If George McMillan III wasn’t a chef, he’d probably be on a farm somewhere in Alabama growing vegetables or raising animals. His love of the land runs deep, and it shows in every beautifully plated dish he crafts at FoodBar, where most ingredients are sourced locally and menu options change with the season.
“A lot of times I feel like if I weren’t cooking it, I would probably be growing it or raising it,” George says with a smile while taking a break at the restaurant, located in the heart of Cahaba Heights.
FoodBar: Cahaba Heights, Birmingham, AL
George opened FoodBar a couple of years ago after leaving his former restaurant, Daniel George, in Mountain Brook Village. Looking to offer something more casual, he decided to blend a laid-back atmosphere with upscale menu options and created FoodBar — a restaurant that honors taste above all else.
From the crispy kale salad that patrons can only get during the winter months, to the red snapper that’s a favorite year-round, FoodBar is George’s way of giving a reverent nod to local and regional growers who spend their lives working with the soil. Every ingredient has a story and a passionate farmer behind it at FoodBar.
“We have a great relationship with those guys,” George says of the farmers FoodBar regularly calls on to make their menu stand out from the rest. “We certainly recognize our proximity to the Gulf and all the bounty that it provides — and we try to showcase that as best we can.”
For FoodBar first-timers, George recommends starting with a seasonal appetizer and then ordering a seafood entrée (the crab claws and fried oysters are his favorites). Or, come on a Tuesday night and take advantage of the restaurant’s half-shell happy hour where oysters and select drinks come at a fraction of the regular cost.
“On Wednesdays, we do ‘Wine Wednesdays’ and have half-off select bottles of wine as well,” George adds.
Aside from the tasty menu that’s in constant rotation, the restaurant’s atmosphere reflects its humble message of good ingredients prepared to perfection. When it came time to design the space, he turned to Hatcher Schuster Interiors. George says he wanted his new eatery to be cozy, yet allow guests to experience something a little more upscale than they might on a regular night out. The wood paneling that lines the walls and bar is reclaimed from a former barn in Selma, and the tables are made from wood George’s brother-in-law had on hand.
“You can still see the marks made in the timber, and I think that’s just the coolest thing,” George says.
Behind the bar, a large black and white photograph depicting four young boys hangs on the wall. One of those boys is George’s father. “It was taken in Greenville, Alabama,” George says fondly while looking at the photo. The photo, he says, reminds him of his Alabama roots. It’s a testament to his love of the land and his upbringing.
On the other side of the restaurant, near the back, another black and white photo shows a logging crew from Tallapoosa County. “That’s from my wife’s family,” George says of the photo, which he says also ties into the restaurant’s theme of reclaiming what’s old and making it new.
Because Alabama offers so much in terms of food and culture, George says he hopes to spotlight the great state as much as possible at FoodBar. That includes the food and the overall ambiance, he says. As the season shifts into spring, he says locals can expect a smorgasbord of local fare to be served at the restaurant.
“I can’t draw a circle and will never be able to color within the lines, but I do feel like there is some artistry in what we do here,” George says while reflecting on the culinary process. “Produce and proteins are our colors, and the plate is our palette. And we have fun with that.”
FoodBar is located in Cahaba Heights’ Village Retail Center at 3156 Village Cir., Birmingham, AL 35243. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. To learn more, call (205) 876-8100 or visit foodbarbham.com.