Every now and then, one or both of us get up to Birmingham for business-type meetings, to see friends, or to catch a show. When we lived in Tuscaloosa, we would usually try to eat at Surin West when in Birmingham – that was the place Stephen took me out to dinner when I first visited Alabama from California, and I remember wondering whether he liked me as much as I liked him (I’m pretty sure yes). Also I remember thinking the spring rolls were pretty darn good. Later, we branched out and he introduced me to Nabeel’s, which was good. Alas, on a recent trip Stephen says it’s gone downhill. We’ve also eaten at Jim and Nick’s when in Birmingham, and I’ve found that to be a really good lunch place: addictive garlic-cheese biscuits, a Greek salad, and the best part of all – a giant piece of coconut cream pie (my all-time favorite dessert). We’ve also rocked the veggie plate at that late-night soul food joint in Five Points whose name I don’t know. After an evening at the Garage, it was very very very satisfying.
I was up in Birmingham last week for a meeting, and when it came time for lunch one of our company suggested Niki’s. It was described to me as “Greek food,” which I said was cool, because I really liked Greek food and had recently been to Greece. About the only thing Greek about Niki’s, as far as I could tell, were the many framed posters of Greek monuments on the walls there. We sat under the Parthenon.
It’s a cafeteria-style dining experience, with instructions (thankfully) for people to get off their cell phones before they start in the line. The place basically seems to operate on the meat+vegs model, with a 4-veggie plate coming out to $7.10. I think this did not include my drink (that part is a blur). I splurged for the extra veggie, which was not a good deal at a whopping $4 for one of those side dish bowls. The selection of veggies was gigantic, and all the ones that I had were great. I appreciated that they had both collard and turnip greens, both pinto beans and black-eyed peas, and big fat yams that didn’t look like they were just floating in a vat of maple syrup (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I got fried okra (mmm), collard greens (mmm), mac and cheese (mmm, and not all grainy like some is), pinto beans (mmm), and green beans (double mmm – LOADED with garlic and this vinegar-oregano type sauce that they seem to also marinate the “Green chicken” in, which everyone at my table a) ordered, and b) raved about). Cornbread (or rolls, if you prefer – not me) came with the meal, and was great. Tea was plentiful, and nobody made a scene about me wanting unsweet tea. Dessert looked great, but I didn’t get any.
I would yes, definitely go back. Totally worth it. And the cavernous place probably serves hundreds a day easily, with outstanding service and a staggering variety of food.