it tonight—Five-Spice Duck Breast—served with Udon noodles, Asian pesto and shitake mushrooms. We select Pan Roasted Red Snapper and tonight’s special, Bouillabaisse paired with two lovely glasses of Kathryn Kennedy Sauvignon Blanc. The thick cut of snapper is crisp, golden and moist. This light fish is complemented by and topped with chucks of fresh, grilled pineapple and served on a bed of coconut rice. The Bouillabaisse’s base is the color and texture of a cream of tomato soup. Generous portions of mussels, monstrous shrimp, delicate scallops, and bites of potato fill the bowl. And warm, crisp toast points allow for deep dipping to the last scrumptious drop.
Although there is no room for dessert after the first three delicious courses, Cheesecake Pancakes sound irresistible. Several hot, golden, silver dollar sized pancakes are filled with cheesecake and accompanied by balsamic strawberries and Blount County Honey. One bite—they are irresistible. Bravo, Avo!
2721 Cahaba Road
Mountain Brook, AL 35223
Tuesday-Thursday: 5:00 – 10:00 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 5:00 – 11:00 p.m.
Sunday Brunch: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Sunday Supper: 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
View Avo Restaurant Profile