Three Inexpensive Nights Out In Birmingham

You deserve a night out. If you are a college student like me, you are probably juggling six or more classes, an internship for academic credit and a paid full-time job just to pay your rent. Because of all these things, you have the right to treat yourself every once and a while. The issue often tends to be that, though you may want a night out, you cannot afford to spend a lot of money. That is where I come in. Having lived in the city of Birmingham my whole life, I knew quite a few spots that can help you save a few bucks while enjoying what the city has to offer. Here is a short list of three different locations in Birmingham on the cheap. You can find directions to each location by clicking on the venue name in the list.

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Throw a Casual Soirée

 

Strawberry Pie

Ingredients for Deep-Dish Strawberry Dream Pie. Photography by Rebecca Terrell

 

Soirée is my favorite word. Not because it rolls off the tongue in the most graceful fashion (which it does by the way), but because it has a classy, almost old-fashioned demeanor to it. When I hear the word, I picture sophisticated grown-ups stirring up deep conversations and popping bottles of bubbly.

The idea of a classy dinner party excites me. I love the idea of gathering together in fellowship snacking on tea sandwiches and tiny treats. But instead of white linens, men in bowties and expensive escargot passed around by butlers, I picture a whimsical affair with lights stringing through the trees and lace draped along the tablescape.

A soirée no longer has to mean an over-the-top event. It can mean a casual evening filled with bite-sized delights and cheese plates, with a corn hole game in the backyard. It can mean that you skip the expenses and focus on planning the perfect party.

Personal touches can turn a typical social gathering into a magical soiree. One way to do this is through the food. Rebecca Longshore, the assistant editor of Cooking Light, shared her favorite recipes that are simple, yet elegant.

 “In my opinion, bite-size foods and mini dishes look really classy at a party,” says Longshore. “You can turn almost any appetizer or dessert recipe into a single-serving treat.” So skip the catering and try some of these chic dinner dishes for your next celebration.

Deep-Dish Strawberry Ice Dream Pie

 “With a chocolate crush, strawberry mousse filling and fresh seasonal berries to top it off, this gorgeous pie tastes even better than it looks. Plus, you can make it in advantage and freeze overnight,” says Longshore.

What you’ll need:

  • 30 chocolate wafers
  • 5 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • Dash of salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, divided
  • 1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam, divided
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 cups frozen low-fat whipped topping, thawed

How to do it:
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Finely grind wafers in a food processor. Add butter, egg white, and salt; process until well combined.
3. Gently press mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9.5-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray.
4. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Freeze 30 minutes or until well chilled.
5. Slice 1 cup of strawberries; place in large bowl. Add 1 tablespoon strawberry jam and lemon juice; gently stir. Stir in sweetened condensed milk. Gently fold in whipped topping. Spoon mixture into prepared crust, smoothing top. Freeze 4 hours or up to overnight.
6. Quarter remaining strawberries lengthwise; combine with remaining 3 tablespoons jam. Arrange mixture over pie. Serve immediately.

Charred Red Online Dip

 “This simple, refreshing onion dip pairs perfectly with baked sweet potato chips and is guaranteed to be a crowd favorite,” says Longshore.

What you’ll need:
1 cup chopped grilled red onion
1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Baked sweet potato chips

How to do it:
1. Combine onion, yogurt, sour cream, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, ground red pepper, and salt.
2. Serve with baked sweet potato chips.

Mushroom, Gruyere, and Spinach Quiche

 “A cheesy, spinach quiche partners beautifully with a bright, citrusy salad to serve at a spring party,” says Longshore.

What you’ll need:
5.6 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (about 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons ice water
Cooking spray
3 center-cut bacon slices
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 (8-ounce) package pre-sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 cups packed baby spinach
1 cup 1% low-fat milk
1/3 cup half-and-half
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
2 ounces cave-aged Gruyère cheese, grated

 How to do it:
1. Preheat oven to 425°.
2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and baking powder in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Combine oil and 3 tablespoons water. With processor on, slowly add oil mixture through food chute; process until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead 1 minute. Press dough into a 5-inch disk; wrap in plastic wrap, and chill 20 minutes.
3. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate coated with cooking spray. Line dough with foil; arrange pie weights or dried beans on foil. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove weights and foil; bake an additional 2 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 350°.
5. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings; crumble. Return pan to medium-high heat. Add shallots to drippings in pan; sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and thyme; cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in spinach; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat; let stand 10 minutes. Drain any excess liquid.
6. Place milk, half-and-half, eggs, egg white, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a blender; process until smooth.
7. Arrange half of cheese over bottom of crust; top with spinach mixture and remaining half of cheese. Carefully pour milk mixture over cheese. Sprinkle with bacon. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until filling is set. Let stand 10 minutes.

Like these recipes? Share your creations with us on Instagram at @exodusmagazine.. And be sure to be on the lookout for more mini-dishes in our print edition of Exodus Magazine, coming soon.

 

 

Crestline Village: The Mayberry of Birmingham

Tucked between the peaceful streets of Crestline Heights and the sprawling greens of the Birmingham Country Club is a home away from home — a village of shops, restaurants and city buildings. Crestline Village is its own little town just miles away from the big city.

Nestled in the heart of Mountain Brook the community of Crestline Village is a present-day Mayberry. Crestline offers both residents and visitors a retreat from the busyness of city life and reminds the Birmingham area that neighborly values mean much more than just a friendly face or welcoming smile. The sense of community runs deep through the shop owners, restaurant managers and city workers.

When talking about Crestline Village, the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce says it best: “Welcome to Crestline Village. Welcome to family.”

Every family is unique and Crestline is no different. The old brick buildings bleed history, begging visitors to slow down and enjoy the moment. From the one-of-a-kind boutiques to the modern library and the mom-and-pop pharmacy, the village offers something for everyone.

The warm atmosphere that immediately sets visitors and tourists at ease also provides a respite for locals. It’s common to see local families having a picnic in the grassy area beside the Emmet O’Neal Library, playing a game with the kid-size chess set next to City Hall or enjoying a warm cup of coffee while sitting in Church Street Coffee & Books.

One reason that both locals and visitors feel right at home is because of the camaraderie between Crestline shop and restaurant owners. Instead of trying to beat out one another, the owners speak highly of each other and even plan events together.

Natalie Babington is the manager of Snap Kids, a children’s clothing store that features comfortable and stylish clothing for all ages, from newborn to kid’s sizes to tween. “All of the shop owners and managers get along great. We always are helping each other out. We plan sales together and things like that because we want to make sure we can maximize who we reach with our sales,” Babington said.

Instead of acting as a competitor, Snap Kids often works with their neighbor Snoozy’s Kids, which has everything from toys and baby blankets to jewelry for mom.

The owner of Snoozy’s Kids, George Jones, has owned the store since 1988 and has seen kids as customers come back in years later with their own children.

“I’ve been able to retain my customers as they go through the teen years and graduation gifts. There are grandmothers who came here to buy things for their children and now they’re buying for their grandchildren,” Jones said.

One of Crestline’s unique qualities is that many of the shop owners live close by are neighbors. Jones lives in Crestline and explains that while he has a fenced-in yard, there is a gate on each side of his yard leading to his neighbors’ yards. The sense of community that permeates Crestline Village is direct evidence of the community that surrounds the village.

“We’re made up of small stores, small boutiques and small business people. A lot of us live around here, so you live in your community,” Jones said. “You work in your community, and that can’t help but make even more of a sense of community. When someone comes in and you show them a gift and you know their child, you know who they’re buying for. It’s kind of Mayberry-ish.”

It’s easy to see the plus side of living in such tight-knit community, and it’s understandable that locals don’t feel a need to move anywhere else. “We have everything from a library and city hall to the police station and a grocery store. Children’s clothes, ladies’ clothes, if you’re planning a wedding or need a photograph, drugs, or a bakery, it’s all right here,” Jones said.

Newcomers to Crestline also agree: there’s no place quite like Crestline Village, where everyone knows your name.

Alex Stone grew up in Crestline, but her store, The Pantry, was located in Cahaba Heights until recently. Now that she’s moved “home,” Stone sees a steady stream of regular customers every day. “We love it here; it’s real homely,” Stone said. “Everybody knows everybody.”

The Pantry — a health-conscious, farmstead lifestyle store in Crestline Village — places an extreme importance on the quality of food. The store is also event driven, hosting wine and cheese events and gumbo and beer night every Friday.

While Stone runs The Pantry, her mother, Deborah Stone, runs the farm that provides the restaurant with its fresh products. Deborah Stone grew up on a farm before opening one of the first day spas in America, and she couldn’t be happier to finally be back on the farm. In a way, opening The Pantry has brought both mother and daughter back home.

Because The Pantry has its own farm, many of the items sold in the restaurant are homemade. They offer everything from jams and jellies to 12 different flavors of cheese made from one of their 150 goats. The Pantry restaurant truly begins at the farm.

There’s a grab-and-go section full of soups, casseroles and tomato pies that are perfect for busy parents to pick up and pop in the oven when they get home from work. There are several juices and even cow’s milk straight from the farm — courtesy of Poppy the cow.

Looking to appeal to all generations, The Pantry also has Steel City Pops available and many different health juices. In fact, The Pantry provides the milk for both the caramel and the tomatillo pop. Between the food, pops and juicing, they’ve figured out how to gain a wide customer base.

“The juicing brings in the teenage crowd and the health-conscious moms but then the food brings in a lot of elderly people, “Stone said.

As the restaurant owners get to know their customers, they’re able to personalize the Crestline Village experience. There’s one customer that comes to The Pantry and orders a juice customized just for her. “We make a Julie Juice, and Julie comes in here every day and grabs the same juice, so we have it for her at 12 o’clock,” Stone said.

The Julie Juice, made from two celery sticks, a handful of romaine, a quarter of a lemon, an apple and a handful of spinach, has become popular as more of Julie’s friends find out about it. Stone loves it because she’s gotten to know Julie’s inner circle, figured out what they like and can now invest in them not only as customers but as people too.

Caring about people is what it’s all about for The Pantry. There’s great value in eating farm-to-table, and The Pantry is the face of the farm — a way to bring the farm to everyone in Crestline.

Right past the old drugstore and across the street from the mighty Crestline Clock Tower is another shop that cares greatly about its customers and the Crestline community.

Church Street Coffee & Books moved into an abandoned Starbucks a little more than two years ago. Since then, the store has been selling coffee, pastries and books to customers who have quickly become regulars. The specialty coffees and drinks are delicious, but it’s the cookies that keep customers coming back for more. The best seller is the break-up cookie, which is a chocolate chip cookie with sea salt baked on top.

There’s a loft upstairs perfect for students who need to study and a patio outside with a view of the clock tower as well as ample seating inside. It’s hard to find a time of day when regular customers aren’t visiting with the staff because at Church Street, there’s no such thing as “just a customer.” Everyone is treated like family.

One of the co-owners of Church Street Coffee & Books, Cal Morris, doesn’t have any big dreams for future expansion. Instead, his dream is to be a welcoming place for the community.

“Honestly, I think we are living our dream. Our dream is here,” Morris said.

And that dream of community in Crestline Village seems to be shared by every shop owner. Who doesn’t want to shop, eat and spend their afternoons playing chess or having a picnic in a place that feels like home?

There are more than 50 shops and businesses that attract people to Crestline including ice cream parlors, photography studios, Mexican and Southern cooking restaurants, gas stations, clothing stores and so much more. Crestline Village offers it all!

The brick buildings, delicious food and welcoming stores will surely draw you into this quaint town, but the people of Crestline Village will always be what makes you want to stay.

Annual Greek Festival offers color, flavor

Greek Festival

Birmingham is known for being a major contributor to the beauty of the Southeast. From fried food to Southern hospitality, visitors often leave Birmingham with an appreciation of the history and comfort of a “small” big city. However, what many people have grown to love most about Birmingham is a fall event that captures the hearts of natives and visitors alike with zest and color. From September 28 – 30, people all across the Southeast came down to the 41st annual Greek Festival, eager for a plate full of chocolate baklava and Greek chicken and a night of Greek dancing and music.

The lively festival began in 1972 by the Ladies Philoptochos Society and has since become one of the most popular cultural events in Birmingham. Now hosted by the Holy Trinity-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral on 19th street, the three-day event offers food and culture that might not be common to the south but is certainly adored. The event has a community-centered spirit to it, offering large round tables and long lines that give visitors and church members opportunity to mingle, meet, and relax together.

“The Greek Festival is an exciting and engaging way to learn more about Birmingham and its intriguing culture and history. The Greek population is quite extensive and influential in Birmingham society, and the fact is dually noted at the annual festival,” Birmingham-area native and local college student Courtney Bell said.

“Amazing food, entertaining dancers, and a tour of the chapel were enough to have me saying ‘OPA!’ It was not my first time to attend nor will it be my last.”

By Rebekah Robinson

The Best Burger in Birmingham

Tucked away in Cahaba Heights, Blackwell’s Pub offers a juicy burger called “The Gambler” to those customers who enjoy taking a risk.  “The Gambler” is a burger made up of whatever the chef decides to create that day. You don’t know what you’re getting until your waiter sets it in front of you.

The Gambler topped with macaroni and cheese, bacon, jalapeños, lettuce and tomatoes.

 

“The Gambler is something we’ve come up with in the back [in the kitchen] on the spot,” says Tyler DeStefano, owner and executive chef.  Toppings include everything from pico de gallo with bacon to jalapeños with macaroni and cheese; it all depends on what the chef feels like using for that order.

Even though no pairing of ingredients seems weird or unusual to the staff, they still try to surprise their customers with delicious, yet unusual burgers.  “We’ve done some crazy different [burgers]-like once we used pancakes as the buns on a Morningwood burger,” says DeStefano.

Another creation includes a burger topped with cream cheese, jalapeños and grape jelly.  “The cream cheese, jelly and jalapeños definitely didn’t look or sound like it would taste good, but it was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had for sure,” says Whitt Thompson, customer of Blackwell’s.

It may not sound like a regular good ol’ burger, but you have to trust the chef.  “Some people are scared,” says DeStefano.

The Morningwood burger, which contains an egg, homemade jelly, peanut butter and bacon.

These concoctions are not designed for the “Classic” burger eaters, they are meant for people who enjoy opening their minds to what a unique burger could be like.

However, for those of you who like to stick with what you know, Blackwell’s offers the “Blackwell Burger,” the signature burger topped with onion rings, blue cheese crumbles and Swiss; the “Bacon Burger;” or the “Pimento Cheese Burger.”

All the burgers begin with freshly ground beef and then built from there.  Their jelly is also freshly made in house every day.

You can start your adventure by trying Blackwell’s famous “Gator Bites,” which are fried alligator bites, as an appetizer.  Not to sound like a cliché, but the gator slightly resembles chicken.

LBBestBurger07So, if you’re ready to step out of your comfort zone, or just stick with the signature Blackwell Burger, head toward Blackwell’s Pub for a night of fun and adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by Leslyn Bantley

Making it your own at Taco Mama

LBTaco04

Taco Mama has only been open for 15 months, but it already draws in customers because of its healthier take on Mexican fare.

The eclectic taco bar, located in Crestline Village on Church Street, offers a delicious ‘Build Your Own’ menu and numerous drink options.

LBTaco03

“The ‘Build Your Own’ cuts out about 300 calories,” says Justin Gordon, an employee of the restaurant. “It’s a big ole plate of goodness.” 

All the ingredients are fresh, so customers can taste the quality of the food in every bite. The ingredients and healthy options for the burrito bowl allow customers to walk away guilt-free.

“You get to eat Mexican and still eat healthy,” Gordon says. The customer walks through four steps: ‘The Form,’ where you decide the base of your meal, such as the taco basket or burrito bowl; second comes ‘The Cornerstone,’ where you decide the meat or veggie mix; then comes ‘The Particulars,’ which are the extra toppings; and finally comes ‘The Sauce.’

LBTaco02

So come hungry and thirsty to enjoy the entertaining atmosphere and scrumptious food. The restaurant is open Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. 

For more information, visit http://www.tacomamaonline.com/. Also, find Taco Mama on Facebook and on Twitter.

Photos by Leslyn Bantley

Bigger and Better

Owl’s Hollow Farm owner Rod Palmer walked out to his Gadsden, Ala., farm in early January 2011 to discover all six of his hydroponic greenhouses collapsed under the weight of nearly eight inches of snow and ice. These special greenhouses housed the majority of the farm’s hydroponic produce, which is grown in nutrient-rich water instead of soil.

“I heard it,” Palmer said. “It was 5:30 a.m., and it shook the house. I knew what it was, but there was nothing I could do.”

The farmer stood in shock at the sight of his destroyed greenhouses and entire lettuce crops lost to the cold. Ten years worth of time and effort lay in messy, snow-covered heaps.

After the shock wore off, Palmer jumped straight into action.

“It was a couple hundred thousand dollars just gone,” Palmer said. “I had to ‘unbuild.’ Crying, kicking and screaming.”

During the process, the stressed farmer occasionally found pockets of perfectly preserved lettuce.

“Sometime we’d find maybe 300 heads of Romaine,” Palmer said. “It was just beautiful.”

Community Gives Back

Destroyed greenhouses

Palmer’s business has become well established in the Birmingham area since opening in May 2001, and throughout the disaster, Palmer said that the community’s support inspired him. People rallied to help the destroyed farm, something Palmer is extremely grateful for.

“I’m so thankful,” Palmer said. “I never knew people depended on local food so much.”

Owl’s Hollow has sold produce to restaurants all over Birmingham, as well as Pepper Place Market in the spring and summer months. Because the vegetables are grown using the hydroponic technique, Palmer is able to grow and sell his produce year round.

Local Homewood restaurant Urban Cookhouse depends on Owl’s Hollow for most of their produce and even held a fundraiser for the farm.

On Feb. 9, the restaurant donated 100 percent of all takeout dinner proceeds to the farm to help buy new greenhouses.

Palmer said that people he did not even know contacted him, wanting to help.

“People started sending me letters and calling saying ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘I’m praying for you.’ It’s been one of the best bad experiences you can imagine,” he said.

A Better Tomorrow

While waiting for the new greenhouses to go up in March, the farm managed to survive. Palmer and a small team of farm hands salvaged everything possible and focused on rebuilding.

“You’d see all the remains and you’d know it all goes somewhere,” Palmer said.

Radishes growing in mineral solutions

Most importantly, the farm kept growing. Hundreds of heads of lettuce floated on styrofoam in a man-made pond on the farm while makeshift garden beds were filled with mineral solutions and used to grow herbs and smaller produce. A small trailer that sits on the farm held thousands of tiny tomatoes and sprouting basil plants.

Though this disaster caused nothing but stress and shock when it struck, Palmer tried to remain positive. The farmer viewed it as a chance to improve the farm, saying that rebuilding from the ground up would only make everything “bigger and better.”

Some Baskits Tenders

The Baskits

Story and photos by Dan Bagwell

The Baskits Exterior

When The Baskits opened in 1999, it was hardly expected to leave a dent in the Birmingham restaurant scene.  Soon after father-son duo Fred and Paul Shunnarah opened the restaurant, however, they began to do just that.

Since its humble beginnings as part of a strip center on Greensprings Highway in Homewood, The Baskits has been a family-owned and operated restaurant aimed at setting the standard for quality food in Birmingham.

Paul’s history with family-oriented restaurants is a long one.  After Fred immigrated to the United States in the 1960’s, he became a successful business owner in the grocery industry.  As a young man, Paul worked in his family’s grocery store alongside his father, learning the tricks of the trade that he would eventually put to use as President of The Baskits.

The restaurant was conceived after Paul graduated college and noted a lack of quality chicken tenders in Birmingham.  Working with his father (now semi-retired), and using knowledge gained from family experience in the meat market and grocery business, Paul proposed creating his own restaurant to rise to the occasion.

Eager to start the new business, father and son spent months experimenting with marinades and dipping sauce for the chicken.  Confident with their final products, Paul and Fred decided to open shop.

For the Shunnarahs, hard work and dedication has paid off.  A decade after opening, The Baskits moved from the strip center to a stand-alone building nearby, which increased the profile of the restaurant substantially.

Some Baskits TendersIn 2009, the restaurant was awarded “Favorite Chicken Tenders” in a contest sponsored by The Birmingham News.  A panel of nine local judges voted The Baskits’ chicken tenders the best of approximately 40 restaurants in the Birmingham area.

The thing that sets The Baskits apart from other local restaurants, Shunnarah said, is extra attention to food quality.  “Everything we do here, we marinate,” Shunnarah said. “Quality control is very important to me, I’m very passionate about it.”

The fact that The Baskits is family-owned gives it a leg up on many mainstream chain establishments through more personal and direct service, Paul said.

As owner, manager and even a cook, Paul is no stranger to hard work.  He finds time to manage the establishment, help out in the kitchen, and mingle with the customers.  “Hands-on service is priority one, whether it’s cooking in the kitchen, overseeing food quality or general customer service.” Paul said.

The Baskits is no ordinary fast-food restaurant, Shunnarah said. “We’re considered fast-casual, which is counter-service,” said Paul.  “You come and order, we make the food right there and bring it to you.”

Although The Baskits has always offered a diverse menu, the chicken tenders have been the most popular item from the beginning.  A slogan on the new building reads “Best Chicken Tenders in Town,” daring customers to put the restaurant’s specialty to the test.

The restaurant also shows off its school spirit by offering free drinks to local college students, another distinguishing feature not shared by many other restaurants in the area.

Despite such a large field of competitors, Shunnarah says that Birmingham is a great location for a place like The Baskits.  “It’s not too big or small of a city,” said Paul.  “It’s got a good, diverse group of people.”

With a new building and a more solid reputation than ever, The Baskits has become a force to be reckoned with among Birmingham restaurants.  If the restaurant’s current track record is any indication, Shunnarah and future customers have much to look forward to.

The Baskits
www.thebaskits.com
813 Green Springs Highway
Birmingham, AL 35209
(205) 916-0401