Chez LuLu1911 Cahaba Rd Mountain Brook, AL
Chez Lulu is one of my absolute favorite places in Birmingham. We even had our rehearsal dinner there ever so many months ago. It’s really one of those cool, casual places where you can sit inside, relax, and enjoy the funky atmosphere, or sit outside and enjoy the weather (on one of those rare southern days when it’s under 90°, and over 50° – we only have winter and summer here). While it’s not quite like a genuine European sidewalk cafe, it’s pretty close.
We make an effort to go every Friday during the summer because that’s Peasant Garlic Soup day. Bonus: in the cool months, they have it everyday. I’m not a huge soup person, but this is good stuff. I’m told it’s made with potatoes, carrots, of course garlic, and a blend of other secret fabulousness. They ‘top it’ with a toasted piece of their Wholewheat Sourdough bread that they make on-site and sell in their bakery next door, also fantastic. It’s a favorite amongst the guests – I always hear it ordered by others when I visit. Vegetarians can rest easy knowing that all Chez Lulu’s soups are made with vegetable stock, so no “meat juice” is sneaking into the meal.
I also typically partake of the French Brie and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich. Once you pick off the brie rind, there’s not much that can rival this sandwich for easy, yet delicious fare. Made with fresh lettuces, red peppers, purple onions, olive tapenade, and imported brie melted on house-made focaccia, it’s pure quality. It has just the right amount zing from the tapenade and onions to compliment the subtleties of the Brie and focaccia.
If you’re up for it, head next door to the bakery for dessert. It’s hard to recommend any one thing since they have so many fabulous croissants, scones, cookies, and pies. But, if you’re not too worried about the waistline, try the Belgian Chocolate pie. It’s ever so decadent!
This place has it all. Good food, good service, and funky-cool style. I gravitate towards places with personality, so I love the intimate lighting and the eclectic tables up-cycled from machinery, mosaics, and reclaimed wood. The atmosphere is definitely shabby chic done right.
What makes the food here so good is the quality of ingredients. Everything is simple, fresh, and never over-done. The continental bakery next-door supplies fresh bread for all the sandwiches and they make a point to use local and/or organic ingredients where they can. So in tomato season, you can be sure that the tomato panini uses tomatoes from a farm nearby, and during peach season, look for deserts that use peaches from Clanton or other nearby areas. I agree with Melissa, the brie and red pepper sandwich is sublime (even though I tease her that it’s basically just a bourgeois pimento cheese, which is a standard vegetarian option throughout the south). But in addition to the brie/pepper sandwich, they have other veggie sandwiches(up to 4 depending on the season) that are worth trying, two tarts that change daily (at least one of which is vegetarian), and I personally love their salads. So many restaurants over-do salads, or cheap out on the lettuce so that you end up with a bowl of iceberg, but at Chez Lulu, I can make a meal out of organic baby greens in a light vinaigrette, and local organic arugula salad is great along with a half a sandwich. It’s worth mentioning that if you go there for dinner, they have pizza on the menu as well, but since we eat there mostly for lunch, I withhold comment.
Lastly, soup. The peasant garlic soup is delicious and quite well known, but during the warmer months they have a daily cold soup. Melissa doesn’t care much for cold soups, and I must admit, I was not a gazpacho fan in the past, but these soups are changing my mind. They rotate through three or four varieties, but my favorite is easily the Andalusian gazpacho. It’s not exactly “traditional”, as I understand the a secret ingredient is touch of fresh basil, but is delicately balanced with just a bit of acidity and no ketchup-y/salsa-y flavor. On a hot day it’s a refreshing way to start your meal, and I can’t pass it up. Last time I ordered it, I picked the brains of our waiter about the ingredients, and I think I can make a passable version at home. So keep an eye out for my recipe in the future. I guess I should do it soon before the fall really sets in and the idea of cold soup seems completely un-appetizing.