By Donna Cornelius
It’s five o’clock. Do you know where your dinner is?
Market Table, which opened in Homewood last month, wants to help you find a tasty answer to that question. The combination café-market has food that’s ready for you to take home, heat and eat. It also has ingredients for those who want to cook at home.
What’s more, the store serves breakfast and lunch and has a full-fledged butcher and meat section.
“You can grab breakfast, pick up lunch to take to the office, and then pick up meats or prepared items for dinner on your way home,” said Phillip Baio, owner and general manager. “Yesterday we had people who came in to eat lunch and then came back later to buy food for dinner.”
Laurel Mills, director of marketing for First Avenue Ventures, the investment company behind the concept, called the multifunctional store “the first of its kind” in the Birmingham area.
“We started with the idea of having a butcher and expanded it into the idea of having a café serving breakfast and lunch,” she said.
Market Table is in Homewood’s SoHo development in the former home of Which Wich Superior Sandwiches. The new store also created room for its meat section by taking in part of another space.
You won’t find crowded shelves and narrow aisles inside. Market Table isn’t a large space – but it’s bright, cheerful and uncluttered.
“We’ve taken a curated approach by trying to bring together some of our favorite things,” Mills said. “For example, we have about 12 or 13 different wines at one time. We have a variety of prices. We try to pick our favorites in the $20 to $30 range plus a few that cost more or less.”
The floors are concrete, and the walls have beveled subway tile and wooden plank siding. Bret and Jillian Alldredge of Cullman custom-built the farm table and flower boxes outside.
“They found an antique hutch that used to hold grains and added a rack to the top to hold our buckets with fresh flowers,” Mills said. “They built our wine rack, too. They found our bakery case in Texas.”
The bakery section has breads, bagels and sweets. Dishes ready to take home might include Moroccan beef stew, braised kale, Asian meatballs, and pecan-smoked pulled pork shoulders with sweet potatoes. Craft beers and sodas are available, too.
Market Table works with Birmingham’s Urban Food Project to obtain the produce it sells. Recent fresh offerings were tomatoes and red oakleaf lettuce from Owl’s Hollow Farm in Gadsden and baby fennel from Heron Hollow Farm in Maplesville.
Shelf products are from small vendors. Some are Alabama-based, such as G Momma’s Cookies, Jennifer’s Kitchen pepper jelly, Mook Mills cheese straws and infused olive oils from Deep Roots in Birmingham.
Mills loves the handmade Stormy Monday walnut cutting boards she found from a craftsman in California.
With Father’s Day approaching, Market Table’s meat section is likely to be even busier than usual. The store will run specials, such as dry-aged steaks, aimed at pleasing carnivorous dads.
“We’re doing prime and local stuff,” Baio said. “All your decisions are made for you when you go to the grocery store. Here, you can get custom cuts or buy individually packaged meat.
“Our beef tenderloin is just the center cut. You’re not paying for all that fat and gristle; it’s already trimmed out. You’re not buying waste.”
He’s particularly proud of Market Table’s ground meat.
“About 70 percent is brisket, which has a nice fat-to-lean ratio,” he said. “We trim off filet mignon and prime cuts and fold that into the grind. It makes great burgers and chili.”
Market Table has Joyce Farms grass-fed rib-eyes, and its pork is from Southeast Family Farms near Florence.
“Their Berkshire hogs can forage and run around,” Baio said. “The chops are well-marbled.”
He said Market Table is working with the USDA to get a processing certificate to make in-house smoked bacon and sausage.
The store plans to carry at least two seafood options.
“We’ll always try to have sustainably raised salmon, and our shrimp must be wild-caught from Alabama waters,” Baio said. “We’ll rotate other products, such as Gulf grouper or red snapper or have crab cakes. And we make our own sauces, such as remoulade and blue cheese dressing.”
Butcher Ryan Butler said Market Table’s meat customers “want the same kind of experience and selection they’d get at a high-end restaurant.”
He said he “got into meat” through working with sushi.
“I worked in markets with exceptionally talented butchers,” Butler said. “I met Phillip, who shared my interest in artisanal, high-quality meats.”
Butler said he wants each customer to be excited about what they’re buying.
“Plenty of people around here are cutting meat, but nine out of 10 have a supermarket background,” he said. “We approach products differently. We look at the final product: how will it look and taste when it hits the plate?”
Butler and Baio said they love interacting with customers.
“We absolutely encourage customer feedback,” Butler said. “If you have a recipe you want to try and it has an ingredient you can’t find, let us know. And we can coach you on selecting and preparing meat.”
Baio said they can obtain “almost anything with 72 hours’ notice.”
Other members of the Market Table team are Camille Henry, café manager, and Ali Hamel, market manager.
Mills advised customers to check out the store’s social media pages to find out about café menus, specials and new features.
“We’ll soon have meal kits similar to Blue Apron,” she said. “You’ll be able to order them online. You can be more flexible – you can add extra protein, for example – but we’ll still keep the convenience and the portion sizes.”
Market Table is at 1830 29th Ave. South in Homewood. For more information, visit market-table.com or follow the store on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The store is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The café closes at 2 p.m. each day.