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In Love With: Dining al Fresco

03.25.2008 by André Natta · → 4 Comments

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You know it’s spring here when, at the first sign of warmth, people are throwing on the T-shirts, shorts, and sandals. It seems we in Alabama can’t stand to be cooped up in our houses when the sun is shining, the trees are budding, and the breeze is just right. We’re ready to move our activities outside. And naturally, that includes eating.

Enjoying a meal outside is one of the great pleasures of this time of year, especially when the clock springs forward and allows the sun to illuminate the city in golden light in the evenings. And plenty of local restaurants are happy to oblige (though I wish more of them would do it).

Rojo may be the most popular place to eat outdoors, and it’s tough to argue against it. Once the winter walls come down on the patio (which I’ve heard will happen in a couple of weeks), you’re treated to a parade of people and pets set against the leafy green backdrop of Rhodes Park and historic Highland Avenue. It’s no wonder those tables are always full.

Even though the outdoor tables at Cantina overlook a parking lot, they have always been a great place to soak up a warm evening. And judging from a recent visit, the parking lot won’t be a much of a problem anymore. New high hedges mask the view and help enclose the patio, and strings of lights overhead add atmosphere. I can’t wait to see how that looks at night.

Bottega’s terrace strikes me as a little piece of Los Angeles on Highland Avenue. Perhaps it’s the restaurant’s architecture, the front-door valet service, the colorful umbrellas, or all the sunglasses that give me a California vibe. It’s certainly a place to go to see and be seen.

And last on my list, but perhaps best, is The Garage Café. For me its courtyard is a kind of wonderland, with its nooks and crannies and odd juxtapositions of antiques and junk. I highly recommend escaping from the office to enjoy a lunch under the wisteria there when it blooms in a few weeks. You’ll feel a little decadent—and very lucky to be in Birmingham in the spring.

Got any of your own favorite outdoor dining spots to add to the list?

Rojo, 2921 Highland Avenue South; Cantina, 2901 2nd Avenue South; Bottega, 2242 Highland Avenue South; Garage Café, 2304 10th Terrace South

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