It’s a new day at Homewood Gourmet, which has moved to a new home in the heart of Homewood after 26 years wedged into a narrow storefront at a nearby shopping plaza.
The move to 2703 Mamie L. Foster (18th Place South) gives co-owners Chris and Laura Zapalowski extra kitchen and refrigerated storage space, allowing the eatery to expand dine-in service and grab-and-go offerings. With the new location a block from Homewood’s downtown business district on 18th Street South (it’s behind Rodney Scott’s and Little Donkey), the Zapalowskis are seeing new walk-up traffic from shoppers and area workers.
Homewood Gourmet old-timers also will find the parking has improved considerably.
“That is a huge change,” Chris says. “People have told me they stopped going to the old place because they could not find a parking space.”
Although its official grand opening was May 8, Homewood Gourmet quietly started serving customers in late March. It is open Monday-Friday from 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. It is closed on Sundays.
The restaurant menu combines upscale deli sandwiches and salads with classics from New Orleans, where Chris grew up and worked in the flagship restaurant of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Zapalowski, who also cooked several years at legendary Birmingham chef Chris Hastings’ Hot and Hot Fish Club, makes his restaurant’s Cajun-style tasso (spicy pork shoulder) and sausages including pork-and-rice boudin. He sells boudin links in 1.5-pound packages, and sausage plates are among the brunch offerings at Homewood Gourmet’s weekly stand at Pepper Place’s Saturday farmers market.
Other customer menu favorites include the signature baby blue salad, Carlene’s Plate (baby blue salad with grilled salmon and fresh-baked foccacia), house-made pimento cheese, po-boy sandwiches, and gumbo with chicken and house-made andouille sausage.
Grab-and-go coolers stock both frozen and chilled Homewood Gourmet menu items, and frozen Gulf seafood from Bayou Gourmet. Catering mainly revolves around sandwiches and box lunches for corporate and group events. Homewood Gourmet also goes off-site for private dinner parties.
Chris and Laura lived in New Orleans until 2005, when Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city. The couple escaped to the Birmingham area, where Laura was raised. Before long, their planned temporary stay became a permanent relocation.
In 2010, the couple bought Homewood Gourmet from Laura’s former boss, Franklin Biggs, the chef who founded the eatery in 1997. The Zapalowskis retained some of Biggs’ creations and added their own NOLA-inspired touches.
Although seating capacity is roughly the same as before—but on a single level at the new site—having a larger kitchen and walk-in coolers are boons, Chris says.
“Everybody has their work space,” he says. “I’ve got lots of space to do prep. I’ve got space to keep food cold. I couldn’t do certain catering jobs because I didn’t have the right equipment to keep the food cold and safe.”
Zapalowski says he does not plan to change the main menu, at least while the restaurant settles into its new home. One possibility is simplifying by trimming it to top customer draws like fried shrimp, meatloaf, boudin, fried green tomato, baby blue salad, and Carlene’s plate.
“But that might throw people off,” the restaurateur says. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Zapalowski says the move is re-invigorating. It’s a joy to once again fully feel the energy that the daily lunch rush creates.
“It’s been refreshing,” he says. “Having that fast pace has been so much fun. It doesn’t feel like the same old drag.”