Village Kitchen: Reconsider the Fundamentals

By on 20 October, 2010 in Kate and Stephen, Restaurant Reviews with 2 Comments

Editor’s Note (April 2011): As of last week, Village Kitchen has closed its doors. We were told by insiders that they will re-open soon as some sort of Cajun-themed establishment under the same ownership. We were shocked to learn that the Village Kitchen didn’t make it because (as the review below outlines) we thought it was amazing. Sources say that there were complaints about the service, leading to everyone being fired, with the re-opening being with a new chef, new waitstaff, and a new concept. We shall see. We still have fond memories of the meals we had at Village Kitchen and we wish the best of luck for the new effort.

Sometimes it can be tough to embrace your unabashed enthusiasm for something, especially if everyone else likes the thing too. What level of critical analysis, you ask yourself, are you failing to apply resulting in your refined tastes merging with those of the teeming masses? With the first crunch of the fried okra at Village Kitchen, you don’t care anymore. Good is good. No, scratch that. Amazing is amazing.

Open seven days a week for lunch, dinner (and a Sunday brunch), Village Kitchen is over in the A&P Development in the Cloverdale Village (503 Cloverdale Rd.). It’s so good, it’ll make you reconsider things.

When you are used to fried okra coming in nugget-sized pieces, it’s a revelation to see an entire okra pod lying there fried, waiting to be dipped in some kind of otherworldly mayonnaise sauce. Once the act is completed and you’ve swallowed the bite you took, you wonder why it hasn’t always been this way. A new norm is established. And you’re still on the appetizer portion of the meal.

The revelations don’t stop coming. The tuna appetizer consists of strips of pinkish-purple tuna, just seared enough so that there is a tiny layer of brownish gray on the outside edge of the strips. They pack a wallop of smoky flavor that had to be tasted multiple times just to be believed. And then had to be tasted several more other times in order to alleviate the sorrow that developed during the time that they were not in our mouths. To say that these strips of tuna fish were ravaged would be an understatement. They were inhaled — and savored.

This sort of euphoria continued throughout the entire meal. By the time we were midway through our entrees, we asked ourselves if we weren’t going to have to reconsider our declaration that El Rey is our favorite restaurant in Montgomery [we decided we could create two categories – formal dining and informal dining – in order to avoid debating who holds the true crown].

Village Kitchen’s “gimmick” is simple enough that it sort of cheapens it to call it a gimmick. The idea is “Comfort Cuisine of the New South”

The cooks know how to turn vegetables into food. The simple sweet potato (or “yam” for those of you from elsewhere) should not be boiled into mush and covered with some sort of cloying syrup. No, the yam should, as the chefs at Village Kitchen know, be turned into thinly-cut, perfectly-salted sweet potato fries – a perfect side for almost any meal, even as our opinions about their accompanying spicy ketchup differed.

It’s worth mentioning also that the wine list is unpretentious with affordable by-the-glass options, and “glass” doesn’t mean a tiny goblet, but rather a proper large wine glass. They don’t stint on the pour. This, sadly, is a rarity in Montgomery sometimes – but not at VK (and not over at the Pine Bar).

Here were the entrees of those in our party: the mahi mahi (light and flakey and flavorful), a Caesar salad with shrimp (good, not overdressed, with three large and perfectly grilled shrimp), and that old modern Southern favorite, chicken and waffles. The VK’s version is a high-end spin on the popular combo. This isn’t Roscoe’s. The chicken was pronounced “delicious,” although the waffle was a bit chewy.

The service couldn’t be described as anything other than fantastic. The only quirk was that the warm and mind-warpingly good bread arrived after the meal, when we were too stuffed to do anything other than taste it. But then again, better after than filling up on bread before the entrees arrived (as is the case at many establishments).

Village Kitchen is somewhat formal, but not too dressy. It’s pricey but not prohibitively expensive. For our budget, it’s a “take Mom out to eat” type of place or a place for a nice date or to celebrate something. But the food is so darn good, we’re certain to stretch the boundaries of “occasion to celebrate.” We also liked that the restaurant makes a point of saying it buys from local farms and considers itself part of the Slow Food movement.

The true highlight of the post-entrée experience was the cheesecake. We weren’t sure at first, but the server sold it by saying it was among the best she had ever had. She even described it as “award winning.” Although after consulting with the kitchen, she was unable to clarify exactly what award the cheesecake had won, she was nonetheless correct that it was in the pantheon of cheesecakes. It was sweet without being too dense, a light and fluffy creation that didn’t make us regret capping off a belt-bursting meal with one additional item. It was good enough to go back and order as an item on its own merits, which is pretty much the highest compliment you can pay a dessert.

And instead of grumbling that the crowds are so big that folks waiting for tables often spill over into the Pine Bar next door, we’re happy that business seems to be booming. It means that the place is likely to stay open longer and keep the formula that makes it so good. Certainly, it’s possible that the success will alter things and they’ll start messing with the greatness, but let’s hope not. At least not until we can get back and have more of that tuna and those fried okra.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Doug Simms says:

    Thanks for the nice review. Those pictures and your writeup made me want to drive over to Cloverdale! I’m glad to see a great restaurant opening at that location and it is very good for the other businesses there.

  2. Tara L says:

    We too have fallen in love with Village Kitchen, even though our second experience wasn’t great. We went first for lunch. Hubby had the oyster po’ boy with sweet potato fries (heavenly!) and I had the butternut squash soup and kitchen sink salad. I’m immediately sold on a place that has sweet potato fries on their menu, and then I’m sold once again when they make the perfect butternut squash soup. Most places make it too sweet. This was perfect.

    A few days later we were back for Brunch with friends. Unfortunately, this experience wasn’t as great. The waffles were rubbery (but chicken juicy), one dish (eggs benedict, I think) came out cold (however, tasty), another lacked seasoning (frittata), and the last (E.A.T.) just wasn’t that great. However, they haven’t been open long, so I think these kinks will be worked out. And, the mimosas made up for all the imperfections!

    Overall, we loved the place. The decor was great, service was great, and location is great!

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