Chef Brandon Cain’s Roots & Revelry, located on the second floor of the newly reopened Thomas Jefferson Tower, features a diverse menu with dishes ranging from novel to traditional. Cain draws inspiration from the flavors of his own family story, easily making this one of the best restaurants in Birmingham.
Roots & Revelry is in Birmingham’s Thomas Jefferson Tower
If you gaze east while traveling Interstate 65 through Birmingham, Alabama, you’ve likely noticed a tall building standing apart from the grouping of high rise buildings that comprises the heart of the city’s downtown area. It owes its distinct appearance to soaring Art Deco architecture and a crowning Zeppelin mooring mast at the tower’s peak. Maybe you are picturing it right now? It’s the Thomas Jefferson Tower.
My grandparents met and fell in love at the TJ.
It was the 1940s and a young and beautiful Nelwyn Phillips had just moved to big city Birmingham from Meridian, Mississippi to work at the Thomas Jefferson Hotel. It was known as “The Pride of Birmingham” and featured an ornate marble lobby, large ballroom, dining rooms, barbershop, billiard room and a second floor rooftop terrace. Its opulence attracted notable figures and dignitaries from all over the country to Birmingham. Ray Charles, Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Rooney, Ethel Merman and US Presidents Hoover and Coolidge walked the floors of the TJ Hotel. Crimson Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant had a specially reserved suite on the 17th floor. But for me, the rich history also holds the the beginning of my story: the story of the day Nelwyn met Leonard Lanier, a resident of the hotel. Nell would go on to marry Leonard and many years later this couple who began their lifelong love story in the halls of the TJ would become my grandparents.
The hotel closed in 1983, when I was 3 years old. I’ve passed that building, wistfully, dozens of times in my life and hoped that I could step inside someday. A diehard romantic and a proud Alabamian, I followed the attempts and failures to restore and reopen the historic building with excitement and disappointment. Until at last, on January 23rd 2018, I finally stepped into the resurrected Thomas Jefferson Tower.
I was thrilled and emotional to see that the integrity of the building had been preserved so beautifully. Upon entering, the grandness of the space is emphasized by brilliant light flooding the lobby and bouncing off white marble floors and columns. The ornate crown molding is so prominent and remarkable that it is difficult to direct one’s gaze anywhere but upward. I had seen photos, but I was completely unprepared for the awe inspiring fruit filled cornucopia carved into the soaring coffered ceilings. My cup runneth over!
From the lobby, my husband and I ascended the staircase to the acclaimed restaurant located on the second floor. Roots & Revelry, the aptly-named dream child of chef and philanthropist Brandon Cain, celebrates its one year anniversary at the Thomas Jefferson Tower this month. From the terrace views to the beautifully rendered wall mural by Birmingham artist Claire Godbee, R&R captures the palpable feel of a bygone era reserved only for places with a story to tell. Chef Cain’s menu is diverse and thoughtful, with dishes ranging from novel to traditional, and drawing inspiration from the flavors of his own family story. I recommend ordering each selection of “A Daily Taste”. This is an ever changing menu feature driven by the R&R team’s culinary conscience. We enjoyed perfectly balanced Lamb Osso Buco, dreamy Caesar salad and potent craft cocktails. And we absolutely savored the PB&J, it is not what you’d expect!
Visit Roots & Revelry in Birmingham
The Thomas Jefferson Tower is a piece of Alabama’s history and Roots & Revelry is a taste of Birmingham’s future. This old building holds the story of my family roots and Roots & Revelry tells the story of Brandon Cain’s family roots. It is waiting to become part of your story. If you live in Birmingham or are just visiting, stop by the TJ Tower on 2nd Avenue North. Roots & Revelry is open at 4pm on weekdays and 11am on weekends. Take a trip back in time and see the future of the Thomas Jefferson Tower.
About Chef Brandon Cain
Owner/Executive Chef Roots & Revelry
Chef Cain doesn’t fit neatly into any category of cuisine. He spent time in New Orleans honing his kitchen skills in fine dining establishments (Emeril Lagasse’s NOLA) before completing culinary school in Birmingham. Originally from the West Coast, he has put down roots in the heart of Alabama by pioneering 3 diverse restaurants: SAW’s Soul Kitchen and Post Office Pies in Avondale and most recently, Roots & Revelry. Birmingham has responded with enthusiasm as Roots & Revelry was named “Best New Restaurant” for 2017 by Birmingham Magazine and Chef Cain was named “Man of the Year” for his philanthropy efforts.
Guest post by Angel Lanier-White
Event Coordinator, Eat Y’all