You know that saying about ‘children meeting the expectations that are set.’ Well, the adage held true for our 9 and 6 yr old daughters during a delicious, family dinner at 26. The sister restaurant to Ocean, 26 is a trendy restaurant on Birmingham’s Southside that serves a flavorful, Asian-inspired menu. (Mom’s, you’ll know it as the restaurant adjacent to the Mellow Mushroom!) Don’t be afraid to break the pizza habit and move up the block slightly. The modern restaurant is cool but not pretentious and hosts any group well.
The Food: The regular menu includes a selection of sushi in addition to several interesting appetizers. We enjoyed the Spicy Rangoons (a beef with blue cheese fried ‘purse’), Appalachicola Fried Oysters and, from the Birmingham Restaurant Week menu, the Owl’s Hollow Farm Mixed Green Salad with strawberries and a brown butter balsamic dressing. Even our pickiest eater tried each. For dinner, we selected the Tempura Ocean (a mild sushi roll comprised of tuna and salmon), the famous 26 Chopped Salad and a Birmingham Restaurant Week entree – the Bon Secour Shrimp set with roasted red pepper couscous and haricot verts. The children enjoyed portions of everything but mostly ate the sushi (wow!) in addition to a side of smoked gouda cheese grits (declared by our 6yr old to be the best grits EVER). The highlight of our evening: the moment when Big Sister encouraged Little Sister to try the ginger and the seaweed salad that came with the sushi. While the ginger did not go over as well, both children liked the seaweed salad. (Note: I later learned that the restaurant has additional kid-friendly options that are not printed on the menu, just ask your server for suggestions.)
The Experience: More than anything, the atmosphere captured their attention. The kids favorite things about 26 (in order): (1) The bathrooms: art deco in style, the entrance to the bathroom includes a metal curtain much to their delight. (2) The restaurant glows. Lighting behind the bar and on the bar itself creates a blue/pink glow throughout. (3) Sitting at a curved, glass table. (4) Opens to the outside — the youngest loved that we were inside AND outside. The outer wall of the restaurant can be opened to the sidewalk/street when weather permits. (5) Big circular pillows for those seated at a table with a bench seat (mercifully, the server found two!).
Obviously, the food was delicious. 26 has always been one of our favorite restaurants. However, when our daughters fell into their own discussion about the seaweed salad, my husband and I just laughed. We shared a wonderful parent-moment watching their minds absorb the atmosphere and step outside their habits. Each was careful to put a napkin in her lap and when the youngest spilled a bit she quickly cleaned up (and was embarrassed). They were careful not to bother the tables near us and even once asked for help with a utensil “because this is a nice place, Mom.” Indeed. Now if only my own kitchen table could gain such respect.
Birmingham Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity for your family to enjoy an experience outside your normal routine and 26 is a surprisingly gracious host for families.