In downtown Montgomery, steps from the reclaimed riverfront and right in the middle of an important past, a restaurant called Central is delighting guests with inventive dishes and gracious hospitality.
Central is named for the old central warehouse area, now a hip and happening entertainment district of restaurants, hotels, bars and museums. Common Bond Brewers is nearby, and Riverfront Park is an exciting venue for boat rides, concerts, Montgomery Biscuits Minor League Baseball games and more.
Montgomery has transformed its downtown, and people have come.
For six years now, Central has been a delicious reason to visit. With sophisticated dining in a cool, historic space, Central has become essential to our capital city’s food scene.
I went there recently for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.
Executive chef Jason McGarry says Central offers “Southern, casual, upscale dining” in a unique building that really lets the food shine.
“We have a great, knowledgeable staff,” he adds. “It’s not so white-tablecloth-stuffy that you feel like you have to sit a certain way. You can come in here and have a great time and eat some awesome food and just relax.”
The large, main dining room has an exciting view of a high-energy open kitchen. The restaurant makes great use of the good bones in this 1890s grocery warehouse with its huge, hand-hewn beams. There’s no art on the beautiful, exposed brick walls—only flickering gas lanterns and giant foxed mirrors to reflect what was originally there.
An old iron rail cart in the middle of the room marries form and function with flowers and tasteful décor on top and baskets of fresh napkins below. Cozy booths, intimate two-tops and long family-style tables offer lots of dining options. The bar is its own cool space with plenty of seating; televisions here are hidden from the rest of the restaurant under a clever, slatted awning.
Flavors are complex, and dishes are pretty here.
McGarry serves sorghum-glazed pork belly with Wickles pickles and kimchi sprouts. Savory short rib agnolotti features celery root puree, brown butter, pickled shallots and foie gras demi glace. A salad of charred radicchio is dressed with pomegranate seeds, creamy burrata, blood orange and pork belly.
Lunch offerings at Central range from the Southerner (aged cheddar pimento cheese, bacon and fried bologna on sourdough bread) to a simple burrata and tomato flatbread smoky from the wood-fired oven. Fried green tomatoes are topped with Texas caviar and pimento cheese queso. A classic steakhouse wedge salad features candied pecans and a house-made bleu cheese dressing.
During dinner service, numerous plates of the slow-cooked short ribs come out of the kitchen. On this night, they are served with smoked Gouda grits, balsamic pearl onions, butternut squash and bacon-fried Brussels spouts with a Burgundy sauce.
McGarry says he has seen Central’s traffic grow dramatically in the past year. Lunch, especially, has gotten busy since The Legacy Museum opened. Downtown hotels like the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa in the convention center bring lots of out-of-state visitors during the week; locals frequent the restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights; McGarry loves sharing Central with all of them.
“We get to throw a party every night,” he says. “We’re hosting guests every night. That’s the main thing for us.”