The name is French and so is the décor, but Birmingham’s new restaurant is not going to scare anyone away with that word.
French can sometimes be a turn-off when it implies rich sauces and hard-to-pronounce dishes. Happily, that isn’t so at Au Cochon (The Pig), open for just one month now and the latest from the prolific drawing board of Zack Sklar and his Peas & Carrots Hospitality Group.
Sklar and associates started with Social Kitchen, and quickly added Mex, Beau’s Grillery, and now Au Cochon, which will have a next door sibling, Arthur Avenue, serving Italian fare, shortly. Each has its own personality, and Au Cochon delivers an appealing setting for a well-edited menu, on which the most popular dinner entrée in the early going is, surprise or maybe not, the cheeseburger.
Maybe they should have called it the steak hache au fromage.
But Au Cochon is not trying to be a classic French restaurant. It does offer French flair, along with some classic dishes, including steak frites, flat iron steak accompanied by a heap of truly addictive, frilly ribbons of parsley-dotted potatoes served with little pots of aioli and ketchup. Patrons who spot the frites at the next table are almost sure to ask for an order. They also make a fine bar snack.
Other dishes that follow the theme include a very good skate meuniere, the delicate fish nicely browned and served with Duchess potatoes and thinly sliced cauliflower dotted with capers, and the classic chicken paillard in a mustard and bread crumb crust, this on the lunch menu along with another notable dish, salmon croquette that arrives with an appealing little salad with honey mustard vinaigrette.
Fresh oysters from the East and West coasts are on the dinner menu, with oysters Rockefeller offered at lunch. French onion soup? Of course, at both lunch and dinner.
All of the preparation is done in the open kitchen that extends along one wall of the room seating just over 100.
Seating options range from padded barstools at the zinc-topped bar and also at the counter overlooking the action in the kitchen, big cushy booths along the opposite wall, each seating six, and café chairs pulled up to tables overlooking Old North Woodward through big windows that are open when weather permits.
Interesting décor touches include the mosaic tile floor, pressed-tin ceiling, and an offhand little touch, small cut glass pieces from candle holders to pitchers and silk-shaded lamps adding sparkle atop the bar surface.
Behind the scenes, although visible through a window at the back of the room, is the pastry kitchen where the breads and desserts are made, with desserts typified by the classic pot de crème, and one I can pretty much guarantee no one else in the area is preparing, pithivier, named for the French town and consisting of puff pastry and almond cream.
Service is friendly and efficient as the staff learns the ropes.
Au Cochon has taken on a daunting schedule, serving all three meals seven days a week and staying open until midnight. It is off to a very good start, judging by visits at both lunch and dinner.
260 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham
Call: (258) 792-7795
Hours: Breakfast and lunch 8 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-midnight daily.
Prices: Breakfast dishes $10-$13, sides $4-$9; lunch appetizers $8-$15, entrees $9-$20, dinner appetizers $8-$15, entrees $11-$48, desserts $8
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar and a good wine list
Noise level: Moderate
Parking: Nearby municipal structure and street
Wheelchair access: No barriers