Bottega Cafe (Birmingham)

photo 1 When my mother and I only have 36 hours down in Birmingham, Alabama, we mean serious business in the food department -- especially after a three hour drive! Having spent a less than glamorous afternoon in the car two Tuesdays ago, I craved a top-notch dinner that did not require a fine dining vibe. Luckily, Bottega Restaurant understands this distinctive request. By pairing a white tablecloth option and trendy café side-by-side -- both providing excellent cocktails and plates -- diners can choose the atmosphere they desire more. In our case, it was Bottega Café. We were very pleased.

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We met the Rosenthals, my mother's childhood friends, and immediately ordered cocktails after finding a table. The spot was packed to the brim with beautiful couples and groups of all ages.

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The four of us munched on marinated olives (with dainty lemon twists) and homemade, extra crispy potato chips with charred onion dip. I enjoyed the smokiness of a classic Southern starter. The drinks were fabulous too, especially Bottega's famous "Orange Thing" (first photograph), served up in a martini glass. The sweetness of orang liquor and orange juice dangerously distracts you from realizing it's a strong vodka martini!

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Not that you should be surprised, but I was craving pasta. So, naturally, I ordered the garganelli with crawfish, mushrooms, squash, white wine, and basil. Sweet and savory, light yet filling. I would order it again and again.

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The others ordered crab cakes. Why? Because it was Tuesday. These heaping, sizzling cakes are only served once a week -- now deemed "Crabcake Day" at Bottega Cafe -- so my fellow guests generously shared a few bites with me. I now understand why the demand is so high!

I wish every day were Crabcake Day. . .