food

Where is the Best Coffee Shop in Birmingham?

An investigative report on which coffee shops are best to study or just chill in

I have taken coffee shops for granted up until this point in my life. As a college student, coffee shops are the best places to study and hangout with your friends. Luckily for me I go to school in an area where there are a lot of coffee shops. Here is a list of the top coffee shops in Birmingham. They are rated based on coffee and food quality, location, and ambiance.

6. Revelator Coffee
Located: 1826 3rd Avenue North, Unit 101 Birmingham, AL 35203

Photo via revelatorcoffee.com

Photo via revelatorcoffee.com

I feel like too much of an adult in here. This coffee shop is the mecca for people who think that they are too cool for Octane; they are probably looking to start a farm to table delivery service, so this is where they decide to meet. Plus, the last time I went they did not serve a chai tea latte, and it hurt my feelings.

5. Seeds Coffee Co.
Located: 174 Oxmoor Rd, Birmingham, AL 35209

Alright so, the first time I ever heard of Seeds Coffee Co. was at Pepper Place Market this past October. They had a small stand, and I ordered a chai tea latte - it was alright. But I did buy a sticker to put on my laptop because aesthetic. This past January, my best friends and I went to their actual shop to get some work done for school. I ordered a caramel latte with almond milk, but I do not know if I actually enjoyed it. I was far too distracted by the latte art.

The shop itself is pretty big; there are various mismatched tables scattered throughout. There is a large range of patrons there, from college kids to real life adults to parents with their young children. Unfortunately, when I was last at Seeds, there were far too many unruly children that distracted me from my work. Even though I personally am not a huge fan of Seeds, Clare Mills, a fellow Birmingham-Southern College student loves it. “Seeds is even more simplistic in their approach and target market; customers at Seeds expect well made coffee, fast internet, and a quiet, quirky place to work,” said Mills. Maybe I should give it another chance, but I would much rather spend my studying time elsewhere.

4. Octane Coffee
Located: Homewood: 2821 Central Av Ste 105 Homewood, AL 35209
               Uptown: 2221 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd N 320Birmingham, AL 35203

Octane is a pretty cool place. Their coffee is out of this world, but their food and ambiance is just alright. It is not meant for studying purposes, but for hanging out with friends. “The Uptown location is my favorite. The atmosphere is great, the coffee is delicious, the people that work there are so kind. I tend to judge coffee shops by how long I can sit in one without feeling like I should leave, and I feel like I can waste an entire day sitting in the Uptown Octane. They also have the habit of playing really great music at a volume that isn't too soft or too loud” said Liz Dial, a college student. Apparently, this is a popular opinion. “For studying, no. Hanging out, it's fine. The beverage selection isn't awesome, the chairs aren't comfy, and it's usually loud but I like to meet people there occasionally”, said Mary Nix Robertson a college junior.

What really draws me in to Octane is that they sell We Have Donuts, and that is great.

Photo via Alyson Maye

Photo via Alyson Maye

 3. Urban Standard
Located: 2320 2nd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203

Urban Standard has grits with Conecuh sausage and that is really all that matters. But besides having amazing grits, I find that it is a great place for college kids to study. They have an endless menu, plus their chai tea latte is amazing. But not all agree with me. “Urban Standard has yet to find its identity; Urban Standard attempts to be a coffee shop, quiet study hole, family restaurant, and hipster hangout scene all at the same time. Whenever I go to Urban Standard, although their grilled cheese is fantastic, I am never happy with my experience and blame [it on] their undecided atmosphere," said Clare Mills.

2. Red Cat
Located: Railroad Park: 1701 1st Ave S Birmingham, AL 35233
               Pepper Place: 2901 2nd Ave S. Birmingham, AL 35233

Red Cat is one of the quirkiest places that I have ever been to. They have an extensive menu of quirky drinks and food choices. Red Cat has never disappointed me. My favorite thing to get is the Gouda Grits with bacon and a Chai Tea Latte. But it is not really a place to go study, it's more of a “lets hangout with friends and talk about life” kind of place.

1. Church Street Coffee & Books
Located: 81 Church St, Mountain Brook, AL 35213

Photo via Alyson Maye

Photo via Alyson Maye

I am incredibly passionate about Church Street. They have the best cookies in the entire world, the Break-Up Cookie. They taste like if God baked cookies in heaven and then sent them to this earth. They use Octane coffee for their drinks, so it is very cool that they are supporting fellow local businesses. Plus, it is an amazing place to study or hangout with friends, “Church Street is a really great place for good coffee, excellent pastries, and has the option of either sitting upstairs to do work or sit downstairs to do work or socialize," said Mills. 

Feature photo via StockSnap.io

Full of Falafel

Exploring a Cultural Café

By 10:15 a.m. on Monday, I had learned a few things.  That morning my father and I walked into the Mediterranean restaurant only a few minutes after its 10 a.m. opening.  We were the only customers; the only employee we saw stood behind a glass counter, his hands a flurry of action — shaping scoops of a green mash into fritters about the size and shape of meatballs.  I watched him work for a few minutes before I realized I was seeing the restaurant’s namesake fare.

Before my first visit to the Falafel Café, on 19th Street South in Downtown Birmingham, I had no idea what a falafel was; I assumed it was some kind of French pastry.  That tells you how much I know about international cuisine.  I later found out that falafel is actually a deep-fried ball of mashed chickpeas— similar in texture to a hushpuppy.  Chickpeas are also found in hummus, however the ground chickpeas in falafel are green because they are picked from the vine early.  The falafel comes out tasting earthy, fresh and savory with a crisp layer on the outside.

My father and I introduced ourselves, and the man identified himself as Moses Hassan, the owner of the Falafel Café: a small restaurant with that serves delicious Mediterranean food.  The menu was loaded with different types of meats, dips, sides— and of course, falafel.  We watched him expertly strip the chicken and lamb meat away from a broiler and arrange it on our plates.  Every menu item was looking incredibly fresh and colorfully laid out behind the glass in front of us.  The first item we had to choose served as a base for the meat; it was the option of rice with lentils or rice without lentils.  I chose lentils because I did not even know what lentils were, and they looked delicious (plus one of my favorite songs is called “Lentil” by Sia).  As Moses loaded our plates, I asked if I could interview him briefly.  Moses was hesitant, but he complied.  I made it clear that I was not there to necessarily critique the food— just to give the story behind the food and the restaurant.  I asked him about the history of the restaurant and he said, “I was running the same exact restaurant in Bethlehem before I moved to America.”  He brought the authenticity of his Mediterranean food all the way to Birmingham.  Lucky us!  The restaurant quickly became a dining hotspot for workers at the nearby hospital and students at the local university.  He’s been in Birmingham for 20 years and loves owning a restaurant where he can serve quality food.

“What is the hardest part about owning a restaurant?” I asked.

Moses said, “Finding good help!  It’s hard to hire people and keep them here.”

All this was said before a young employee entered the restaurant to help Moses.  However, it looked like Moses was handling the job with such expertise that he did not need a second pair of hands behind the counter.  The rainbow of toppings behind the counter left us no choice but to inquire into the details of each.  The options included chopped salad, Jerusalem salad, red cabbage salad, sumac onions, tahini sauce, garlic sauce, shatta and pickles.  Each of the salad sides were similar but varied in spiciness.  I requested the most popular topping, and Moses graced my plate with the red cabbage salad.  We also could not pass up a plate of falafel and authentic hummus with pita bread.  When my father and I received our plates, we marveled at how colorful it looked and how fresh it smelled.  We had so many different foods in front of us; it was hard to know where to start.  Since the restaurant is called the Falafel Café, we insisted on beginning with our first ever taste of golden brown Mediterranean hushpuppies.  Our plate of falafel was served with a delicious dipping sauce called tahini which the owner described as sesame seed paste.  The outside of the falafel was perfectly crisp, and inside of the falafel was the ground and seasoned green chickpeas.  The dipping sauce was cool and complemented the warm falafel perfectly.  Both the chicken and lamb meat were presented beautifully on the rice and lentils; the meat was perfectly cooked.  Our plate of pita bread was decidedly the sweetest tasting pita bread we have ever tasted.  The bread came with hummus that was decadently placed on the plate and decorated with paprika and a garnish.

Moses continually checked to see if we were enjoying the food, and, of course, we were.  There is so much culture around us eating to be consumed and appreciated—  who knew this tiny foreign restaurant could cater so well to our cravings?

Could We See a New Caf Next Year?

Where the administration is with its foodservice contract selection process.

Many students have heard that the school’s administration is in the process of reviewing our contract with Aramark and exploring new options for our campus. This is exciting news for everyone, seeing as it is no secret that our campus foodservices are almost universally disliked. Any student here has heard countless complaints about the Caf’s lack of quality and options or gripes about having to eat Subway all the time.

Dr. David Eberhardt, Vice President for Student Development, explains that the process begins with a team of administrators who discuss criteria for what food services should be on campus. A proposal is developed and sent to different companies, who craft their own proposals, which they then send back to the school. The administrative taskforce will select a few standout options to pursue further. When they reach a decision, they formulate a recommendation that will be adopted by the college’s senior leadership. After that, the minutia and fine print of the contract is negotiated. When all is said and done, the new contract is implemented on campus.

Our contract taskforce has started meeting to discuss criteria for what food services at BSC should be. Dr. Eberhardt hopes that they will be on pace to arrive at a decision this spring, which could allow for implementation over the summer. While overall goals are clear, many details are still up for discussion.

“Maybe we’ll decide the Caf won’t be open the whole time," Dr. Eberhardt says. "That saves dollars that could be invested in other ways.” These possibilities are exciting, but Dr. Eberhardt was sure to stress that no decisions have been made and that criteria should stay liberal.

“The more general we put those criteria, the more freedom it gives the companies to have some creativity and variety in what they come back with in their proposals,” Dr. Eberhardt says. Such flexibility could mean dining options we have never seen before, which may include different food service locations, such as the library or academic quad.

Details are sparse, but the possibilities are mouth watering. Within the next couple of years, we could see a whole new approach to dining on our campus.

Feature pic via Creative Commons.