Category Archives: Restaurants

Joseph and The Pita Hut

The Pita Hut, located in Chelsea Corners is the home of some fabulous Mediterranean food in Shelby County!

I got a text from my friend Lisa Pruitt last month saying we needed to try out a restaurant in Chelsea called The Pita Hut.  Well, I’m always up for a night out with Lisa and her husband Johnny so of course I said yes!  But I also wondered why she wanted to drive all the way to Chelsea from Hoover on a Friday night for dinner.  I was curious, to say the least!

Turns out, Lisa has a friend who is close friends with The Pita Hut owner, Joseph Matta , and she wanted us to go try the food!  Joseph has been in the restaurant business for some time now and has been at his Chelsea location since early 2014.  I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest.  I mean, based on the restaurant name, I really thought we would be having pita sandwiches and soft drinks.  Boy was I ever wrong!

The Pita Hut is located in the Chelsea Corners strip mall  right off of Highway 280.  Coming from Hoover, it was a bit of a trip and when we arrived we weren’t sure where the restaurant was situated.  We quickly found it nestled in the corner of the strip mall.  When we walked in, there were several couples having dinner and it felt quite intimate.  There is a beautiful mural on the back wall of the restaurant so when the hostess asked us where we wanted to sit, I pointed to the tables right in front of the mural.  It was picture perfect!

Beautiful mural in The Pita Hut! This is where we sat that Friday night.

Soon we were ordering wine and carefully studying the menu.  We quickly discovered the options were endless!  While they do a sandwich type business during the day, the evening is reserved for a more white tablecloth offering.  We decided to order the sample appetizer platter while we were mulling over our dinner options.  The sampler included baked pita chips, fresh pita, hummus, baba gannouj, taziki, salsa, falafel, spinach fatayer, beef fatayer and olives and cheeses.  That was a feast in itself!!!  Plus, they brought out fresh homemade hummus and pita chips right before the platter arrived!  We decided we needed to pace ourselves!!!

The sampler platter was a meal in itself!

Next thing we knew, Joseph the owner was at our table to welcome us and see how things were going.  Lisa told him of their mutual friend and we asked him about his business.  As he spoke it was clear that Joseph considers himself a chef and an artist.  He relishes in creating foods that leave his customers coming back for more, not only because the food is delicious but also because of the beautiful presentation.  He mentioned his catering business and from the sound of it, the catering side of his business is quite strong!  So after our appetizer sampler and a little tabouli salad, Joseph asked us what we wanted our entrees to be.  I was really interested in the shrimp adobado plate and curious as to why a Mediterranean restaurant would have something with Mexican adobo sauce on the menu.  As it turns our, Joseph once lived in Texas and worked/managed a Mexican restaurant!

After much discussion and back and forth about what to order, Joseph said to us – “let me go back to the kitchen and prepare some especially food for you.”  He had listened to us talk about our preferences and I could almost see his artist/chef mind working.  We all excitedly agreed!  Well…what Joseph ended up bringing to our table was a feast!  We got the shrimp adobado along with the Special Chicken Rolls, which Eddie was wanting to try.  The shrimp was stuffed with mild peppers and wrapped in bacon and grilled, while the chicken rolls were stuffed with spinach and cheese with wine reduction sauce.  He also brought out a platter of Kibbi, Kefta and grape leaves.  This is the more traditional food and it was all fabulous!  The kefta is made with fresh ground sirloin and has onions, parsley and very unique spices.  The kibbi is also made from ground meat – generally beef or lamb and topped with taziki sauce.  You can never go wrong with taziki sauce!  Last but not least…grape leaves.  This mixture of rice, dill, mint and meat rolled in a grape leaf reminds me of a tiny tamale only in this case you “can” eat the grape leaf. (NOTE:  You definitely don’t want to eat a Mexican tamale corn husk!)

After we had a chance to fill our plates and sample everything, Joseph came out to check on us and we were collectively oohing and aahing.  The flavors were all so incredible and complementary.  I asked Joseph about one of the flavors in particular.  I was getting a hint of cinnamon in the kefta and he said “That’s right!  We cook with 7 different seasonings and that is one.”  It was an unexpected one!  I mean, I wouldn’t think of a cinnamon flavor in a meat dish but it definitely worked!

We stuffed ourselves so much that the idea of dessert should have been out of the question.  But we still wanted to sample so we got the baklava to go.  Joseph surprised us with containers of his homemade hummus and chips too.  Lisa and I also couldn’t leave without a photo of Joseph in front of his beautiful restaurant mural.  He was more than happy to oblige as we thanked him for a wonderful dining experience!

My friend, Lisa Pruitt and I with The Pita Hut owner, Joseph Matta in front of the lovely restaurant mural. We were stuffed at this point!

There are a few takeaways from this night that I still think about.  First, you know the old saying about not judging a book by its cover?  Well, there’s definitely a whole lot more to The Pita Hut than I expected!  The dining experience was top-notch and I want to really emphasize how wonderful it was!  I know it’s off the beaten path for me personally since I live in Hoover but I loved the fact that a friend who lives in the Chelsea area commented on a photo I posted and how much she loves the place!  Secondly, it’s great to see unique restaurants all over the Birmingham region popping up these days.  Granted, The Pita Hut has been here for several years but that just goes to show you can always discover something new in places you don’t necessarily frequent!  Which leads me to my third takeaway…spreading the good news by word of mouth, or in my case…through a blog post!  The Shelby County area has definitely seen a surge in population over the past ten years or so and so I suspect more and more places will be popping up.  But Joseph’s Pita Hut is well established and I highly recommend you give them a try!  As for me…I’m ready for a return visit and I already have a few new items I want to try…like the Mediterranean pita quesadillas!

 

 

A Little Miami Fusion in the Heart of Birmingham!

Luis Delgado, owner and operator of Miami Fusion Café in Downtown Birmingham, stands by the door that he refurbished for his new restaurant.

I lived in Puerto Rico from the ages 7-12, and while the island itself held many great memories growing up, the food always bring back so many vivid ones.  I remember going to our church fair and looking forward to getting bacalaitos – cod-fish fritters.  I recently had one in Birmingham and it took me directly back to the church fair when I was 9 years old.  Amazing how food can do that to you.

When I met Luis Delgado, he had his business – Miami Café – operating out of gas station in Alabaster.  I remember going to visit him with my friend, Luis Fernandez to talk to him about participating in Fiesta – Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural event, as a food vendor.  We enjoyed an amazing lunch that day and I was completely sold on his food from that moment on.

The Miami Fusion Café sign went up in March. A nice addition to the city of Birmingham backdrop!

Fast forward to this past week…Luis has been hard at work since last October, converting the old Cameo Café in downtown Birmingham into his new Miami Fusion Café location!  I’ve been following his short Facebook videos on the progress and challenges of opening a restaurant.  He’s always so honest, and puts it all out there for you to see.  I love that about him.  Many people have been anxiously awaiting the grand opening and that will finally happen on Monday, May 22nd to the delight of many – me included!  I work within walking distance of Luis’ new location and I cannot wait to try everything on his menu!

I was fortunate to be able to attend the soft opening this past Friday.  When I arrived a little after 11 a.m., there were just a few people sitting in the restaurant enjoying their food.  I was taking photos as I entered the Café so that naturally drew a little attention.  I went to the counter and Roxie was ready to take my order and make recommendations.  I thought about going for the Roasted Port  as she suggested, but I remembered seeing a photo of a sushi roll on Facebook and I thought…now THAT’S something you don’t typically see in a Caribbean style restaurant!  So I ordered the Cuban CariMaki Roll and Roxie seemed pleased with my choice!

The yellow and red colors really pop with the art deco design reminiscent of Miami night life!

While I waited for my food, I walked around the restaurant taking photos and spent some time speaking with Luis’ mother – Maria Teresa.  She took me around and showed me some of the artwork displayed in the restaurant and told me there is more to come.  We talked about the art deco style design of the restaurant and also the colors selected.  I love the gold tones of the walls and the red accents in the booth seats.  It gives the store front a tropical vibe.  Later, when Luis was out from the kitchen, he told me and a few other patrons about how he built the bars and added the art deco embellishments by hand.  He also created the new door for the store, after which he commented…”that’s why this took so long!  I did all of this by hand!”  I told him the love and care he put into this place is so evident!  Luis also talked about how he wants to make the bar I was sitting at an active one where maybe one month he is making Cuban sandwiches so people can see how it’s done and then another month serving up ice cream with tropical flavors like tamarindo and mango.  He completely had me at tamarindo…another great memory of Puerto Rico for me!

Cuban CariMaki Roll – first time I’ve had the pleasure of trying this and it was incredible! The sweet plantain on the top was an unexpected surprise flavor!

My food arrived and all I can say is – OMG!!!!  The Cuban CariMaki roll is made with Cuban palomilla steak, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and grilled onions.   It is topped with sweet plantains which is that surprise flavor you are not expecting when you pop one of these into your mouth!  As I was eating, people were coming into the store and trying to decide what to order and many saw my plate and walked over to have a look.  I know the roasted pork plate was popular on Friday but I do believe my oohing and aahing sold quite a few CariMaki rolls too!

In addition to the main courses, like Masitas, Mofongo and Cuban sandwiches, there are a number of sides you have to try as well.  Several people ordered the tostones, which are green plantains that have been flattened and double fried until they are golden brown with a side of mojo sauce.  Fried Yuca sticks were another favorite – also described as a Caribbean style French fry.  And don’t forget the empanadas – fried pies with your choice of chicken or beef!  I could make a meal out of empanadas alone!

Finally…if you have a bit of a sweet tooth there are some great options to try.  First, the Jesus Cake – also known as Tres Leches (Three Milks) cake and Guava pastry.  You can’t go wrong with either…which is why I got both!  I watched someone say they were just going to take a few bites of the Jesus cake and before you knew it that cake was gone!  If you like creamy desserts, this is the one for you!  The guava pastry is one of those foods that takes me back to Puerto Rico.  Very flaky crust with just a hint of sweetness.  Great with Cuban coffee!

I always love the tidbits of information you get at events like this too.  Luis talked about searching for a man named Fernando who makes the Cuban bread for him.  Fernando was doing other work but when he came to the restaurant it was clear he missed making bread and came on board.  Bread is a huge factor in making Cuban sandwiches!  My next meal at Miami Fusion Café will be a Cuban sandwich…I already know it!  Luis also has big plans for the upstairs of the restaurant with catering and events.  His mind is always twirling with ideas!

After taking a few more photos of the foods leaving the kitchen and talking to a few more patrons, it was time for me to go.  I talked again to Roxie,  who brought me a large bag so I could take my Jesus Cake and guava dessert home.  She said she looked forward to seeing me for lunch on Monday with my husband.  I told her I couldn’t wait to come back often!  We joked how I had camped out at the bar area while I was there.  I told her I didn’t want to leave and that I needed a plaque with my name claiming that spot as my own!   She replied, “well, you’re family when you come in…we want you to stay!”

This was the perfect way for me to leave Miami Fusion Café on Friday.  I felt like family the minute I walked into the restaurant.  I know you will too, so please do yourself a favor and go by if you are in Birmingham.  Luis and his staff are anxious to serve you!

P.S.  On Saturday morning, Luis and his wife, Samantha, added to their lovely family with the birth of a daughter!  Quite a big week for the Delgado family…the restaurant opening and now a new baby!  Congratulations to Luis and Samantha and best wishes for great success with Miami Fusion Café!

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Feel Like Getting a Cuban Sandwich?

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

Cuban Sandwich from Kool Korners Sandwich shop in Vestavia.

It was 11:15 a.m. and I was sitting at my desk thinking about lunch.  Actually…I was sitting at my desk thinking about Cuban Sandwiches since it was the day after Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia!!!

I’ve been waiting for many months for this to happen – 9 to be exact!  This cute little sandwich shop used to be in the Vestavia Hills City Center but closed in June 2015 after 6 years because the owners Bill and Ildefonso Ramirez, could not agree on a new lease with the shopping center’s owners.  They assured all their regular customers that they were looking for a new location in Vestavia and would be back soon.  Well, the wait is over!  On March 21st, Kool Korners reopened in Vestavia.  This time in the Vestridge Commons retail center on US 31.

The senior Ramirez is 93 years old and immigrated from Cuba in the early 1970s with his wife, Lucia, and young son Bill.  They fled the Castro regime in Cuba where Sr. Ramirez was a very successful chemist.  He and his family first landed in Spain for several years and then arrived in Miami.  Eventually they moved to Atlanta so their son could attend college on a scholarship.  In Atlanta, Sr. and Sra. Ramirez opened a grocery store where they began selling Cuban sandwiches.  Unfortunately, the store burned down but soon after Sr. Ramirez opened Kool Korners in Midtown Atlanta.   He ran his business there for 25 years and received many accolades and quite a fan base for his food.  When the building that housed Kool Korners was sold in 2008, Sr. Ramirez moved to Alabama to be closer to his son, Bill.  On a side note,  I remember Bill Ramirez back in the day when our sons played soccer together in the Hoover Soccer Club.  Bill was always the voice on our answering machine when the Club would have messages for the players and parents!  Small world, huh?!

Kool Korners opened in Alabama in 2009 and Cuban sandwiches were introduced to a whole new fan base in Alabama!  I remember taking my mother there for lunch once and Sr. Ramirez came by to check on us and we started speaking in Spanish – of course, this was after my mother said – “my daughter speaks Spanish!”  He is such a sweet man and so interested in his customers and their enjoyment of his food!  You could tell he loves his work!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

We got a front door parking spot at Kool Korners on the 2nd day of the shop reopening in Vestavia!

So, on Tuesday, March 22nd, I sent a text to my hubby saying, “Feel like getting a Cuban sandwich?”  He said “Sure!  Where?” We headed over to Vestavia and luckily found a parking space right in front!  The place was packed already and as we looked around, there were no seats available.  We got in line to order and hoped for the best!  Eddie and I both ordered the Cuban sandwich combo which includes a drink and chips of your choice.  I really, REALLY wanted a Guava and Cream Cheese Pastelito, but they were out of them…and this was at11:45 a.m.!!!  I’ll have to save that for another time.  I just love guava!  I could probably write an entire post about guava.  (jot that down, Teresa….)  Let me just say for the record too…those Cuban sandwiches did NOT disappoint!!!

I'm surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite...it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

I’m surprised I even got a picture of the sandwich after taking a bite…it was hard not to inhale this deliciousness!

Some people may wonder what all the fuss is about with Cuban sandwiches.  After all, it’s just pork, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard and dill picked on bread, right?  Well…..not quite.  It’s Cuban style roasted pork and the Cuban bread that make these sandwiches so tasty.  Cuban bread is similar to French bread but during baking includes a small amount of lard or vegetable shortening.   There are also any number of ways you can season the pork roast and I found and bookmarked numerous excellent recipes all over the Food Network on how to do this.  Once all the ingredients are assembled and layered on the bread, you press the sandwich down for about 5 minutes on each side with a bacon press or even a heavy cast-iron pan.  If you have a sandwich press, that works too!  The finishing touch is to slice it diagonally.

I wanted a chance to see Sr. Ramirez when Eddie and I went by that day but the place was so packed that I decided to wait until another time.  Right as we were leaving, I spotted him coming out of the back kitchen area and greeting a few people waiting for “to-go” orders.  I hope I get the chance to speak to him next time I’m in Kool Korners.  I’ve been looking over their menu and  I’m hungry again!  The photo of the empanadas on their website already has my stomach growling!  YUM!

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The counter and menu at Kool Korners. I was hoping to get a glimpse of Sr. Ramirez when I ordered. The place was so crowded that I figured he was a little busy back in the kitchen!

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Lots of interesting art on the walls at Kool Korners. Eddie and I sat under this painting of an old Chevrolet in Havana as we enjoyed our lunch.

 

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I had to post a photo of my handsome lunch date as he patiently awaited our delicious sandwiches!