Inside or Out

The umbrellas are open at Bottega Café!

By Jan Walsh

Today we are first in line for lunch at Bottega Café. We look over the menu outside the towering, black iron gates, which open precisely at 11:00. The patio is dotted with black and white stripped umbrellas inviting us to sit underneath here at Birmingham’s most famous patio. Yet inside our window table is also in view, waiting patiently. We opt for our table. From our table it is a delightful scene to watch as most of those behind us quickly fill the patio for an al fresco lunch.

To start we order a bottle of Pet Nat Kobal “Bajta” Rosé ‘20 from Slovenia. The bottle opens like a bottle of soda pop with a metal cap. Bright red in color this budget and food friendly dry wine is bright and lively notes of strawberry and raspberry, with a creamy, yeasty, and chewy palate. I call it berries and cream bottled in a bubbly with a touch of tart.

Never miss the bread at Bottega. I would come here for the bread. The soft, warm house made Focaccia is golden and crusty on the outside, boasts a springy, airy crumb on the inside with a yeasty, lip puckering flavor throughout. It is paired with Bottega Infused Olive Oil, to which I always sprinkle with salt and pepper, which we always appreciate the owners, Chef Frank and Pardis Stitt having both on the table. Along with the bread we nibble on Marinated Olives, with fennel seed, cumin, lemon peel. We always love the variety of olives, but todays are the best. Must have been a great season.

I came here today for the Roasted Jumbo Asparagus with Farm Egg. Perhaps my Irish husband is still celebrating St. Patrick’s? Kev orders a side of his favorite Crispy Potatoes as an app. And we share both. The older the asparagus plant, the thicker the stalk, and the deeper the flavor. Large or small, I have a bad habit of eating the tender tips of asparagus and leaving the stalks. Yet Stitt has a technique and a process for preparing jumbo asparagus that includes snapping the woody bottoms off and shaving the stems before cooking, which results in a tenderness from top to bottom. The fleshy, rich awesome asparagus is also enhanced by his three-vinegar vinaigrette and herbs and is crowned with full flavored farm egg, adding protein and richness. Highly recommended! Don’t let this season pass without popping in for this dish. Kev’s potatoes are also bursting with farm freshness, which is not overwhelmed by the simple preparation and its splendid salsa verde. I must say he is onto something as these potatoes make a marvelous starter.

For mains I encourage Kev to order the Butcher’s Pie. And he takes my advice. And I catch the Louisiana Crawfish Risotto with Gulf Shrimp. His porky pizza arrives piping hot, layered with mortadella, soppressata, fennel sausage, pancetta, and melted mozzarella atop house made marinara. He offers me a slice, and I can’t resist this feast for the eyes and its meaty mélange of blended salty cured pork aromas. Oh, my! As Kev prefers, the thin, golden, doughy crust is not blackened, and holds up well to the weight of the toppings. Another highly recommended dish that recently came back to Bottega Café’s menu. Days later when we begin to crave this memorable pie, we order it for takeout, along with the olives. And it made it all the way home to Liberty Park warm in its box. No reheating needed. My risotto is a beauty, brimming with in season plump Louisiana crawfish and succulent Gulf shrimp, along with more jumbo asparagus, bulb onion, and just enough mint to brighten, but not overpower. Juxtaposing the stronger crawfish with the sweetness of the shrimp mellows the dish and satisfies my crawfish craving with a boatload of protein.

Early spring also brings strawberry season. Thus, we cannot resist Bottega’s annual Strawberry Semifreddo. This tiny, creamy tower is grounded with a graham cookie, dusted with pistachio, and is bursting with pristine strawberry flavor. Our gracious server surprises us with a treat of Mint Chip Ice Cream. I never say no to chocolate, so one bite of this minty ice cream chock full of chocolaty goodness leads to another.

As we depart to our valeted car, via the patio, we agree, “patio next time…”


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