By Donna Cornelius
One of Birmingham’s newest restaurants does not have dancing forks and spoons like the ones that sing out the welcome-to-the-table tune in “Beauty and the Beast.” But “Be Our Guest” could be the theme song for Rob and Emily McDaniel’s Helen in downtown Birmingham.
Chef Rob’s preferred meals memories of his grandmother and her cooking inspired the name of the restaurant and the McDaniels’ need to make diners really feel at residence there.
“My grandparents, Helen and Jack Frutiger, lived in Rosa, close to Oneonta,” Rob stated. “My nanny stayed at residence and constantly cooked 3-course meals we constantly had dessert. My preferred meals memory is going to her residence as a kid and watching her cook steaks on an indoor charcoal grill. It was constructed-in and correct subsequent to the fireplace.
“That feeling of walking into your grandmother’s residence and feeling loved and welcomed, that is exactly where we wanted to go with this restaurant.”
The executive chef of SpringHouse on Lake Martin for ten years, Rob is a 5-time James Beard Foundation Finest Chef: South semifinalist. He also was Auburn University’s 2012 Outstanding Hotel and Restaurant Management System Alumnus. Fans of Meals Network’s “Iron Chef America” might don’t forget him as element of Chris Hastings’ group when Hastings took down celebrity chef Bobby Flay in a head-to-head competitors.
Leaving SpringHouse wasn’t an straightforward selection for Rob. He has absolutely nothing but very good points to say about Russell Lands, which owns the restaurants.
“I loved SpringHouse,” he stated. “But at the finish of the day, you go into this company and have to opt for: Should really you open your personal location or not? We had a wonderful life on Lake Martin, but SpringHouse was never ever going to be ours.”
The vision of opening his personal restaurant began about 4 years ago but was place on the back burner for a when.
“Emily was promoting true estate, and it wasn’t a very good time for us to leave Lake Martin,” Rob stated. The concept returned a single morning in a way he couldn’t ignore. In the course of Rob’s each day devotional at SpringHouse, Deuteronomy 1:six popped up. That verse says: “The Lord our God stated to us at Horeb, ‘You have stayed lengthy adequate at this mountain.’”
“I listened, and doors began to open,” Rob stated.
Helen initially was set to open in March, but COVID-19 restrictions meant a postponement.
“We have been currently below building in March,” Emily stated. “We decided to take the optimistic route and continue on this journey. It truly turned out to be a blessing that we weren’t capable to open in March simply because we’d almost certainly have had to let some of our employees go.”
Emily is from Birmingham Rob grew up in Haleyville. They met when each worked at Jim ’N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Although Rob stayed in the meals company, Emily switched to true estate. In Might, they moved from Lake Martin to Birmingham with their twin three-year-old daughters.
Hospitality Leads the Way
Emily is in charge of hospitality at Helen – an significant element of the encounter there.
“We want our servers to be comfy, so they do not have to put on uniforms,” she stated. “We’ve told them to dress and act like they’re welcoming guests to their personal homes.”
She agrees with her husband that practically absolutely everyone has a specific meals memory.
“We invite you to stroll down that lane,” she stated. “We have a record player behind the bar, and guests can bring their personal records in for us to play. We really like to do that with our youngsters at residence.”
A different important element of opening their personal restaurant was locating the best space. A two-story constructing on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham turned out to be just what the McDaniels have been seeking for.
“This was the 1st constructing we looked at,” Rob stated. “We went by means of about 22 a lot more spaces and came back to this a single. It was constructed in the 1920s and had character, brick walls and the shotgun-style of architecture that we loved.”
The couple known as on close friends and nearby artisans to develop the appear and feeling they wanted for the restaurant’s interior. Partners on the project contain Carter and Scott Hughes of H2 Actual Estate, contractors Prier Building, architects Hendon & Huckestein, Hatcher Schuster Interiors and Madwind Studios on Lake Martin for custom metal, wood and glass perform.
A diner’s encounter at the restaurant begins at the entrance, exactly where framed copies of Helen Frutiger’s handwritten recipes hang on the wall. Framed turkey feathers, wallpaper and pillows printed with pheasants, church-style pews for seating and rugs on the floor contribute to a welcome-residence atmosphere.
On the 1st floor, guests can sit at tables or at the bar, exactly where there’s a bird’s-eye view of the open kitchen and the enormous smoker and grill. Upstairs has even a lot more space plus a striking, glass-walled wine cellar and a lively portrait of Rob’s grandmother by Charleston artist Hannah Hurt.
Although the McDaniels place lots of believed into hospitality and ambience, there’s, of course, a third piece of the puzzle: the meals. Billed as a modern Southern grill, Helen has a menu that reflects the seasons. Arrows on the menus let guests know which dishes are getting served that evening.
As an instance, Helen debuted with starters that incorporated warm angel biscuits with whipped cane syrup, butter and sea salt an heirloom tomato pie grilled veal sweetbreads smoked lamb ribs and vegetable crudité with basil dressing. Rob stated his grandmother constantly had a crudité tray on her consuming bar.
Listings in the “From the Soil” section contain celery and blue cheese slaw, coal-roasted okra and roasted butternut squash from Tuscaloosa’s Belle Meadow Farm. Study down to the “From the Land, Sea and Air” element of the menu, and you will obtain bone-in ribeye, smoked beef brisket, a 32-ounce aged porterhouse, smoked lamb shank, grilled T-bone chops, porchetta, Manchester Farms quail, roasted duck breast and barbecued Spanish mackerel.
Kristen Hall of Birmingham’s Bandit Patisserie is supplying the restaurant with desserts such as lemon cheese and coconut cake, peach and basil slab pie, and a chocolate and peanut butter tart.
Helen’s basic manager is Daniel Goslin, an Alexander City native who worked at SpringHouse. In the course of the shelter-at-residence days of COVID-19, Goslin spent his time productively by functioning on the restaurant’s drinks list.
“We have wines by the glass – classic varietals,” Goslin stated. “Magnums are readily available, as well, and it is fairly neat to serve them tableside. We really like whiskey. We’ll do entertaining, elevated specialty drinks integrating seasonal solutions and drinks as properly.”
Rob stated a German beer constantly will be on tap as a tribute to his German heritage.
Correct now, the restaurant is practicing six feet of social distancing for guests masks for each servers and diners, till they attain their tables and temperature-taking at the door. A compact private dining space upstairs can be reserved if guests have issues about sitting in the restaurant’s frequent locations.
Although Rob keeps his memories of his grandmother and her very good cooking close to his heart, he stated Helen goes beyond that. It is a location exactly where the couple’s vibrant personalities, friendliness and charm are expressed in the meals and the service.
“This restaurant is a reflection of Emily and me,” Rob stated.
If you go: Helen is at 2013 Second Ave. N in downtown Birmingham. For a lot more info, take a look at helenbham.com or stick to the restaurant on social media. For reservations, take a look at resy.com, use the hyperlink on Helen’s internet site or contact 205-438-7000. Stroll-ins are welcome if space is readily available. The restaurant is open five-ten p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.