Review: Cheese bread, oysters, curry and more, Hazel, Ravines & Downtown caters to all palates
There's something harmonious about sets of three.
Like the holy trinity or Destiny's Child, the number three offers a familiar balance. That's a motif that seems to run through many facets of Hazel, Ravines & Downtown, which opened to a good amount of fanfare in Birmingham last fall.
First there's the name, which represents the three neighborhoods of Birmingham that all meet where the restaurant lives, as illustrated by a huge, illuminated map sign in the covered entryway just before a regal, heavy copper door leads you inside.
It's a long name for a restaurant, right? I've been calling it Hazels or HRD Kitchen for short. It's owned and operated by longtime restaurant partners Beth Hussey and chef Emmele Herrold.
(If you've dined in Ferndale during the past few years, you've likely eaten a creation of Herrold's. She put beer bar One Eyed Betty's on the map with her award-winning burger and also oversaw the opening of Pop's For Italian; both also had Hussey on board as manager.)
The other element of threes you'll notice is the menu. For her new casual, neighborhood restaurant, chef Herrold is offering something for everyone. The menus — lunch, dinner, brunch and drinks — are broken into three sections: comfort foods, globally influenced cuisine and trendy dishes.
This is such an ambitious idea and Herrold pulls it off with confidence. It makes Hazel, Ravines & Downtown a spot where you can take your friend or relative who enjoys meat-and-potatoes fare while still impressing someone else who may be more adventurous.
There's plenty that will be attractive to both, too. Currently a spring coconut soup is standing out on the trendy portion of the menu. Colorful, floral and huge, the vegan, gluten-free dish is made with red curry and seasonal vegetables.
Red curry is also used in the shareable mussels appetizer, which is large enough to be an entree, too. It's served with some well-seasoned fries and a few slices of toasted bread to soak up the curry sauce.
The sauced wings offer a good amount of heat without being unmanageable. They have a nice crispy skin and plenty of meat and are thoughtfully served with some wet towels.
If you get down on dairy, though, the starter that you can't miss is the Georgian cheese bread.
Also known as khachapuri, this is the national dish of the Eurasian country. It's cheese bread or cheese pie that's a mix of Gouda, cheddar and Bulgarian feta topped with a runny egg, a dollop of butter, chives and red pepper flakes. This is all mixed together making a cheesy dip; break off pieces of bread to plunge into the rich mixture. It's a heavy dish meant to be shared and it's only on the dinner menu. Every time I've ordered this it has been the talker at the table.
A raw bar at Hazel, Ravines & Downtown overseen by Stephen Longe offers oysters from various coasts, chilled shrimp, king crab, Manila clams and smoked sardines.
Seafood also takes up a fair amount of space on the regular menu, too, with a fish and chips dish, shellfish bisque, shrimp curry and a hearty platter of peppery fried oysters and crab cakes. The latter, found on the "trendy" portion of the menu, are flavorful on their own, but the accouterments of sweetly roasted carrots, salty queso fresco and creamy aioli, plus a peanut-chili sauce are what make this dish memorable.
Chef Herrold's burger at HRD is a no-frills double-decker that's meat, cheese and fresh, white onion. No lettuce, tomato, pickle or anything else resembling a vegetable that would just slide off as you bite in. It does have a dill pickle-infused sauce, and the whole thing eats kind of like a giant slider. The standard french fries — small-cut, crisp and salty — are above-average on their own and come with the burger, or you can also upgrade to gourmet fries like the poutine, kimchi fries or bisque fries, which are smothered in seafood bisque. (Can bisque fries be the new chili fries?)
The bar menu is also broken into a trio of styles, including beer and cocktail lists that can be described as classics, global or trendy. I love the highballs here, which are made with a special machine that makes the soda water extra carbonated. They offer three versions (of course): one made with Jim Beam, another with Japanese whiskey and a third made with Basil Hayden's (Jim Beam's small-batch bourbon).
Enjoy the Jim Beam highball for just $5 during happy hour, 4-6 p.m. daily, among other deals. There's also a late-night happy hour after 10 p.m. Fridays when you can get good deals on oysters, cheeseburgers and select beers and shots. Find yet another deal Thursdays when the 12-ounce prime rib and mashed potatoes is $19 (regularly $39).
The non-happy hour price points here are on par with the neighborhood, but otherwise this doesn't feel like a typical Birmingham restaurant. There are dance-able pop songs from the 1980s and '90s over the sound system and a hip-looking staff that seems to skew to the younger side.
Hazel, Ravines & Downtown calls itself "casual fine dining," and this is exactly how it's landed. The spacious dining room with blonde wood tables, colorful window treatments and not-too-bright lighting is a place you can feel comfortable wearing just about anything, from jeans and a T-shirt to semi-formal.
The service is attentive and a little more buttoned up than the "hey guys" attitude you may get from a similar restaurant in Ferndale or Midtown.
Another way HRD tries to be everything to everyone is with its sundry shop in the front of the store. Starting at 7 a.m. HRD offers Birmingham's workers and residents a place to pick up convenience items, from hair ties to hard seltzer.
Hazel, Ravines & Downtown
34977 Woodward, Birmingham
(248) 671-1714 or hrd.kitchen
Rating: ★★★ (excellent)
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri., 9 a.m.-midnight Sat. and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. Brunch is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. The store is open 7 a.m. Tues.-Sun. Closed Mondays.
Prices: Appetizers and sides, $6-$32; soups, salads and sandwiches, $7-$16; entrees, up to around $30; raw bar, $3-$3.30 per oysters up to $95 for the variety platter. Some items may have different prices for lunch. Brunch runs $10-$16 per dish, $1-$6 for sides.
Reservations: Suggested for weekends, but not required. Make reservations at hrd.kitchen or via the Resy smartphone app.
Noise level: It can get loud when it's busy, but not distressingly so.
Accessibility: No barriers
Parking: Parking garages and street parking within walking distance. Take an Uber or Lyft to the restaurant and they will reimburse you (100% if you come from a Birmingham address, or $10 for outside of Birmingham). Valet available on the weekends.
What the stars mean
★ — routine ★★ — very good ★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — extraordinary