Tallulah Impresses with Farm-to-Table Approach

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Birmingham eatery is the quintessential neighborhood joint.

Set on a quiet street at the western edge of downtown Birmingham, not far from the newly renovated Shain Park, is the lovely and unassuming Tallulah Wine Bar and Bistro. With off-white walls, stark white linens and large airy windows, the atmosphere is unencumbered yet cozy. And, as spring settles in, the outdoor seating area is a nice bonus, too.

All of the particulars at Tallulah are well-tended to by owner Mindy Vanhellemont, from the big things — namely the food — to the ancillary details, like the charming petite soup terrines and the ornate candelabra adorning the bar. There’s also a rustic-looking section of grapevine, courtesy of the family’s Napa Valley vineyard, hanging behind a long wooden table.

What inspired Vanhellemont to open her culinary boutique? “A love of wine, food, people — and entertaining,” she says when asked about her first foray as a restaurateur after a career in the computer-leasing business.

With its varied offerings through each course, Tallulah’s menu is both well rounded and generous; its daily vegetable, starch and funghi selections enhance that notion.

All the starters sounded tempting, but I recommend the artisan cheeses and the grilled artichoke with rosemary aioli. I found the salads delicate, yet lively, showcasing the fresh produce the restaurant prides itself on. My two favorites: The Rainbow Chopped, whose Romaine leaves are punctuated with hazelnuts, cherries and squares of mango and avocado; and the Tallulah House, with baby greens, apples, pears, candied walnuts and delicately toasted goat cheese.

Entree dishes range from homemade pastas to whole fish entrees, hanger steak and roasted hen. But even the hearty plates come with a delicate touch. A ricotta gnocchi is served with Meyer lemon, mint and spring peas; the textural white cheddar Chardonnay soup serves up strong flavors in a pleasantly light fashion.

The atmosphere and the menu mesh flawlessly, which is due in large measure to Vanhellemont and her ethos of using locally grown produce and other ingredients produced in-state.

“We thought there was an opening for this kind of place — a farm-to-table approach to food, in a comfortable and warm environment that pays attention to the details,” she says.

Tallulah’s farm-to-table structure includes regional purveyors of wine and cheeses, baguettes, eggs and produce. “We source in Michigan as much as possible,” Vanhellemont notes. “And we have lots to choose from.”

Regional wines from Black Star Farms (Riesling), L. Mawby (Jadore Demi Sec), and Left Foot Charley (Rosé) fill out an expansive wine list. And, don’t be intimidated: Vanhellemont, herself a certified wine professional, puts her staff through sommelier certification, ensuring your meal and wine are well paired.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, executive chef Jake Abraham, sous chef Kyle Grabowski, and sous and pastry chef Darlene Abraham (mother of Jake) fastidiously make sure every item heading out of their kitchen is prepared to the standards befitting their collective experience.

Formerly executive chef at Seldom Blues in Detroit, Jake arrived at Tallulah with Blues colleague Grabowski and his mother Darlene as a package deal. (Interestingly, the mother-son Abraham team played important roles in each other’s careers: Jake went through culinary school inspired by his mother’s love of cooking; years later, Darlene, inspired by her son, did the same.)

You should also check out Tallulah Too, which is next store to the restaurant, for wine by the bottle. The retail space also doubles as a tasting room and event space. “The restaurant is a blend of my favorite places in life and the dishes I love,” said Vanhellemont. I say Tallulah is an obvious labor of love for the entire team. RT

Tallulah
155 S. Bates St., Birmingham
(248) 731-7066; tallulahwine.com
$$$ ($30-$50) out of $$$$

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