Photography by Beau Gustafson
I first “met” Linda Croley at her Bare Naked Noodles booth one Saturday at Pepper Place Market last year. Croley greeted me with a warm generous smile and helped me choose pastas and sauce to take home. From the first bite of the first batch, I was incredibly impressed with her handmade pastas filled with local ingredients. Since that time I have bought other varieties, which I keep in the pantry and freezer so that a delicious meal of local ingredients is ready to make. So I am especially delighted that Croley has evolved her pasta business to open Bare Naked Noodles’s new café.
Chef and owner Croley founded Bare Naked Noodles in 2011 with a mission of bringing fresh pasta using local ingredients to the Birmingham market. Croley’s culinary background includes many cooking classes—Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Pasta 101 with Giuliano Bugialli, and the Italian cooking series at the Chicago Hospitality Institute, as well as cooking alongside her grandmother’s apron her entire childhood. Croley grew up living in Long Island, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Nebraska, and Chicago. She graduated from Southern Illinois University with a degree in journalism. After college, she worked in marketing at Standard and Poors before becoming a stockbroker for several investment companies from 1984–2015.
Bare Naked Noodles incorporates local produce, cheese, nuts, duck eggs, and chicken eggs. Products include many seasonally made dried, fresh, and frozen pastas: flavored fettucines, pappardelle, 27 flavors of ravioli, filled pasta, fresh pasta, gluten-free pasta, beef cannelloini, handmade lasagna, and eight flavors of orzo. And Bare Naked Noodles offers three sauces: marinara, mushroom, and marsala, as well as a spicy Thai peanut sauce. These products can be purchased at the café, local markets, Andy’s Creek Side Market (Rocky Ridge and Hoover), Piggly Wiggly (Homewood, River Run Drive, and Forest Park), The Pantry, Western Supermarkets, and online at BareNakedNoodles.net. Future plans for the business include taking Bare Naked Noodles to other cities, incorporating more farmers and artisans while continuing to find the best Alabama ingredients for the current line of local pastas.
The Bare Naked Noodles cafe is located at 100 Concourse Parkway, Suite 145, in Hoover. It serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays and is open until 4:00 for dinner pickup of Bare Naked Noodles pastas and sauces. Quick and healthy breakfasts include house-made muffins, fresh fruit granola, fresh vegetable quiche of the day, and more. The menu is seasonal, and the lunch special changes daily, reflecting what is freshest on a daily basis. Entering the building, we take the first hall to the right and find Bare Naked Noodles down the hall on the left. The small café seats about 25 inside and 12 outside. Notes of mocha, light azure, and cream surround the open kitchen, all lending a big welcome. And outside is one of the best al fresco dining views in all of Birmingham, with tables along a tree-lined small lake with a floating fountain.
Influences of Croley’s recent trip to Tuscany are evident in our simply divine starter of a mozzarella cheese plate with prosciutto, olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, grilled crostini, tomatoes, and olives. Next we are treated to a scrumptious broccoli pizza. It arrives piping hot with tender crisp bites of broccoli flowerettes and caramelized onion melded into the hot cheese atop a crisp, earthy crust. The Caprese sandwich is a must. Slices of fresh, local tomato, fresh spinach, mozzarella, and pesto are griddled Panini-style on sourdough. It is light, flavorful, and filling. The meat lasagna also arrives piping hot and melts in the mouth—never had better lasagna. Croley achieves the perfect ratio of pasta, sauce, meat, and cheese in this very popular dish, which also comes in three sizes from the freezer. The Thai pasta incorporates Bare Naked Noodles spicy Thai peanut sauce. This stir-fry of pork, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and onions displays Croley’s superb culinary skills beyond Italian and Southern in her versatility for Asian fare—especially her sauce and stir-frying multiple veggies in the same dish. All of the veggies are crisp yet tender. The savory pork has a seared exterior and juicy inside. For dessert we split a tall, thick piece of the heavenly buckberry cake, which is sweet, moist, and filled with berries.