Chris Newsome’s culinary appetite developed at a young age, as he watched his grandmother, Ollie Irene, continuously perfect her craft of cooking with homegrown fare from her garden, field and farm. Little did she know that while she was just trying to put a delicious meal on the table, she was helping forge the career path for her grandson. For the last two decades, Chris has traveled the country, working in some of the most esteemed restaurants and for six James Beard Award-winning chefs. In 2011, it was time to come home to Alabama to put all of his valuable experience to a new use and open a restaurant of his own, along with his wife, Anna. In less than four years since opening the doors to Ollie Irene in Mountain Brook, they have quickly earned their own James Beard nominations for Best New Restaurant in 2012 and, this year, for Best Chef of the South.
When asked about creating the restaurant’s ambience, Anna says, “We were aiming for an approachable, comfortable, polished and familiar place. We wanted a neighborhood restaurant that instantly felt timeless.” It’s safe to say they nailed it! This goes further than just the aesthetics—the employees extend this feeling, which can be felt as soon as you cross the threshold. There’s no greater evidence of them achieving this goal than the fact that on any given night, you’ll see at least a few of their regular patrons sitting at the bar or at “their” table conversing with their usual server about their day at work, latest family happenings or other mutual interests. Chef Chris says, “It’s so much more than the food and the restaurant; it’s about the customers and the relationships built here.”
Whether you’re interested in one or not, it’s certainly worth taking a look at the cocktail menu, if for no other reason than to peruse the selection and the clever names. If a Buck Up, Buttercup doesn’t pique your interest, maybe you’ll want something like a Pimm’s Cup or Ollie’s Old Fashioned, classic drinks with an Ollie twist.
What can you expect to find on the menu? Fresh, seasonal and handmade everything! The standard menu provides a nice (but not overwhelming) variety. One thing that’s guaranteed is whatever you select, there will be something on your plate from at least one local or regional source. And then there are the specials; the amazing, delectable, always-impressive specials. Because of their commitment to using only the freshest ingredients, the Newsomes are in constant communication with their local/regional purveyors to find out what is available right this minute. This means that everything about their specials menu is built around the best available ingredients, versus the other way around. Trust us, it is a difference you can taste!
What’s a meal without finishing it off with something sweet and savory? You’ll always find a handful of desserts to choose from. And even if you are stuffed to the brim, it’s hard to say no to the Ollie Irene sweets menu.
The question on everybody’s mind: where will Ollie Irene go when the Mountain Brook Shopping Center goes under construction in the next year or so? We wish we had the answer, but they’re still exploring options to find the restaurant’s next home. Anna and Chris have set their roots in the community though, so they assure us that wherever they move, it won’t be far. What we do know, however, is that Ollie Irene has made its mark in the Birmingham community and is a place we love to frequent for excellent food and friendship.
Ollie Irene is located at 2713 Culver Road, Mountain Brook, in the Mountain Brook Shopping Center. The hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. (4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., bar open with cocktails and small plates served; 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., dining room is open and full menu is served). Be sure to follow them on Instagram and Facebook to see their daily specials. And they don’t currently take reservations.
For more great restaurant options, download the SB app, your guide to our great city!
And don’t forget to sign up for our lululemon giveaway!