50 Restaurants in Crappy Photos: Round One.

50 Restaurants in Crappy Photos

We usually eat out at least a couple of times a week (if not embarassingly more often) and due to an extreme preference for the atmosphere and the food, almost all of those meals are at local restaurants. Birmingham has an astoundingly robust local dining scene, so there are always plenty of options.

But although we’ve tried what we thought was nearly everywhere, we like what we like, and we often end up at the same several places. On any given Friday night, we can usually be found at either Nabeel’s, Silvertron, or Mudtown.

(During the Old-People-Dining-Hours – we have young children with early bedtimes.)

But then I had this fantastic idea. What if I committed to trying 50 new restaurants in a year? They would be mostly local with a few chains thrown in, and the only rule would be that I had never been to them.

It could be a blogging project! Beautiful pictures! Fun graphics! Pomp and Circumstance!

But I highly doubted that there were 50 restaurants in Birmingham in which I had never entered.

I started browsing through Urbanspoon and was shocked: making a list of 50 previously unvisited restaurants was done in five minutes. And it wouldn’t even have to include all of the nasty food groups for which I don’t care (sorry, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, and Fried Giblets — it’s not you, it’s me.)

But then I had another setback: Properly blogging about such an adventure would have to include my giant camera. And good lighting. And people staring at me, wondering why I was photographing my food with such snootery.

And I hate being stared at.

But I still wanted to do my project, so I decided that I would just take crappy iPhone photos, and if it takes longer than a year, it would be okay. I won’t get accolades for my amazing journey and fantastic photographs and stellar moment-capturing sensibilities, but I wouldn’t have anyway. And I will have the experiences, and our palates will be increased, and maybe I’ll motivate a person or two to try the same journey in their city.

And 50 Restaurants in Crappy Photos was birthed.

I gleefully created a spreadsheet or prospects and sorted it by whether it was a Date or Family destination, price, location, and dining hours. Then we set out on our journey.

Here are our first three visits:

1. Saw’s Juke Joint.

Saw’s was at the top of our list because it’s close by, casual enough to take children, and relatively inexpensive. It’s in the former location of Ore, which was American Idol winner Taylor Hicks’ first restaurant endeavor. Which in my opinion (and apparently everyone else’s, since it is now gone,) was significantly pricier than the quality deserved. So I suppose that Taylor got a clue and decided instead to invest with an already flourishing Birmingham brand, Saw’s (of Saw’s BBQ in Homewood and Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale.)

And I am convinced it was the right move.

Technically a BBQ restaurant, they have a lot of unique foods and preparations, including whole-fried Okra with a special sauce,

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Stuffed BBQ jalapenos that are hotter than anything served to a Lady should be (and kept me from being able to talk for at least ten minutes,)

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Random Specials like A Pork Belly sandwich that no Proper Lady would touch but my husband gushed over,

Pork Belly Sandwich Saws

And a Sweet Tea Chicken Sandwich that is marinated in pickle juice and can be received with an enormous amount of my favorite side, sweet potato fries.

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(I’m not a raving fan of pickle juice as a marination option, but that sandwich is pretty spectacular.)

Besides the unique stuff, they do a very good job on their main squeeze, BBQ. And we were back exactly a week after our first visit, and again a week after our second visit. This restaurant is definitely sabotaging our 50 Restaurants in Crappy Photos efforts.

2. DeVinci’s Italian Restaurant.

We pass this tiny place all the time on our way to Nabeel’s, and have honestly had few thoughts regarding it. It’s off the road, unimposing, and it has a photo of Mona Lisa on the awning.

DeVincis

(I also wasn’t clear as to why they had their name written once with capitalization, and once with only half-capitalization.)

But we had heard good things about it, so we visited it on a night that we only had one kid in our care, since we didn’t know how anti-children the typical DeVinci’s/deVinci’s clientele would be.

It turned out to be much roomier on the inside than it appeared, in a shocking Mary-Poppin’s-Purse, Scooby’s-Doghouse sort of way. It had an established, local, homey feel to it, with mismatched 70’s tables and booths. Kids were obviously welcome, and the population was sparse.

The only thing that made me feel a little more than slightly squeamish is that evidence implied that they had a one-holer bathroom directly off of the main dining room.

(I did not go investigate whether indeed it was a one-holer, but it did seem to be so based on watching someone try to visit, but turn around and walk back to their table when the door appeared to be locked.)

(I just don’t want my pee listened to by other diners. Or vice versa.)

Luckily, we were far away said doorway, so we were safe. We ordered the baked feta appetizer, since we love Nabeel’s and Chez LuLu’s very different takes on similar dishes. We were shocked by how MUCH feta DeVinci’s granted us:

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Yes, that is basically a bucket of feta, covered in what one could only presume is a homemade red sauce. And the bread was sliced thinly, with butter beneath every fold.

Noah was with us that night, and he currently holds the family title of Picky Eater. However, we somehow tricked him into trying the feta, and he ate at least half the bucket.

I searched the menu for something light to eat, and ended up on the spinach lasagna.

When it arrived, I recognized the extreme error of my ways.

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That cheese patty was at least a foot deep, and more cheese lay beneath. I didn’t get very far, because I can’t handle rich foods like I used to.

Chris got a personal sized pizza that made him very happy, and they were nice enough to serve Noah his spaghetti deconstructed, which made me very happy.

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3. Otey’s Tavern.

Chris and I had time for a really quick dinner alone a couple of weeks ago, so we headed down the road to another stop on our list.

I almost walked right back out, because it is apparently still legal to smoke in Otey’s (because it’s a tavern?) and I feared that I would have a flaming clown nose by the time we left. But the smoke seemed concentrated at the bar-end of the tavern, so we sat in the opposite corner and managed to keep my nasal passages relatively unscathed.

The menu was very much bar food, but did have a lot of variety. Chris had been dreaming about their cheesy-bacon-fries ever since he’d originally browsed their menu, so we started with those.

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They made for a very happy husband, and I liked them fairly well, too.

Chris ordered a BLT,

BLT Oteys

and I got a hamburger, which, although it deserved better, wins the award for crappiest photo of the post:

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They followed through on the menu promise of crisp onions and a ripe tomato, two things that are very important to my burger experience. The burger itself was also very juicy, and made for good food.

And the winner of Round One is:

Saw’s Juke Joint, without a doubt. We’ve now been three times, and have loved everything we’ve ordered. And their menu has us constantly scheming about when we can get back for more.

Bonus Feature – A Most Unique Dish: from Mudtown.

So Mudtown can not begin to qualify for our 50 new restaurants since we’ve been going there for years, but I also want to share some of the most unique dishes in the city.

Mudtown offers fresh, hot, homemade sweet potato chips with a…warm Bleu Cheese Bacon dip.

It will leave you at a loss for words.

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Let me clarify: I do not like Bleu Cheese. However, this dip has a secret: it’s actually mostly cream cheese. It just happens to have Bleu Cheese, Chives, and Bacon in it for flavoring. And it is pretty much the best thing that you will ever put on a sweet potato chip.

Hungry now? Then go somewhere new tonight. Then come back and tell me about it.

Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. 1
    Laura W. says:

    OMG! I LOVE this!!! We’ve been known to get stuck in ruts restaurant-wise & so we have been attempting to branch out as well. Of course we are not nearly as organized & spreadsheet/layout-y as y’all are so we will “copy your notes”. I’ve really been wanting to go to Saw’s!! Also, I know you know I was at Chili’s yesterday (via twitter pic)…don’t judge. I revolted but was outnumbered by my in-laws…who I’ve mentioned before.

    • 1.1
      Rachel says:

      That’s okay! We went to Ruby Tuesday not long ago, because we were at the mall and had a coupon. I felt the need to wear sunglasses and a dark, wide hat.

  2. 2
    renita says:

    No Indian, Vietnamese or Thai food? You don’t know what you’re missing. Pho, pad thai and vindaloo are foods of the gods…

    I’m with you on the fried giblets, though.

    • 2.1
      Rachel says:

      Maybe I just need the right teacher…

      • Renita says:

        If you ever find yourself in the Chicago suburbs I will take you to my favorite Indian restaurant and introduce you :)

        • Rachel says:

          Sounds good! BlogHer is in Chicago this year, but at the moment I’m not planning on attending. Will be the first time in five years I haven’t gone, though, so there’s a chance I’ll change my mind at the last minute. ;-)

  3. 3
    Michele says:

    That blue cheese dip sounds divine.

  4. 4
    Heather says:

    Oh this is great!! I am excited to see where else you go. We pass DaVinci’s alle the time on the way to OLS and have been wondering about it. I think we will be making the trip this coming sunday.

    And, what??? No Thai??? Surin West is our #1. – but only that location. Thai Bowl and Surin 280 NO. THANK. YOU. Yuck! But Surin West is the BEST! Maybe you’re not ordering the right thing… I’ll take ya :) And, they are kid friendly – we take both of ours everytime. We even broke a soy sauce bowl and the waiters were so nice to the boys anyway. they handed them 2 MORE?! Crazy. But, great service.

    • 4.1
      Rachel says:

      I’ve been to Surin West a few times. The first time the food almost made me gag – a first. The second and third time, I just got fried rice, and it was delicious – wuss’ way out.

  5. 5
    absepa says:

    Oh man, that pickle-juice-marinated chicken looks amazing! (I used to drink so much pickle juice when I was a kid that I got in trouble for causing all the pickles to dry up.) This post has made by boring, super-healthy work lunch look even more depressing by comparison. At least I’ll know where to eat if I ever end up in Birmingham!

  6. 6
    Giann says:

    Thanks for these three restaurant reviews, especially De Vinci’s. Waaayyyy back in 2007, while on a mission trip in Venezuela, the team ate at De Vinici’s. It was VERY high end and had some really good food! (Who knew they were international?!)

  7. 7
    Melissa says:

    Sweet potato chips with bleu cheese bacon dip??? That’s it, I’m moving to Alabama.

    It makes my heart sad that you don’t like Thai or Vietnamese!!! Those are two of our favorite cuisines. :-) The first date my husband and I went on as official boyfriend/girlfriend was to his favorite Vietnamese place and I was hooked (on the food, that is – well, on him too!). We both worked really close to that restaurant at the time so we met there for lunch frequently. :-) Love me some Bun – the cold noodle salad. Mmmmm….

  8. 8
    Eleanorjane says:

    My! It’s like an episode of ‘Diners, Drive ins and Dives’! And how come you guys aren’t the size of houses eating all that (admittedly delicious looking) stuff?

    We’re still enjoying trying out new restaurants around our city. This weekend we found an amazing French patisserie and the best Sunday roast we’ve had so far here. I guess healthy eating the rest of the time with occasional treats and plenty of exercise is the way to do it…

    • 8.1
      Rachel says:

      We eat very light breakfasts and lunches so that we can enjoy our dinners. :-) Not the healthiest of plans, but it works sometimes.

  9. 9
    Karla Archer says:

    I’m hungry!!

    I had to laugh because I literally read this article right before reading your post: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/mar/11/food-photography-is-it-ok

    • 9.1
      Rachel says:

      That cracked me up! It’s too true – social media and the need to share has ruined even the most rudimentary parts of our day. (sigh)

  10. 10

    You’re killing me, Smalls.

    So, hold up! Are you saying you’ve never eaten at Niki’s?? If this is true, make sure you go to Niki’s WEST on Finley Ave. It’s the best!

  11. 11
    Breenah says:

    Pretty sure I need to add Birmingham to our “MUST VISIT SOON” list.

  12. 12
    Gina says:

    We ate at Saw’s, per your recommendation, last time we were in the area, and it was fabulous! We got the fried pickles, and they were perfection! And I concur with the sweet tea chicken sandwich, definitely the messiest sandwich I had eaten in a while, but so worth it.

    Speaking of homemade sweet potato chips and to-die-for dip, if you are ever in the Rome, Georgia area, you must try Harvest Moon Cafe. They have the best sweet potato chips and Gorgonzola dip! And as an added bonus, it’s right next door to Honeymoon Bakery, which has the best creme brûlée ever!

  13. 13
    Amy S. says:

    I now have new place to add to my “to eat in Birmingham” list. That dip look amazing!

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