When you walk into MIX the first thing you notice is how open and empty it all seems. A cavernous white space brightly lit by huge windows on all sides, so stark and minimalist you might wonder if they are even open for business quite yet. Then the familiar, yeasty aroma of fresh-baked breads and pastry fills your head. Is there any smell more wonderful than something doughy baking in the oven? Perhaps the owners want your initial experience of the new restaurant to be primarily an olfactory and not visual experience. Smells have a way of connecting us to our past in ways visuals can’t, and few memories are more comfortable and pleasurable than those of a bakery. That would be just the first of about a hundred surprises MIX has in store for you.
The newly opened bakery and restaurant is a collaboration between two very talented chefs, Chris Dupont, owner of Café Dupont, a fixture on 20th St. downtown, and his younger friend Chef Corey Hinkle, from the former Abigail’s Bakery in Anniston. Their current culinary project is reminiscent of when an established musician forms a duo with a less heralded but equally talented partner, and they end up producing some of the enjoyable work of their careers. These two men have been planning their current collaboration since they first tasted each other’s food. Hinkle began shipping artisanal breads to Café Dupont and other-top tier Birmingham restaurants years ago. At the peak, Abigail’s was shipping over two thousand individual loaves a week to Birmingham restaurants. If you have been a regular at this city’s fine dining establishments at any time in the last decade, chances are you have already enjoyed Chef Corey’s delicious breads and pastries.
At various points over the years, the two chefs would talk about what kind of restaurant they would like to have in the future, if they could ever find a way to work together. The space formerly occupied by Kathy G’s restaurant at One Federal Plaza became available and provided these two artists with the perfect blank canvas to realize the dreams they had been planning for years. And the plans they have for the space will eventually transform MIX into something unique for Birmingham, and probably unduplicated in any city. As good as it is now, it just promises to get better. There is already a bar area with empty shelves waiting to be stocked. As soon as their liquor license is approved, MIX plans to expand to the dinner hour with a wide variety of wines, beers, and spirits available.
Currently, they offer breakfast and lunch, with various pastries and loaves of bread available to take home. The citron danish, caramel roll and almond croissants are just a few of the breakfast offerings that patrons have been enjoying in these first few weeks. Any one is a great accompaniment to a cup of Higher Ground coffee, which has been Chef Dupont’s choice of brew for as long as anyone can remember. Chef Hinkle seems to have unlocked the secret behind making the various over-sized square doughnuts that have recently taken off in New York City, as well as a traditional version. The flavors available vary from week to week. Every one I have tried has been delicious. You won’t find a more comfortable and well-lit spot to enjoy your morning paper.
For lunch, the menu is ever changing but basically breaks down into a few soups and salads, quiche or pizzettas and various sandwiches. The lunch service is where Chef Dupont gets to bring his years of experience in white tablecloth cuisine to an entirely different presentation style. The results are amazing. My advice is don’t go into MIX with any preconceived expectations. I’ve had a shrimp po boy, a grilled cheese sandwich and a BLT, none of which reminded me in the least of versions I had tasted before. All of them were outstanding and obviously the work of chefs at the top of their game who were excited by a new challenge. Chef Dupont is even making his own salad dressings and sandwich condiments from scratch. No detail has been done without thought. Even the side dishes are surprising. I loved the potato hash, but others swear that the red rice is the better of the two.
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if any or all of the lunch selections had changed by the time you read this and have a chance to visit. Both Hinkle and Dupont are supporters of the locavore trend in dining, and prefer using what is currently in season and available from producers in the Birmingham area. MIX is offering the same quality of food available at Café Dupont but in a more relaxed semi-self-service mode, with paper and plastic instead of china and silver. There was not an item on the lunch menu in excess of $10, and you can grab a quick breakfast sweet and coffee for around half that.
Currently, Chef Hinkle is offering a Pain Rustique Baguette, a Sourdough, a Multigrain loaf, and a Pecan Raisin Sourdough by the loaf. There is even a rack of “Day-olds” for the bakery bargain hunter. Chef Hinkle makes all the dough from scratch with old-world techniques that require much time and effort. Baking at this level can easily require 16-hour days to serve a hungry clientele. Chef Hinkle says he hopes to learn from the older Chef Dupont how to have free time and a family life outside of their demanding profession.
With spring just around the corner, a set of sidewalk tables is available for the people-watcher set. Those who chose to dine indoors are entertained by video artists presented by local video art curator J.D. Conley. MIX is located at 1820 Forth Avenue North and can be reached by phone at (205) 323-4110 from 7:00 until 4:30.
Dee Marcus writes food-centric commentary for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.