Bottega Café adds lounge seating and moved my table.
By Jan Walsh
We always arrive before Bottega Café opens in order to get “our table,” in the right corner window. So many memories of lunch right there with Kev. We have romanced, celebrated, and problem solved over lunch and handcrafted cocktails or bubbles. Yet as we valet, I see my table is gone. In its place is a new lounge area with airy, rattan and wicker furniture. I get it. Here guests can wait comfortably for a table, while sipping their choice of beverage, or nibbling on an app. But where’s my table? No worries, I look to the left and there it is in the front window alongside the entrance. Whew! Same good light, nice little corner. We have found a new home here.
Looking over the menu, we see that Kev’s favorite cocktail is in season: Strawberry Fields, which he orders. I select a new crémant on the wine list. And we cheer our new spot—which, by this time, we have already decided we like even better than our old one.
We pair our drinks with our favorite starter of hummus. The scrumptious hummus is served with hot pita bread, fresh, crunchy veggies of carrots, cucumber, radishes, red peppers, along with an array of marinated olives. And our attentive server notices that we are getting low on hummus, while having a generous amount of bread left, so he appears with more hummus. Nice!
Kev orders the fried chicken sandwich with a fried farm egg on top. I opt for comfort and order their famous mac and cheese, with a side of grilled chicken. Our server offers to have the mac and cheese made with the chicken inside the crock. Great suggestion. Kev’s thick chicken breast is fried to a golden brown and is white and moist on the inside. I steal a big bite, after Kev raves over this beautiful bird in a bun. Highly recommended! The sandwich is served with crisp, thin and tasty house made chips. My mac and cheese is piping, steamy hot. Bite sized pieces of white chicken meat are found in each bite of the creamy, cheesy pasta dish. It is served with a small salad that adds a lovely touch of acidity and texture to the plate.
We will be back for more of both—at our new table.
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Fig Tree has been hiding in plain sight for five years.
By Jan Walsh
Please don’t rub it in if you discovered Fig Tree years ago. I know. I get it. Although I had heard about it for a long time, I never got around to going until now… But in one week’s time, I make up for it by going for dinner and brunch, plus getting takeout for lunch.
Fig Tree is hidden away in Cahaba Heights, where it does not benefit from walk in traffic. We actually had to hunt the place down, once we decided to go. I knew it was in back of a salon on (3160) Cahaba Heights Road. But we learned by doing, that driving through the salon’s parking lot around the salon is not the best way to get there. Instead, take Pipe Line Road, which leads to Fig Tree’s parking lot. From there take the steps up to the restaurant.
Upon our arrival, Executive chef, owner, J.P. Holland shows Jordan, Kev, and I to our table on their deck. On this beautiful spring evening, we order handcrafted cocktails, made at Fig’s handmade bar, with hand squeezed fresh juices. We sip our refreshing drinks: Lady of the Lake, Old Thymey Twist, and Blood Orange Whiskey Sour, while nibbling on our first app of blistered Shishito peppers.
Next Holland treats us to four more appetizers—both on and off the menu—paired with wines. Tasting the pairings, from a Spanish red to a French white, it is obvious that that each wine was carefully curated to marry Holland’s fare. These starters included divine diver scallops, magnificent meatballs, tasty jerk tuna ceviche, and a scrumptious mushroom salad, made from a mushroom grown in the garden below us. Holland showed off the mushroom before preparing the salad.
We order from the daily specials as entrees: chop of the day, bone in 8-Ounce steak, and Pasta Du Jour. The pork chop is from Holland’s own heritage hogs, which are bred for fat and have a darker meat than typical pork. The chop is melt-in-the-mouth tender and cooked to perfection. It is served atop a down home mix of rice, peas, and collards. The tender and juicy beef is also from one of Holland’s sustainable sources. It is a cross of Wagu and Red Angus. Tender, juicy, and cooked to order, it has the flavors of grass-fed with a fat profile of prime. It is served with lumpy mashed potatoes from a beloved family recipe. Highly recommended! And my favorite fisherman, Greg Abrams catches Fig’s seafood, including the fish of the day. And tonight, Abrams Gulf shrimp are the plump and succulent protein in the beautiful bucatini pasta du jour.
We are so impressed that Kev and I decide to try brunch the following Sunday. A cold snap takes us inside the cozy bar for brunch. Here we order Bloody Marys and an amazing app of Crawfish Eggrolls to start. And entrees include Crab Cake Situation and Fig Tree Hash. The crab Benedict is a tower of two fried farm eggs, crowned with Hollandaise, situated atop crab cakes and golden fried green tomatoes. On first cut the orange yolk runs down the crab and tomatoes, melding three fabulous flavors. The hash has it all, farm eggs, hash browns, sausage, and bacon, smothered in a comforting country gravy. And be sure to order a side of their memorable, cheesy grits. Or enjoy them in the Fig Pig Breakfast along with Fig Pig sausage topped with farm egg.
For our final meal of the week, we order takeout for lunch. Over dinner, Kev and J.P. had a discussion about what a Philly Cheesesteak should be. So, Kev, a native of Pennsylvania, was anxious to try it. And I had the Shrimp salad. The authentic, long bun—slightly crusty on the outside and soft on the inside—is piled high with thinly sliced steak, melded with melted cheese. One bite, and Kev declares it is just like home. My salad was filled with local lettuces, Heirloom veggies, and grilled Gulf shrimp. And both traveled very well.
Fig Tree is not a fancy venue. Here it is all about the food, from where it comes, how it is raised, and the care and expertise of its preparation.
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Ribs to Wraps
Dreamland Bar-B-Que satisfies barbeque cravings of all kinds—and conjures up memories too.
By Jan Walsh
I have a rule about barbeque restaurants. If you don’t see smoke coming from a smoke stack and smell hickory wood burning on the outside of the restaurant, don’t go inside the restaurant.
My first barbeque sandwich was eaten at the Ralph and Pop’s drive in, in Oneonta—child’s size. I still remember… “Daddy Joe” pulling up, parking, and rolling down the window—by hand. The waitress then walked up to the car, placed a tray in the driver’s window, and offered options. They had outside meat, inside meat, or half and half to be sliced, chopped, or pulled. She then wrote down our orders in pencil on the green, Guest Check ticket pad. I rolled down my window and looked up to see smoke billowing from the smokestack filling the air with aromas of hickory smoke.
Ralph and Pop’s no longer exists—except as a memory. But Dreamland is almost as old as I am and still growing. John “Big Daddy” Bishop opened the original Dreamland Bar-B-Que, a drive-in restaurant, in Tuscaloosa the same year Bear Bryant became head football coach at theUniversity of Alabama, in 1958.
And the Birmingham location was the first Dreamland outside Tuscaloosa 26 years ago. And today the Birmingham metro area has two locations, including one in Hoover, off Highway 280 in Inverness, Meadowbrook. Dreamland has a total of ten locations, including eight Alabama locations and two in Georgia. Dreamland also has an online store where you can order BBQ, sides, sauces, rubs, gift boxes, gift cards, and merchandise.
Today we are driving to lunch at the Southside location. And aromas of hickory smoke lead us there from a block away. Inside the downhome ambiance, a two-sided menu boasts much more than the barbeque sandwiches I had growing up.
I spot wraps on the menu. And today’s special is Fried Green Tomatoes. We start with the tomatoes along with the Fried Okra Basket, and Hickory Smoked Sausage, along with the beer special. The tomatoes and okra are fried to a golden with the proper ratio of crust to veggie. Both are crisp on the outside and moist and full of flavor on the inside. Dreamland’s BBQ Rub adds a bite of heat, and they are topped off with a drizzle of Dreamland’s famous Twang Sauce. And the sausage has a crisp, thin skin and moist meaty inside. We dip and devour until all are gone.
For entrees, I order the, new to me, BBQ Chicken Ranch Wrap with handmade, house made BBQ potato chips. Kev is not here to discover new finds and cannot resist his longtime favorite—the ribs. He orders half a slab with fries as his entree. My wrap is a wholesome synthesis of chopped BBQ chicken, wrapped in lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber, and Ranch dressing, and tortilla. Highly recommended! And their crisp, chips add texture and turn up the temp on this tasty basket.
Kev’s thick, meaty ribs arrive sliced and mopped in their sauce. They are served fresh off the pit with white bread and extra sauce. Smoked to perfection, the tender rib meat easily nibbles off the bone, and each bite melts in the mouth.
And we swoon over an order of Dreamland’s famous and fabulous Banana Pudding for dessert for a sweet ending to a meal that brings back sweet BBQ memories.
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