At the crossroads of Fifth Avenue South and 41st Street South, Avondale’s main street, an illuminated, iron octopus swims mid-air, twinkling among glowing Edison bulbs hanging from nautical rope. On the wall, machetes and samurai swords adorn a large palette of reclaimed wood that proudly reads “Fancy’s.” The rustic, exposed brick walls are juxtaposed by the understated elegance of a long, gleaming white marble bar that is equipped not only with bubbles, martinis and cold brews, but also with Magic 8 Balls, Rubik’s Cubes and Fortune Teller Miracle Fish. A neon purple octopus above the bar sends down a colorful glow.
Warm and inviting, the newly opened Fancy’s on 5th is a casual, neighborhood watering hole with big personality. Named for Miss Fancy the elephant — 1920s Avondale Zoo’s main attraction and Avondale’s de facto mascot — this unassuming eatery is everything you love about your favorite burger bar and local oyster dive taken to the next level with creative, decadent burgers; ocean-fresh oysters, simple salads with complex flavors and mouthwatering appetizers — all deliciously priced.
“Nothing is fancy about this place except the name,” says co-owner Paget Pizitz, who was inspired by the casual burger and oyster eateries she loved while living in New York City. “In all seriousness, we want Fancy’s to be the kind of restaurant that attracts all walks of life. This is one of the reasons we love Avondale so much. On any given day, you see one of every kind of person walking around. It is a city within itself, and a very loving and strong community.”
Paget jokes that she started stalking Harriet Reis, co-owner of Fancy’s on 5th, when she was 17. Home from New York City for long weekends to visit her parents, Paget always insisted on eating at Ocean restaurant, which Harriet co-owned and -operated at the time. “I admired her and what she did,” says Paget. “It was not until 12 years later that we actually connected on a greater scope. I helped her chair a gala for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in 2013. One thing led to another, and we started a food truck called MELT.” Less than a year later, the restaurateur duo established their brick-and-mortar home for MELT in the burgeoning Avondale neighborhood. Then, a year and a half later, as Avondale cemented its name as the new epicenter of Birmingham cool, they started construction on Fancy’s, at the corner of Fifth Avenue South and 41st Street South at what was once the heart of this 1920s steel town.
“For years, I knew this corner spot would make the best burger bar and oyster dive. It was just this vision, and I couldn’t let it go,” says Paget. “From day one, Harriet said she wanted a burger bar and I always wanted an oyster dive, so we met in the middle. ‘Fancy’ name, casual food. Add some cocktails and patio seating, and it’s the perfect combination!”
Executive Chef Joey Dickerson’s diverse experience in fine dining and fast casual comes across in the accessible, yet elevated, bar food menu. With starters like smoked tuna dip, fried oysters with bacon-horseradish slaw, baked Oysters Avondale, with spinach and Parmesan cream, and baked chorizo oysters on white cheddar polenta with a side of salsa verde, you’ll be tempted to order a snack even if you intended to simply sip a local brew at the bar.
And don’t look here to find a run-of-the-mill Caesar or chef’s salad. Instead, try the pork belly cornbread panzanella salad, or the radicchio and blue cheese, with Washington apples, bacon and candied hazelnuts. And the burger selection is to-die-for, like the El Guapo burger of two 4-ounce ground chorizo-and-beef patties, chipotle mayo, salsa, fried jalapeños and manchego cheese, or the B&B burger with homemade Worcestershire, grilled onion, bacon and blue cheese crumbles, or the Flying Pig burger with pimento cheese, fried pork belly, pickles and barbecue sauce. Or try the Fancy Burgers, their inventive take on Krystal burgers.
Bartender Megan Miller’s extensive, yet approachable, cocktail menu features inventive classics made with fresh ingredients, such as the rose cocktail with Saint Meyland brut rose with a sugar cube and angostura and hibiscus bitters, or the Fig & Pig with Bulleit bourbon, muddled fig and orange, angostura and grapefruit bitters and bacon syrup.
The interiors are this same mixture of humble simplicity and playful creativity. “The interiors are the genius of Mister Scott Phillips with Boomhover Phillips Architecture, and Red Mountain Ironworks did the incredible work on our floating octopus chandelier. He sits above the mafia booth and keeps watch over the place,” says Paget. “And I am a sucker for an old-school neon sign, and Sinage Inc. perfected our vision. My personal favorite is Octavius, the neon purple octopus perched above the bar. He’s the perfect mix of jovial and menacing.”
With its high-walled, circular wooden “mafia booth;” large, white marble-top bar; long communal-style table for 10, traditional tables and booth seating, Fancy’s on 5th is the perfect place for family dinners, date nights, meetings with colleagues or drinks with friends. This casual eatery embraces the diverse collection of families, artists, entrepreneurs and visitors who are becoming regulars in Avondale. “We are so excited about Avondale’s growth and development,” says Paget of the creativity and diversity energizing the booming enclave. “People are so proud to be here. It’s a community and a family. I think that’s pretty remarkable.”
We asked the Magic 8 Ball at Fancy’s on 5th: Will this new burger bar and oyster dive capture the hearts — and bellies — of this growing community, not only with its delectable eats, but also with its signature personality, charm and sense of ease? The plastic oracle answered with a resounding: “As I see it, YES.”
Fancy’s on 5th is located at 416 41st St. S. in Avondale. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to close. This summer, Fancy’s on 5th plans to extend its hours to include lunch as well, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to close. To learn more, call (205) 790-7951 or visit Fancy’s on 5th’s Facebook page.
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