If there’s anything that rivals restaurateur David Horn’s love of the culinary aspect of the restaurant industry, it’s what happens to people when they come together around food and drink: the intoxicating, heartfelt rhythms of conversation and laughter, and the sense of camaraderie that comes with a bona fide local watering hole. And neighborhood hubs that cultivate this social element happen to be David’s specialty.
“A lot of folks compare Mudtown to the show ‘Cheers’,” says David of his Cahaba Heights eatery, where about 95% of the business is composed of local repeat customers. At his other neighborhood joint, The Ridge Eat & Drink, located along Vestavia Hills’ Rocky Ridge Road, a group of David’s loyal regulars have even formed the “Rocky Ridge Social Club,” a group of friends and neighbors that meets weekly to shoot the breeze. And now, David and his new business partner, Chef Taylor Hughes, are bringing SoHo Social to the heart of downtown Homewood.
“I started working for Dave about five years ago, just getting my toes wet in the restaurant world,” says Taylor. “He went out on a limb after a few years and gave me the chance to run the kitchen at The Ridge, and eventually Mudtown as well. After that, I knew that I wanted to one day move into the ownership side of restaurants. I also knew that I still had a lot to learn in this business and needed the guidance and experience Dave brings to the table. He was always great to me and has given me great advice.”
Taylor left to pursue another opportunity, but the burgeoning chef and his mentor-friend stayed in touch. “Taylor is super talented and very motivated, and when his other opportunity never really came to fruition, we decided to do something together,” says David. “I say ‘together,’ but Taylor is really the driving creative force behind this project.”
As soon as the duo nabbed the former PT’s location in SoHo Square, Taylor’s creative wheels started turning, and he set about planning the menu concept. “I have always kept a little notepad with me of unique or cool food items and ingredients I had seen or heard about. So, I immediately began flipping through that notebook and narrowing down ideas,” says Taylor. “Our menu consists of Southern cuisine presented in a unique way. Everything we have is made in house, even our gigantic cinnamon rolls, which are on our Saturday and Sunday brunch menu.”
Both David and Taylor expect “The Southern King” sandwich — with fried chicken, jalapeño bacon, three-cheese pimento, green tomato jam and smoked mayo on a brioche bun — to be a hit with customers. At a close second, try the “Smoke Show Club,” with duck confit, smoked turkey, jalapeño bacon, white cheddar, muenster, buttercrunch lettuce, tomato, red onion and smoked mayo. Or go for a creative salad, delectable hangar steak or fish of the day.
And don’t leave without trying the “snacks.” These fabulous shareable apps are worthy of a tapas-style meal unto themselves. The Tallulah wings are cocktail-marinated wings, smoked in house and finished crispy, then tossed in a mixture of Cahaba and white barbecue sauce. Or try the Whistle Stop Egg Rolls with Conecuh sausage, collard greens and three-cheese pimento with green tomato jam for dipping. And the maple-tahini glazed Brussels sprouts with bacon and peanuts are a crowd-pleaser, even among the Brussels sprout naysayers.
Don’t overlook their tasty and creative tacos on Monday night’s Wine and Taco Night, or the special burgers for Tuesday’s Beers and Burgers Night. And the impressive brunch menu is hard to ignore. It’s difficult to avoid the mouthwatering effect of simply reading the names of dishes like pulled pork pancakes, smoked salmon croissant, brunch totchos, duck confit biscuits and gravy, soft shell Benedict and Tony the Tiger French toast, among others.
“We are using as many local ingredients as possible and are partnering with Jeff Gentry, founder of BamaWise, for some Alabama-made products, as well as with REV Birmingham’s Urban Food Project for locally sourced, seasonal produce,” says Taylor. “We also are partnering with Amy Jason of Cookie Fix for our ‘Weekly Fix’ dessert.” They are proud to offer goods from their Homewood neighbors with O’Henry’s Coffees offerings and on-tap brews from nearby Red Hills Brewing Company.
The atmosphere of this sprawling eatery, with its reclaimed wood juxtaposed against modern touches, is first and foremost laid-back and local. “We want this to be a place that Homewood can call their own. Whether it’s for a quick drink after work near the curved bar or outside on the patio, dinner with the family in the dining room, or a night out in Homewood with friends with fun games and sofas in our ‘Social Room,’ we want this to be Homewood’s place to meet,” says Taylor. With all of the space and varied seating options, the possibilities for live music, special events, wine and beer tastings and parties looks bright.
Despite the exciting menu and dynamic space, what really sets SoHo Social apart, says Dave, is their approach to people and the community. In fact, a central tenet of their business plan is to change and evolve, precisely in order to serve their customers. This desire to please was evident on their opening night in January, when they nearly begged for constructive criticism and feedback. “One of our goals is to truly become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood, and we understand that to achieve that, it’s very likely that we’ll have to adjust the concept to meet with the needs and wants of the neighborhood,” says David, who knows a thing or two about local hubs. “So part of our plan going in is to be prepared to change.”
Taylor agrees, adding, “We believe that if we treat our customers like the family we want them to be, that this will become their place.”
It’s this focus on people and this willingness to try new things that is at the heart of Soho Social. Taylor didn’t come to David with a culinary pedigree, and David, who started as a busboy, recognized his love for the industry and simply worked his way to restaurateur through his trademark flexibility and focus on putting people’s needs first. These humble, salt-of-the-earth folks want to make sure that you not only get that sinfully delicious dish, but also that soul-nourishing sense of belonging. And because of that, SoHo Social is poised to become Homewood’s hangout.
SoHo Social is located at 1830 29th Ave. S., Ste. 160, Homewood, AL 35209. Hours are Sunday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The brunch menu is served on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. To learn more, call (205) 423-8080 or visit sohosocial.bar.
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