Brunch at Chez Lulu’s Sidewalk Café


By Jan Walsh, Photography by Beau Gustafson

Chez Lulu is located in Mountain Brook’s English Village. It serves primarily a vegetarian menu, with a small selection of hormone-free meat dishes. This small café serves an amazing section of flavorful dishes: fresh soups, salads, European tarts, crepes, and gourmet sandwiches, hand tossed pizzas, and desserts with handmade butter crusts.

 

The Place 

Chez Lulu is owner Carole Griffin’s expression of the French café society. The name is derived from a conversation Griffin had with a French friend while planning the café. When she described red walls, swag lamps, and crushed velvet pillows, he said, “My, you’ll have a real Chez Madame Lulu on your hands.” And today the ambiance is as lively and exotic as she imagined. Another influence was local artist Tracy Martin, who designed and welded the heavy iron tables—a salute to Birmingham’s iron past. Her hand-wrought mosaic tiles are inlaid in retired baking pans. And her touch is also found in the wall mural and glass etchings. Outside, café tables line the curving sidewalk from Chez Lulu to its sister eatery, Continental Bakery, next door.

 

The People

Carole Griffin is the owner of both Chez Lulu and Continental Bakery. The roots of the restaurants are authentic and can be found in the French degree she earned from Rice University. Griffin also supports local, fresh and sustainable businesses. From eggs to beer, she personally knows the farmers and local food producers whose products she uses and is involved in events and groups that support them. Her staff is friendly and very knowledgeable about the products and historical aspects of the cuisine served here. Griffin is also known for the creative and fun events that she dreams up for the entire English Village community. Serving others in doing what we love makes us happy. And I have never seen Carole when she was not smiling.

 

Oatmeal with olive oil, salt, pepper and a hardboiled eggFavorite Fare 

Every meal at Chez Lulu begins with Griffin’s incredible breads from Continental Bakery. She models the breads after the late French bread maker, Lionel Poilane. All breads from the bakery are shaped by hand, baked on a stone hearth and are made with natural starters, natural methods—minus unnecessary additives and artificial dough enhancers. They are served with lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch at Chez Lulu.

Today we nestle into a window banquette for Sunday brunch. We begin with glasses of Spanish Cava sparkling wine and a basket of bread with extra virgin olive oil. Next, we share a bowl of what Griffin eats for breakfast many mornings—organic steel-cut oatmeal with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and black pepper, which is accompanied by a sliced, boiled farm egg. Olive oil on oatmeal? It works. The oil marries well with the oats, and the salt and pepper add texture and spice. And the flavorful farm egg provides protein to the dish. I enjoy this sugar-free dish so much that afterwards I buy some of the same oats for at-home breakfasts with my favorite olive oil, Mamma Mia.

Authentic crepes are not easy to find in Birmingham restaurants. So we do not pass up this opportunity to select among today’s special crepes and the tried-and-true ones on the regular brunch menu. I honestly can’t pick a favorite between the cherry crepes with goat cheese and the fresh pear crepes. The lovely crepes are light, moist and are folded twice into a triangular shape. Alabama goat cheese is tucked inside the cherry crepe with an amazing dark cherry sauce—boasting rich, deep flavors—spooned on top. The other crepe has cooked pears inside with fresh sliced pear atop, accompanied by whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberry.

Next will it be the tart du jour spinach and feta tart or the red pepper and onion strata? We opt for the strata, which is a sensational stack of layered breads—whole wheat and white sourdough—with sautéed red onions and bell peppers baked in a farm egg and cream custard, garnished with a mild tomato and cilantro salsa. This dish is served with the freshest cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, and pineapple, and a mound of delicious roasted garlic cheese grits topped with green onion.

For dessert we share apple galette. The tasty crust on this round, free-formed cake is flaky, gleaming, and golden. The cooked apples with a touch of cinnamon fill the center and end a delightful brunch. Yet, I soon have regrets when I see the woman at the next table’s entrée arrive, which is the dish I almost ordered—spinach and feta tart. I go next door to Continental Bakery thinking they will have it there for takeout. They don’t. But they offer to go next door and bring it over for me. And I leave happy with two slices for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply