There is a short stretch of Green Springs Highway running through Homewood where some of the area’s most interesting and delicious ethnic restaurants and markets have sprung up in recent years. One in particular has been keeping a rather low profile. It’s not even visible as you casually drive down the road.
But more and more folks are seeking it out, enough to require that the dining area be expanded and remodeled more than once since Sabor Latino opened in the Big Lots shopping center at 112 Green Springs Highway. The place is always packed for Tex-Mex lunch and weekend dinner flowing with margaritas, but owner Manuel Barco wanted to try and boost patronage on the slow nights early in the week. He figured the best way would be to let folks in on his well-kept secret. Sabor Latino is not just a Tex-Mex restaurant serving the same taco, burrito and enchilada based menu as one hundred other Birmingham restaurants. Sabor Latino specializes in Peruvian cuisine.
So, on Monday and Tuesday evenings from 5-8 p.m. they have started offering an all-you-can eat buffet filled with selections from the South American offerings on their menu. It’s a great way to sample Peruvian cuisine without the fear that you may have ordered something you won’t enjoy. Every dish the night we were there was delicious. There was a beef stew incongruously named “Seco.” Seco means dry in Spanish. But these chunks of roast were slow braised in a broth with black beans. The beef was juicy and tender, spicy and flavorful; anything but seco.
Pollo con champinones is a dish with a mushroom cream sauce just light enough to not overpower the simple flavor of a grilled chicken breast fillet. It was a straight forward preparation that would have been a welcome addition to almost any menu. But by far the best chicken dish was the Aji de Gallina.
I didn’t grow up in Peru. So how is it that this dish gave me that classic comfort food feeling? Must be something in the magic yellow aji peppers that flavor the sauce. If I were a Peruvian child down with a cold, I would want two bowls of this wonderful dish served over rice. It would make anyone start feeling better—the Peruvian improvement over standard chicken soup as a cure.
Also offered was a South American variation on fried rice called Arozz Chaufa. Chaufa is the Peruvian slang word for any Asian inspired foods. Waves of Asian immigrants over the centuries have blended their cuisine and its influences into the Peruvian culture.
Fried plantains and a fried fish selection were also offered the Tuesday evening we were there. But the owner, Manuel, said they had a completely different selection on the Monday evening buffet. He even puts a few of the standard Mexican favorites on the buffet like Chimichangas. And of course the premeal chips and salsa are complimentary and quite delicious. We plan to return to sample more of the Peruvian cuisine that we missed. South American seafood and pasta offerings are listed on the menu. And if one of them just sounds too tempting, Sabor Latino also offers it’s entire dinner menu if you don’t choose the buffet.
Another restaurant is trying an innovative buffet to promote their newly opened bar. Café Dupont on Twentieth Street between Second and Third Avenue on the north side of downtown has ranked among the city’s best fine dining choices for the past decade or so. But the adjacent and aptly named Side Bar has been operating for just over a year. The bar certainly looks more like one that has been operating for a century. Owner Chris Dupont had his construction crews restore as much of the historic space as possible and blend all the new woodwork with a gorgeous dark mahogany and marble bar. On our recent visit the bar was adorned with a quite interesting and unique antique Absinthe chiller.
The bartenders do a great job mixing their house drinks or any that you can specify from a wide selection of premium liquors. But no amount of bottles could ever be combined into concoctions as delicious as the seasonal food that Café Dupont has become known for. Recently, they have decided to use the food from the restaurant to draw more bar patrons. Every Wednesday evening starting around 5:30 p.m., an assortment of appetizer offerings is served buffet style for the Side Bar crowd to enjoy.
The finger food selections vary with the season. A cheese plate of very interesting artisanal varieties paired with dried fruits, nuts, and olives is a fixture. Fried whole okra and fried green tomatoes are usually among the choices if available. Having eaten several hundred of the little vittles over the years I can safely say that Café Dupont does the best fried food I’ve ever had. After a few drinks and a couple of trips to the appetizer buffet you might not have much appetite left. But if you can pace yourself, and show a little restraint with the tiny but tasty finger foods, you can go right next-door for dinner. Even if you only have enough room left for a dessert you should have some cash left in your wallet to cover it. The Side Bar also offers Wednesday evening patrons twenty-five percent off their total bar or dinner ticket.
Dee Marcus writes food-centric commentary for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to email@example.com