Farm Bowl + Juice Co. is Convenient, Flavorful and #Fresh

Andrea Snyder is all about healthy, convenient and local dining – whether that’s a full, family meal; an easy, nutritious breakfast; a cup of coffee with a friend; or a quick, vitamin-rich juice shot on the way to a gym.

The Birmingham entrepreneur has all that covered.

Snyder and her husband, David, first brought us Urban Cookhouse, a farm-to-fire-to-table fast-casual restaurant, in 2010.  They now own a licensee group that includes the Homewood, Summit, downtown Birmingham and Tuscaloosa locations, and Urban Cookhouses are in three other Alabama cities as well as four other states.

“We were one of the first concepts to bring local food to the fast-casual segment and figure out how to do it at that price point, which is $10 to $12 a meal,” she says.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co., which the Snyders founded in Homewood in January 2018, is just as forward-thinking.

I recently sat down with Andrea Snyder for Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire story here.

The small, bright storefront with an Instagrammable abstract mural outside and charming rope swings on the porch, is a neighborhood wellness stop specifically designed to promote a lifestyle of clean eating. There are two locations–one in Homewood and the other in Tuscaloosa.

“We wanted it to be a wellness brand, and so we decided that we would be plant-based,” Snyder says.

“We have no animal products. We want you to always feel good. So we make cold-pressed juices. All of our smoothies are exactly what’s listed on the menu with whole ingredients like almond milk and coconut milk. We have overnight oats and coffee. It’s just a good place to come for clean eating,” she adds, whether that’s a snack or meal replacement or breakfast or lunch or something in between.

Acai berry bowls are at the center of the colorful, healthy menu, which includes oatmeal bowls, cold-pressed juices and smoothies, juice shots, toasts, juice cleanses and a kids’ menu featuring acai and oatmeal bowls and a strawberry smoothie.

Some of the ingredients, like acai berries and mango, are tropical but the Snyders source Alabama ingredients as much as possible. The same area farmers and makers who supply Urban Cookhouse also deliver here. This not only insures the restaurants have fresh, flavorful foods, but there’s also an economic impact and a sense of social responsibility in supporting the farms. “We’ve partnered with these farmers for a long time,” Snyder says, “So it was easy to … just get them to come next door and drop off another batch of something.”

There are in-season strawberries, blueberries and blackberries from Smitherman Farms; kale, spinach, honeydew and watermelon from Southern Oaks Farm; and year-round honey from Eastaboga Bee Co.; wheatgrass from Southern Organics; and coffee roasted locally at Seeds Coffee Co. Framed photos of these trusted partners line the walls of the restaurants.

The ingredients are made into things like the popular Nutty Professor, a bright, satisfying acai bowl. It has Sambazon Açai Berry Sorbet as the base, and then they add strawberries, almonds, granola, peanut butter and local honey. The staff can recommend add-ons, like sliced bananas, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds or cacao nibs.

Oatmeal bowls, with Farm Bowl’s blend of overnight oats, come topped with a variety of things, such as almond butter, local honey, chia seeds, hemp seeds, blueberries, strawberries, apples, nutmeg, cinnamon, toasted quinoa, walnuts and pecans.

The Power Up smoothie is a blend of almond milk, coconut water, avocado, blueberry, spinach, banana, coconut butter, cocoa nibs, chia seeds, hemp seeds, local honey and cinnamon. Recommended add-ons include vegan protein, nutmeg, spirulina or freshly made Seeds coffee ice cubes. The Bounce Back has kale, chard, almond milk, banana, local honey; chia seeds, cinnamon, vegan protein and ginger can be added.

There are cold-pressed juices for every need.

The Refresh is made with watermelon, mint, cucumber and beets; Hydrate works with coconut water, pear, cucumber and honeydew; Gym & Juice is a mixture of honeydew, apple, spinach, spirulina, lemon and celery.

Wellness shots, which Andrea showcased at a chef’s demo at The Market at Pepper Place this summer, are made to order like all the smoothies and bowls and avocado and honey toasts. Juice cleanses are daily combinations of juices and shots that cost $40 and $50. The “summer cleanse challenge” is popular with Farm Bowl’s Instagram followers.

Farm Bowl + Juice Co. provides a fresh, fun and convenient way to consume optimum nutrition, but Snyder wants it to be a place of fellowship, too. She has been pleasantly surprised by the social media following Farm Bowl has inspired. The store features photos of #farmbowlfamous fans online and in stores.

“I want people to make this a part of their lifestyle, to realize that this is convenient. It is a good value. We’re always going to take care of our customers. We also love for them to think of us as an alternative to your coffee shop. I want more of this,” Snyder says, pointing to two young women deep in conversation at a nearby table. “Come and have something healthy besides a muffin. We have great Wi-Fi, and we’d love for you to just come and hang out all day.”

Farm Bowl & Juice Co.

1920 29th Ave. S.

Homewood, Alabama 35209

205-848-2929

1470 Northbank Parkway #170

Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35406

205-710-2990

HOURS

Monday-Friday

7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday

8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

https://www.farmbowlandjuiceco.com

On Being Thankful

I love Thanksgiving. I dread Thanksgiving.

There’s so much expectation with this holiday. I love going around the table and saying what we’re thankful for, but before that happens, I get stuck on the food and family and the perfection of those things. Of course, I know nothing is perfect. But still.

And I really, really stress about my menu.

It was so much simpler when all I had to do was bring an appetizer to the feast my grandmother put together each year. Turkey and dressing and fried chicken and the assorted casseroles—green bean, sweet potato, squash—and pecan pie and sweet potato pie and coconut cake.

Now that Thanksgiving is up to me, I spend hours researching recipes and then days comparing them. This stuffing or that one? Green beans or Brussels sprouts? Mashed potatoes or sweet ones?  Pie or cake?

Not this year.

This year, I gave myself permission to simplify. I took one look at the New York Times Cooking suggested menu from Alison Roman who cooks her big feast in a tiny Manhattan kitchen and said, “That’s certainly good enough.”

It took all of five minutes to make this decision. And it will be just fine.

So I’ll make Alison’s Dry-Brined Turkey and (maybe) Sheet-Pan Gravy, Buttered Stuffing with Celery and Leeks, Green Beans and Greens with Fried Shallots, Crushed Sour Cream Potatoes, Spicy Caramelized Squash with Lemon and Hazelnuts and Leafy Herb Salad.

I ordered a chocolate-bourbon pecan pie from Pie Lab, because I am not a baker. And that also is OK. Besides, we have tons of Lebkuchen from friends in Germany.

I’ve assigned appetizers to my kids. We’ll start with Bavarian pumpkin soup and move on to Ashley Mac’s strawberry jam cheese ring. We’ll probably throw in some Dean’s Dip and chips. Maybe just a board with cheeses and nuts. Or rounds of Continental Bakery baguette baked with blue cheese and drizzled with honey.

Even the leftovers are simplified.

I’ll make Becky Satterfield’s Day-After Turkey Soup and Sweet Potato Biscuits (recipes below). And the day after that, it’s the Silver Palate’s Turkey Hash Salad. My family loves that. Then, if there’s still turkey left, I’ll do Sour Cream Turkey Enchiladas with Coriander from the Penzey’s website.

It’s still a lot of work. But I feel really good about it. I am thankful.

Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Soup with Sweet Potato Biscuits

Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes (prep time: 30 minutes, cook time: 2 hours)

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Turkey Soup

8 cups chicken broth (fresh or boxed) or turkey broth that has been strained through wet cheesecloth before starting new stock

1 turkey carcass, all meat removed

1 carrot, washed, peeled and halved lengthwise

1 whole stalk celery, washed, halved lengthwise

1 medium onion, peeled and halved

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

  • Put everything into a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, and then simmer while covered, about 1 1/2 hours, then strain.
  • When you strain the broth, remove the large bones and carcass with tongs. Strain the broth through a sieve covered with wet cheesecloth. Discard the solids. Add strained broth back into the stockpot.

While your stock is boiling/simmering, prepare:

1 whole carrot, washed, small dice

1 whole stalk celery, washed, small dice

1 medium onion, peeled, cut in small dice

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped roughly

1 bunch rough-chopped, blanched and shocked parsley

leftover Thanksgiving Day vegetables (like green beans, Brussels sprouts and squash)

3 cups leftover turkey meat, white and dark, diced into pieces no larger than a soupspoon

  • In a separate skillet or pot, heat the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Allow to brown slightly, about 3 minutes. Add the diced carrots, diced celery and diced onions. Sweat over medium-low heat until softened, 7 or 8 minutes. Set aside until broth has been strained.
  • After broth has been strained and added back to the stockpot, add these sweated vegetables from the pan into the stockpot containing the strained broth along with a medium bunch of rough-chopped, fresh blanched and shocked parsley. Also, add 1cup leftover green beans cut in two-inch segments, 1cup leftover Brussels sprouts cut in fourths, 1cup leftover yellow sautéed squash cut in fourths, 3 cups leftover turkey meat light, dark and also turkey neck meat, if on hand. Dice the turkey meat. Make sure the meat pieces are no larger than the size of a soupspoon.
  • Continue to simmer covered for 25 minutes and then serve 6-8 people with sweet potato biscuits on the side. (Store leftover soup in an airtight container after completely cooling in an ice bath. It should be good for a couple of days.)

Sweet Potato Biscuits

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or cooking release spray. I prefer parchment paper. Set aside.

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

  • Sift all above dry ingredients together

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked parsley (optional)

2 tablespoons of finely chopped blanched/shocked chives (optional)

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (2 ounces)

1 cup leftover sweet potato casserole with marshmallows (or mashed sweet potatoes)

1/8 – 1/4 cup milk (or more, if needed

  • Mix dry ingredients in food processor. Pulse butter into flour mixture until all butter has been blended into the flour. Process in the sweet potatoes to the flour mixture, just until fully combined with flour.
  • Add 1/8 cup of milk to mixture. Add more milk, a tablespoon or two at a time, if necessary, to achieve a ball of dough in your processor. Dough should be soft and smooth, not dry or too wet. If you end up with dough that is too wet and sticky, add a bit more flour so that it can be handled and rolled. If too dry, add more milk.
  • Roll dough on your lightly floured surface so that it is approximately 1/2-inch thick. Cut in 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter. Place rounds on prepared baking sheet. Re-roll remaining dough and continue cutting rounds until all dough is used.
  • Bake for 9-10 minutes, or until biscuits are golden brown.

If you don’t have a food processor, you can prepare this recipe by hand or in a mixer with a paddle attachment. Simply do all the steps in a bowl. If by hand, combine butter with flour using a fork or pastry blender to work the butter into the flour.

If you don’t use leftover sweet potato casserole (a casserole that has had sugar and marshmallows added to it) but use mashed sweet potatoes, I recommend adding 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to your dry ingredients.

Once baked and out of the oven, brush lightly with melted butter or honey or serve plain depending upon your preference.

—Becky Satterfield

Opa, y’all! It’s time for Birmingham’s Greek Festival

It takes a village to put on Birmingham’s beloved Greek Festival.

For months before the event, now in its 47th year at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Birmingham, hundreds of people from this city’s thriving Greek community work together to prepare. They cook, they bake and they practice centuries-old dances. They are doing what they have always done – what people still do in villages all over Greece – creating a celebration and inviting people to join them.

Some 30,000 people will show up for this year’s three-day festival Oct. 3-5. Many are Greek. Most are not, and that’s just fine. “It’s a time,” says Sonthe Burge, “when everybody gets to be Greek for the weekend.”

This story originally ran on Alabama NewsCenter. You can read the entire piece and see our cool video here.

Burge is chair of a cookie committee that started working early in the summer with a series of cookie workshops to make a single kind of pastry – koulourakia, the twisted, buttery one.

“It’s a great cookie,” she says. “It’s just really nice … it’s more of a butter cookie that’s not super sweet. So it doesn’t go in the category with the baklava or the melos (melomakarona). They have a syrup and are so much sweeter. This is more like a biscotti. Like a Greek biscotti.”

By the time she and her teams are done, they will have made more than 1,600 dozen of these cookies. They will sell them for $10 a dozen, and they very likely will sell out of all 19,488 pieces by Saturday morning.

Burge’s crews of 50 or so volunteers for each two-day workshop include women (and some men) of all ages who work with a few church employees to measure, mix, roll, shape, butter and bake the sweets. Young mothers drop off their children at mothers’ day out and come to the church kitchen to work – and learn – alongside older women who could roll and twist these cookies in their sleep. In the banquet hall, yayas and papous, who no longer want to stand in the kitchen sit at tables and bag the baked koulourakia.

And this is just one variety of sweets that you’ll find at the Greek Festival.

“We have koulourakia, which we’re making today,” Burge says. “We have baklava; that’s what most people are familiar with, and we are really known for our baklava. (That committee will make nearly 25,000 pieces.) We have kourambethes, that’s a Greek wedding cookie (there are 9,034 of these), and then melomakarona, which is a honey spice cookie (more than 6,000 pieces of this labor-intensive pastry are made), and we have Greek donuts (these loukoumathes will be fried to order).”

There’s also chocolate baklava; almond crescents; and kataiffi, made with shredded filo, walnuts, honey and cinnamon.

Of course, there are lots more foods at this free, family-friendly festival.

Appetizers and entrees include pitas (filo triangles filled with feta cheese or spinach and feta); dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves); lamb souvlakia; Greek-style chicken; Greek salad; pastichio (a kind of Greek lasagna topped with béchamel); beef and lamb gyros; and a veggie plate with rice pilaf, Greek-style green beans, a Greek salad, spanakopita and tiropita. These savory dishes are individually priced. Everything is handmade.

All this is available to eat there or take away. You also can use the drive-through, which is available all three days from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. No need to call ahead and place your order.

All-day entertainment includes the George Karras Band, DJ Disco Hristo and local dance troupes ranging in age from kindergartners to high schoolers.

“I always encourage people to go into the cathedral,” Burge says. “There are church tours that are guided, and also you can … just take one on your own.” This is the fourth oldest Greek Orthodox parish in the Southeast. The basilica features a stunning Byzantine interior with stained glass, and the iconography is beautiful.

The Greek Festival is lots of fun, but there’s a serious side to all this, too. The festival has donated more than $3 million to local and national charities, including The Bell Center, The Exceptional Foundation, Firehouse Ministries, The WellHouse and Greater Birmingham Ministries.

The Birmingham church has an active Philoptochos Society, which is one of the largest women’s philanthropic organizations in the U.S. (although men also can be involved). Just recently, Burge says, the national organization sent $25,000 to the Bahamas for disaster relief.

“We’re all part of something bigger … all across the country … we all belong to this national organization, and we’re just a little microcosm of it here in Birmingham,” she says. “So in Birmingham, our mission is to help the needy, to help the poor. And we give money to different sorts of organizations. We’ve paid for equipment and different things at Children’s Hospital. We also have a scholarship fund for members of our church – for children who are graduating from high school going to college.”

The local chapter’s biggest fundraiser is the sale of frozen pans of pastichio during the Greek Festival.

Fresh, Bright Flavors at the Wildflower Cafe

Over the years, Wildflower Café has become a dining destination in Mentone, which is, of course, its own awesome destination atop Lookout Mountain.

I traveled to Mentone recently for Alabama NewsCenter to spotlight this unique restaurant. You can read the entire story here.

Café owner Laura Catherine Moon (just “Moon” to everyone she knows and meets) is as much of a draw as the regionally famous tomato pie or the carefully curated small general store with handmade art and crafts or the eclectically furnished, hippy-chic dining rooms or the colorful, peaceful wildflower garden surrounding the 1800s log cabin that houses the café and store.

Moon has owned Wildflower Café for more than a decade, but she never really intended to go into the restaurant business.

“It’s true,” she says. “I didn’t mean to.” She had owned several shops in and around Mentone throughout the years. One of them was a natural health food store called Mountain Life. “I sold organic produce and natural foods,” she says. “I sold herbs and my herbal blends. It was a store for wellness. It was sort of a convenience health food store up on the mountain.” Whenever the produce would start to wilt, she would think to herself:  “Well, if I could just cook it, then people could know just how good this food is.”

About this time, the Wildflower Café became available for purchase after being open for about a year. Moon first wanted to team up with the café’s chef, thinking he could run the restaurant and she would run her store. When he left three months later, she stepped up.

“I never even worked in a restaurant before I owned this one,” she says. “So it was a huge challenge to learn the ins and outs and the ropes and how to do it. And it just turned out that I’m really good at it.”

People come up from Birmingham and Montgomery to visit the café; they drive down from Nashville and Chattanooga. They travel over from Douglasville and Atlanta.

They come to Wildflower Café for the grilled or blackened wild-caught salmon and trout; the gourmet chicken salad with grapes and almonds; the big Canyon Burger made with freshly ground sirloin and filet; grilled chicken smothered with sautéed onions, bell peppers, honey-mustard sauce and cheeses; the prime rib with its crust of cracked peppercorns and spices (all these meats are hormone-free); angel hair pasta with a flavorful strawberry-balsamic sauce (there’s a vegan version of this dish, too); and signature shrimp and grits made with polenta. They come for hummingbird cake and old-fashioned chess pie and homemade crepes filled with sweet cream cheese and topped with house-fresh strawberry puree. And a great many of them come for the savory, cheesy tomato pie, which is so popular that Moon also offers a tomato pie wrap, a tomato pie salad, a tomato pie burger and a loaded tomato pie entrée (vegetarian and not).

A few words about this famous tomato pie:  It is worth any drive. Ripe, roma tomatoes are cooked down to sweetness and marinated in balsamic vinaigrette. Some cheddar and mozzarella and a beautifully flaky crust make it completely delicious.

Moon relies on area farmers for lots of her fresh ingredients like the humanely raised pork and poultry from Mildred’s Meadows Farm or fresh tomatoes, squash, corn, herbs and lettuces from The Farm at Windy Hill, Mountain Sun Farm and Feel Good Farm. “Nena’s (Produce and General Store), in the valley down here, carries some of the local farmers’ stuff,” she says. “So I’ll go down and buy from her as well.”

She brings local musicians to Wildflower on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and sometimes Thursdays. The country store is a gallery of local and regional arts and crafts:  clothing, wood crafts, jewelry, soaps, pottery, paintings, candles, music, books, foods like honey and jams and organic chocolates and Moon’s own natural lip balms and skincare (when she has the time to harvest the ingredients).

Moon says she’d like for customers to tell other people that “they came here and had an amazing experience and that the staff was friendly, the food was great and they just felt good when they were here. That’s what I want them to say,” she says. “And that the Wildflower is a great complement to Mentone. That would be a huge compliment to me, because Mentone is one of my favorite places on the planet. No matter where I’ve ever traveled, Mentone is the best.”

Wildflower Café

6007 Alabama Highway 117

Mentone, AL 35984

256-634-0066

http://www.mentonewildflower.com

Reservations are highly suggested for dinner and must be made by phone at 256-634-0066 or in person.  The café does not take reservations for lunch or Sunday brunch.

Hours:  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. General Store open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday
Lunch  11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner 4 to 8 p.m.
General Store open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday
Brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. General Store open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

(On holiday weekends, the restaurant closes at 6 p.m.; call and check before you visit.)

Soul Food Saturdays and Tasty Thursdays

I went to Soul Food Saturday at Arlington House this past Saturday and loved every delicious minute of it. Pork wings and braised collards and perfect mac and cheese. Sweet tea and some chocolate cake made the visit complete.

Here’s some info from the home’s website:

Arlington is a fine example of Greek Revival architecture dating from the 1840s. Originally called “The Grove,” the house was built by Judge William S. Mudd, one of the ten founders of Birmingham, and is the only remaining antebellum mansion remaining in Birmingham.

Shortly before the end of the Civil War, General James Wilson arrived with over 13,000 troops and, using Arlington as his headquarters, planned the destruction of the Confederate iron furnaces and the military school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The property went through several owners and in 1902 became the home of Robert S. Munger (who also had one of the first “motor cars” in Birmingham). Mr. Munger did many renovations including plumbing and electric lights. He had another structure moved behind the main house, and that was used for a kitchen, dining room, sun parlor and sleeping quarters.

Located on six acres in the heart of Old Elyton, Arlington is a center for historical, cultural, and civic activities.

And Soul Food on Saturdays … on August 10, 17 and 31. It’s $10 for a plate with $3 for dessert. This lunch is served from 11:30 to 3. So make plans now.

You also can get lunch (not necessarily soul food and by reservation only) at Arlington on Thursdays during August and beyond. During “Thursdays at Arlington,” guests will receive a salad, entrée, dessert and beverage for $20. The price of lunch also includes a tour of Arlington House. See the schedule here.

And the beautifully appointed historic home is available for weddings and other events.

Arlington House and Museum

331 Cotton Avenue, Southwest
Birmingham, Alabama 35211
Phone: 205-780-5656

Admission:
$5.00 per adult
$3.00 per student 6 to 18 years
special rates available for groups

Art Alive!

AIDS Alabama brings together local artists to create art and opportunities through an art auction with a real-time twist.

AIDS Alabama does serious work, but the fundraisers this organization puts on tend to be lots of fun.

On the heels of April’s successful Dining Out for Life, when AIDS Alabama teamed up with local restaurants like Bottega Café and Chez Lulu for a day of giving, AIDS Alabama presents its 3rd Annual Art Alive!

Art Alive! is set for Saturday, July 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Canary Gallery  (2201 Second Ave. N. in downtown Birmingham). Guests can watch eight local artists create original artwork—ranging from abstracts to more realistic pieces—during the event. These works will be available that evening through a silent auction.

Tickets are $50 each. There will be foods from El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar, a friend to AIDS Alabama that also participated in Dining Out for Life; complimentary beer from Cahaba Brewing Company; and wine from International Wines & Craft Beer. Matthew Carroll Band will entertain the crowd.

The silent auction is an exciting focal point for this event, but people other than the winning bidders can go home with new art, too. Several previously completed works in the artists’ gallery will be available for immediate purchase.

Art Alive! featured artists include:

“We are so grateful to our talented and extremely generous featured artists,” says Caroline Bundy, director of development for AIDS Alabama. “To have the opportunity to actually watch these artists as they create their work is a thrill, especially considering the different methods each uses to create their own individual piece. You don’t want to miss this fun and unique event!”

Fundraising like Art Alive! allows AIDS Alabama to devote more of its energy and resources statewide, helping those with HIV/AIDS live healthy, independent lives and working to prevent the spread of HIV.

Right now, there are more than 14,000 Alabamians living with HIV/AIDS, Bundy says, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama ranks 11th in the nation for new HIV diagnoses.

AIDS Alabama works tirelessly to meet the needs of Alabama’s HIV-positive population, providing safe, affordable housing to low-income people living with HIV in Alabama. Additionally, AIDS Alabama’s prevention education and outreach efforts provide free and confidential HIV screening, accurate HIV information and links to care for thousands across the state

There have been many important medical advances that make HIV manageable as a chronic disease, Bundy says, but HIV rates in the South remain high and within epidemic proportions, making AIDS Alabama’s prevention, transportation, mental health and housing services more vital than ever.

For more information and to purchase tickets, click here, or go to www.aidsalabama.org.

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.

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.

Dine Out and Make a Difference

On Thursday, April 25, your dining dollars will make a big difference to a lot of people—if you’re eating at the right places.

Dining Out For Life will involve more than 30 local restaurants that are committed to making our community better, including Bottega Café, Crestwood Coffee Co., El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar, 5 Point Public Oyster House, Slice Pizza & Brew (in Lakeview and Vestavia), Ted’s Restaurant, Bistro V, MELT Avondale, Yo’ Mama’s Restaurant, Birmingham Breadworks, Chez Lulu and Chez Fonfon. They are teaming up with AIDS Alabama to bring awareness about HIV in our community as well as raise funds for AIDS Alabama’s HIV services, prevention initiatives and housing programs.

Dining Out for Life is an international event that has been taking place for more than 20 years. Birmingham is celebrating its 10th year of participation.

My friend Caroline Bundy, director of development for AIDS Alabama, says:  “It’s pretty amazing the way this event has grown over the years. Though Dining Out For Life takes place in 60 cities in the U.S. and Canada, all the money that is raised here in Birmingham stays here, helping people living with HIV and their families in our community.”

Each participating restaurant has committed to contributing at least 25 percent of the day’s food and beverage sales from breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Many are contributing more.

Some of the first to sign up this year included Fig Tree Café (35% of lunch and dinner sales), Avondale Common House & Distillery (35% of lunch and dinner sales) and Bamboo on 2nd (35% of dinner sales) as well as Moss Rock Tacos & Tequila (25% of lunch, dinner and all-day catering sales), Vecchia Pizzeria & Mercato (25% of lunch, dinner and all-day catering sales) and Big Bad Breakfast (25% of breakfast and lunch sales).

For a complete list of restaurants and when they are serving, go here.

“Every year, over 30 restaurants participate,” Caroline told me. “Over the past 10 years, more than $350,000 has been raised to support the programs of AIDS Alabama. These funds enable us to provide critical programs and services that include housing, supportive services, HIV testing and prevention education efforts to thousands of Alabamians.”

AIDS Alabama devotes energy and resources statewide to helping those with HIV/AIDS live healthy, independent lives. The organization works to prevent the spread of HIV and to meet the needs of Alabama’s HIV-positive population, providing safe, affordable housing to low-income people living with HIV and their family members. Additionally, AIDS Alabama’s prevention education and outreach efforts provide free and confidential HIV screening,

Currently, more than 13,000 Alabamians are living with HIV/AIDS, and per the Centers for Disease Control, Birmingham ranks 17th in the nation for the number of new HIV diagnoses. Though there have been many medical advances that make HIV manageable as a chronic disease, HIV rates in the South remain high and within epidemic proportions—making AIDS Alabama’s prevention, transportation, mental health, and housing services vital.

All Kinds of Goodness at Ashley Mac’s

Lots of people want to make a living doing what they love. Ashley McMakin made that dream a reality with her Ashley Mac’s cafés, catering and gourmet-to-go business. It all started with her hobby of cooking for those she loves.

McMakin grew up in a large, food-loving family, and she learned to cook alongside her mother and grandmother. “I remember making the desserts when I was 12,” she says.

After graduating from the University of Alabama, where she majored in marketing and advertising, she began cooking for friends and family, thinking it would be a nice hobby until she had children. Her husband, Andy, an accountant, realized the hobby could become a business. “People really love your food,” he told her. “It would be a shame to stop it.”

Ashley Mac’s started as a catering company in the couple’s Homewood kitchen in 2005; it was called A Taste of Birmingham back then. And McMakin sold strawberry cake at a booth at Pepper Place Market the first few years. Today, there are four Ashley Mac’s cafés around Birmingham, and the company employs more than 100 people.

I sat down with McMakin for a story for Alabama NewsCenter.

You can read the entire piece here.

Ashley Mac’s offers modern interpretations of traditional Southern recipes that call for fresh, simple ingredients–whether you eat at an Ashley Mac’s cafe, pick something out of the grab-and-go freezers, order and pick up a fresh family dinner for four or hire the company for catering.

McMakin has grown her business right along with her family, and she often shares her inspirational, working-mom story with others.

“Every time we put in a store we’ve had another kid,” she says. “So we have four kids right now. We went through infertility for several years when we were trying to start Ashley Mac’s, and looking back, I’m just grateful that that was God’s timing. I really don’t think there would be an Ashley Mac’s if I had gotten pregnant right away.

McMakin was pregnant when she and her husband opened their Cahaba Heights store. “Opening that first store, I had to take a step back and really trust people, which is a big learning curve for a business owner, to learn how to delegate,” she says.

“When we opened our second location (in Inverness), we had our second son, through fertility treatments again. And then we were opening our third store in Riverchase, and we adopted our little girl from China. Then last Christmas, we were about to open our Homewood location, and, by some divine circumstances, we ended up with our foster son. He’s 17 and will be with us for two-and-a-half years.”

One reason for Ashley Mac’s success is that McMakin knows what her customers need because she is one of them – a busy mom who wants to put good, healthy food on the dinner table each night.

“A lot of the things we do were born out of … what I need,” she says, laughing. “Many of the things that are on our menu came out of something I’ll make for dinner.”

There is a certain element of goodness at Ashley Mac’s that goes far beyond the highly popular strawberry cake.

“We’ve kind of set ourselves apart by being grace-centered … trying to be gracious with our employees and our customers,” McMakin says. “… Just treating (our employees) with the respect that every person deserves and giving them a chance to work their way up and to invest in how they’re learning and in them personally as well, which is how we ended up with our foster son, through a former employee. We’re just grateful that we not only get to employ them but do life with them.”