At the end of the night, Chef Tyler Lyne sinks down in a chair with a Cahaba Blonde in hand. For having just served an eight-course dinner to more than 20 people, he looks surprisingly bright and energetic. He waves to departing guests; others clap him on the shoulder or thank him for the meal. “Let’s do Italian food soon,” Tyler says to a couple as they leave.
Gauging the familiarity and Tyler’s comfortable demeanor, you would have thought he was old friends with all 20 guests. It would seem like Tyler and his wife Jennifer have been hosting Tasting TBL, their pop-up supper club, for years. Yet the Lynes moved to Birmingham just two months ago, knowing no one but Tyler’s sister, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. A chance meeting with a realtor looking to entertain a group of friends led to their inaugural supper club, now hosted every Saturday evening at the Lynes’ home in Ross Bridge.
Tasting TBL aims to provide diners with an experiential, fine-dining experience in an intimate home setting. Separate dining areas are set up for guests, including tables in the dining room, kitchen and outdoor covered patio. A flurry of activity happens in the open kitchen, where Tyler and his sous chefs can be observed preparing the evening’s dishes.
Generally, the $125 set tasting menu ($30 extra for beverage pairings) follows a basic course format that guides each week’s dishes: canapés, bread and butter service, salad, pasta, fish, meat, dessert, and petit four. The dishes change weekly, depending on what’s in season or what Tyler’s got cooking up in his mind. Jennifer is in charge of the night’s desserts and pastry elements.
“It’s a sort of formulaic equation,” Tyler says of the menu. “A lot of it is going to a market and finding what is great in season. Like now, tomatoes are on their way out. So let’s do as much with tomatoes as we can before we’re not going to see them anymore. A big part of planning is just talking about it and then cooking off the cuff.”
At the September 12 dinner, the evening began with a watermelon mint margarita and a selection of canapés, including salmon tartare with sesame mayo; a gastronomic take on chicken and waffles with maple caviar; and a meaty short rib croquette with horseradish cream.
“With the canapés, we’re trying to be simple,” Tyler says. “We don’t know what the food knowledge is here [in Birmingham]. So we’re shooting for the classics.”
Up next was a basket of cheesy, herby Parker House rolls to be enjoyed alongside the salad course — that evening it was a sourdough and heirloom tomato Panzanella. The dish was entirely “Alabama,” with tomatoes, bell peppers and other vegetables sourced from local farmers and a vinaigrette made from Cahaba Brewing Company’s Cherry Hibiscus Sour.
Following the salad is the pasta course, which consisted of a base of tofu pesto topped with gnocchi in cashew cream glaze garnished with shaved black truffle and salty black olives.
As we entered the heartier portion of the menu, Tyler introduced his favorite of the evening: the fish course. “I love a good rice dish,” he says, as he gestures to what looks like a bowl of porridge covered in some sort of aromatic ash. Although it didn’t look like much, the dish was one of the standouts of the evening. Tender cod was folded into melted leek sushi rice, along with chowder espuma (culinary foam). The topping was, in fact, ash — onion ash to be exact, which lent a subtle pungent flavor to the dish.
The final savory dish was a chicken pot pie with a beautiful lattice pastry and colorful root vegetables. The pie’s stock, which Tyler had been cooking for six days, gave depth and richness to tender pieces of chicken, duck confit and a selection of Alabama produce, including heirloom carrots, wild mushrooms and sweet onions.
Jennifer shows her pastry chops with the dessert courses; her banana cream pie takes the familiar and “flips it on its head,” Tyler says. The small, circular pie consisted of banana mousse encased in a crisp graham cracker crust, topped with caramel and artfully arranged on the plate with lime cream, caramelized bananas and plantain chips. Elements of sweet and savory mingled together in the perfectly balanced treat.
But dessert doesn’t stop there. Two small petit fours were brought out to finish the meal, including smoked s’mores served in a silver smoking box — offering that sought-after campfire taste — and petite Madeleines if you can stomach one more bite.
For the Lynes, who both attended the Culinary Institute of America and own restaurants in Hilton Head, SC, (Lucky Rooster) and San Francisco (Bamboo Asia), Tasting TBL is a way to continue doing what they love while simultaneously making a name for themselves in Birmingham.
“I was mainly interested in doing this for the assimilation into the culture, into society,” Tyler says. “[Tasting TBL] has put us two or three years ahead of the curve in terms of meeting people and getting out there. We are in a foreign land. We didn’t know anything about Birmingham.”
The couple’s move from New York was partially prompted by the pandemic and the fact they always knew they didn’t want to raise their 2-year-old son in the city. When a home came up for sale in Birmingham next to Tyler’s sister, the decision was easy. And they’ve had no regrets. “Birmingham has exceeded our expectations in so many ways,” Tyler says.
As part of their goal to put down roots in Birmingham, Tyler and Jennifer have plans to open a restaurant here called Frenchies, a French-forward restaurant with an Alabama Southern soul. Tyler wants to place a heavy focus on the restaurant’s brunch service, too, as he says it’s his favorite meal. The couple also has purchased 200 acres in Cullman to begin growing their own produce and raising livestock. In addition, the Lynes hope the farm can serve as an educational resource through farm tours and other events.
“You need to give back as much as you take,” Tyler says. “I think it’s a big part of what restaurateurs or chefs or hospitality industry people are obligated to do. This stuff doesn’t just come naturally. You’re not born knowing all there is to know about your culture, the food that your culture eats, the products that your climate produces. That takes education.”
And that’s what Tyler and Jennifer do through Tasting TBL: introduce people to a new way of dining, new types of dishes and new ways of thinking about the foods they eat. While all their plans are getting off the ground, the Lynes are perfectly happy hosting the supper club every Saturday night at their house.
“This keeps us sharp and gives us something to do,” Tyler says. “Sunday through Friday, I’m just hanging out, so it’s fun to be social on Saturdays. Once a week, we get to meet new people, and we just love it. It’s super fun.”
Book your seat at the table at tastingtbl.com. Dates are currently available through December.
All images courtesy of Julia Sayers unless otherwise noted.
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