Tried a new place in the 'Ham a few weeks ago when my sweet, sweet cousin, Erin and her ever-so-charming boyfriend were visiting.  Erin has recently taken a liking to her knives and wooden spoons, learning everything there is to know about cooking - She's totally soaking it up.  Not just trying new recipes, but eagerly jumping into the science of it; which  thrills me because it's fun to cook with her, learn from her and teach her new things (and it really made Christmas shopping easy and fun this year!).  She's definitely not afraid to try some of the more difficult stuff, either.  So when she said she wanted to visit, I felt like we needed to take in something new and innovative.  And Ollie Irene fit the bill. 

Ollie Irene is a fairly new place in Mountain Brook Village here in Birmingham.  They've already been nominated for a JBA for Best New Restaurant.  Since I am fond of the middle-of-the-road eating establishments - Not the white-table-cloth-special-occasion place, and not your average weeknight "joint" - I thought I would share my thoughts about Ollie Irene here.  I'm helplessly hopeful that Birmingham has many more of these types of restaurant opening soon!

Atmosphere:  Cozy.  I like to sit at the bar / chef's counter when I dine out.  You get a better feel of the place because there's so much variety there - people eating, people drinking ... people eating AND drinking.  You meet new friends quickly.  You get to see the kitchen first hand.  Ollie Irene's bar is small and part of the restaurant, yet it's kinda tucked in the back corner, so it doesn't feel like you're sitting on a stage in the middle of the place. I could comfortably sit at the bar for cocktails or eat there.  The rest of the restaurant is charming.  Very relaxed. We had a nice conversation with Anna Lakovitch, one of the owners of Ollie Irene (and wife of Chef Chris Newsome), and sat next to Owner-Chef Chris Newsome's mom while we dined.  A very welcoming, friendly place! 
Dress:  Just like most other Birmingham restaurant - come dressed.  You're gonna see your friends!

Menu: Good.  No, REALLY Good.  Well laid out, easy to navigate. Not too much not too little.  Just right.

Drink List:  Let me just say ... Zak Kittle is awesome.  Not just because he knows what Amaro IS (kudos, Zak - you might be one of, like, 11 people in the Ham that know!), but because he's a creator of concoctions.  First restaurant I've seen in B with true Mixologist (although Zak does not agree with that term - he likes "Bar-Tender").  This is nothing new to the folks at Holeman & Finch over in the ATL, but Birmingham has been needing to jump on this train.  And I'm glad to see it's happening.  Our guests tried 5 of the handcrafted cocktails on the list - ALL with rave reviews.  We girls had the Valentine - TASTY - and the rose was an exquisite touch, for sure.  Definitely my favorite place for a "drink at the bar".  When you go, don't miss one of Zak's concoctions.  He has a tremendous repertoire of cocktails, prepared with

Wine List:  I'm a wine snob - Make that a wine snob who could stand to be enlightened sometimes:  The list didn't impress me at first; it wasn't until I got home and started looking at the wines online that I realized the choice of about 20 or so glasses is totally grassroots and of boutique quality.

Dinner:  I don't even know where to begin.  Here's what we had (deep breath):

For starters ...

In House Pork Sausage - Very good
Mussels - Can't go wrong here.  Great white wine/shallot/butter sauce
Boudin Balls - Don't freak out on this one.  They are AWESOME
Ham Plate - Surryano and cheese.  LOVED the Surryano ham (learned something new) but the cheese was dry and not presented well.
Oysters - Not on the menu.  If they have them when you go - definitely a must.

For dinner ...

Ricotta Gnocchi - Pumpkin seeds, sage, brown butter and sweet potatoes - very light, very very tasty.  Just the perfect portion (because, as you can see, we tried many dishes)

Ollie Burger - Well liked.  Don't ask them to make changes though - this isn't BK.  I'm in the middle of the road on that one - I respect it, if the burger is a speciality.  So, if  you don't like the way the burger's prepared per the menu, don't ask for it - it's an insult to the chef.  Just get something else.  There are plenty of options.

Pub Breakfast - THE BEST of ALL - In short, egg coddled in the herbed cream with ham.  The egg was so delicate and delish - I wanted more than one bit, but this was my guest's dinner.  Just thinking about it ... I believe I will have this for dinner tonight.

Catfish - pan friend to a nice golden brown; tasty sauce; "two thumbs up with a snap"

Fall Greens - YUM.  Great flavor.  Great spice

Pub Fries - Fried chunks of potato wonderfulness,  with sea salt and a tasty sauce.  A MUST HAVE

For dessert:
I always have the cheese plate.  This one was ordinary.  Nothing too difficult here - Since this is  a menu item and they call it a "Artisanal Cheese Plate", I felt they could take some chances on this one.   For starters, we have some fabulous cheese being made right here, in Alabama.  I'd recommend two words to the folks at Ollie Irene:  Cheese Primer (by Steven Jenkins).  The accompaniments were really good though.  They did a fine job with that - Kudos on creativity.

Yes.  It's in a 60's strip mall - but that's just how we roll here in the 'Ham.  Think about the fabulous establishment next door - a CLASSIC - Smith's Variety.  The folks at Ollie Irene are in good company, and I hope they're here to stay.

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