Purveyor Huntsville Provides More than Just Great Food

Purveyor Huntsville is a spirit-driven place, and the wine- and bourbon-inspired menu is just part of it. There’s a spirit of camaraderie here between owners Stephanie Kennedy-Mell and Matt Mell and chef Rene Boyz and their knowledgable, friendly staff. There’s a shared spirit of gracious hospitality. That’s clearly the way to do it. Open for only a few months, Purveyor already is crowded with local food lovers.

I went there recently for Alabama NewsCenter.

You can read the entire story here and see Brittany Faush’s cool video.

Purveyor Huntsville on the street level of The Avenue, a new, $36.4 million, mixed-use development downtown. “Let us be your purveyor,” is the motto of this place with its wine, bourbon, beer and kitchen.

It’s a lively, comfortable space with a classic metal- and wood-driven industrial design that feels warm and welcoming.  A beautiful, long wooden bar, made from a single, enormous oak tree, deserves attention. Each of the tables, fashioned from that same really big tree, bears a small brand of the restaurant’s name. “Purveyor” also is subtly etched into the crystal wineglasses that sparkle atop these tables.

“We wanted it to be a warm, cozy atmosphere … for a fine-dining experience,” Stephanie says. “Fine dining in a more casual, easygoing atmosphere. Anybody is welcome, and any attire is welcome.”

The menu appeals to a variety of tastes and appetites. “We do have ‘sharables’ (small plates) as well as full-service menu entrees,” she says. “You can come here and just have tapas and a glass of wine or bourbon, but if you want a full-service dinner, that’s available, too.”

The Mells also own the nearby Church Street Wine Shoppe. Since 2014, they have made a name for themselves—and built a 500-member wine club—by bringing new wines to Alabama and offering expert advice about how to drink them.

Purveyor, though, was a larger kind of undertaking, so they teamed up with chef Rene Boyzo (formerly at Gorham’s Bluff). Boyzo creates dishes for the restaurant as well as for the wine shop, which, in addition to some 50 wines by the glass, offers tapas, flatbreads, salads and paninis each day and multicourse, wine-paired dinners for wine club members once a month.

Boyzo is from Mexico and was influenced early on by his grandmother, spending lots of time in her kitchen.

The menu right now at Purveyor is an exciting fusion of Asian and Latin American flavors, but that will change. “We haven’t defined our cuisine,” Boyzo says, “not because we don’t know where we’re going, but because there’s so much that we can do.”

Inventive twists on traditional dishes will always be a hallmark of this restaurant, Matt says.

Boyzo says twists on traditional dishes (like adding creamy goat cheese and a little bit of bourbon! to the guacamole) make things exciting. “We take something that’s traditional (like Brussels sprouts), and we put our twist on it (candied bacon and a splash of fish sauce). It’s something that you’re familiar with that you’re not afraid to try. That’s the key—engaging with the customer the first time they look at the menu. When they leave they say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that something that seems so simple tastes that good.’”

The cocktail menu, fashioned by a mixologist who also happens to be a history major, is special: The pages are tucked inside lovely old books, and the specialty cocktails are named after famous people, events and ideas. Consider the “Elizabeth Cady Stanton” with bourbon, sugar, walnut bitters and orange or “The Embargo Act of 1807” with gin, rosemary, pear, St-Germain and lime.

“There’s a story with every drink,” Stephanie says. But these also will change regularly because lots of the ingredients are locally grown and sourced and seasonal. The drink pictured above–light and herbal and a little savory with bell pepper juice– is something they are trying out for spring.

Stephanie and Matt and Boyzo all fully understand and respect the personal side of being a trusted purveyor.

“If someone comes here. … to dine with us, we take that very seriously,” Boyzo says. “We’re excited to be in Huntsville. And for us to make up for what Huntsville has given us, we have to do the best we can when we come to work.”

 

Mississippi Tamales and More, Thanks to a Los Angeles Mariachi Band

LIfe’s little surprises often remain hidden unless you’re paying attention.

At the Southern Foodways Alliance Winter Symposium held in Birmingham recently, I heard the celebrated female mariachi band La Victoria perform a concert of corridos (storytelling folk songs). They sang about many things including a woman who traveled with her food–and food memories–packed in a suitcase. When she was stopped by a Border Patrol agent, she opened the suitcase and her memories (and the smell of delicious foods from home) opened his heart.

Their song about the historic Big Apple Inn in Jackson, Mississippi, also stayed with me. The song was in Spanish, of course, but the women explained that it was about a man named Juan Mora who sold hot tamales on street corners before opening a little store near downtown Jackson. That was nearly 80 years ago. The Big Apple Inn has been selling tamales as well as “smokes and ears” (smoked sausage sandwiches and pig ear sandwiches) since 1939.

My younger daughter, Eleanor, is attending school at Millsaps College in Jackson, so I decided right then that I would find the Big Apple Inn the next time I was there to visit her.

That happened to be last week.

It wasn’t hard to find. The original location at 509 North Farish Street is only about 10 minutes from the Millsaps campus. There’s another, I think, at 4487 North State Street, but I wanted the one with the history that goes way back. Farish Street was once the economically independent hub of the African-American community in Jackson–actually the largest such community in the entire state. The bustling Farish Street in this 1947 photo from the University of Mississippi archives was home to Trumpet Records and Ace Records and the Speir Phonograph Company. An early campus of Jackson College, which became Jackson State University, one of our historically black colleges and universities, was located there. The Farish neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

The street is not nearly that busy anymore, but Big Apple Inn comes right up on Waze, and when I got there I saw a Waitr sign on the counter. So there’s that, too.

It’s worth a trip for many reasons.

This story and film about the Big Apple Inn from the Southern Foodways Alliance explains why.

The short version goes like this:  Juan Mora, known as “Big John” to his neighbors and customers came to Jackson from Mexico City. He named his store the Big Apple Inn after his favorite dance, the Big Apple. Today, his great-grandson Geno Lee is the fourth-generation owner of the place. According to the SFA story, Big John was a big supporter of the community that supported him. “As long as he was able to care for his family, anything left over went to everybody else. In fact, all the kids in the neighborhood knew that they could get school supplies or get meals from Big John,” Geno told SFA interviewer Amy C. Evans.

At the Big Apple Inn, I was talking with another customer who asked if I was getting ears. I told her not today, and she said I needed to come back then. Another customer was there for both ears and smokes; he said he likes the ears, and his lady wanted some smokes. I got my half dozen tamales and headed for home. My husband and I enjoyed them that night with some leftover tomatillo salsa, but they really didn’t need any condiment. The meat inside the tender cornmeal casing is finely ground and just spicy enough. These are good tamales.

I’m definitely going back. And I’m taking people with me.

The Big Apple Inn is not a secret. It has been featured on the Travel Channel and Food Network and Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown. After taking a bite of his first pig ear sandwich, Bourdain said, “It’s everything we love about pig: The texture, the mix of fatty, lean, all that. Oh that’s good!”

But when I asked a few former Millsaps students and a professor or two about the place, I got nothing. Eleanor and her track teammates and friends had never heard of the Big Apple Inn. They head in a different direction when they want lunch or dinner. To Fondren, the areas’s hip arts district, or just off campus to CS’s or up North State Street to “the Mexican place.”

All that’s just fine, but I think they’re missing something.

That something is about much more than tamales, but we’ll start there.

 

Shopping for Food and Fun at Mi Pueblo Supermarket

Mi Pueblo, which translates to “My Town,” makes grocery shopping an adventure.

I love going to this Hispanic supermarket on Green Springs in Homewood! Not just Hispanic, though, it’s really a multicultural place with foods from all over the world. You’ll recognize products from the United States, and you can get to know other things from  Central and South America, Asia, Africa, Jamaica, India, Puerto Rico and Columbia. The many colorful flags that fly on the top of the building are a clue to the cultures represented inside.

With more than 44,000 square feet, I believe this is the largest Hispanic grocery store in Alabama (the Mi Pueblo location at 3060 Pelham Parkway is close, with 43,200 square feet).

Grocery items are displayed in fun and clever ways. There’s a little restaurant in the back serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; eat in at the buffet, or get your food to go. The meat department sells everything from fresh chicken to long, crisp slices chicharrón (fried pork rinds) to beef for fajitas and steaks for grilling and all sorts of seafood. A good number of items are already cooked for you. A little stand near the front of the store has its own special sweet and savory things including elotes (Mexican street corn). The bakery offers handmade tortillas in addition to beautiful cakes and other sweet treats like pan dulce (sweet bread). And the dairy area has items from all over Central and South America and beyond. Get your authentic Cotija and queso fresco and queso Oaxaca  and crema in these cold cases.

Here are a few of my favorite things at Mi Pueblo:

The fruits and veggies are fresh and very reasonably priced. I love listening to the Mexican pop tunes or mariachi music in this colorful space. Sometimes they turn the music up really loud!

The dried peppers (just look at all of them!) smell and feel and are fresher than what you get in a bag. (It takes very little time soaking in hot water to soften them up.)

 

Fresh baked items include pillowy doughnuts and, of course, churros.

So many different kinds of Fabuloso! My favorite is the lavender scent. Pick whichever one you like. Your house will smell … fabulous.

 

There are quality Asian foods at Mi Pueblo, too.

There are shelves and shelves of religious candles with images of many saints. Our Lady of Guadalupe is represented, of course, and so are dozens of others.

 

The produce section is a happy place with colorful murals above neatly stacked fruits and vegetables and other things like giant cactus leaves.

Dried spices are inexpensive at Mi Pueblo. You’ll find just about everything you’ll need here and some things you didn’t know you needed.

There are lots of different flavors of Takis as well as other chips and snacks not often seen in other grocery stores.

Quick dinner or potluck contribution? Get a few pounds of the tender, juicy, slow-cooked carnitas from the meat department in the back of the store, add some Cotija cheese from the dairy section, fresh salsa from the restaurant, white onion and cilantro from the produce area and handmade tortillas from the bakery. Done and done.

What’s better than spicy candy? Spicy candy in the shape of corn.

The buffet is filled with all sorts of delicious things. Grab some friends, and meet for lunch.

And, finally, there’s this:  fruit in a cup. Thick, fresh slices of pineapple, mango, jicama, cucumber, papaya, cantaloupe and watermelon (or you can choose your own combination). Make sure to get your fruit topped with everything:  Tajin (chile lime seasoning that you’ll want in your own pantry), sweet and spicy chamoy and a drizzle of hot sauce in addition to the freshly squeezed lime juice. I never leave Mi Pueblo without my fruit in a cup.

Mi Pueblo Supermarket

216 Green Springs Highway

Homewood, AL 35209

205-941-2771

Hours:  8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Here’s an easy and tasty reason to visit Mi Pueblo:

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Take two pounds of fresh tomatillos (husked and rinsed well), and place them on a baking sheet with four cloves of garlic (unpeeled) and three to five fresh chili peppers (I use serrano chilies these days because I know they are hot; seed all or half of them if you want less heat). Roast all this under a broiler, turning once until the tomatillos are softened and everything is lightly charred.

Let this stuff cool, peel the garlic and put the tomatillos, garlic and peppers into a food processor along with half a cup or so of cilantro leaves and stems. (Add about a quarter cup of roughly chopped white onion if you want). Pulse until blended to your desired consistency. Remove from food processor, squeeze in a little lime juice. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add more lime juice if you want. Chill until ready to serve.

 

 

Fox 6 Books: March

Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on March 6. These works of fiction, thrilling, engaging and informative, will help you make the most of spring break—at home or away.

Sunday Silence (Morrow PaperbacksNicci French is actually a wife-and-husband writing team—Nicci Gerrard and Sean French—and they’ve sold millions of books all over the world. This one, with a lavishly descriptive London backdrop (think Sherlock), has a police-consultant psychologist as the protagonist. Frieda Klein has found a body under the floorboards of her house. When the corpse turns out to be someone Klein knows, she becomes a person of interest to the police. But Klein has other things to worry about—she’s being threatened by a notorious serial killer named Dan Reeve whom everyone thought was dead. As family and friends are targeted, Klein begins to believe that it’s not Reeve who’s stalking her after all but a copycat killer inspired—and encouraged—by him. This is a smart psychological thriller with plenty of page-turning twists. Also, it’s available in paperback so it’s spring-break-beach-trip ready.

Future Home of the Living God (HarperNational Book Award-winning Louise Erdrich has been one of America’s best writers for decades. In this New York Times Notable Book for 2017, she tells a tale that is immediately relevant in a lot of ways—good and troubling. In this dystopian thriller, evolution suddenly has stopped and pregnant women quickly become pawns in a war between government, corporate, and religious factions. Cedar, 26 years old and pregnant with her first child, is the adopted daughter of idealistic Minneapolis liberals. When she and her baby are targeted, she seeks refuge with her biological Ojibwe family. As normal society disintegrates and the future becomes more uncertain, Cedar’s own life changes in ways she never imagined. This novel is smart and dark and, at times, darkly funny. It’s fiction, but parts of this book will feel unsettlingly real.

Elmet (WorkmanThis book by Fiona Mozley was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, and those picks are always winners. Also, it collected accolades from such diverse sources as The Guardian, Amazon, IndieBound, and People magazine. Not bad for a debut novel, which has just been published in paperback for American readers. This coming-of-age story with a fairy-tale feel is set in beautiful, rural Yorkshire. Teenagers Cathy and Daniel and their father are living life off the grid in modern Britain. Cathy and Daniel spend days roaming the ancient woods, occasionally visiting a local woman for some tutoring. Their father, a gentle man who nonetheless is capable of violence, provides for them, building their little home, hunting for their meals. Their existence in the forest—embracing the beauty and the challenges of self-sufficiency—is peaceful until they clash with a local, wealthy landowner. The story, ultimately, is about class differences and family loyalty and humanity’s capacity for good and evil. This one will stay with you for a while.

White Truffles in Winter (NortonAuguste Escoffier (1846-1935) was the preeminent French chef of the early 20th century. Called the “king of chefs and the chef of kings” by the press, he had a huge influence on how we cook and eat today. He codified the recipes for the five “mother sauces,” and his Le Guide Culinaire is still used today as both a cookbook and a text book on cooking techniques. His approach to kitchen management was revolutionary. He was the first to use a brigade—with various chefs and cooks playing their own roles in the assembly of a dish. In his kitchen, shouting was not allowed, and the staff often communicated in whispers. This book of historical fiction by N.M. Kelby takes readers into Escoffier’s kitchens as well as into the Paris salons and studios of painters like Monet and Degas. The heart of the book, though, is about Escoffier’s private life and his love for two very different women—his wife, the poet Delphine Daffis, and the beautiful and mercurial actress Sarah Bernhardt. The descriptions of food here are beyond delicious.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.

Dinner at My House: Weeknight Fancy Chicken and Rice

I love to cook. I enjoy chopping what needs to be chopped with my favorite knife. I delight in putting all my ingredients into little bowls so they are ready when I’m ready for them. And I like to pour a glass of wine to sip while I stir.

But sometimes I just want to get a meal on the table. I want something that’s quick and easy but still tasty enough that I’m proud to serve it. Weeknight Fancy Chicken and Rice, which I found on the New York Times Cooking is exactly that. And more.

It’s a traditional Southern favorite (chicken and rice) scented and spiced with some favorite ingredients of classic Indian cuisine (turmeric, star anise, green cardamon). That’s the fancy part, and your family will recognize that–even if it’s just “Hey, why is this rice so yellow?” Tell them, “It’s golden, not yellow, and therefore it’s fancy.”

Weeknight Fancy Chicken and Rice was the feature recipe in Sara Bonisteel’s review of chef Asha Gomez’s debut cookbook, My Two Souths:  Blending the Flavors of India into a Southern Kitchen, written with Martha Hall Foose.

The dish takes less than an hour to make, and here’s how to do it.

Weeknight Fancy Chicken and Rice

INGREDIENTS

¼ cup ghee (or use unsalted butter)

1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

6 green cardamom pods, crushed

3 whole star anise

1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt, divided

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons turmeric powder

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

2 ¼ cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 ½ cups basmati rice

¼ cup chopped dried apricots

¼ cup sliced raw almonds, toasted

¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves

PREPARATION

In a medium saucepan with a lid, melt ghee over medium-high heat. Add onions, cardamom, star anise and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and a very deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, lowering heat if necessary to keep from burning them. Add garlic and turmeric; cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes, or until very fragrant. Add chicken and cook for 4 minutes, stirring to coat chicken with the onion mixture.

Add stock and remaining salt, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Add rice, stir and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice has absorbed liquid, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 12 minutes. Remove lid and fluff rice with a fork.

Transfer chicken and rice to a bowl, taking care to remove and discard cardamom pods and star anise. Garnish with apricots, almonds and cilantro. Serve at once.

Serves 4 to 6.

Note:  If you want to have ghee on hand (and you might since it gives a certain nuttiness to your dish), follow Chef Gomez’s simple recipe for it. Just melt your butter in a pot over low heat. Let it simmer until it foams and sputters. Once the sputtering stops and the milk solids in the pot turn a khaki color, remove it from the heat and skim off the foam with a spoon. Strain remaining butter into a container. Leave any solids behind in the pot. Ghee keeps for up to six months in the refrigerator.

A Few of my Favorite Things

My friend Christiana Roussel and I are members of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. This is a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, wine and hospitality. We are a varied group of food writers and bloggers, chefs, restauranteurs, sommeliers, farmers, cookbook authors, cheese makers, educators, food photographers and stylists, nutritionists and more.

We are dedicated to growing, creating, promoting and sharing our local food culture, and on an even more basic level, sharing food itself. We also focus on education and mentoring the young women who will follow us, and we fund scholarships to help them along.

But sometimes we just want to have fun.

So Christiana, our programs chair (who also is a food and lifestyle blogger–check out her Christiana’s Kitchen here), decided to throw a “Favorite Things” party.

Here’s how she described it:  “Each dame is to bring three items, each valued at less than $10, unwrapped, in a bag. When the party starts, each dame will get up and tell about her favorite things. After each presentation, we will pull three dame names from a bowl, and they will take home some new favorite things. At the end of the night, each dame will have shared three things and collected three things. It’s a fun way to learn more about each other.”

We gathered at the John Hand Club in downtown Birmingham (check out the incredible view), added a little wine and some delicious hors d’oeuvres to the mix, and we had ourselves a party. With really cool favors.

Here’s what I brought:

I love, love, love the Diva scent of Glamorous Wash by Tyler Candle Company (Funny story:  I ran around my neighborhood for weeks thinking it was the best-smelling place on earth and wondering why. Then I realized it was because people were doing their laundry with Diva Wash. The dryers were getting the scent out into the neighborhood.) A little of this laundry detergent goes a long way; I mix it in with my regular detergent when I wash my running and yoga clothes. The little 8-oz bottle came in just under $10.

The Party Cracker Seasoning from Savory Fine Foods, LLC in Texas makes an instant awesome snack in quantity. I included the extra-large plastic bag needed to mix it up with an entire box of saltines. This seasoning comes in other varieties:  chipotle, dill, cinnamon sweet, but I love the original mix best. This cost about $6.

Who doesn’t appreciate some cheeky cocktail napkins? These MikWright napkins with vintage photos and clever phrases are some of my favorites. I always have a few different versions on my home bar, and they are instant conversation starters. These are around $6.

 

 

 

 

And here’s what I brought home:

A three-pack of microfiber face-cleansing mitts. No more ruined washcloths! I’ll use one with Sephora’s Supreme Cleansing Oil, which is my go-to at the end of each day, and I’ll share the other two mitts with my daughters.

A great coffeecup with abstract birds on it. Perfect for sipping my morning coffee while I watch the bird feeders outside my kitchen window to see who shows up. Hummingbirds are coming soon. So are the lovely goldfinches.

A bottle of Kirkland Prosecco because who doesn’t love Prosecco or Costco, for that matter?

Some of the Dames brought items from their own businesses like a cellphone credit card holder with a gift card from Ashley McMakin, owner of Ashley Mac’s; (have you had Ashley Mac’s hot spinach and artichoke dip?). Specialty coffee from Erin Isibell, owner of The Red Cat Coffeehouse and salted chocolate granola from Jennifer Yarbrough, owner of Crestline Bagel Co. (check out my post about Crestline Bagel’s new Cahaba Heights location). Becky Satterfield, of Satterfield’s Restaurant in Cahaba Heights, brought cardamon-scented sugar; Katherine Cobbs brought honey from her own hives and a “mother” vinegar starter (with instructions) from her own kitchen. Sonthe Bokas Burge shared Shoreline Extra Virgin Olive Oil (available at Shoreline Foods International Market & Deli in Pensacola, FL) as well as a personal story of love and friendship in Crete.

Other inventive favorite things (mostly around or under $10):  a Kuhn Rikon serrated veggie peeler that even peels tomatoes, a hummingbird feeder, Maybelline skinny eyeliner, sea salt caramels, Zkano Organic Cotton Socks (made in Fort Payne), a BabyFoot peel, handmade absinthe-scented soap from NOLA, Ellis Stansel’s Gourmet Rice, a Corkcicle, handmade cards, Harney & Sons Paris teacans of wine, Trader Joe’s Organic Tahini and L’Oreal Voluminous eyelash primer.

I’d love to know your own favorite, under-$10 things. Feel free to share!