Prost! Brät Brot is Back!

The biergarten has become a gartenbar, but those awesome pretzels remain.

was popular from the start. The Magic City’s first German biergarten opened about a year ago to rave reviews and consistent crowds but then took a cold-weather hiatus to make a few changes.

It reopened on April 23 and very quickly became popular again.

I visited Brät Brot for Alabama Newscenter. You can read the entire story here and find out just what to order.

The large, carved limestone bar remains a stunning focal point in this open, airy space that was once Plant Odyssey. You’ll still find plenty of German beers on tap as well as local brews, but now there also are draft craft cocktails, a nice selection of wines, European-style mixed drinks and specialty liqueurs.

Angela Schmidt, Brät Brot’s new executive chef, says there’s a cozier atmosphere here now and an updated menu. Schmidt has been part of the local restaurant community for nearly two decades. She spent her formative years in the kitchens of some of Birmingham’s top restaurants. As an entrepreneur, she founded Chef U, an interactive, in-home dining experience.  She is a founding member, and the first president, of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. And she has a German pedigree; her great-great-great grandfather was from Bremen.

Reimagining Brät Brot from beer garden to garden bar allows Schmidt and her staff to put the emphasis on much more than beer. The food, especially, is exciting.

Most of the dishes are divided into small and medium a la carte portions. There’s a meatball slider with lemon caper sauce on a King’s Hawaiian roll; a fishcake sandwich is made with fresh salmon and topped with shaved pickled cucumber and remoulade; a Bavarian chef salat with mortadella and butterkäse, red onion, cornichons, cucumbers and red peppers on iceberg with creamy Dijon dressing; and the BirmingHamburger with bacon, butterkäse, pickled red onion, lettuce and tomatoes and haus pickles.

There are four large boards that are meant for sharing.  The snack board has a giant pretzel, beer cheese, apple butter, summer sausage, butterkäse, dill-pickled vegetables and fruit. The larger German board features bratwurst, Hungarian sausage, cheddarwurst, a pretzel, Bavarian potato salad, chow-chow, beer cheese, pickled veggies, sauerkraut, yogurt-dill cucumbers and haus mustards. Then there’s the Kummerspeck, which Schmidt says translates to “emotional over-eating” and features s’mores, apple strudel, black forest cake roll and vanilla ice cream.

Even a casual look at the Brät Brot menu reveals a Southern twist on a German theme.

It felt like a natural approach, Schmidt says, because there are pockets of German culture throughout the South. “For instance, Kentucky has a large concentration of German immigrants. … Central Texas has a lot of German immigrants as well. … So we have woven in Southern ingredients; our beer cheese is kind of like a pimento cheese. We have a Southern chow-chow on the menu. We tried to … broaden the concept to kind of take in all of these influences just to make something that’s more local, more … Southern and approachable.”

Brät Brot (by the way, Brot rhymes with goat and it translates loosely to “sausage bread”) is owned by David Carrigan, who also owns Carrigan’s Public House on Morris Avenue in downtown Birmingham. Like Carrigan’s, Brät Brot is designed to be a place for gathering, a place for fun in a lighthearted atmosphere.

Brat Brot has filled a niche in the awesome Birmingham food scene by offering delicious food and great drinks, German and otherwise, that are both familiar and excitingly unusual, Schmidt says. “And we’re doing that in a unique setting. Brät Brot is a gathering spot. It’s comfortable.”

Brät Brot Gartenbar

2910 6thAve. S.

Birmingham, AL 35233 (near Birmingham’s Lakeview area)

205-440-2910

www.bratbrot.com

Tuesday through Thursday: 4 to 11 p.m.

Friday: 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Saturday: 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Fox 6 Books: May

Here’s what I brought to WBRC Fox 6 in May. Read and learn with some works of informative nonfiction. One is set right here at home. Then there’s some fiction … because fiction is awesome.

Showdown at Rickwood:  Ray Caldwell, Dizzy Dean and the Early Years of America’s Oldest Ball Park by Art Black will surely get you ready for the  23rdAnnual Rickwood Classic, at 12:30 p.m. on May 29th, 2019. The  Birmingham Barons will play the Montgomery Biscuits, and Lou Piniella will be the special guest at that game at historic Rickwood Field. Showdown at Rickwood, by Birmingham author Art Black, will get everyone in the proper spirit. This book is a celebration of the beginnings and the growth of a minor league baseball team that survived the First World War and the start of the Great Depression. Some of the names here are familiar—Pie Traynor, Dizzy Dean; others, like Pop Boy Smith, are not. All, however, were part of a hard-won championship played at our country’s oldest ballpark. It’s important to note that the Birmingham Barons and the Birmingham Black Barons shared this space (playing on alternate weekends). The Black Barons made plenty of history of their own here with legends like star pitcher Leroy “Satchell” Paige who won more games for the Black Barons than for any other professional team. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, Art Black kept a scorecard at Rickwood on lots of summer nights. In this debut book, he shares a special time and place in our city’s history. His passion and detailed descriptions of the personalities and talents of the men he writes about make this history come alive.

A Craftsman’s Legacy:  Why Working with Our Hands Gives Us Meaning by Eric Gorges with Jon Sternfeld is a celebration of all kinds of artists. “Despite our technological advances, we’re busier than ever …,” Gorges writes. “That’s why the handmade object, created with care and detail, embodying a history and a tradition, is enormously powerful. It can … speak in ways we don’t often hear, or that we’ve forgotten.” The host of the popular public television show, A Craftsman’s Legacy, introduces readers to craftswomen and –men using centuries-old methods to create beautiful, unique things—from calligraphy to pottery to glass to yarn. He shares the joy and insight that comes from pursuing hard, often-dirty, satisfying work with passion. He talks to Jake Weidmann, the youngest master penman in history; David MacDonald, whose pottery reflects his African heritage; April Wagner, who has her own glassblowing studio, Epiphany Studios; and Maple Smith, who spins alpaca fleece into gorgeous yarn; watch her do it here. Gorges embraced his own journey of working with his hands because of a health crisis. He reevaluated his life, sought out one of the best metal shapers in the country and signed on to be an apprentice. That apprenticeship eventually led to Gorges opening his own custom motorcycle shop, Voodoo Choppers, in Detroit and a life of creativity.

The Cat’s Table is by Michael Ondaatje, one of the best writers alive right now. The author won the Man Booker Prize for The English Patient and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize for Anil’s Ghost. I happen to really love his lesser-known novella about New Orleans jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden called Coming Through Slaughter. In this book, from 2011, he tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who, in the early 1950s, boards a ship in Colombo (in what is now Sri Lanka) bound for England. He spends mealtimes at the “cat’s table,” as far from the Captain’s Table as possible, with some “insignificant adults” and two other boys. As the ship journeys across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean, the boys explore every corner of the ship and meet some unforgettable characters—the shadowy Miss Lasqueti, who is more than what she seems; a man who talks to them about jazz and women; and a shackled prisoner below decks. The narrative moves from the ship and his adventures there to his adult years when he looks back on a singularly magical and unexpected childhood.

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn is the perfect read for dog-lovers and those who love thrillers, too. LeAnne Hogan went to Afghanistan as a rising star in the military but came home mentally and physically scarred. She doesn’t really remember the doomed desert operation that nearly killed her but suspects that the fault is her own. When her hospital roommate, Marci, dies, LeAnne takes to the open road—on a cross-country drive to contemplate her past and decide whether or not she has a future. When she arrives in the small Washington State town where Marci once lived, she discovers that Marci’s 8-year-old daughter has vanished. LeAnne feels duty-bound to find out what happened, and when a strange and powerful stray dog adopts her, she has an unlikely and crucial companion in this effort, which, ultimately, will be as dangerous as her Afghan mission.

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 BooksThe Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center, and I often visit my local library.

More Than Just Sweet Treats at Big Spoon Creamery

The small-batch, artisanal ice cream at Big Spoon Creamery is every bit as awesome as people say.

It’s deliciously inventive with quality ingredients:  goat cheese with strawberry-hibiscus jam, fresh mint chip with Valrhona chocolate chips. Many of these ingredients are locally sourced, supporting area makers and farmers like Stone Hollow Farmstead (where they get the goat cheese) and Terra Preta Farm (where they get mint).

But this ice cream, ultimately, is a way for the husband-and-wife team of Ryan and Geri-Martha O’Hara to connect with people and support their community.

“When we started the company,” Ryan says, “it was based on two big passions for us:  ice cream and people. We feel like ice cream is sort of our vehicle, a platform, to be able to impact the people around us in a positive way.”

I sat down with Geri-Martha and Ryan recently for a story for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read it here.

Their cart to truck to brick-and-mortar enterprise actually began with a foldout table and a deep freeze the couple hauled to the front yard of their Bluff Park home for a pop-up event that saw lines down the driveway. When a neighbor, who worked at Southern Living, walked over and tasted their ice cream, she was impressed enough to write an article for the magazine’s website. That jumpstarted a dream that now includes two stores and employs about 35 people year round and 55 during the summer season.

The O’Haras founded their company in 2014 with $500. They had just gotten married and bought and furnished a house. That didn’t leave much starting capital. They poured their profits into the business (which they named Big Spoon because, as a kid, Ryan grew up enjoying ice cream and hand-mixed milkshakes in his grandmother’s kitchen; he would always ask for the biggest spoon in the drawer).

In 2016, they went from an old-school ice cream cart to a truck they named Bessie. Parking Bessie at The Market at Pepper Place was their next great idea. “Pepper Place was our launching pad,” Geri-Martha says. “So many people get exposed to your product and learn about you. And so it was just an incredible growing tool for us, for us to really grow organically.”

They opened their first storefront—a light-filled, modern interpretation of a classic ice cream shop—in Avondale at the MAKEbhm building in April of 2017. This past February, they opened a second location in Homewood’s Edgewood neighborhood.

The truck and cart still make rounds for special events.

Both Ryan and Geri-Martha have career backgrounds in fine dining. Geri-Martha was a pastry chef at Bottega where she made desserts for all four of Stitt’s restaurants. Before that, she spent some time in New York where she interned with a couple of star pastry chefs:  Dominique Ansel (creator of the Cronut) and James Beard Foundation Award-winner Michael Laiskonis. Ryan began at Bottega as a line cook and worked his way up to sous chef at Chez Fonfon before the couple started Big Spoon.

This high level of training—in creative dishes and in service—influences everything they do.

Geri-Martha’s fully equipped pastry chef’s kitchen turns out a seasonal menu that also changes from month to month as it relies on fresh and made-from-scratch ingredients for the ice cream and the sundae sauces and add-ins like brittles, cookies, cakes and jams.

Geri-Martha can—and will—make just about any cake or other dessert into an ice cream. She created an Italian cassata cake ice cream based on the dessert served at Bottega. For a short time in the springtime, there’s the ultra-seasonal honeysuckle ice cream with blackberry jam. “It’s one of the most special, unique flavors we’ve ever done,” Geri-Martha says. “The milk really stretches the flavor of the honeysuckle, so you get all the beautiful notes of the honeysuckle. It’s just so amazing. And then you get the tart of the blackberry. And it’s so beautiful. Oh, I can’t wait! As soon as we see some blooms, we’ll be out there picking. It’s probably my most favorite flavor!”

The O’Hara’s are making great ice cream, but they also are focusing on people:  their staff, their customers and their community.

“We have the most incredible people that work with us,” Geri-Martha adds. “I’m so proud of them, and it’s an honor to work beside them every day and to … grow them and help them get to where they want to go.”

“When people come here, they don’t come here by accident,” Ryan adds. “They come here with high expectations just like any great restaurant or establishment … they don’t come here just for a cup of ice cream. They’re coming for an experience, whether it’s date night or it’s Sunday after church with the family or a special occasion. And so it’s on us to deliver that and give them an awesome experience.”

This graciously served ice cream has become a way for the O’Haras to directly connect with the communities around them.

“Currently, we partner with two different nonprofit ministries that do awesome work in our communities,” Ryan says. “We give a portion of our profits to The WellHouse, which fights human trafficking. The other one is Christian Service Missions, not even half a mile down the street from our Avondale shop, and they do incredible work with food and housing and practical needs for the underprivileged in our city.”

Geri-Martha and Ryan already are reaching out to organizations near the new location in Homewood. “We’re going to partner with The Exceptional Foundation,” Ryan says. “And we just did a give-back night … with The Bell Center. We want to be intentional with some of the success we’ve had and channel that into making an impact.

“In any community we’re in—whether it’s Avondale, Birmingham as a whole, the Homewood community—we want to be a pillar of our community and be a positive impact … not just a great ice cream shop. We want to be doing great things for our community.”

Big Spoon Creamery

www.bigspooncreamery.com

Avondale

4000 3rdAve. S. (in the MAKEbhm building)

Birmingham, AL 35222

(205) 703-4712

Homewood

927 Oxmoor Road

Homewood, AL 35209

(205) 637-0823

Hours at both locations: Sunday-Thursday noon to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday noon to 10 p.m.