Last week, I finally got around to trying Homegrown Huntsville’s Dine & Dash, a fun take on the progressive dinner concept. Head to a downtown spot, have a bite to eat and a cocktail and board a trolley to the next spot — no worries about parking or reservations.
For only $30, you can sample specialties from five different downtown Huntsville bars and restaurants. (Only you really can’t, because there are no more Dine and Dashes scheduled past September and the two upcoming events are sold out. Check back with Homegrown Huntsville, though. They’re trying to schedule more.)
It’s a great way to try those downtown establishments you’ve been meaning to get to, and it’s a fantastic activity for a group of friends (I went with five other people).
The July 12 event was a signature drink and appetizer tasting. I learned that the word “signature” is not defined the same way by everyone and that my tolerance for smoke-filled rooms has been dramatically lowered by the preponderance of smoke-free establishments in Madison and Huntsville.
I found one spot (Amendment XXI) that definitely merits a return trip, another that I may visit when I’m feeling plush (Ruth’s Chris), a bar that I would probably enjoy with the right friends (Voodoo Lounge), and two popular spots that seem entirely overrated (Furniture Factory and Kaffeeklatsch).
Here’s a rundown of the places we tried, in the order that we visited them:
- Ruth’s Chris, as expected, proved to be the classiest stop on the tour. The waitstaff was obviously ready to impress us, and the kitchen put out two delicious appetizers: miniature crabtinis and tenderloin with Béarnaise sauce and rolls. The crabtini was simply a crab salad served in a chilled martini glass — even our miniature samples featured a generous portion of lump crabmeat tossed with a house vinaigrette and topped with a bit of remoulade sauce.
Ruth’s Chris signature cocktail offering wasn’t a cocktail at all; instead, a server offered diners their choice of a couple of wines. I’m not one to turn down a wine tasting, so I sampled both.
- The next stop was Amendment XXI, a downtown bar known for its handcrafted cocktails and ambiance. The hostess gathered us in the private room upstairs and immediately introduced us to the Strawberry Mule, a delicious combination of Absolut Citron, fresh strawberry, lime juice and ginger. Our appetizer here was a small cup of some sort of cracker/pretzel mix; the hostess explained that Amendment XXI doesn’t really have a kitchen, and instead offers foods picked up from other downtown spots such as Sam and Greg’s, Humphrey’s, Jefferson St. Pub and Mickey’s. Fair enough.
We were treated to another signature cocktail so new that it’s not even on the menu yet, leaving me to admit that I completely forgot its name. It was tasty, however.
Pro tip: Just drink whatever the Amendment XXI bartenders recommend. You won’t be sorry.
- The Voodoo Lounge was, as I had been warned, a tiny but enchanting bar. The hostess served us a small cup filled with a peachy cocktail and followed up with a sampling of the bar’s appetizer offerings: a small bite of fried chicken with a honey-based sauce (I think) and a spicy chicken wing. The chicken wing was so spicy that one table filled with our trolley cohorts offered theirs to anybody who could stomach them (I demurred, even though I found them perfectly edible).
After about 10 minutes in the Voodoo Lounge, a little more than half of our party made their way to the stairs to escape the underground space. The combination of heat and the remnants of heavy cigarette smoke (the ceilings are about 8 feet tall) quickly began to make the lounge a little less enchanting.
- The famed Furniture Factory just didn’t seem to try very hard at all. We were ushered onto a crowded back patio (apparently our gathering was slated for the uncovered patio in back, but, alas, it RAINED in Alabama, you guys). Seriously, it was standing room only back there. Quite a few dine-and-dashers invaded what appeared to be a private dining room, where we were offered appetizers. Several of us darted back outside to bring back glasses of an unidentified blue-green beverage.
If these samples were Furniture Factory’s signature offerings, then I definitely will not be returning. The three lukewarm appetizers consisted of fried jalapeno slices, fried mushrooms and what’s I’m guessing were taquitos (also fried, it’s safe to assume). The mushrooms were passable, the jalapeno slices were too spicy to judge and the taquitos were simply the worst thing I had all night. I have no evidence to indicate that the taquitos didn’t come straight out of the freezer case of the restaurant supply store (heck, I could buy the same thing at Sam’s Wholesale).
The drink, while non-offensive, was also nondescript. It looked like mouthwash and tasted like … melon liqueur, with a bit of sour flavoring added? Not terrible, but not what I would call a signature drink, either.
- The Kaffeeklatsch proved uninspiring, even if it was less crowded than the Furniture Factory, but at least the great Kaffeeklatsch mystery was finally solved for me: It’s a coffee store AND a bar. This explains the coffee supplies that can be seen from the front window AND the constant late-night activity listings.
One member of our party, dreading the combined odor of coffee and cigarette smoke, left us behind in search of gelato at Sam & Greg’s. He needn’t have feared, however, for there was no hint of coffee aroma to be found on the bar side of the Kaffeeklatsch, only the stale remnants of cigarette smoke.The hostess gave us a brief history of the coffee store and bar, and proceeded to introduce our signature goodies: sangria and a “savory bread pudding.”
Again, either the proprietors misunderstood the meaning of the word “signature,” or there’s simply nothing that interesting behind the Kaffeeklatsch bar. The sangria was a bland mishmash of fruit flavors, complete with anemic-looking strawberries and utterly lacking any noticeable trace of wine. The “savory bread pudding” was a lukewarm miniature muffin, again notable only for its blandness.
The tour hostesses were engaging and helpful, plying us with Fred Bread as we trolleyed from spot to spot and keeping us updated on the night’s scheduling.
The only ding on the entire operation was the condition of one of the trolleys; what came to be known among our group as Moldy Trolley was leaking (it was one of the summer’s rainier nights). This wasn’t the first leaky night for this trolley, however, because some of the interior wood was warped and there was a distinctive mildew odor in the back area.
Provided Moldy Trolley makes it through the next couple of months intact, I’ll be on the lookout for more Dine & Dash events. It really is a fun and innovative way to test-drive downtown Huntsville’s slew of interesting bars and restaurants.