OK, so it’s probably obvious: I love a good meat-and-three. The food’s almost always solid, and there’s usually a mac and cheese option. And when I heard that the owners of the iconic Irondale Cafe (think Fannie Flagg’s inspiration for “Fried Green Tomatoes”) had opened a restaurant in Hoover, I was all in.
And apparently, I’m not the only one. When Dudefriend and I arrived around 1 p.m. on a Saturday, the place was packed. Seven people were in line in front of us, and no tables were available inside the ample dining space. (A few remained in front of the restaurant, but we wanted as far away from the 100-degree heat as possible). But in the few minutes that we perused the day’s menu (among the options: chicken pot pie, buttermilk chicken, country-fried steak and baked chicken), we were at the front of the line. After the courteous and very helpful cashier took our order, our food came out one minute later. That’s right: One minute. You can’t get quicker service at a fast-food chain.
Luckily, a table had cleared off by then, and we were able to survey our grub. (Fried Green Tomato’s gives nice, Southern-sized portions, but not so much that you feel the need to take a nap under the table.) And man, the mac and cheese looked legit. There was lots of cheese and infinite creaminess. Best of all, there were breadcrumbs (cornbread, to be exact) splayed across the noodles — a detail I definitely appreciate.
But did it taste as good as it looks? Fortunately, yes. The noodles were warm and you could taste bursts of Cheddar. And the breadcrumbs balanced the creaminess of the sauce, making the mac taste much lighter than it actually was.
I had plenty of delicious food in front of me (your grandma will want the recipe for the fried buttermilk chicken tenders because they’re even better than hers), but I kept going back to the mac. Forget about the fried green tomatoes: the mac is king here.
Fife’s is a Birmingham institution. The restaurant has been serving up soul food since 1956, and for good reason: the food tastes like it was prepared with love — like your granny cooked it. The fried chicken, the squash croquettes — there’s no need to try to imitate. You’re not going to get close. And the community knows that as well — there’s almost always a steady stream of cars parked outside the restaurant, from breakfast to nighttime.
So when a co-worker recently announced he was going to Fife’s and was willing to pick up lunch, I decided to take him up on the offer. Why not start the blog on a high note? I’d never tried the restaurant’s mac and cheese before, but it had to be good, right? Precedent and all.
Ten minutes later, my colleague came back with lunch (for four people, so Fife’s shovels the food out quickly) and man oh man, did the mac and cheese look good. It was baked to perfection and there was a huge chunk of crust on top — my favorite part. Oh, and did I mention the portion? Fife’s gives you a hearty scoop of the cheesy noodles — so much that it overflows the portion of the take-out container meant for sides. It was a bit dry, but I attributed that to the fact it’s a take-out meal.
But was it any good?
The quick answer is … no. It was flavorless, bland and lacked seasoning. It tasted like how Britney Spears’ and Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls” sounds: Before you listen to the song you want it to be terrific, like “Toxic” terrific, but by the end you’ve already kind of forgotten you listened to the thing to begin with. It’s the same with this mac and cheese. It’s blah and forgettable.
So should you go to Fife’s? Absolutely. The price point is good — a meat-and-three dish is under $10 — and most of the dishes are down-home heaven. But skip the mac. Absolutely skip the mac.