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Niki's West

233 Finley Ave, West, Birmingham, AL - (205) 252-5751
Posted By Michael Stern on 11/23/2007 8:41:00 PM
Although vegetables are big at Niki’s, a quaint country greenmarket it is not. All around it, trucks rumble past serving warehouses where produce is loaded and shipped. The truckers eat at Niki’s, but it’s no typical truck stop diner. In fact, Niki’s does not quite fit any genre of restaurant. It is a low-slung banquet hall with signs in its vestibule warning customers: “No Tank Tops, No Bare Feet, No Rollers on Head” and furthermore, “Smoking is not encouraged but accepted.” If you can live with the rules, you enter a cool, commodious space with a nautical/Aegean theme (fish nets, scenic pictures, mounted fish) and a cafeteria line where servers sell the food with the speed and enthusiasm of an auctioneer: “Have yourself a nice little seeded roll! … Look at these smooth mashed potatoes … Don’t those beef ribs look big and fine?”

Families, blue-collar and white-collar workers, bargain-hunters, and big eaters wind through the fast-moving line piling trays with plates and bowls of food. Seafood abounds – baked fish Creole, broiled mackerel, grilled amberjack – and there is always delicious baked Greek chicken, but it’s vegetables that set appetite awhirl. We counted more than three dozen vegetables in the cornucopic array, including yellow squash casserole, fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and three different kinds of seasoned greens (turnip, collard, and spinach), all guaranteed by one impassioned server to be “ninety-eight percent fresh, except for some dried peas we use.” Some lovely items from the market are austere enough to please any fatphobe, such as sliced tomatoes, raw vegetable vinaigrette, and baby lima beans, but most of Niki’s produce is prepared according to the more voluptuous southern-café tradition. Broccoli is mixed with cheese and rice in a crazy-rich melange; tomatoes are stewed with sugar and shreds of torn white bread until they become as sweet as cobbler; bright orange yams are infused with sugar; crunchy-fresh okra is sheathed in a deep-fried crust.

Among the dessert selection, we were less impressed with Niki’s cream pies than with banana pudding, a baby-food bowl of custard and softened vanilla wafers. Curiously, the take-out menu lists pudding along with apple and peach cobbler – as a vegetable!

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Scorecard

5 - Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
Overall: Legendary - Worth driving from anyplace
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Reviewers Photos [Upload Your Photos]

Lemon ice box pie
"Lemon ice box pie"
BSamuelson





Egg custard pie, spiced with nutmeg
"Egg custard pie, spiced with nutmeg"
BSamuelson


Maybe the cream pies at Niki's have improved.  Everyone at our table who took a bite of this lightweight beauty declared it delicious.
"Maybe the cream pies at Niki's have improved. Everyone at our table who took a bite of this lightweight beauty declared it delicious."
Cliff Strutz


Niki's excellent macaroni & cheese is thick and ultra-cheesy.
"Niki's excellent macaroni & cheese is thick and ultra-cheesy."
Cliff Strutz


The perfect way to end a meal at Niki's is with the outstanding banana pudding, which is the best I have ever had.
"The perfect way to end a meal at Niki's is with the outstanding banana pudding, which is the best I have ever had."
Cliff Strutz


Crunchy, salty and full of flavor, the fried okra receives my vote as Niki's best side dish.
"Crunchy, salty and full of flavor, the fried okra receives my vote as Niki's best side dish."
Cliff Strutz


The yellow squash casserole is cooked until it is baby food soft.
"The yellow squash casserole is cooked until it is baby food soft."
Cliff Strutz


Eating at Niki's makes me wish I could get dishes like fried green tomatoes back north.
"Eating at Niki's makes me wish I could get dishes like fried green tomatoes back north."
Cliff Strutz


The theme of Niki's place mat is oceanic, and the baked fish Creole is terrific, but it's vegetables that star.
"The theme of Niki's place mat is oceanic, and the baked fish Creole is terrific, but it's vegetables that star."
Michael Stern


A rare quiet moment in the cafeteria line.  You will need to be able to make snap decisions, because the line moves quickly!
"A rare quiet moment in the cafeteria line. You will need to be able to make snap decisions, because the line moves quickly!"
Cliff Strutz


This wall decoration at the beginning of the cafeteria line clues you in to the fact that Niki's takes their seafood seriously.
"This wall decoration at the beginning of the cafeteria line clues you in to the fact that Niki's takes their seafood seriously."
Cliff Strutz


Niki's West draws big crowds.  On this visit, a parking lot attendant was necessary to direct traffic.
"Niki's West draws big crowds. On this visit, a parking lot attendant was necessary to direct traffic."
Cliff Strutz



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