The Birmingham Lunch Club visited Birmingham meat and three institution Niki’s West and brought along our very first guest.
Special VIP Guest Rachael: On the day I chose to redeem my BLC invite (which I won in a cut-throat game of dirty Santa) we journeyed to Niki’s West, a classic meat and three. The atmosphere was hectic and fun, although it caused me a little bit of anxiety when I was getting close to the ordering counter. There were probably 100 or so business people on their lunch break in the line that was roped off, giving the whole crowd a cattle vibe. The big menu was one the wall and although I knew what I wanted, I got a little choked on my words once it was my turn to order. If you go during a lunch rush, you will understand how much of a high-pressure situation ordering really is. After we all ordered we sat down and we chowed down. I had the country-fried steak, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, and sweet tea. The food was mediocre (as I find to be true with most meat and threes) and was pretty over-priced. Twelve dollars for one meat and two sides seemed a little overkill, although I can assure you none of us left hungry. The portions were generous, but in my opinion, the food was a little bland for the price. I think I would have enjoyed my country-fried steak a little more if Joey had not pointed out how undercooked it was. Once the fear of E. Coli set in, I stuck to my potatoes and mac and cheese. The overall experience was fun, but I wouldn’t go there if I was looking for a good, home-cooked meal. Our waitress was very nice and quick with the small talk and refills, I really liked her. The BLC conversation was anywhere from political and intelligent, to typical dude remarks centered around Jennifer Aniston’s derrière. Overall I had a great BLC experience, but probably will not be going back to Niki’s West anytime soon. OVERALL: 2.5 out of 5 Rachaels
Brad: I have never been a fan of the classic “meat-and-three” restaurant. I used to bring my lunch to school most days (except for cold-cut day and taquito day) as I wasn’t into pizza and corn and the like. Not to knock the culinary aptitude of the school lunch staff (these people are extremely underrated and under appreciated in my opinion), (Editor’s note: and underpaid!) but I just never dug the cafeteria food. Would Nikki’s West change my view? The place is an amazing sight. Located off of Finley Blvd., the restaurant is a chameleon. From the outside, it looks like a typical old-school dive. Upon entering, it opens up huge. It must seat 400 people. The line is militarily smooth: know what you want, when you want it and for Christ’s sake DON’T have a phone out. It was a pressure cooker – you need to tell them what you want when you slide your tray down the line, though it isn’t clear what each item is. Granted, the wait in the line gives you time to view the options, but is that spinach, greens, arugula? I hastily ordered fried tilapia, tomato shell pasta, greens and grapes. The meal was extremely pedestrian. It was good, but I don’t think they did it any better than I could have. The service was good, and it was nice to visit a Birmingham classic. While the allure of Nikki’s is down-home cooking, after dropping $15 it’s hard to justify anything as comfort food. Overall: 2.5 out of 5 bros
Greg: I was hungry when I made this week’s BLC selection. For that reason, I wanted to go to a place where I would get filled up. Niki’s West will always get that job done. We made the trek out to Finley Blvd on Friday afternoon. It was very crowded and we went to the end of the cafeteria line. When bringing first timers, it is good to have a long line to view the process of ordering. It is very Soup Nazi like in that you need to be ready to order when it is your turn. I settled on turkey and dressing, green beans, and mashed potatoes. Everything was tasty, but I really enjoyed the green beans. The spices used were fantastic and everything was cooked to perfection. Our server was fast and courteous. I ordered a meat and 2 plate and after tip came out at $12. That is one of my few complaints with Niki’s, it is a little pricy for a BLC stop. It took a little time making it through the line, but they are pumping a lot of people through each day. Overall, a great experience at a true Birmingham landmark. Overall: 4 out of 5 bros
Joey: I’m not a big eater, so I really would prefer a meat and one but I ventured to Niki’s West anyways. After being herded through the cattle call line, I ordered the Baked Greek chicken (at the suggestion of C$), green beans, cole slaw, and fried okra. The size of the dining room and the ordering system reminded me of a cafeteria at DisneyWorld. At our table in the far back corner of the dining room, we were meet with the always unnecessary waitress at a buffet restaurant. It was her third day on the job and she seemed a bit frazzled. This was very much a place my grandma would have enjoyed, right down to serving the drinks in tiny glasses. The baked chicken was great and the green beans were the best I’ve had in town. I would recommend Niki’s West to take your parents or grandparents. But in reality, it’s a place they would take you. Overall: 4 out of 5 Bros
COMPOSITE SCORE: 3.35 Bros or Rachaels