Birmingham Better DIning w/children
I've lived in Birmingham for a year now, have dined a bit here and there, have been reading this board for much of the time I've been here and really appreciate the heads'-ups and pointers. I wouldn't have known about the wonderful Mr. Chen's were it not for you folks, for example.
Here's my question:
I'm a single parent (husband passed away early this year) w/two boys 8 and almost 5. They are well-behaved in restaurants and used to being hauled around to strange places by their mother. They've endured a 3-hour lunch in Rome pretty well, a nicer after-show dinner in Manhattan sleepily, prawns at a pensione in Siciliy with fascination. They didn't eat the latter, but neither did they use them as weapons, so that was a success.
We do everything - BBQ, deli, taquiera...whatever we can find.
I'd *really* like to venture into some of the "fine dining" establishments here in Birmingham. I don't really have much of a chance to go without them, so what I was looking for was insight into how welcome we would be at places like Bottega, Veranda, Highlands Grill, Hot and Hot, Satterfields with them. I've been to Bottega myself, and feel comfortable taking to the Cafe, but any sense of how out of or in-place we would be or feel at these places and others in town for, say, an early dinner. Would we be welcomed? Shunned? Told to go away? Endured?
As I said, they are well behaved and do not require menus to color. Well, most of the time, they don't.
Thanks for being patient with this odd question!
Chez FonFon wasn't on your list, but we've taken our now 3-year-old here a few times and see kids there almost every time we go. The patio out back is perfect. As others have said, some of Birmingham's best chefs not only have kids themselves but have spoken out about our chicken finger culture when it comes to children. I'd just call to make a reservation and tell the manager you plan to bring your well-behaved kids and whether they have any suggestions/policy. I imagine they'd be very welcoming and could suggest the best time and put you in an appropriate table (like a quiet corner, or one where they can watch the kitchen).
Go for it! If we don't teach 'em to eat right and behave properly, how will they learn?
We have a 7-year-old, and one of our favorite places is Silver Coin in Hoover. They are very welcoming of children, but at the same time it's not like going to a "family friendly" joint. Nice atmosphere. Indian families tend to eat later and linger over their food, so if you go at the more usual American time you never have to wait for a table.
Mine are 13 and 11 year old twins now, but they've been out a lot. I remember having them in Standard Bistro at 8 years of age. One server treated us kind of odd at first, but by the end of the meal, she was fine. I think she anticipated the worst. We've been to Hot and Hot but only once with the kids...that was maybe 3 years ago. I just am not a fan of that place all that much. I've had them in most of the other places mentioned here with no problems. Their fav is always Standard Bistro. Although, my daughter often requests Flemings. She loves going there.
As a family, we always try to expose our children to new experiences and cuisines, so I get exactly what you're saying. Three of our kids are under the age of 3 (yeah, I know...), but our oldest is 8, and we take her almost everywhere we dine out . Of the places you mentioned, we have been to Satterfield's and Hot and Hot. Both places never even batted an eye when we brought her ,and in fact went out of there way to please her. For some reason it cracks the servers up to hear a little kid order steak medium rare, I don't know why...I think she enjoyed Hot and Hot better (she even tried some foie gras), but both were excellent. Anyway, you guys have fun trying new places.
Don't let dining with children at "nicer" establishments deter you. If they are well behaved go for it.
Unfortunately, my kids loved upscale dining by the time they were 5 or 6 and people nearby would laugh when the 5 year old would ask for the chef's specials and then actually order it. (I say unfortunately because there were no cheap chicken nugget meals for me beyond the age of 2). Go anywhere and enjoy. If they do start to have a meltdown get your food to go.
I think if they're good, and perhaps if they come well-dressed, the children would be welcome at most places. Chris and Idie Hastings at Hot and Hot are parents, as is Frank Stitt at Highlands, Chez Fon Fon and Bottega.
A few suggestions: Now is a great time to enjoy the patio at Satterfield's. When we go out with our children, we tend to look for out of the way places to sit (ours, unfortunately, aren't ready for fine dining). Bottega alsohas a patio. ANother sugegstion: Go early, befopre the crowds arive. One thing, through, Highlands' bar area can get kinda .... adult... for small children.
re: Big Daddy
Thanks so much for not jumping on me about considering the possibility of taking kids out to places like this on occasion. Yeah, I was thinking early (definitely) and outdoors when possible. I was wondering about Satterfield's in particular, since they do have the patio and I live nearby.
What about Little Savannah?
Brunch at Veranda was another possibility to try, but I admit I'm not a big fan of most brunch menu items I run into. Too heavy.
That said, the restaurants next on my list are ZaZa's downtown and Dyron's Low Country - really interested in both of them!
I just wanted to reiterate bovinekid's post (and others) in that you're well ahead of the curve just knowing that sometimes children are not ready for fine dining basically because of behavior issues. However, that tends to apply more to younger children or overly spoiled ones. Your kids sound more well behaved than I, especially with a bottle of wine in me, so I agree they would probably be fine at those places. With your comments about prior experience, it sounds like they won't be looking for a kids menu either.
Little Savannah has back porch and a couple of tables out front too.
I won't be rushing back to ZaZa's for the pizza but I would like to try the pasta. It's definitely a lunch place, very casual.
Dyron's muffuletta may be the best in town, crab bisque was only so-so. Good service.
One of the characteristics of fine dining is that it's usually at a leisurely pace -- that is, an experience that is savored and thusly, takes a bit of time to go thru the various courses. As an experiment, may I suggest a trip to the Melting Pot. If they can make it through the 2-3 hour dining experience there without "acting up", then I feel confident they could dine almost anywhere in this city.
The only concern I might have is that most fine dining places probably won't have booster seats if your youngest child requires them.
Very sorry to hear about your husband.
I think a lot of parents are probably more tolerant of the behavior of their own children than they ought to be. They turn a blind eye, whether consciously or subconsciously, to their misbehavior in public. However, if this is not the case with you and your children are truly as well-behaved as you say, I have to think that you would be welcome at any restaurant in town, especially if you go in early.
You might get a few odd looks, as it is rare to see such young children in fine dining establishments, but if they are well-behaved then that ought to be the end of it. If they are not well-behaved, be prepared to be asked to leave, or, better yet, to leave even before you are asked.
Of course, I can't afford to go to those types of places often myself, and I have never been to any of them with children, so there might be some manager or owner who is staunchly against kids in his/her place. I've never heard of anything like that around here, though.
Frankly, the fact that you are even bothering to ask anybody about this already suggests that you are more considerate of fellow diners than 95% of the other parents who take their children to restaurants of any kind these days.
For what it's worth, I am a server at a local restaurant that very rarely sees children, though we are not a fine-dining establishment.