You know a restaurant is doing something right when it has a following of returning customers, and you know a restaurant is more than just a business when those customers form a community of friends around the food and atmosphere you provide. David Horn, Mudtown owner and chef of this humble little eatery, has achieved “community hub” status in the hearts of Vestavia Hills’ Cahaba Heights locals. “A lot of folks compare it to the show ‘Cheers,’” says David. “It’s very friendly, and I’d say 95 percent of our business is repeat business, and many of those returning customers get to know each other, and it just creates this atmosphere that is almost like a neighborhood block party. It’s pretty cool, and it was actually the main thing that turned me on to Mudtown when I was first considering purchasing it.”
In May 2007, David bought Mudtown from the original owner, who established it in 2005 with the mission of giving Cahaba Heights a neighborhood hub where locals could hang their hats. After a long and fruitless search for a fitting name, the owners turned to Cahaba Heights’ rich history. They discovered that in the 1800s, Native Americans inhabited the Cahaba River bank immediately east of the restaurant along Sicard Hollow, in an area commonly known as Mudtown, and the rest is history. Mudtown is located on the top floor of a charming, two-story building and is comprised of a cozy dining room and bar and a couple of small covered porches, surrounded by a tiny parking lot. Whatever Mudtown lacks in space, it makes up for in flavor in its sizable and diverse menu, as well as its big personality. The playful menu echoes the easygoing nature of the joint, citing among its reasons to love Mudtown: You consider parking an adventure, You aren’t afraid to get close to someone and All good things are better fried!
The menu was originally designed around the cuisine of Southern vacation spots, such as the Caribbean, New Orleans, and the Florida, Alabama and Carolina coasts, but in recent years, David has begun to stray from that concept to allow for creative freedom. “My culinary background is dubious at best,” jokes David. “I entered the restaurant business as a busboy in Atlanta in 1997, and I eventually learned to wait tables, bartend and manage, but I taught myself how to cook on my own.”
The menu boasts a bevy of crowd-pleasing dishes, among them Mudtown’s World Famous Fried Green Tomatoes, Charleston Shrimp & Grits with garlic cheese grits and Andouille sausage; and Asian glazed flank steak. Also on offer are the crab cake BLT, Monte Cristo and their popular burgers, such as the Big Green Pimp Burger, a half-pound patty grilled to order and topped with Aunt Claire’s pimento cheese and a fried green tomato. The Eduardo Saltado is one dish that people often shy away from, as it “sounds weird, but it is SOOO good,” says David, who learned of the dish from — and named it after — his “super cool” Peruvian brother-in-law, Eduardo. It’s a classic meat-and-potatoes staple of Peruvian cuisine that includes tender steak marinated with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, deglazed with vinegar, soy sauce and sugar, tossed with french fries and garnished with cilantro.
Sunday brunch features a unique menu of some five special brunch items, as well as the regular menu. “I would suggest ordering off the brunch menu,” says David. “It’s always amazing. We’ve got items like fried chicken, turkey and dressing, waffles, pancakes, omelets, meatloaf and huevos rancheros. Really, it just depends on what kind of mood we’re in that day.”
In a departure from your typical chef, David’s culinary passion is currently rivaled only by his love for shooting in semiprofessional gun competitions across the country, which is followed closely by exercise. “I’ve gotten the fitness bug in the past few years, which has been pretty interesting being a restaurant owner,” says David. “It’s certainly affected the way I eat and is definitely beginning to factor into how I create menu items.”
Adored by loyal Cahaba Heights customers, Mudtown returns the love, supporting Vestavia National night out, the library fundraiser and several other local events over the course of the year. “Sure, we’re in Vestavia, but Cahaba Heights is really more like its own entity, and I think most residents feel that way. Given the retail shops and restaurants here, you really don’t ever have to leave the neighborhood if you don’t want to. It’s pretty awesome,” says David, a Cahaba Heights resident himself. He says what he loves about Mudtown mirrors what he loves about the neighborhood. “I love the people and the sense of community. Mudtown is sort of a neighborhood hub, and I love that.” What can we say? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name!
Mudtown is located at 3144 Green Valley Road in Cahaba Heights. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The Sunday brunch menu is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. To learn more, call (205) 967-3300 or visit mudtownalabama.com.
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