Tag Archives: Cafe Dupont

In the mix x 2

Tempted?

We were able to sample the soft opening selections at Mix this week (a new bakery-cafe-bar that opened on the corner 0f 19th Street and 4th Avenue North). Besides a good variety of pastries, muffins, and donuts, the fresh bread stood out in a city where artisanal fresh bread is often hard to find. A baker was bringing out a fresh batch once we’d finished lunch; loaf sales have been brisk.

Getting fresh

The interior has been lightened and feels much less formal than the old restaurant. Wonderful art by local artist Amy Pleasant adorns the walls (with more to come). Chef/Owner Chris Dupont spoke with us about his plans, which include an evening bar menu, movie and poetry nights, and lots more bread. It’s an ambitious effort to overcome a tricky location, and to introduce a quirky, hip vibe into a somewhat unquirky, unhip building.  Perhaps if someone can do it, it’s Chris, who helped pioneer a new attitude about downtown dining at his Cafe Dupont a few blocks away.

Two facts make us optimistic: a large awning with the Mix logo has been approved to cover the sidewalk patio area, and a 1960’s New Wave film was projected on the wall when we dined. You can’t help but feel good about large outdoor seating areas and New Wave films. By the way, the food was delicious.

Grilled not boiled

To round out our foodie lunch week, we stumbled into the Peace Dog stand today at the corner of 6th Avenue and 20th street North downtown. This is not your normal Birmingham hotdog stand–I felt transported to Austin. Hebrew National and veggie dogs, grilled to order, local small-batch mustards and relishes, Urban Standard provisions—all in a neat, compact, pedestrian-friendly package on the corner. You can find the stand there most Mondays, but for other days of the week follow their tweets to find out when they’ll be where (they also go to the Summit Shopping Center some days): @peacedogbham

We need more street vendors and taco trucks!

In the mix

Another chance

Mix, a new bakery/restaurant at the corner of 4th Avenue North and 19th Street, had a “soft opening” this week. It’s a joint venture of Chris Dupont, owner of Cafe Dupont a few blocks away, and baker Corey Hinkel (the Birmingham News has an article with more photos here).  There appears to be no website yet, but the posted menu advertises fresh breads and baked goods, gourmet sandwiches, and salads.

This venture replaces the long-shuttered “Restaurant G”, which in 2002 was the first “white tablecloth” restaurant to open downtown in many years. To me, it suffered from a glossy, corporate ambiance which didn’t foster warmth or customer loyalty.  It appears Mix has made some changes to the interior; I hope they increase the amount of signage on the exterior as well. Good luck to the new venture and we hope it becomes a stable anchor to this somewhat isolated intersection (unfortunately the other corner properties are a parking deck, a parking lot, and a drive-through bank and parking lot!).

Demise of the corner drugstore

Not anymore at a corner near you

Chalk it up to the ubiquity of national chains such as Walgreen’s and CVS; to the low prices and convenience of in-store pharmacies at Walmart or Publix; to the poor economy; or to causes less obvious and more mysterious. Whatever the cause, or combination of causes, MedTown Pharmacy closed its doors this week. As the sole surviving full-service drugstore on the northside of downtown (within the 200 block of 20th Street North), this comes as a blow to not only the daytime business population in the CBD, but to the many downtown residents (including this author) who chose MedTown as their drugstore of choice. MedTown joins the ranks of other downtown drugstores (such as Dewberry’s, at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and Richard Arrington Blvd., pictured above in 1939) which have closed over the last couple decades. As recently as 1998, there were still 4 independent drugstores operating within a few blocks of MedTown (itself formerly a Big B Drugstore). Now there are none.

Another blow for 20th Street

The closing of MedTown is sadly in sync with the generally haggard feeling of Birmingham’s “Main Street”. Despite some bright spots–Trattoria Centrale, Brick & Tin, Cafe Dupont, the private residence designed by Appleseed Workshop–recent years have seen the shuttering of the old First Alabama Bank building (and the failure of the proposed Marriott Renaissance Hotel there); the departure of SouthTrust/Wachovia from their 2nd Avenue Branch, leaving an entire half-block of empty buildings; thwarted redevelopments of both the Empire and Brown-Marx buildings; and of course the very, very tired and dated “Birmingham Green” of 1970’s era plantings, concrete benches, and low concrete walls that’s in desperate need of renovation.

Sign of the times?

It seems emblematic of Birmingham, in a way, that our “Main Street”, symbolic center of town, has been allowed to become so frayed. Other areas of downtown are brimming with promise and interest–but the energy dissipates where it instead should be united in full force on 20th. An encouraging sign: I heard members of the Mayor’s staff and the Horticulture department walked 20th Street last week discussing how to overhaul the landscaping to bring it in line with more modern, sophisticated efforts such as Railroad Park and the proposed streetscapes around the Pizitz project. And just seeing the crowds spill out of Trattoria for lunch, dinner, or brunch–no matter how desolate the immediate surroundings–also gives hope. Hope that other entrepreneurs will take initiative to renovate buildings and bring new businesses; hope that the Mayor will continue to search for ways to improve the City; hope that other nearby developments will exert pressure on 20th Street to revive.

Of course, some of us also hope that a drugstore will open up in the neighborhood again, and soon.

Hungry for more

Today’s light-hearted Friday post is about restaurants. Eating out has been an essential part of the urban fabric in bigger cities (starting in the late 19th century); in the last few decades, it’s become pretty essential all over the place. Birmingham has more than its share of excellent restaurants at the high end (think Highlands, Cafe Dupont, or Hot and Hot Fish Club), or at the economical end (think Rojo, Makario’s, Zoe’s). Unless you’re at a typically mediocre chain restaurant, there are fewer options at the middle end (Trattoria Centrale, please start opening other nights besides Friday!–thanks to bradford for the pic).

The chef at Trattoria Centrale turns out some amazing pies downtown

This is why we’re excited about two things: one, we hear that Urban Standard is planning to start regular dinner service offering innovative, casual dining under the able stewardship of Chef Zachary Meloy. This place has become a community hub, not just for the neighborhood, but for many others who feel right at home when they visit. My hope is this knitting together of community will now continue into the evening hours on a regular basis.

Second thing: as many now know, a new restaurant called Brick and Tin is set to open in a few months on 20th street in the former “Dress for Success” storefront. (photo courtesy pallid7) Chef Mauricio Papapietro (who, like one of the chefs at Trattoria Centrale across the street, trained under local superstar Chef Frank Stitt), plans a gourmet sandwich place that will focus on lunches initially. Dinner will hopefully follow soon.

For most people, whether consciously or not, the architecture and ambience of a restaurant at any price level is an important part of the experience. You expect a lot of thought to go into restaurant interiors at the upper end, but it’s nice to go to more moderate restaurants and find exciting design as well. This tends to happen more often in larger cities where the importance of hiring a good designer is seen as necessary for business, rather than an expendable luxury (or even a nuisance) as is too often the case in a smaller place like Birmingham.

Flip Burger is an example of a moderate restaurant here with a very high quotient of design. From the logo, to the menus, to the booths, to the food itself, everything is rigorously thought out and tied to a strong central concept.

High Design at Flip Burger

In the big picture, there’s nothing truly original about Flip Burger’s concept–hip, design-heavy fancy-burger spots have proliferated across New York City for a couple years now. But this is a rare instance in Birmingham to see such a thorough design concept carried through from start to finish in a restaurant. And refreshingly, there’s nothing conservative about this design either–no stained wood chairs, “retro” pendant lights, or any of the other banal elements that are too often strewn over our dining landscapes in town. (photo courtesy cathydanh)

Back to Brick and Tin–while I’m not privy to the design plans (local firm Hendon and Huckstein has been engaged), the name reminds me of English or neo-English gastropubs. Helping revitalize the food environment in a country until recently not known for innovative cuisine, the gastropub refers to an older pub (which used to just serve beer, spirits, and snacks) which has been converted to serve full meals, often with a gourmet bent, moderately priced, and riffing on traditional English cuisine. In this country, it has a broader definition (as there are no real historic pubs to convert): a moderately priced restaurant with design cues taken from the UK’s typical pub, and where beer  can take precedence over wine as the beverage of choice with dinner. An example is the new Againn gastropub in DC.  Sitting at the long bar (or in booths) enjoying good food and beer at moderate prices within a charming, well-designed environment is the sort of thing we need more of here.

Againn gastropub in DC

One last word (for now) on restaurant design: one of my favorite designers, Karim Rashid, was asked several years ago (actually 2001; I can’t believe it’s that long) to design the interior of Morimoto in downtown Philadelphia–a city which, like the UK, was not terribly known for its cuisine (Philly Cheese Steaks excepted). This is an incredible example of high-concept restaurant design, and an early innovator of integrated LED lighting (the booths and walls slowly change colors as you eat). It also inspired many other restaurants to open downtown, and now the restaurant scene in Philadelphia is transformed. Here’s to more options, better design, and new cuisines coming to town. And yes, I would love Karim Rashid to collaborate on a restaurant design with me someday. Right here in downtown Birmingham. (Morimoto pic courtesy bombtrack)

Morimoto revitalizing downtown Philly