First there was Au Cochon, with its steak frites and zinc-topped bar, and now, right next door in downtown Birmingham comes its sibling, Arthur Avenue, with an Italian direction.
Italian-American, that is. Arthur Avenue does not try to pretend that it is presenting refined Italian fare. This is meatball, sausage and peppers, garlic bread, and spumoni Italian, with décor to match. Named for the Bronx street that is famous for its cluster of Italian eateries — places with names like Dominick’s and Enzo’s — Arthur Avenue’s lack of pseudo-sophistication is surprisingly appealing.
Tomato red is the dominant color, and it shows up all around the brightly lighted room, in the red-and-white checked vinyl cloths on some tables, the café chairs, the napkins, the placemat menus, the aprons on the waitstaff and in the slivers of salami and mortadella in the chopped Italian salad.
Travel posters cover the vaulted ceiling and wooden bookshelves along one wall display bottles of Italian oils, sauces and wines. Just decorative, however. They are not for sale.
The place opened in December serving dinner only, but has since added lunch from an abbreviated menu, just half a dozen appetizers at $5 and a dozen main dishes at $10. A few breadsticks and a carafe of water are on every table to get things started. Dishes such as a crock of the good minestrone that seems to be packed with a week’s worth of vegetables or a big white bowl of spaghetti and meatballs come to the tables quickly during the noon rush. Service by the still-a-bit-shaky staff is friendly and accommodating.
Executive chef Mark Barbarich does double duty at Au Cochon and Arthur Avenue, and the two restaurants, although they have completely different menus, share some kitchen space.
The evening menu goes well beyond the trimmed-down lunch selections. Sturdier stuff, including beef tenderloin accompanied by herb and garlic-dotted fries, chicken and whitefish piccata served with broccolini, and veal and chicken Marsala with egg noodles, are among the dinner entrees, but diners may have one of the sturdy sandwiches if they wish. An array of pastas including good old fettuccine Alfredo with its creamy sauce round out the dinner possibilities.
The modest list offers the nice touch of wines by the glass in two sizes, and wine glasses are stemless, fitting the casual setting.
Arthur Avenue is the sixth restaurant for Zack Sklar’s prolific Peas & Carrots Hospitality group that includes such spots as Social Kitchen, Mex and Beau’s Grillery, all in Oakland County, as well as one restaurant in Chicago. And number six won’t be the last.
Arthur Avenue probably won’t knock your socks off, but it’s fun and affordable.
280 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham
Call: (248) 480-0768
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 4-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs. and Sun., 4-midnight Fri.-Sat.
Prices: lunch appetizers $5; salads, sandwiches and entrees $10; dinner appetizers $7-$13, salads and sandwiches $7-$15, entrees $15-$24, desserts $8
Credit cards: All major
Liquor: Full bar
Noise level: Moderately high
Parking: Nearby structures and street.
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good
★★1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent
★★★★ — outstanding