I envy the man’s ability to turn bad food into great prose. In the short time I have been writing about food I have discovered that bad food and careless service are too common. I probably try five or ten places a month with the hopes of writing about them, but in the end I don’t, simply because a bad restaurant review accomplishes nothing. I don’t enjoy writing them, and consequently you won’t enjoy reading them. So when I do find a place that warrants a rave review, understand that the establishment has stood out from a large group of real losers. That was the case over spring break when my family escaped to the beach, and left me with seven days to eat every meal in any restaurant I wanted. I only had one memorable meal the entire week.
On Tuesday, I had dinner at Mikey’s Grill, in the Southlake Center, just off I-65 at Valleydale Road. The name is a bit misleading. I guess in Birmingham the designation “grill” actually means top rung. Mikey’s does welcome the casual diner. I ran into my auto mechanic and his wife, and saw more than one patron with shorts and a trucker cap. However, the food on the menu is quality fine dining at an above average price point that is more than worth it.
Chef Michael Lee opened the place a little over a year and a half ago with his sister Melissa, who runs the front of the house with an efficient and friendly attitude that equals the high standards her brother observes in the back. The Louisiana-bred siblings spent 15 years working at nearby Fox Valley restaurant, and the training they received there, as well as their childhood spent in a culinary Mecca, shows up in every bite. On my first visit I ordered the chicken Saltimbocca. Usually chicken, especially fillet of breast, is such a pedestrian protein that most chefs don’t apply very much effort to its preparation. It’s kind of a throw-away dish, put on the menu for those who don’t have an adventurous palette or a fat wallet. Not so at Mikey’s Grill. The Saltimbocca was the finest chicken dish I have ever been served. Every detail was perfectly executed. The Caesar salad it came with showed equal attention. It was served on a chilled plate and had a homemade dressing, as do all of Chef Mike’s salads. My only small quibble was the use of boxed croutons. They serve lovely dinner rolls, and the bread pudding desert was near perfect also. With those kinds of baking skills, a superior salad crouton should be a slam dunk for this kitchen.
When my family came back from vacation I could not wait to tell them about my new discovery, but it turns out I was beaten to it by my mother-in-law, who had told my wife just a few days before about how she recently ducked in for a quick lunch at Mikey’s and had “the best chicken sandwich she ever ate.” We were all excited to go back the following weekend and try out something other than the chicken. Between the six of us we sampled the majority of the menu, and there was not a plate that was not absolutely delicious. I had the stuffed pork chop that was offered as a special that evening. It arrived with the most perfect grill marks I have ever seen on any piece of meat. It was like an illustration from a magazine and tasted just as flawless. Other diners raved about their pasta, steak and fish. Even our teenage son gave the burger with house-made kettle chips very high marks.
As I said before, don’t be fooled by the name. Mikey’s grill is a fine dining restaurant with a casual vibe. You don’t have to dress up, but you are going to have to pony up a few extra dollars. Trust me and do it. There is not a better food value in the city. The Lee’s are going to be giving you every bit of what you pay for and then some. And save room for desert, which always includes a homemade pie selection from Mikey and Melissa’s mom. They are open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday and also have a full bar and a few tables for outdoor dining. They are sure to need those extra tables, because once the word gets around about what’s coming off the grill, the dining room at Mikey’s will be packed every night.
Dee Marcus writes food-centric commentary for Birmingham Weekly. Please send your comments to email@example.com.