Birmingham’s Pierce Street is about to blossom with handsomely landscaped patios in front of its array of restaurants. Only one of the restaurants, however, can boast of being on the street for 20 years. That milestone belongs to Streetside Seafood, and it was celebrated last Thursday, with Champagne and other perks for the loyal patrons who stopped by to congratulate proprietor Bill Roberts and his staff.
Like all of the restaurants on the block, it is small and cozy, just 55 seats in a narrow room with a copper-topped bar at the entrance, creatively patterned brick walls, variously shaped chalkboards announcing daily specials, and a variety of seating arrangements, including the most popular tables in the place, two four-tops tucked right in the front window.
It’s a true neighborhood spot — in its unpretentiousness and friendly atmosphere — that draws from well beyond the neighborhood.
Consistency is the toughest quality for a restaurant to achieve, and Streetside wouldn’t have lasted for 20 years without it. The focused menu stays true to the title. Nearly everything fits the image — from the velvety lobster bisque and the oysters glistening on their shells to the Great Lakes perch and the pan-roasted salmon that is a perennial favorite — and ingredients are pristinely fresh. (Chef Anton Veliu came out of the kitchen the other day to apologize to lunchers because the perch hadn’t come in that morning.)
Of course there’s the obligatory cheeseburger, and it’s a good one, made with a blend of beef cuts and served with bacon and the lightly spicy house sauce. There’s also a pepper-crusted filet mignon, but seafood and fish is primarily what the two talented young co-chefs, Veliu and Devon Follbaum, send out from the kitchen in the rear.
A perennially popular lunch dish is the lobster salad sandwich, an elegant upgrade to the BLT, and as if to offset the cheeseburger, there’s also a tuna burger with a wasabi-tinged avocado spread, cucumber and Asian slaw.
Part of the consistency here rests with the hand-picked staff in their pale blue oxford shirts and ties. Their ensemble performance reflects proprietor Roberts, who knows that no matter how good the fare — and it is very good — it takes more than that to create a restaurant people want to come back to.
If Streetside had twice as many seats, it could fill them. But the cozy feeling would be lost. Restaurants like this little gem have a charm that just can’t be duplicated by the big ones.
273 Pierce, Birmingham
Call: (248) 645-9123
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight Fri., 4-midnight Sat., 4-10 p.m. Sun.
Prices: Appetizers $11-$14, sandwiches $11-$15, lunch entrees $16-$20, dinner entrees $19-$40, desserts $4-$7
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and extensive wine list
Noise level: Convivial
Parking: Nearby municipal parking structure and street
Wheelchair access: No barriers