I finally got over to Thunderbird with a bunch of girlfriends the other day—all of us are into food and none of us had been, so we were looking forward to trying the hot new place. I also went back more recently with hubby and some other friends for a second try.
The first thing I noticed on that first visit was the interior is quite comfortable—a lot of wood, but I liked that it wasn’t overwhelmingly filled with seats and tables so you could still carry on a conversation all the way throughout the night, even when it got quite crowded, and even when they turned the music up at the end. Our server was exceptionally friendly and helpful, going out of her way to help one of our party who had dietary restrictions. I also appreciated that there were no long delay to get our drinks, which seems to be a problem with fancy cocktails these days. And although it is the new hip place, I appreciated that it didn’t feel snooty or too hipster-ish. Even for someone my age. Again, on the second visit, the server was a bit more down to business, but extremely efficient. We never waited for drinks or foods and she checked on us often.
|Pimento Cheese Grilled Cheese|
Clearly, a lot of thought and creativity has been put into the cocktail list, which is much bigger than the wine and food list, but it is meant to be a bar, so it is only fitting. I started with a “Slapped Actress” which was a tangy blend of vodka, apple brandy, lemon, lime and sugar ($9). I really enjoyed it and because it was so tart (which I like), it made me sip it a bit slower than I might have otherwise. On my second visit, I tried the classic daiquiri ($9)(not your frozen 70s type). It was similarly limey and quite tasty as well. On both occasions, I then switched to a glass of wine from the very small, but decent list.
|Fried chicken hoecake|
We all ordered a bunch of food and luckily, I was with people both visits who are amenable to sharing. The things I enjoyed the most were the pimento cheese grilled cheese ($10), the biscuit with duck neck gravy and a sunny side up egg ($10), and the fried chicken and hoecake sandwich ($10). I like that they are smaller portions so you can try several things—also, they are all fairly rich flavors and any more of any of them would probably be too much.
As they were, they were creative riffs on comfort food (sensing a “comfort” theme throughout). I really enjoyed the pimento cheese grilled cheese because it was very well balanced. On our second visit, we all liked it so much, we ordered a second one. I like pimento cheese in small doses, but I find often the flavor of the cheese overwhelms everything else in a dish. This one had a layer of pickles and slightly underripe tomatoes with the cheese, which brightened it up. I am not sure if the intention was to use slightly green tomatoes, but these tomatoes along with the pickles were just right on the sandwich, adding a bit of bitterness with the rich cheese. The bread was perfectly grilled as well—giving the exact right buttery crunch when you ate it. Again, I am not one to order pimento cheese often, but I would (and will) get this sandwich again—probably on every visit.
|Shrimp & Grits|
The piece of fried chicken on the hoecake sandwich was a thigh and was decently seasoned (I could have stood just a bit more spice on the actual chicken). It was topped with melted cheese and served between two thin, light slightly sweet, slightly savory pancakes (hoecakes). I appreciated the pickled red onions that were served alongside, giving the sandwich a punch of acid when you put them on top as well (and you should). I had part of one on each visit and enjoyed it both times.
The biscuits and gravy were similar—a tender biscuit under a generous portion of the gravy, which had good flavor, although I didn’t get a lot of meat in mine. The egg was perfectly cooked—runny yolk, solid white. (There are a lot of fried eggs topping things here and they seem to have cooking them just right down). A touch more spice might have been nice (at least a bit more salt and pepper), but the dish was tasty.
Slightly less successful for me was the shrimp and grits ($10) which I had some of on both visits. There was nothing inherently wrong with it—the shrimp were actually cooked right (butter poached) and the grits had nice texture. It just seemed a little plain to me. Not bad, but just didn’t wow me. I would have said the same about the croquettes ($8) after my first visit, but on my second visit they were much better--the second time they were more tender and ham-flavored (they list ham hocks as an ingredient). The first time, we didn’t really get a lot of ham in them. I appreciated the kick from the red pepper aioli. It was also a good portion and easy to share (more of a snack to share though than something you would want to eat on your own as a main dish). On the second visit we also had the hush puppies with gravy aioli. Ehh…I definitely preferred the croquettes. These just didn’t have as much flavor to them.
On my second visit we also tried the kale salad ($10), which was a nice fresh alternative to what is a lot of fried items. The dressing was creamy and had a tangy kick to it—there was a poached egg as well. Once the yolk was broken, it added even more creaminess to the mix. There were also some sweet potatoes and pickled peppers.
There were mixed reviews at our table on my first visit about the pickle plate ($4) because the pickled veggies had a distinct clove flavor, which not everyone was a fan of (I didn’t try any but the onions and I really liked the onions). Also, the cornbread ($4) drenched in maple syrup came across more as a dessert because it was so cloyingly sweet (again, I didn’t try it, as it just looked too sweet for me to eat with the savory courses).
Both times, we did have the beignets for dessert—they were tasty—more like little doughnut holes—lighter than traditional beignets. The espresso cream cheese sauce was quite sweet. I thought the baby fennel was unnecessary in a dessert, even though it added color.
I like Thunderbird and I think it very successfully fills a niche in Fountain Square. The comfortable atmosphere and the well-executed bar food with Southern character makes you want to return. It’s food that is familiar but designed with flair by Chef Carlos Salazar—you can certainly see his distinctive style in the plating. It’s a place to grab a drink and some tasty tidbits. (Especially since you can get your drinks quickly!) I look forward to return visits.
1127 Shelby Street