Bar Night

Bistro 218 brings back Burger and Crab Cake Sliders at The Bar.

By Jan Walsh

Tonight, Kev and I have reservations in The Bar at Bistro 218. This French bistro boasts two dining options for dinner to suit your mood and your appetite: fine dining with French classics in the main dining room and casually upscale bar with its own bar menu. And no matter which room or menu you choose, owners and restaurateurs, Tom and Christina Saab offer ever changing, seasonal fare sourced from the best meat and Gulf Coast seafood purveyors, local foragers and farmers, and every ingredient in its kitchen is personally vetted by Tom, who is also executive chef.

Seated at our favorite window table, we are offered both the dining room menu and the bar menu. Oh, my! The choices… Although the opportunity before us is to order from both menus, tonight we narrow down to the bar menu. Given Kev is here for the Bistro Burger that recently came back on the menu, it feels like a bar night. Back in the day when Bistro 218 served lunch, this burger was a favorite. We sat here for lunch many times, watching the hustle and bustle of downtown life: buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and cars, going in both directions. And people watching the sidewalks, where men dressed in suits and women in heels came from nearby offices and stores. Darting past our view they were out to grab a takeout lunch or a quick bite to eat. And the food savvy ones came into the Bistro 218 for their meal. Watching all this activity, we felt blessed to be on the inside looking out, rather than vice versa, as their busyness juxtaposed with our leisurely lunch... Tonight, it is art lovers, of all ages, we watch, as 20th Avenue is blocked off for Birmingham ArtWalk.

Just as our before-dinner cocktails of Spicy Pineapple Margarita and Eiffel Tower arrive, Chef Tom Saab pulls up a chair and joins us. The margarita is like none other, made of tequila, pineapples infused with jalapenos, and Grand Mariner. It has deep spice and layers of fulfilling tropical flavors, which quench the thirst and balance the heat. The Eiffel Tower is a foamy, lovely drink and counterpoint to the rita. This “fluffy” sipper is a mix of Bacardi Rum, strawberry, and pear juice, and topped with blackberry foam. Thus, the first taste soothes the palate with creamy blackberry… Oh, my! From top to bottom, this elegant, ethereal concoction might just be the best cocktail I have ever tasted. Highly recommended!

We start with Fritto Misto and Watermelon Salad. I don’t order fried food without knowing what cooking oil is used in the kitchen, due to allergy of canola oil. No worries here. Tom fries in peanut oil. Crisp, succulent redfish, shrimp, and calamari round out the fritto misto plate. We dip each golden nugget into creamy remoulade, nibbling this playful dish unhurriedly. It is simply fun to eat, and invites catch up conversations that satisfy our social appetite. The watermelon balls make a sweet and juicy accompaniment to the misto. Icy cold bites of melon are enhanced with pungent feta, crunchy pistachios, and a lovely red wine vinaigrette… Classic Bistro 218!

Occasionally a curiosity seeker walks over to check out Bistro 218’s menu, in its outdoor glass case, until finally along comes a couple who studies the menu, and decides to enter. Yet they quickly learn from the hostess, although she tries, that all tables in both spaces are filled or reserved. So, they patiently take a stand behind regulars at the bar where they order drinks. Soon two bar seats open and they slide into the seats, smiling as if they won the lottery.

For my main dish, to go hand in hand with Kev’s burger, I opt for the Crab Cake Sliders. The burger is paired with the on tap, German style Victory Brewing Prima Pils and I select Domaine Riffault Cortem a Batis Sancerre 2021 to sip with my crab. These were the first favorites of ours back when Bistro 218 first opened. Long before this bar space was added, we enjoyed them for lunch. Kev’s hand patted burger is thick, soft, juicy, and cooked to order. Smothered in melted Gruyere cheese, and served with lettuce, pickled onions, and pickles, on a beautiful bun, and is as he remembers... And his beer is smooth and easy with nuances of floral, spice, and citrus. My two sliders are even better than ever. The crab cakes are larger and plumper than in the old days. And the addition of Applewood smoked bacon adds texture, and its remoulade brings creamy moisture and a Cajun kick. How I have missed these jewels from the sea paired with Sancerre! Having been the center of French resistance since the Middle Ages and was the regional command center during WWII, winemakers in Sancerre take their Sauvignon Blanc seriously. Tonight’s Sancerre was made by the Reverdy family, who have been making wine in the village of Verdigny, a commune of Sancerre in the eastern Loire, since the 1600s. With a French accent this quintessential, purebred Sancerre has a shapely body, lovely acidity, no grassiness, and expresses multi-layered notes of apricot, citrus, and just enough lemon to highlight the crab. The burger and the sliders are paired with a generous helping of Saab’s fabulous pommes frites, which boast nutty notes from the peanut oil. And both are highly recommended!

We share a dessert of Lemon Ricotta Mascarpone Tart with Warre’s 10 Year Otima Tawny Port. A hibiscus poached pear, coffee anglaise, and candied walnuts impart another layer of refinement and fulfillment to the terrific tart. And the port pairs delightfully with the dessert, with its dramatic notes of hazelnut, fig, and dark cherry. Thank you, Bistro 218 for another memorable meal and great night at the bar!






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