A Thanksgiving Tale: Rescued by Cafe DuPont

November 24, 2017
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Nothing like technology causing problems that some exceptionally nice people remedied when it wasn’t remotely their doing.

As many readers have noticed, I am in Birmingham. I’m here to see my mother for Thanksgiving plus her 90th birthday, which is Sunday. I usually visit this time of year for the Thanksgiving + birthday combo. We normally do Thanksgiving with friends of hers, which when she was younger would consist of rotating among various hosts, with the guests bringing a dish or two, and in the last couple of years, eating out together. However, most of her friends have died or moved to be closer to their children. The couple she normally sees weren’t having their kids come down and they husband were road-testing the newly-opened dining room at their retirement center for Thanksgiving, which didn’t sound like a great option even if we had been invited.

I dutifully went on OpenTable, which insisted that I was in Manhattan. I switched it to Alabama, then Birmingham, and first punched up Cafe DuPont, a long-established downtown restaurant I liked but hadn’t been to in my last visit, and booked a table for Thanksgiving. I got a confirmation message with “Thanksgiving” in the subject line.

We pulled up just before 6 to see no valet parking and the entrance to the restaurant (the bar is on one side, the main room next to it) looking underlit. I could see perhaps ten people in the main room, only one really big table. I went to the entrance, which was locked, and being a pushy New Yorker, made some noise. Someone came over. He said it was closed. I said we had a reservation through OpenTable, I could e-mail it to them. The man asked how many we were. I said two. He said they were having a family dinner and we could join them.

Being a pushy New Yorker with nothing really suitable in the larder and no grocery stores open, I took him up on his offer.

It turns out this wasn’t the first time my mother had gate-crashed at Cafe DuPont. My parents had been regulars at Cafe DuPont at its original home, in Springsville. It then moved to its current venue in downtown Birmingham. My parents and two other couples showed up for lunch not long after the relocation to the new site on a Tuesday for lunch, when the restaurant was normally open for lunch. But this was Valentine’s Day, and they were closed preparing for the dinner rush. The owner Chris was coming in from the alley, recognized my parents, asked the group in and fed them.

We had a great time and I think our hosts didn’t mind our having shown up as unexpected additions. There were about twenty people, the chef Chris DuPont, his father Peter, Jackie his wife, and children and inlaws, including an aspiring ballerina and a member of the world’s top amateur soccer team, who was flying to Spain for a match. I chatted at some length with Suzie, who works for the city of Washington DC on water projects.

Needless to say, the food was terrific. The chef/owner Chris is from New Orleans, and his food is French influenced with some nods to the South, like a fried green tomato appetizer on the regular menus. He was also early in the trend among American restauranteurs to design his menus around locally grown produce and build relationships with farmers in the area.

We’d arrived at the end of the appetizers and got to have some of the cheese plate and a pork plate (prepared two ways, I had some of the terrine). Mains were with plates passed, and included scallops (I’m fussy about scallops and these were really good), lamb, pork bellies (superb), steak, with sides including barbecue-style sweet potatoes, white potatoes, asparagus, yellow squash, mushrooms, green salad, and a cranberry relish. They have a new baker and she showed her stuff: a particularly tasty pumpkin pie, pecan pie, gingerbread ice cream, and the surprise standout, beet-chocolate ice cream.

Oh, and they were serving a red that a wine-maker who was taken with their restaurant and normally sold out in his local area allowed them to buy. They’d had a couple of bottles for four years and hadn’t sold any so they had decided they might as well drink it. The price was $450 a bottle. And yes, it was a very nice wine.

When I got back to my machine, I checked to see what the reservation said. I did indeed have a reservation at Cafe DuPont…in Washington, DC. Even though I had punched up Birmingham, I somehow wound up with a Washington reservation. And mind you, I’ve never booked or even searched for a DC restaurant on OpenTable. So beware!

Those of you outside the south may not know that Birmingham has a reputation among foodies for its caliber and range of restaurants. So if you are visiting, be sure to include Cafe DuPont on your list of dining options. You’ll be glad you did.

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