The Essential is a medium-sized bar and cafe in an historic part of downtown Birmingham that serves contemporary American food. They serve dinner, brunch on weekends and lunch, which is what we had there. They have seating inside at tables and at a long bar or tables on a patio, which did have heaters. Along with a full bar, they offered a nice wine selection. Large windows in the dining area overlook the outside patio and street and music plays in the background. A fun tile floor was opposite a decorative ceiling and one wall had a bench seat that accompanied the small round marble tables. The back end of the room was a large opening into the kitchen. At lunch, they have fewer items to pick from than at dinner but whenever you go you’ll find fine food and service here. This place should be on your list if you visit Birmingham.
Roasted Brussels sprouts were tossed with sherry vinaigrette, roasted garlic, pear and cana de oveja (cheese). Some of the pieces of sprouts were well-browned and others were just leaves that had been fried. The thin slices of pear added a nice sweet flavor to the spicy seasoning that dusted the top of the dish. The cheese was mild and blended well. This was a tasty dish with a bit of zip that left a nice tingle on the palate.
Yeast rolls were served with a fresh cheese and honey spread. The dough was a light mixture but these rolls were warmed too long and quite dry on the edges. The softened spread was only slightly sweet and had good flavor. I would guess if these were fresh they would be a fine Parker House-type roll.
Half chicken piri piri had a guajillo marinade and came topped with peanut-lime gremolata and sat on fries. The sauce on the chicken was like a spicy barbecue one and the plate came with an extra cup of it if you wanted more. The peanut, lime and parsley gremolata worked well with the sauce and the mostly moist chicken. The house-cut fries were tasty and crisp. It was a generous portion of really flavorful food.
Duck risotto included caramelized onions, butternut squash and rosemary. The dish was filled with large and small chunks of wonderful duck meat. The butternut squash added a sweet component, especially in the puree it had around the ring of the dish. Some young spinach leaves were incorporated into the nicely loose risotto. The caramelized onions were perfect to mix in with the perfectly cooked rice. It had a lovely creaminess and the squash and spinach added color too. Thumbs up here.
For dessert, we tried the carrot cake made with baking spices and iced with whipped cheesecake and swiss meringue buttercream and sitting on some creme anglaise. The 4 layers were moist and dense and soaked up the wonderful rich sauce to yield a fine piece of cake. Lots of spices made it not overly sweet but satisfying due to its richness. It was fun to have carrot cake without the traditional cream cheese icing. A fine finish to a great meal.