Hoover’s hidden Mayberry might be one of Birmingham’s best-kept secrets. The Preserve at Moss Rock, a more than 400-home community buffering 250 acres of preserved woods, is not only an ideal spot to live but also a great place to climb a sandstone boulder, enjoy an acoustic show while sharing a Neapolitan pizza or sip a house-made margarita with top-shelf tequila. It’s also the kind of place where your kid can pedal up to the local market, park their bike and buy a cold Coca-Cola.
“We’re going back to the Main Street type of community — something that has a core and a heart to it,” says Billy Silver, real estate director for U.S. Steel, which owns The Preserve property.
Back in the early 1990s, U.S. Steel pitched an idea to the City of Hoover for turning Moss Rock — an area once inhabited by Native Americans where waterfalls careen off Shades Mountain — into a recreational paradise where hiking trails abound and locals could enjoy unspoiled nature.
Impressed by the concept, the city purchased the area now known as Moss Rock, 250 acres of preserved nature enjoyed by many Birmingham locals. Moss Rock features numerous natural caves and boulder fields where climbers can be spotted scaling the massive rocks. And hiking trails weave throughout the land, creating meandering paths, canopied by tall trees, that lead to waterfalls and other natural splendors.
Not long after the Moss Rock nature preserve was established, the vision for The Preserve — a residential development modeled after the architecture of the Old South — started to form.
“The concept for The Preserve is based on a traditional neighborhood development, a TND,” Billy says. Most TND’s, he says, focus on a few key elements inherent to a traditional neighborhood setup such as walkability, green spaces and weaving in commercial development like restaurants and salons. All three features are visible at The Preserve, where folks frequently walk dogs and push strollers along sidewalks, and several parks with playgrounds and ball fields dot the area. And, thanks to a Birmingham chef with a passion for authentic pizza made with nothing but the freshest ingredients, residents and visitors to The Preserve can enjoy brick-oven pizza at the neighborhood pizzeria — Vecchia Pizzeria & Mercato.
Located on the corner of The Preserve’s commercial strip, aromas of fresh dough waft from the open-style kitchen where a Frank Sinatra album frequently plays. Brianna Tamburello, who helps lead the restaurant alongside Bernard Tamburello, says Vecchia is all about community.
“We want you to feel like you’re in a loud, crazy Italian home,” Brianna says of the restaurant’s setup, which has long community picnic tables where patrons can share pizza, pasta and other gourmet Italian dishes. “We have a philosophy in all of our restaurants, no matter which one it is — and especially here at Moss Rock — that the luxury is in the food.”
The community caught on to the pizzeria’s concept so well that the culinary pair decided to open up another restaurant next door. This time, however, they channeled flavors from south of the border. Moss Rock Tacos & Tequila — an authentic Mexican restaurant boasting a sushi-style, mark-your-order type menu and full bar — is in keeping with the laid-back lifestyle of The Preserve and Moss Rock area.
“We’re trying a lot of really cool stuff on our menu that you can’t really get anywhere else in town,” Brianna says, adding that there are talks of having a weekend brunch menu with huevos rancheros and a “Bloody Maria bar” — Moss Rock’s take on a Bloody Mary. “We really want to put Moss Rock on the map and let other people know how great it is out here.”
The best part of both restaurants, Brianna says, is that they belong to the community. Most employees, she points out, don’t even have to start a car to get to work. They hop on a bike, drive a golf cart or arrive on foot. “Most of the neighborhood kids work here,” she says. “They’re close to home. It’s not uncommon for their parents to come in and annoy them — it’s fun.”
Now with two restaurants to their name at The Preserve, Brianna says a third is in the works. The venture will likely feature something sweet, she says. “It’ll be called Nonita’s, which means little grandmother,” Brianna says. “We’ll sell gelato, coffee and pastries.”
In the mist of the budding commercial development and thriving neighborhood, Billy says the future of The Preserve and Moss Rock can only get brighter. One thing will always remain the same, however, and that’s the dedication to preserving what came first — nature. “When you find something like this little patch of land that makes up Moss Rock and The Preserve neighborhood, you’ve found something really nice,” he says.
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