Where high-class dining and humble ingredients meet, you’ll find Roots & Revelry — the brainchild that’s finally come to life for Birmingham Chef Brandon Cain, one of the pioneers of SAW’s Soul Kitchen and its neighbor, Post Office Pies.
“It was always about getting back into the fine dining world,” says Brandon, who is quick to clarify that fine dining doesn’t necessarily imply breaking the bank for a substantial meal.
Roots & Revelry, located on the second floor of the historic Thomas Jefferson Tower on downtown, gives a reverent nod to the building’s storied past as a well-known 350-room hotel, while splashing in some modern mystique. The restaurant’s tables and bar tops are made from the building’s original white marble while an opulent chandelier serves as one of the restaurant’s defining features.
“If the building was built in ’29, you have to think this marble was probably made in the teens,” Brandon says while running his fingertips atop the thick surface. “You’re literally eating off history here.”
Heralded as one of the Magic City’s many burgeoning chefs, Brandon even admits that his newest venture has a lot to live up to. Aside from its historic real estate, Roots & Revelry bookends Birmingham’s ever-blossoming Loft District, home to hip eateries and popular gathering spots like El Barrio, Bamboo on 2nd, The Collins, Carrigan’s Public House, Paramount, Trattoria Centrale and a handful of others.
When Brian Beshara of Beshara Investment Group purchased the space in 2013, however, the building was suffering from years of neglect — and it showed. Brandon said when he initially saw the location of the soon-to-be-restaurant, imagination was necessary to see through the cobwebs and craft a vision of what the restaurant could be. “Oftentimes you go to a bigger city and wonder, ‘How did they get a restaurant in that building?’ And the truth is that at some point, someone had to take a chance on it,” Brandon says. “You kind of have to throw a Hail Mary.”
Brian knew when he took a chance on the 19-story tower that Brandon, who is now the executive chef and co-owner of the restaurant, was the guy who could work some culinary magic on the place and get patrons in the door. Brian first met the chef while Brandon was serving up barbecue at SAW’s. “When I found out he was classically trained and had that fine dining background, something just clicked in my head that we have an opportunity to do something really special here in this space,” Brian recalls. Brandon’s kitchen staff doesn’t fall short of impressive experience, either. Scott Cohen, formerly of Bottega, joins Brandon in the kitchen as chef de cuisine along with Janet Lee, previously with one of Birmingham’s favorite pastry shops, We Have Doughnuts.
Brandon says his vision for Roots & Revelry is twofold: He wants guests to feel like they’re at a white tablecloth venue while enjoying comfort food with a twist — and at a fraction of the cost. With dishes like PB&J, New Orleans barbecue shrimp and a few po’ boys, the menu is a testament to that vision. Brandon recommends abandoning any preconceived notions when reading the menu.
“I really feel like the menu hits that inner child in people, but we’ve elevated our flavors, and it’s a little more sophisticated,” Brandon says, noting that the PB&J has already been likened in popularity to SAW’s famous pork and greens. The classic childhood favorite is served with pork atop fresh-baked bread from nearby Birmingham Breadworks.
Another crowd favorite, Brandon says, has been the “bites” section of the menu. For $3, guests can be a little daring and try something they probably can’t get anywhere else in Birmingham. The “bites” offerings change frequently, and are meant to complement a larger entrée. “It’s very much about education,” explains Brandon, who has Pilipino and Hawaiian roots and often likes to experiment with ingredients distinctive to his heritage.
Once the weather warms up, Brian expects the restaurant’s outdoor patio to become a hotspot for after-hour cocktails, served with a scenic view of the twinkling downtown lights. And if there’s ever a wait to be seated — which has already happened in the restaurant’s opening week — guests can mingle in one of the building’s adjoining rooms, stocked with comfortable seating and bar access.
Ultimately, Brandon hopes Roots & Revelry will add to the Magic City’s rapidly growing culinary scene. “Right now, Birmingham is a place where everyone is willing to take a chance and try new things,” he says. “We all kind of get labeled for our history and what Birmingham has been, and it’s not that we should forget where we came from, but it’s time to start a new chapter of what we could be — and I think it’s really happening.”