Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bottle & Bone: The Butcher of Birmingham

Talk about multiple personalities! Our latest discovery is part industrial butcher shop, part shabby chic restaurant and part vintage market. But it is 100% a carnivore's dream. In fact, this post comes with a caveat. I felt my cholesterol go up about twenty points just walking into Bottle and Bone. I can't even think what it must have been when I finished eating. You have been forewarned!

Located in the entertainment district that has sprung up around the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center, Bottle and Bone is one of many restaurants in the area, but it is still one of a kind.

When I started researching Bottle and Bone, I was surprised to discover it was started by, Jen Barnett, the same bright mind who dreamed up Freshfully Market. If you remember, Sherri, Lu and I visited Freshfully Market a few years ago. We discovered it when we set out to find Saw's Soul Kitchen. We loved Freshfully and were sad when we learned it would close. Happily, the creativity of Freshfully has moved on to Bottle and Bone. 

Many of the made in Alabama products we loved at Freshfully Market have made the move to Bottle and Bone. Some of them even make it onto the menu. For instance, we found one of those products on the appetizer we ordered. 

Our Bottle and Bone adventure began with a flight...a Bacon Flight. What is a bacon flight, you ask? It is, quite simply, a board piled with three kinds of Bottle and Bone's own bacon: the house regular, sweet chili and brown sugar. They are all amazing.

Along with the bacon is a pile of Pickled Pink's watermelon pickles. Those sweet, vinegary watermelon pickles are the perfect accompaniment to the fatty bacon. Luckily, jars of those same pickles are available for purchase in the Bottle and Bone market. Guess who came home with a jar?

Ordering our appetizer was easy, but it was a bit more challenging when it came to entrees. I had pretty much settled my mind on the Roasted Chicken Club with potato salad, when I heard Scott order the same thing. Now I was back to square one, because I really wanted for us to get different entrees. I was just about to choose the Braised Pork Torta, when our server helpfully offered to make a suggestion, which I was happy to take. His suggestion was the Daily Grind Burger, so Daily Grind Burger is what I ordered. When Scott decided to change his side of potato salad to the potato gratin, I chose potato salad to go with my burger.

Here is Scott's roasted chicken club with potato gratin. He really liked it and it was delicious. The chicken was piled high on toasted bread and topped with lettuce, tomato, provolone cheese and Alabama white barbecue sauce. To my mind, the star of his plate, however, was the potato gratin. I think they were the best I have ever had. Sometimes potatoes gratin are overpowered with cheese, but these were buttery and tasted like cream. I was surprised how much I liked them. 

My fat burger was made with beef freshly ground by the talented butchers at Bottle and Bone. It was piled high with two thick patties topped with cheddar cheese, homemade pickles, red onion, lettuce, tomato and B&B sauce. I don't have any idea what B&B sauce is, but it was good and I didn't even need to ask for mustard and catsup. The only criticism I had was the winter tomato. It is just really hard to get wonderful tomatoes in Alabama in the middle of winter. Other than that, the burger was absolutely delicious! Our server did not steer me wrong. When I go back to Bottle and Bone, I will have a hard time trying something different, because I enjoyed that burger so much. 

The potato salad was also scrumptious. The potatoes were perfectly cooked and the dish was superbly seasoned. At any other restaurant I would definitely order it again, but Bottle and Bone has those gratin potatoes, you see. They will be hard to not to choose!


The staff at Bottle and Bone was super helpful and consisted of two people the day we were there, Hugh and Daniel. They took our orders, made suggestions, brought our food and answered our questions. 

The decor of this small establishment is a mix of shabby chic, modern minimalist and industrial design. Along with the main dining room, there is a private dining area for parties and private events. The long table in the center of the room seats 12 and is anchored by a repurposed fireplace mantle at the end of the room. 


Signs around the restaurant encourage patrons to eat more bacon. I was also surprised when I looked up to see a the shape of a giant butchered pig hanging from the ceiling. It was made of pieces of rusty sheet metal pieced together to form the shape and covers pretty much the entire ceiling in the main dining room. This restaurant unapologetically flaunts its carnivorous personality. 


Finally, if you just didn't get enough of a meat fix during your meal, this authentic butcher shop is ready to help out. Just peruse the meat case and literally bring home the bacon. From steaks and ground beef to sausage and pork chops, the choice is up to you.

If you like meat and you are not ashamed of it, a visit to Bottle and Bone has to be on your short list. It is a creative and innovative addition to Uptown Birmingham's food scene. 
Three Friends and a Fork give Bottle and Bone 
3 Meaty Yums UP!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Butternut Squash Soup

One of the best things about winter is cooking up yummy soup recipes. I am always looking for different ways to make a perfect pot of warm soup. Hearty or light, it doesn't matter, I love them all. I also like combining random ingredients in my fridge and pantry and to come up with brand-new recipes.

This morning I looked in my fridge and spied a butternut squash and a leek that were just begging to be paired up, so I decided to make soup! Sometimes butternut squash soup can, for me, be too sweet, so I knew I wanted a more savory recipe. Also, I wanted a lighter version with no cream, so I could feel good about the healthy squash without all the guilt that usually comes with butternut squash soup. Here is how I accomplished my goal. The soup was really delicious. See what you think.

Here are the ingredients:

1 butternut squash, halved with seeds and pulp removed
1 leek, white and light green parts chopped. Discard dark green parts.
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 T. olive oil, plus extra for roasting squash
2 T. butter
1 t. orange zest
1 box (24 oz.) chicken broth
Hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle the cut side of squash with olive oil. Place cut side down on parchment lined baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes or until the squash is tender. Remove from oven and cool. Remove skin and chop the squash. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and butter, along with chopped leek.  Cook over medium heat until leek begins to soften. Add chopped shallot and cook until shallot softens. Add garlic and heat until garlic begins to give off its fragrance. Do not let garlic brown.

Place squash and leek mixture in large saucepan. Add chicken broth until you get the soup as thick or thin as you prefer.  Heat thoroughly. Add grated orange zest, hot sauce, salt and pepper. Use your favorite hot sauce. My personal favorite is Busha Browne's Pukka Hot Sauce.

Pour into soup bowls, top with chopped scallion and crumbled bacon and serve.

Good and healthy! I hope you like it!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

10 Signs You Might Be Eating in Alabama

When you are traveling across the country, the terrain doesn't look like a road map so that you know when you have crossed one state's border and ventured into another. Of course, there are those handy "welcome to ___" signs heralding your entrance into new territory, but those are easy to miss as you are barreling down the highway. You are tired, you're hungry, you aim for the nearest interstate exit and you find yourself in a quaint little mom and pop restaurant, but you are asking yourself, "what the heck state is this?" Now I can't help you out with Idaho or Montana, but here are 10 signs you might be eating in Alabama.

1. If the server greets you and calls you honey, darling, sugar or sweetheart, you might be dining in Alabama. But, don't be thinking you are so special. These are terms Alabamians use to greet anyone and everyone, especially when we don't know your real name. Also, if you look a little worn out from your journey, she might say something like, "Well, bless your heart!" This just means she is feeling sorry for your poor, bedraggled self. Conversely, if you are complaining and being obnoxious, she might also say, "Well, bless your heart!", but the tone will be altogether different. In this instance, she is secretly wondering who your mother is and why she never taught you any manners.

Shrimp and grits

2. If you see grits on the menu, you might be eating in an Alabama establishment. Grits can come with any meal in Alabama. We eat grits with lots of butter and black pepper for breakfast, cheesy or garlicky grits with our barbecue, or topped with spicy shrimp for dinner.

ALABAMA FARM RAISED OYSTERS served raw ............ MKT
BOILED PEANUTS medium boiled spice .............. .4.95
FRIED OKRA....................................... 8.95 buttermilk-marinated okra, breaded and fried,
served w. housemade smoked tomato aioli

BOUDIN BALLS..................................... 5.95 3 fried boudin balls served w. housemade mustard and pickled peppers
HOUSE SMOKED TUNA DIP ........................... 10.95 served with multi grain crackers
FRIED CRAB CLAWS.................................. MKT served with spicy remoulade
HUSHPUPPIES...................................... 7.95 ham and scallion hushpuppies served w. jalapeno aioli
CAJUN ROASTED OYSTERS ........................... 12.95 half dozen oysters topped with Cajun roasted garlic butter, cornbread crunch, served w. lemon

3. If someone offers you boiled peanuts, you might be in Alabama. While not all of us get a kick out of boiled peanuts, there are enough folks in Alabama who do love this soggy treat that the inclusion of them on any menu could be a clue as to your whereabouts. I do not have a picture of boiled peanuts, because I am one of the weirdos who does not eat them, but they were on the menu at Fisher's Dockside Restaurant when I dined there last summer.

Cathead biscuit

3. If your breakfast comes with a cathead biscuit, do not be alarmed. No cats are harmed in the making of these biscuits. Cathead simply means you are not going to get a dainty little biscuit that you can swallow in one bite. A cathead biscuit is the size of a cat's head and we are not talking about kittens here. Cathead biscuits are a clue that you might be in Alabama.

4. Your server might ask you what kind of gravy you would like to have with your cathead biscuit. If your choices are red-eye, sawmill, or chocolate, you might be in Alabama. The red-eye version is made with strong coffee and the drippings from the ham that you might have ordered with your breakfast. The sawmill version will be much lighter in color and is made with milk and the drippings from the sausage you are eating. If you order the chocolate gravy, it will be a lot like having hot fudge sauce poured over your biscuit.

Homemade corn bread

5. If you are in Alabama, cornbread will be somewhere on the menu and it will not be sweet, so don't ask. Asking for sweet cornbread will garner the same reaction my friend, Dede, got when she asked her server if the grouper she ordered would come with its head on. Since groupers can grow upwards of 8 feet long and nearly 800 pounds, her server knew right away she must hail from some land-locked state. She does. When all the snickering cooks in the kitchen stuck their heads out to see who had just asked such a question, she knew she had said the wrong thing.  Don't be like Dede. Do not ask for sweet cornbread.
Sweet tea with lots of ice
6. Conversely, in Alabama, your tea will be iced and sweet.  Do not ask for hot tea with cream or butter or whatever you foreigners put in those little tea cups. In Alabama, the tea might come in a canning jar or even a gallon sized bucket. It will have ice and lots of it and it will always be sweet. Your server might bring you unsweet tea if you insist, but your heart will definitely get blessed again.

Grits, greens, pork and onion rings from Saw's Soul Kitchen

7. Alabama restaurant menus will often include greens. The greens might mean something different than what you are used to. If you are thinking fresh arugula or escarole, think again. The greens will probably be collard greens or turnip greens and they will have been cooked for hours and served in their own pot likker (that is the liquid that results from all that cooking).

Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw

8. If you order barbecue, it will likely be pork. This isn't Texas. We like beef, but for the most part, barbecue means pork, unless you specifically ask for barbecued beef, bless your heart. Your Alabama barbecue is likely to come dry, with the sauce on the side and you can ask for inside meat, outside meat or a mixture of the two. You can also ask for extra bark (that means the dark, crunchy crust that forms on the outside of the meat while it is cooking). Also, you might be in Alabama if your barbecue comes with a side of coleslaw or if coleslaw is topping your barbecue sandwich. The coleslaw might be vinegary or mayonnaisy, but it will almost always be there. You know what people will say if you ask for the slaw to be left off. Ummm hmmm.

9. If you order barbecued chicken and it is topped with a white sauce, you are definitely in Alabama. Alabama white sauce almost always comes with barbecued chicken. This tart and creamy sauce is made with a mixture of mayonnaise and vinegar and lots of black pepper. It was invented here and we like it. In fact, we like it so much, we sometimes put it on our barbecued pork.

Smoked catfish dip from Kawliga Restaurant
Grilled catfish with coleslaw and hushpuppies
Fried catfish with hushpuppies

Fried calamari 
Roasted oysters from Fisher's Dockside Restaurant

10. If you order fish in Alabama, unless you happen to be somewhere along our beautiful coast, the fish will likely be catfish. You can get catfish grilled, sautéed, fried, smoked, broiled or blackened. It is delicious. The options for seafood are wide open if you find yourself in one of our beautiful coastal towns. Oysters, shrimp, crab, scallops, crawfish and an endless variety of fish can find their way onto your plate. Lucky you!

Tart from Chef Frank Stitt's, Highlands Bar and Grill

Beef Fat Candle from Chef Chris Hastings' new restaurant, Ovenbird

On the other hand, you will know you are in Alabama if you find yourself eating delicious farm to table creations with Chef Frank Stitt, Chef Chris Hastings, Chef James Boyce, Chef Chris Dupont, Chef Rob McDaniel, Chef David Bancroft, Chef Chris Newsome, Chef Jon Gibson or any of the other wonderful chefs who call Alabama home. That is because Alabama is home to some of the best food and best chefs you will ever encounter. So if you find yourself eating in Alabama, you are very lucky indeed.

Finally, you can be sure you are in Alabama if, when you are finished eating, your hostess waves you out the door saying, "Y'all come back now, y'hear!"
There you are. You will definitely know when you cross into Alabama's delicious food territory. Sorry about the other 49 states. You are on your own with those.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Salted Caramel Pecan Waffles

When Lori from The French Connection sent me a bottle of her Salt Caramel Syrup to try out, I knew I wanted to come up with a recipe to showcase the product rather than just give a product review.  I thought about what I could do and finally decided to give my tried and true waffle recipe a redo. My idea was to turn my ordinary waffles into salted caramel toasted pecan waffles topped with Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup and toasted pecans.

At first glance, Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup looks a lot like real maple syrup. The bottle is similar, the color is similar, but the taste is decidedly different. The ingredients listed on the bottle are caramelized cane sugar, mineral water, Tahitian vanilla, natural maple flavor and Celtic sea salt.

I literally had to go buy a Belgian waffle maker for this recipe. It has been a long time since I have made waffles and the old waffle maker I had was never a very good one, so I decided to take the plunge and buy a better model. I don't make waffles enough to warrant splurging on a high dollar model, so I chose a less expensive, but high quality version made by Oster. For $40, I got a safe ceramic coating free from PTFE and PFOA, rather than a more concerning Teflon coating. It also has a light alert to let you know when the waffle is ready to come out. I was pretty happy with my choice. FYI...absolutely nothing stuck to the waffle maker!

On to the recipe... I made some changes to my original recipe, which is a knock off of the famous Waffle House recipe. First I chopped and toasted a cup of pecans. Then I mixed the milks, vanilla, and Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup: 1/2 c. milk, 1/2 c. cream, 1/2 c. buttermilk and 1 T. Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup.

Next I combined the dry ingredients: 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour, 1t. salt, and 1/2 t. baking soda.

The egg got left out of the group picture!

In the large bowl that comes with my mixer, I combined 1 egg and 1/2 c. plus 1t. sugar, 2 T room temperature butter and 2 T. shortening.  Mix well with mixer until fluffy. Then add the milk mixture and mix well. With the mixer on low speed, spoon the flour mixture into the bowl and mix well.  Add 1/2 c. of the toasted pecans and stir to incorporate.

Following the directions for your waffle maker and cook the waffles.

For the syrup, in a small sauce pan, combine 1 c. of Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup, 2 T. butter and 1/2 c. toasted pecans. Heat thoroughly and serve with waffles.

The result? These were delicious! This recipe is definitely a keeper. My husband did say to tell Lori that one bottle is just not enough to give a thorough review and that we will need a few more bottles to complete our study. Now he is wanting me to use the syrup to make chicken and waffles. Seriously, you should definitely go to Amazon grab a bottle of Lori's Salt Caramel Syrup. It is really good stuff! Let me know if you come up with some original ways to use this sweet and salty syrup.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fired Up About OvenBird

One of the most exciting culinary events that took place in Alabama in 2015, was the opening of Chef Chris Hastings' highly anticipated new restaurant, OvenBird. It was scheduled to open in September, but the opening was delayed a bit. Finally, in early October, the doors opened wide to accept the first hungry and intensely curious patrons. Located on Third Avenue South in downtown Birmingham in the Pepper Place complex, OvenBird brings even more excitement to an area already bustling with creative endeavors, from the famous Pepper Place farmers' market to home and garden design. 


OvenBird pays homage to fire...from Chris' childhood memories of camping with his family and cooking freshly caught trout over the open flame of his family's campfire, to Birmingham's history forged in the fiery furnaces of the iron industry. The locally sourced and seasonally inspired dishes at OvenBird are cooked over open flames, served tapas style, and based on centuries old recipes from Argentina, Spain, Uruguay and Portugal. There are no gas lines at OvenBird. Those open flames literally come straight from Chris Hastings' early campfire cooking experiences. Wood fires, baby!



To say that Luanne and I were excited about a trip to OvenBird would be an understatement. We made plans to meet our friend, Merri and wondered what culinary delights we would encounter. Lu and I arrived first, so, while we waited for Merri to arrive, we ordered a couple of the handcrafted cocktails inspired by the same cultures that influence the rest of OvenBird's menu. Luanne chose a concoction called the Hammer and Anvil, made with homemade Rock and Rye, tarragon spiced syrup, honey, mint and lemon. Rock and Rye, as I understand it is, in and of itself, a mixture of whiskey, rock candy sugar and dried fruit. I opted for the Bee Hive, made with Cathead vodka, almond tea syrup, St. Germain and creole bitters. St. Germain is a liqueur made from elderberry blossoms. 


We also decided we could not wait to sample an appetizer, so we ordered a plate with super thin slices of the dry cured Spanish ham, Jamón Serrano, the buttery Spanish sheep's milk cheese, Manchego, grilled slices of crusty bread and persimmon jam. The combination was divine. 

While we munched on our appetizer, we were joined at our table by a tall, slender gentleman with piercing blue eyes. I was immediately struck dumb, but Luanne, being clueless, was having no such difficulty. You see, the good looking guy speaking to us was none other than Chris Hastings himself. As I choked on my words, he graciously welcomed us to "his house" and told us if we needed "anything" to let him know. I finally managed to tell him what a fan I was and had been ever since he had out-cheffed Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, Battle Sausage, a few years ago. He said that was a pretty big thrill, which was probably something of a understatement. The whole time, Luanne is looking at me in complete bewilderment. As soon as Chef Hastings left our table, I filled her in. She immediately wanted to get him to come back so she could take a picture, but I was too star struck. As soon as Merri arrived, we told her what she had missed and got down to studying the menu for real.

As we weighed our options, Merri ordered a Bee Hive and Luanne couldn't resist trying another of the creative cocktails. This time she got a Pig Iron made from creamy El Dorado rum, cream sherry, pineapple, lime and aromatic bitters. 

With help from our knowledgeable server, we finally narrowed our choices down to four tapas to share. We knew we wanted OvenBird's signature dish, the Beef Fat Candle, which was literally a candle made from beef fat, sitting in a puddle of Spanish sofrito, herbs and jus. Our server told us to think of the drippings in the pan after you have just cooked a big roast. The candle arrived, burning brightly. We waited for the flame to die out and then started dipping the accompanying bread slices into the tasty puddle. It was so good! 

Luanne bravely wanted to try the braised goat, Merri safely settled for spit roasted chicken and, totally confused,  I took our server's suggestion and ordered the beef shoulder complex. 

The goat was braised in a rich broth and sitting on a bed of creamy grits. It was topped with a poached egg and sprinkled with watercress. I was surprised at how much I liked it. Of course, you could probably bring me a flip flop served on a bed of creamy grits and I would like it.

The spit roasted chicken was smoky and fall off the bone tender. It was piled on top of endive, braised black beans and topped with a Portuguese piri piri sauce. The citrusy piri piri was made with lemon, fresh herbs and chiles.  We all loved the chicken.

The beef shoulder complex was ash baked with root vegetables. It was topped with a vibrant chimichurri sauce. That is the bright herby green stuff on top of the beef. Again, the meat was falling apart tender and absolutely delicious. Luanne and I almost fought over the carrot. Both Merri and Luanne said they loved the beef the most. I couldn't choose because I liked them all.

Finally, we couldn't miss an opportunity to try OvenBird's dessert situation. We chose the apple crostada in honor of Sherri. If she had been with us, she would definitely have wanted to try a fruity dessert. It was yummy. The crust was delicate and flakey, the apples were spiced with cinnamon, burnt honey and bee pollen and it was topped with a cold, creamy dollop of frozen yogurt. Oh, yes, Sherri would have definitely approved of this one.

None of us can resist a beignet, so we also got an order of espresso flavored beignets, rolled in spiced sugar and served with salted caramel ice cream. They were so good!

Our trip to OvenBird was a fun and delicious adventure. Getting to spend time with good friends, eating delicious and adventurous food and getting to meet Chef Chris Hastings...what more could we want!   


 Three Friends and a Fork is so happy to give 3 fiery Yums UP to Chef Chris Hastings and OvenBird and we cannot wait to visit "his house" again!