As I write this (on Friday, probably a few days before you will read it), we’re having unusually fantastic summer weather here. A few lines of thunderstorms rolled through yesterday, so now the high is only 77, it is sunny and breezy, and the humidity is delightfully low. Our dog, Satchmo, and I took a walk around our neighborhood and are now sitting on the patio, drinking lemon water, watching the potted herbs soak up the sunlight, and trying to figure out how to use the remnants of this past Tuesday’s CSA box. I am sure you hear this from your friends working in education all the time, but I love summer.
Anyway, there is a restaurant we frequent in Birmingham that I haven’t shared with you yet: Maki Fresh. It is casual, quick, and easy, not really a destination type of place, but perfect for lunch in the middle of a day of shopping or a grab-and-go meal on your drive home from the airport. They have another location in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. You may also be familiar with Zoe’s Kitchen, the founder’s other chain of “fast-casual,” health-conscious, Greek-style restaurants throughout the Southeast, Southwest, and middle of the East Coast. We frequent the Tuscaloosa location now, and enjoyed the Nashville franchise to the extent that my family ended up there on the day of our wedding.
Maki Fresh is similarly patterned: order and pay at the counter, self-serve drink station, put a number on your table so a server can bring your food to you. Not fine dining, but I do appreciate the efficiency, casualness, and simplicity of places like this (Pei Wei, Jason’s Deli, etc.) You don’t have to worry about things like splitting the bill among a group, taking so much time that you miss your movie, wearing athletic clothes and arriving straight from the gym, etc.
Maki Fresh offers both traditional and innovative Japanese food: sushi, rice bowls, noodles, salads, sliders, sashimi, etc. I always order the sushi, though my husband sometimes gets more adventurous with rice bowls and such. My favorite three sushi rolls are:
- Blossom- salmon, green apple, arugula, goat cheese, and lemon thyme vinaigrette
- Beetnik- red beet cube, arugula, and goat cheese
- Blazer- smoked tofu, sun-dried tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, kimchi carrots, and avocado
I took a few friends in town from Chicago here a few months ago, and they loved the Beetnik rolls so much that we ate dinner there on Friday, brought some additional Beetnik rolls home to have around on Saturday, and stopped by again on Sunday on the way to catch their flight at the airport. Usually we eat delicious sweet potato sushi when I go up there, so I take it as quite a compliment that we had something they didn’t! (They also loved the gluten-free crust and vegan cheese available at Mellow Mushroom in Tuscaloosa; they said they could not get both at any one pizzeria in their Chicago neighborhood!)
Anyway, Maki Fresh makes rolls to order with both white and brown rice, and will happily add or subtract ingredients, so it is not a problem to get a Blossom roll without the salmon and cheese, for example. Or to replace those with the strawberry they have on hand for the Ringo roll, or ask for the BLT roll with no bacon. I like that the menu is creative, unique, and always evolving to include things that weren’t there before. There are a couple of exciting a la carte vegetables I just noticed on the internet menu today that we haven’t tried yet: crispy brussels sprouts and asparagus/green bean/edamame salad.
Other things to like about this restaurant: it is right across from Whole Foods, close to the The Summit, and opens every day at 10am. Very convenient for us weekend Birmingham day-trippers. Find Maki Fresh at 2800 Cahaba Village Plaza or (204) 970-3242. Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am to 9pm, and Monday 10am – 8pm.
Update 06/25/12: We ordered the “Crispy Brussels with Sweet Soy” side dish the other night for the first time, and it was fantastic! For only $3, it was huge and included a little bit of rice at the bottom of the bowl too. The sprouts had a unique, sweet-salty-savory flavor that was strong but not too overpowering. I wasn’t sure if the crispy texture would mean they were deep-fried, but thankfully, they were not. They were chewy and not overcooked, which was really nice. I am eager to get back to Maki Fresh just so I can order them again. Definitely a great way to fill up on veggies instead of the less nutritious things typically offered in a restaurant, and I love having that option. I hope Maki Fresh keeps these on the menu for a long time.