Derk’s Filet and Vine

By on 20 June, 2012 in Food, Jesseca Cornelson, Restaurant Reviews with 2 Comments

Steak kabob! Clockwise with sweet potato casserole, jalapeno corn muffin, squash casserole, and mixed veggies. All photos by Jesseca Cornelson

The first time I visited Derk’s Filet & Vine, I wasn’t even a Montgomerian yet.

I had come to the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement (as I was informed by the city crest emblazoned upon the soap dispensers in The Montgomery Area Visitor Center) to do research for my dissertation. One evening, as I left the Alabama Department of Archives and History feeling tired and worn down from reeling through the microfilm files on lynchings, I desperately needed something uplifting. I was hungry and asked my smart phone’s Yelp app for nearby restaurant recommendations.  Up popped Derk’s Filet & Vine, and after reading a couple of glowing reviews, I was sold. As soon as I arrived, I was smitten. Though it didn’t fully register in my lingering research fog, I was taken with all of Filet & Vine’s juxtapositions: the European-style outdoor café seating; the small town grocery complete with fine cuts of meat, fresh produce, and one of the best condiment and beer aisles that I’ve ever seen; and the hot bar. Oh, sweet Jesus, the hot bar!

It took leaving Alabama and the south for a decade for me to realize how much I love our food, and Derk’s hot bar is now pretty much the standard by which I judge Alabama fare. The fried okra at Filet & Vine is the closest I’ve ever found to my beloved Mawmaw’s, long passed, but it almost makes me too sad to eat it. Some of the hot bar dishes are simultaneously new to me and instinctually familiar, like the barbeque pork steak that I got on my very first visit that day after leaving the archives (and promptly posted pictures of to Facebook to make my Yankee friends jealous). I came back a couple of days later on Mawmaw Irene’s birthday and had a plate of nothing but sides — greens, fried okra, squash casserole, sweet potato casserole, and mashed new potatoes — since it’s so hard to choose which I want at Derk’s.

Recently, I re-visited Derk’s Filet & Vine with a companion who’s lived in Montgomery off and on for a couple of decades but had somehow never been. Hungry as I was, I wanted to walk him through the little shop of wonders before settling down for a bite. As we admired the fine beer selection, Derk himself walked up and teased us about not touching the bottles. Derk is a treat, approaching customers, chatting with them, and telling stories — like how he wanted to set up shop in the Cloverdale area because of the many fond memories he had of visiting it in his youth, and how he’d wooed Huntingdon girls by taking them to little out of the way places in Cloverdale. He told us how before he opened in 1997, he’d sit across the street counting traffic and was stunned that there weren’t more businesses on Cloverdale Road. Three years ago, he expanded into the adjacent storefronts, creating an extended seating area and a dedicated wine room, both beautifully appointed. As the newly renovated areas are at a lower level than the original store, he joked that they’d “moved downhill.”

After chatting with Derk for a while and following him around as he made beer suggestions according to my preferences, my companion and I made our way to the hot bar. I ordered a steak kabob, my beloved squash casserole and sweet potato casserole that I order every time, mixed veggies for health, and a jalapeno cornbread muffin, which is available upon request. The regular muffin is quite good, but the jalapeno version is a revelation, simultaneously sweet with a little peppery bite — To. Die. For. — so be sure to request it.

My companion ordered a juicy and well-seasoned chicken kabob (which was a wise choice, as the steak kabob was perhaps a tad overcooked as it waited on the hot bar) as well as mixed veggies, black eyed peas, and mac and cheese. Both kabobs alternated meat with mushrooms, green peppers, sliced lemons, and — oh, my goodness! — that most blessed of Alabama foods, Conecuh sausage. We ate outside until we were fit to pop and loved every blessed moment. As I approached fullness, my only regret was that I could not eat it all. And that’s Alabama for you: Her painful past can break your heart, but she can show such love, too. So many of her friendly citizens, like Derk, seem never to have met a stranger, and Alabama’s fine, fine food, tastes of a grandmother’s love and feels like a hug.

Filet & Vine is located at 431 Cloverdale Road. Menus are viewable at http://www.filetandvine.com/, and orders can be placed by phone at (334) 262-8463. Be sure to keep an eye out for special events, such as the weekly wine tastings and the more rare by-ticket-only sit-down meals with special beer or wine pairings. They’re sure to be a treat.

Jesseca Cornelson is an Assistant Professor of English at Alabama State University and has been a resident of Cloverdale for about a year now. She grew up in Mobile and did her graduate studies in the Yankee North, earning degrees at The Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati. She blogged about her visits to Montgomery to do research at her now-defunt blog, Difficult History, and will be a Platte Clove Artist-in-Residence, sponsored by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development later this summer.

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  1. Katie Rose says:

    I really enjoyed reading this entry. Thanks for the lovely report! In addition to lunch, if anyone is looking for a delicious breakfast with generous portions, go to Derk’s on Saturday morning before 9:30. You won’t be disappointed.

  2. Jesseca says:

    Thanks for the breakfast tip, Katie! I’ll have to set my alarm to catch the breakfast some Saturday.

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