If rain on a couple’s wedding day is a good omen, then what is snow on an Alabama business’s opening day? Columbiana’s Erica Ryan, owner of The Local Kitchen & Ale, is poised to find out.
As snow blanketed Shelby County and surrounding areas on Dec. 8, and many offices and schools closed, Erica and her husband, Sean, opened the doors of their first restaurant in Columbiana. Some of their first customers had lost power at their homes and were grateful for a place to eat. Even so, the couple and their staff weren’t inundated with people as they worked through their first day of business. “It actually worked out well,” Erica says.
Erica and Sean moved from Atlanta to a 12-acre farm on the outskirts of Columbiana six years ago. Their proximity to U.S. 280 has led them to explore the myriad eateries dotting the heavily traveled highway, particularly at dinnertime. Their palates were satisfied, but they started wishing similar places existed closer to their house, and they figured other people in the area did, too.
Erica’s solution was to open a restaurant in Columbiana. She wanted to create a casual, comfortable spot where families could go for lunch or dinner, but also where adults could enjoy a glass of local wine, a craft beer or a freshly made cocktail with their meals. At the core of her concept was fostering the same sense of community inside the walls of the restaurant as she and Sean have felt since they moved to Shelby County.
“I thought, ‘I want a place like this, and I want it close to home,’” she says.
She presented her idea to city leaders, who were supportive. “It was nice to know the city was behind us.”
Inspiration for the restaurant’s name is fleshed out in the “Our Philosophy” tab of the website: “For centuries in England, each neighborhood had its own “Local,” a place where neighbors gathered for warm food and hearty ales, to meet with friends and loved ones, and maybe even to listen to a little music. We believe any community is only as strong as the people that live and work there, and bringing those people together over good food and good conversation is our goal.”
Erica worked with a chef in Nashville to create a menu and stable of ingredients for each dish at The Local Kitchen & Ale. The menu includes specialty hot sandwiches, salads, soups and “shareables,” which are appetizer-like plates designed for multiple people to share. One of the shareables Erica is particularly excited about is the Local Cheese Plate, a selection of three Alabama-made cheeses served with fruit, nuts and thick slices of baguette.
The Local Biscuit Duo – pulled pork and pimento cheese piled high with a fried green tomato between fluffy, golden biscuits – is popular among patrons.
“The idea is that you come with friends and family, and you can share things,” Erica says. “Things are made to be shared for the table. You can come and taste different things.”
Handcrafted sandwich favorites include the Local Roast Beef Sandwich, the Bacon Pimento-Cheese Steak and the Chicken Salad Sandwich. Desserts currently include Orange Creamsicle Cake and Walnut Bourbon Bread Pudding, but more desserts will be added to the rotation, Erica says.
“Everything is made to order,” Erica says. “The experience is as important as the food itself. We want you to sit down. We want you to enjoy yourself. All your food is hand-crafted.”
She also wants to support other local businesses by using locally-sourced ingredients and products. Local partners include Lewis Lakes Vineyards, Wright Dairy, Dayspring Dairy, Royal Cup Coffee Helena Pepper Company and Sweatmon’s Produce and Garden Center.
The Local Kitchen & Ale’s bar selection consists of craft wine and beer, along with signature cocktails prepared by mixologist Jon Harrison. Each cocktail bears a name inspired by a place or person, such as the Columbiana Cosmo – a mixture of Tanqueray, Chambord, Triple Sec, club soda, sugar and lemon.
“We’re a restaurant that has a bar; we’re not a bar,” Erica says. “We’re more of a laid-back, sedate place. We are for all ages.”
When the weather is nice, an enclosed side patio will be open for patrons to use.
Before opening The Local Kitchen & Ale, Erica was working on the prequel to her previously published fiction novel “What Lies Under the Fallen Sky.”
Construction on the restaurant started in spring 2017.
“Sometimes, it’s a little surreal because it did take so long,” Erica says. “The feedback from the community has been so positive. It means a lot.”
Address: 21270 Highway 25, Columbiana, AL 35186 (next to Bryant Bank)
Kitchen Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.-5 p.m. (bar open later)
Head Chef: Brianna Hendon
Chocolate Decadence Martini
What’s In It
- 1.5 ounces Smirnoff Vanilla
- .5 ounce Godiva Chocolate Liqueur
- .5 ounce Malibu Rum
- .5 ounce Kahlua
- Shake all over ice.
- Drizzle martini glass with chocolate syrup, and pour.