Dining in Montgomery, Alabama

Dining out is alive and well in Montgomery, Alabama. Far from having to make do with the usual chain restaurants, the various neighborhoods and communities in Montgomery each have their own collections of locally owned restaurants that not only hold their own, but thrive, thanks to their charm, friendliness and consistently high quality dishes.

One such community is Old Cloverdale. Once considered the section of town where the movers and shakers of the city resided, Cloverdale has retained its sense of gentry while expanding its image to being known as an area supportive of human rights, the arts, and higher education. Boasting two universities and a country club, Cloverdale delights in its diversity almost as much as it takes pride in the local restaurants that are integral to the events and life of the neighborhood.

As one of the hallowed spots in Old Cloverdale, Martin’s Restaurant offers good old fashioned Southern cooking, with plentiful portions on every plate. Anchoring one end of Cloverdale’s only “modern” shopping center, this restaurant offers a happy respite from running errands or dealing with day to day living. Completely unpretentious in both dÃ?©cor and food, Martin’s is the place to go when craving fresh-from-the skillet fried chicken (a Martin’s specialty), mounds of black eyed peas, perfectly seasoned turnip greens, creamy mashed potatoes and hearty gravy. In addition to the fried chicken, Martin’s meat loaf also is a favorite with the weekday lunch crowd. Vegetables vary from day to day, with whatever is currently in season spotlighted.

Desserts also bring in the crowds, with Martin’s home made meringue pies being the perfect compliment to after dinner coffee. Especially popular is Martin’s coconut pie, with a filling just sweet enough without going over the top, and a mile high meringue tanned to a golden brown.

As is typical with most of Montgomery’s local restaurants, Martin’s serves up a hearty meal and does not break the bank. Coupled with their fast service and friendly staff, this makes Martin’s an ideal spot for a quick lunch, or for a leisurely weekend meal with friends and family.

If you are looking for the perfect spot to grab a bite before the movie, Sinclair’s is ideal. Located in the heart of Cloverdale, Sinclair’s is adjacent to Montgomery’s one remaining singleplex theater. Deriving its name from a service station that occupied the spot until the 1960’s, Sinclair’s offers up a friendly bar (the martini’s are especially good), inside dining, and terrace dining. The menu is an eclectic mix of local favorites and some variations on international dishes. In addition to drinks from the bar, one can also enjoy a variety of herb teas and a small but quality wine list.

Sinclair’s is noted locally for its salads, in particular it’s Chef Salad, which features three different meats. In addition to the usual popular types of salad dressings, Sinclair’s also serves up some of their own vinaigrettes, prepared by the staff. Along with a nice variety of meat, chicken, and fish entrees, vegetarian dishes are also available. A favorite is Sinclair’s mushroom burger, sliced, seasoned, and broiled to perfection.

Especially popular in the spring and fall is the terrace at Sinclair’s. The terrace offers the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine or a leisurely meal while watching people come and go from the theater and other Cloverdale spots. In the evenings, music from the jazz club down the street adds to the charm of relaxing at Sinclair’s.

Across the street from Sinclair’s is Montgomery’s premiere local pizzeria, Tomatino’s. Typically filled with people and laughter, Tomatino’s projects a laid back, easygoing atmosphere, very casual and comfortable. Here, friends gather to commiserate over the work day, share a few laughs, and load up on the best pizza in town. The pizzas are made with a variety of different style crusts, including alternatives to crusts made with wheat. Toppings range from the usual (sausage and pepperoni) to the more exotic (sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts). Diners may choose from a variety of specialty pizzas, or select their own toppings.

In addition to the pizzas, Tomatino’s also offers calzones, focaccia sandwiches, and crisp fresh salads. Drink offerings run the gamut from soft drinks to fruit and vegetable juices to table wines.

Next door to Tomatino’s is the perfect place to go if one wants to grab a light meal and some peace and quiet. CafÃ?© Louisa specializes in delightful sandwiches and soups, a variety of teas and coffees, organic baked breads, and comfortable little niches that are great for curling up with a newspaper or a good book. If you forget your book or paper, that is no problem at all; CafÃ?© Louisa keeps a few lying around at all times.

The restaurant is laid out almost like a family room, with comfortable tables and chairs for two, a lounging couch near one window, and a wonderful little nook with a countertop and stools flanking the other window. Bottles of wine, mouthwatering sweetbreads and scones, and a gelato bar create a feel that would make even the coldest heart go all warm and fuzzy. In cooler weather, a small fire pit adds warmth and bids welcome to CafÃ?© Louisa’s loyal patrons. In warmer weather, CafÃ?© Louisa teams with Tomatino’s to maintain several tables on the sidewalk, further adding to the delight of spending time in Old Cloverdale.

CafÃ?© Louisa serves up a rarity in Montgomery, and does so with great success. Prepared in their kitchen and using their own signature blend of seasonings, the CafÃ?©’s version of hummus is served on a bed of greens and garnished with black olives and tomato wedges, and accompanied by thin triangular slices of one of their home baked breads. When paired with one’s favorite coffee of the day, this makes for a light meal that is not only tasty and filling, but also healthy.

Rounding out the food offerings in Old Cloverdale is the El Rey Burrito Lounge, just three doors down from Sinclair’s. Don’t let the name fool you. This is more than just a quickie burrito stand. Dishing up some of the best Mexican food available in Montgomery, El Rey’s has a full range of tacos, platters featuring shrimp, steak, chicken, portabello and fish entrees, meat and vegetarian quesadillas, and an impressive wine and beer list. The restaurant, all in wood with almost a log cabin feel augmented with the bright colors of Mexican culture, boasts not only a porch with comfortable tables and chairs, but a courtyard area featuring trees (that form a natural canopy) and pole mounted electric heaters that allow one to enjoy a meal outside even in cold weather. The staff is friendly, the drinks are good (especially the margaritas), and the food is always served fresh and piping hot. If you are in the mood for something a little different, try pairing a margarita with El Rey’s portabello quesadillas; the combination is great for a Saturday afternoon.

Old Cloverdale has a lot to be proud of when it comes to places to meet, eat, and enjoy. The combinations of various types of food, a diversity of atmospheres, and an overall sense of friendliness make this community in Montgomery a truly inviting place to enjoy a meal, whether with loved ones or with a good book.

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