Foretaste of Frenchie
Private Tour of Future Frenchie with Chef, Co-Owner Tyler Lyne
By Jan Walsh
Today I meet Tyler Lyne at the location of his, and wife Jennifer’s future Frenchie restaurant, located at 1804 12th Avenue South in Birmingham. Both the Lynes are CIA trained chefs. Yet this is just the beginning of their expertise and experience. Chef Tyler is a molecular expert, and Chef Jennifer is an artist, whose medium is food, especially pastry arts. Their experience includes stints at the top restaurants in NYC as well as Japan and Paris. The couple came from New York City to the Birmingham area in 2020 and started a wildly popular supper club, Tasting TBL, which is hosted in their Hoover home. At Tasting TBL the couple pushes the boundaries of gastronomy and pull together the elements of taste. With the opening of Frenchie, the supper club will wind down. Yet supper club members will not be forgotten. They will be “on the list” for future private dining events held on the space next door to Frenchie. The Lynes also serve as the inaugural Chefs in Residence at 1856 – Culinary Residence in the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center at Auburn University. This role changes annually, which will soon allow the Lynes to complete their commitment to Auburn, and pivot all their attention to Frenchie, as it prepares to open.
This former residence of Walter Agee (named Rucker-Agee House on the National Register) is the only remaining example of an original, Birmingham “shingle style” home. Although a shingle is siding material, not technically a style of architecture, the term, “shingle style” was popularized in the 1950s by American Art Historian, Vincent Scully in reference to this style of Victorian architecture. These cottage-like homes with welcoming verandas, wood clad asymmetrical facades, and complex rooflines that appear informal. Yet they were the “high fashion,” of housing in the late 19th Century, for wealthy Americans and their architects expressing their individualism. Built in 1900 by Civil War General Edmund Winchester Rucker, he gifted the house and property (situated across the street from his home) to his daughter, Louise, and Agee when the couple married. Since the 1950s, the property has been a doctor’s office and afterwards a wedding venue.
Today, renovation of this three-story, historic property is well underway. She has stood the test of time, and the pages of her next chapter as a French restaurant, bistro, patisserie, catering service, and private club are being written. The future Frenchie’s “good bones” are now exposed as she stands half undressed. And her (6,500 square feet) footprint is being expanded with decks, balconies, and enclosures. Outside the former home blends into the mature landscape. “Time gives you this,” Tyler describes. “You can’t fake time.” You can’t fake views, either. Hugging the ground, on this hilltop, her flow of porches, balconies, and large windows connect the outside and inside.
From the top, we tour the third level, which will be a green scape inside and out, with emerald green interior and looking out over the mature trees and landscape. “It is Pan Am inspired, luxury in a tight space,” Tyler describes. To belong to this exclusive jet set club level, members will pay a monthly membership fee. “But the membership will also work like seasons tickets. You can allow others to use your membership. If a corporation has a membership, they can send out of town guests here without coming themselves.” Here members will smoke cigars or ramble around to the adjoining room where they may sit and sip rare wines by the fireplace in old Birmingham, library style, surrounded by bookcases. Standing at the top of the three-story staircase you can see from the club level to the bottom level in one extraordinary, breathtaking view.
The main level already has entry from the front and back. Here you will have the option of valeting your car, parking on the street, or parking in the rear parking lot. Plush French blue velvets will dominate this level, enveloping it in elegance. Situated in the front will be a bar that leads past the show kitchen to the fine dining room. This large space has walls of glass overlooking the city and a living, green foliage ceiling. The formal French fare will be much like Tasting TBL, a nine-course tasting menu. Today stacks of shingles, which have been removed from the building are organized and stacked waiting to dress up Frenchie. This level has huge windows that open to the wrap around porch, which will soon be enclosed with glass. Walking out back, the deck is being extended to provide more outdoor seating on this level. The large windows adjoining the sweeping wrap around porch, were the source of cooling the house when it was built. In the days before air conditioning, porches provided both outdoor entertainment spaces and a cooler place to sleep in the summer months. As Scully also aptly described this shingle style as “the architecture of the American summer.” I imagine the Agee family rocking on this porch for 50+ years, just as vividly as I can see myself here at a bistro table with a glass of Champagne.
The bottom level, which has the opposite view of the club level, the staircase spirals up to the club level. This basement level will be black, white, and country French all over. Inside a brick wall is now coming down to extend Frenchie’s future Patisserie to include a pastry kitchen and space for a large glass case filled with French pastries. I can see Jennifer here now wooing us all with her artful desserts. Behind the pastry case with a backdrop of a tiled fireplace, there will be bistro seating. Here with no reservations needed, guests will select a pastry, chocolate, cheese, or Frenchie’s already famous Viennoiserie bread with a cup of coffee. Also coming to this level, from New York, will be the former celebrity chef, Gray Zunz's (of Lespinasse at the St. Regis Hotel and Cafe Gray) French Bonnet Suite island style stove, keeping his memory alive and this culinary jewel sizzling in Frenchie’s production kitchen. Along with Frenchie’s cooking line, there will be dry storage, freezers, and what Tyler jokingly describes as “the world’s greatest dish room,” for dish washing. Outside overlooking the lawn, on the large, curvy porch there will be additional bistro style seating and an outdoor bar, overlooking the lawn. “Here parents may sit and watch their kids play outdoor games.” The bistro level will have its own casual menu of bistro fare, although Tyler says there will be cross over of the dining room and bistro’s dishes.
As we part, Tyler and I make plans to meet here again in spring. And I will update this article at that time with progress and photos of Frenchie as her big reveal draws near.
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