Admit it, there are times you just feel like some good ole American Tavern food… You know the food you really love but hate to admit you love. Shhhh, it’s my dirty little secret, too.
So, when you’re in Birmingham and your tastes (and wallet) fall somewhere between The Hunter House, Fleming’s Steak House and The Stand where do you go? Where can you find a slice of Royal Oak or Ferndale in an affluent city full of trendy bistros, pricey steakhouses and au courant cuisine?
The answer is the Triple Nickel Restaurant and Bar.
It’s welcome “change”.
Nothing screams unapproachable Birmingham at the Triple Nickel… Everything says “Welcome, have a drink or a bite to eat…Relax and stay a while”.
Triple Nickel isn’t a sports bar
(although your favorite team might be
on one of their HD flat screen TV’s over
either one of its bars). It isn’t a foodie
hot spot, (although you and your friends
will likely find the menu choices familiar
and appealing). This IS a come as you are
tavern, one that both locals and out-of-towners
can find comfortable, welcome and predictable.
Entering the restaurant’s narrow, two story, townhouse-style layout from the sidewalk on 555 Old South Woodward (thus Triple Nickel and the Buffalo Nickel cues), a handsome bar flanks your right side while deep, bison-brown leather banquettes are to your left, each separated by narrow striped cloth curtains giving you a sense of privacy.
With a full-sized canoe overhead and a trophy buffalo head mounted over the bar, the restaurant’s ground floor color palate of black, dark browns, charcoal gray and various wood tones mix nicely with the contemporary cobalt-blue light fixtures and large floor to ceiling windows on Triple Nickel’s north-facing Bowers street. The walls are accessorized with framed pictures of scenes from the untamed Old West, vintage boats and other assorted vintage American finds. They all assemble quite nicely as a whole to create a space even Buffalo Bill might have enjoyed.
While it’s not the Old West, Triple Nickel’s “West of Woodward” location will likely be one of the hottest spots to see Mustangs roaming the streets during the Woodward Dream Cruise. Upstairs, the color palate is lightened and even more casual mixing in black with deep ocean blues, lighter grays, pickled oak table tops and chairs, and once again their distinctive cobalt blue custom light fixtures.
The 2nd floor’s most distinctive features are the views overlooking both Woodwards (M-1 and Old South Woodward) and bars flanked by tall, accordion glass windows which were all folded back on the west side to enjoy the beautiful weather that day. The “island” gas fireplaces wrapped with black-steel panels and zinc-finished bar rails are the perfect size for those only looking for space for drinks and some small plates to enjoy.
All of the surfaces throughout (including the polished concrete-aggregate floors) are hard and durable yet the space still feels warm and comfortable. Honestly, you really can’t hurt this place; future wear will only add to its character, just like well worn leather, similarly to how gracefully the original design of Birmingham’s 220 Merrill once aged.
Building designers Corey Campbell of C-arc Design Group and interior designers Ron & Roman (all themselves of Birmingham) have perfectly split the difference between being designed and OVER designed. They know what works in their town. In other words, Triple Nickel’s design makes cents. (sorry…)
Onto the food.
Speaking of indestructible, you won’t hurt their menus either; they’re heavy guarded in plastic with food offerings on one side and beverages (including a nice section of beer and American wines) opposite. Chef John Fleming, late of Sindbad’s has put together a rather comprehensive selection of Appetizers (from $8 to $13), Entrees (from $16 to $29) with Soups, Salads…and yes, Burgers. Everything priced below the “magic” $30 entrée price threshold.
The waiters and barkeeps, attired in black with pin-striped black aprons, seemed to keep pace with the wishes of their customers all throughout my visit as beverages from the reasonably well-stocked bars and food from their busy kitchen arrived on simple white china with silverware wrapped in blue pin-striped bar towel napkins. Honestly, this makes it 4 out of the last 5 of my reviewed restaurants using this type of napkin. My financial advisor really missed the boat on this Detroit bar towel napkin concession business opportunity. Sigh.
I sampled 3 dishes.
My first choice was Triple Nickel’s Maryland Lump Crab Cakes with Lobster Cream Sauce. Crab cakes are one of my all time menu litmus tests to see where my expectations should lie from a culinary perspective. In all fairness, I’ll pay nearly any price for a truly great crab cake. (Actually, I can get pretty crabby). Ones made of large chunks of crab with little filler at $11, well, that’s next to impossible to do. The cakes (2) with sauce were flavorful and appropriate to their price.
Before Detroit put the nation on wheels, it turned them on to…legs?
In the days when buffalo DID roam the plains, Frog Legs, Road House Style, were pretty fashionable eats. How fashionable? From a 2014 Hour Magazine piece entitled When Frogs Were King. In 1910 Detroit produced, shipped, and consumed 12 tons of frog legs, 6 million pairs of legs (called “saddles”). Detroit hotels served 800 dozen a day. In 1911 the New York Times wrote an assessment of the best food found in the United States, saying: “Detroit is famous for frog legs.” At $8, I had to try them. They were fabulous.
Now, in the land of pricey “Steak Houses” just how would Triple Nickel fare I wondered? To find out I tried their 4 oz Filet Mignon with Fresh Vegetables and Fingerling Potatoes at $21 which comes with your choice of Zip or Mushroom Diane Sauce (I had the latter). I ordered it medium rare. Understand that a 4 ounce size filet, unless it’s cut from the tail end of the tenderloin, won’t be very thick, which makes it even harder to prepare rare to medium-rare with any crust at all, yet the kitchen did an admirable job. It was indeed medium-rare and the Diane sauce with its signature piquant mustard and pepper was flavorful and not overpowering.
In the end, Triple Nickel’s future success will be won by an equal combination of predictably good food, attentive casual service and fair pricing. In that regard, so far, it’s getting “high fives”.
I go to pay for my bill and dig in my pocket for my money clip (…ok, to be honest it’s actually a colorful rubber band I steal off our broccoli bunches wrapped around my credit cards and whatever cash I carry)…. And I unfold my cash… 3 bills…. All fives…
What were the chances?…
As for the rest, here’s my box score. *(5 being highest/best where numbers are listed)
Menu Intimidation Factor MIF: 2.5 No pretensions here, you’ll pretty much recognize and understand everything on their menu.
Dress: 2.5 It’s come as you are. Even The Village People would fit right in…(the Y.M.C.A. Village People that is)….Grosse Pointer’s are also welcome.
The Crowd: 4 Generally, it’s a mixture of locals, the after work crowd on weekday nights, a Tiger fan who just didn’t want to watch the game at home alone and a few couples from Oak Park who just wanted to see what was north of the Zoo.
Parking: 5 Deck parking, bike parking, metered street and valet parking are all available (which may be especially important for all of you who might actually live in Birmingham but STILL wish to drive 5 blocks so people can see you get out of your beautiful ride).
Bang for the Buck: 3.5 The food and drink prices are rather reasonable and the service attentive. You are pretty much getting what you’re paying for.
Food Stuff: 3 It’s a Road House/Tavern do I need to explain? They DO however offer gluten free, vegan and low calorie selections of 475 calories or less.
Energy, Vibe, & the Cool-Wow Factor: 3.5 A rather eclectic and “festive” scene. As the evening goes on, the drinks flow and the stories get more animated; you might just have to walk outside to think straight enough to contact Über.
About: Triple Nickel Restaurant & Bar is at 555 Old South Woodward, Birmingham and does take reservations by phone at: 248-480-4951.
The current hours of operation are every darn day from 4 pm to 2 am. Lunch is in the works soon. You can click here for their website.
Miscellaneous Stuff: They accept all the usual plastic cards and are wheelchair accessible (which technically any new restaurant has to be nowadays).
Both Triple Nickel’s menu and environment are kid friendly and suitable for large groups although I’d give them a heads up if your group is larger than 6.