Sara serves a beef kabob with sweet potato fries.
If casual dining is what you are looking for in Mountain Brook, there are certainly a myriad of choices. From Mexican to Chinese, Continental to Creole, you can find almost anything. But no place is more diverse in their offerings than Whole Foods Market.
Since opening four years ago, thousands of shoppers have made the trip to the Cahaba Village food emporium. Company executives and city officials may have wondered if the dirt-pile-transformation-into-upscale-grocery-store would be a success but local shoppers always knew there was a demand for such a place here in Birmingham. Drivers gladly circled the parking lot a few times to find a spot (until the parking lot was expanded). People marveled at the depth and variety of items found on every aisle and every shelf. And when customers learned they could even dine at the store? Well, it seemed almost too good to be true.
Sitting down to a nice dinner inside a grocery store used to seem like a real stretch. But then folks discovered the Village Brasserie and quickly settled in. To be sure, there have been growing pains with this spot but that is true with almost any new dining venture. It takes a little time to figure out what dishes work, what customers want, and how to make it all happen seamlessly. The Brasserie has always been a gem inside Whole Foods Market; now it has been polished up and really shines.
Laura Rowe, of the Prepared Foods department at Whole Foods Market – Mountain Brook, oversees the operations of the Brasserie and is excited about the new menu coming out in March. “We’re taking a more seasonal approach to the venue. We’ll have more ‘Health Starts Here’ items available as well as more fish choices. We’ll also continue to offer 3 or 4 seasonal beers on tap as well as wines by the glass or bottle.” Some of the customer favorites like the Fried Green Tomato BLT and Grass-Fed Burgers will be menu mainstays. She said she sees the menu changing up every three or four months, to take advantage of what is available in season.
Seating at the venue has increased since the store first opened. This allows the staff to function more efficiently when hosting special events like wine & cheese pairings or special prix fixe dinners. Tipping is still discouraged; they think good food and service should just be considered standard.
In their effort to satisfy and delight every shopper, Whole Foods Market offers customers other ways to dine in house. In the Seafood department, guests can choose any one of a number of seafood-based soups, chowders or salads. Recent choices included Thai Curry Almond Shrimp Salad, Creole Seafood Gumbo, Crab & Corn Chowder and Shrimp Bisque. Priced by the ounce or by the pound, it is easy to find just what you want. All items are weighed at checkout.
In the Meat department, you can find a number of hot items available: smoked sausages, split chicken breasts, barbecued wings and brisket are just a few. Items are smoked in house and prepared by the team. Team member Freida Tye says the Chicken Tortilla Soup and Beef Chili with Beans are perennial customer favorites. Brunswick Stew and Steak & Cheese soups are also in the rotation.
The Genji Sushi Bar, tucked away in a corner by the Specialty Foods department, boasts a wide selection of fish and rice combinations. Many of their sushi rolls come in either white, brown or 15-grain rice combinations. Not only do the sushi experts make vegetable dragon rolls and Seoul rolls (Korean-influenced tuna with gochujang sauce and shrimp tempura) but they can whip up dumplings, rice bowls, seaweed salad, miso soup and edamame. One of the items that makes them unique is the Sweet Home Alabama roll they call a “Hometown Favorite.” This one uses tenkasu, masago, mayonnaise, eel and a spicy sauce to lure customers back.
And if all of those choices were still not enough to make you happy, try the Salad and Hot bars, which have a rotating selection of items for a wide-range of appetites. Madelyn Cook, a Prepared Foods team member who helps set up the salad bar every day, says she has noticed a change in the selections since she started in 2007. She says, “Back then, customers might not have even known what quinoa was. I know I didn’t! But now it is one of our most requested items, just like the kale.” So while you can usually find several Southern salad bar staples like pea salad and egg salad, you’re just as likely to find a spinach salad mixed with quinoa, sesame seeds, and dried blueberries -- a vegetarian meal that is also a complete protein. The raw kale salad with garlicky dressing boasts a “Health Starts Here” tag and is a fantastic way to get more dark green, leafy vegetables into one’s diet.
Hot bar items rotate as well, but you can usually find traditional choices like macaroni and cheese, grilled pork chops and mashed potatoes. You can also try new seasonal selections like Black Cherry Chicken or Chicken Verde Burritos with Tomatillo. Seitan and tofu items round out the vegetarian choices.
Of course, no meal is complete without a little dessert so Whole Foods Market kindly offers a Dessert Bar as well. Selections change from day to day but you might find carrot cake, Silky Chocolate Ripple or a chocolate almond bread pudding. The best part? No fighting over who gets the corner piece of chocolate cake with the flower.