Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, 3/17/23

exterior – 2007 11th Ave. S, Birmingham, AL, 35205

Chez Fonfon was a casual French bistro that opened in 2000.  It is under the helm of Chef Frank Stitt but the night we were there it was his wife Pardis Stitt who was on site.  (She also is a co-owner of Highlands Bar and Grill).  The large place was crowded and busy with a large bar taking up about a third of the room.  Music was in the background, lights were lowered, windows looked out to the street and parking, and the good-sized tables were bare wood set with cloth napkins.  The vibe was of younger people and lively conversations.   We were lucky to get a table in a corner, otherwise, the noise might have made me like the place less. Service was good as was the food, which was first-rate.  I’d go back, especially for the dessert. Continue reading

Ranelli’s Deli & Cafe, Birmingham, 3/17/23

exterior – 1225 20th St S, Birmingham, AL 35205

Ranelli’s Deli has been on the southside of Birmingham serving sandwiches, salads and pastas since 1971.  It is family owned and operated and has live music some nights.  The place was a former gas station so there is parking on 2 sides.  Inside you approach the counter and make your order from the sign above and pay.  They will call out your name when it’s ready.  In the meantime, you can look around at the jam-packed room filled with music memorabilia and other things.  In the back of the room is a small stage where live bands can play.  There is an assortment of small tables crowded into the room with soft music in the background.  Their Italian dinners looked like quite a deal and they were served all day.  I’d go back and try those but we just wanted a sandwich midway through the day.  We should have split one – they are large and packed with ingredients.  Nothing outlandish here, just good solid plain food. Continue reading

Bottega Restaurant, Birmingham, 3/16/23

exterior – 2240 Highland Ave. S, Birmingham, AL, 35205

Bottega is open for dinner Wed through Sat and now reservations can be made 4 weeks in advance, online and by phone.  The formal dining room opened in 1988 in the historic Beaux-Art building.  A Café opened next door 2 years later which offers more casual dining.  The building originally was an upscale clothing store and later housed some medical care units until it became a restaurant, but it retains the original facade and front windows and tile floor.  Chef and Owner Frank Stitt received the James Beard Foundation’s Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2001 as well as many other awards during his time in the industry. Now the good-sized tables are covered with two white cloths, large metal chandeliers provide soft lighting supplemented with votive candles on the tables and some tract lighting in the high ceiling.  Currently, they are not using their upstairs seating due to staffing shortages.  It has a feel of elegance, the noise level is good and the crowd seemed a bit older.  Service was wonderful as was the food.  I heartily recommend this place. Continue reading

Johnny’s Restaurant, Birmingham, 3/16/23

exterior – 2902 18th Street South, Homewood. AL, 35209

Johnny’s Restaurant is a blend of Greek and Southern styles of cooking. Chef Timothy Hontzas has Greek heritage, naming the restaurant after his grandfather Johnny who also cooked.   Opening in 2012 this place offers a “meat and three” style with Greek specialties as well as traditional dishes like meatloaf.  It is located on the second level of a busy shopping center where parking could be an issue.  You place your order at the counter with the large chalkboard menu behind the counter but some additional specials were posted on the wall as you walked up.  You get a number and the servers find and bring your food out to you.  All lunch plates come with a choice of cornbread or yeast roll.  Music is in the background, the drink station is in the back and portions are generous.  The food is quite good, especially the vegetables.  I would love to go back and sample more dishes – hope you’ll get a chance to try it. Continue reading

Helen, Birmingham, 3/15/23

exterior – 2013 2nd Ave., N. Birmingham, AL, 35203

Helen is a contemporary Southern grill under the helm of Chef Rob McDaniel and his wife Emily.  Helen was Rob’s grandmother who cooked on an indoor grill.  The large restaurant is in downtown Birmingham in a 2-story 1920s shotgun-style building.  Opening in the summer of 2020 they serve diners downstairs with upstairs having private party rooms or it can seat diners as needed.  Small bare wood tables sit opposite a wood bench with movable pillow backs.  Some larger tables accommodate bigger groups.  Windows look out to the street, a small bar has chairs for waiting, pictures are on the walls, valet parking is available out front and a long open kitchen is in the back.  The noise level was acceptable but the service could border on pushy.  The food was good but once again we encounter “the small table and lots of plates at one time” issue. Continue reading

The Essential, Birmingham, 3/15/23

entrance –2018 Morris Ave, Birmingham, AL 35203

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. Continue reading