Restaurant Review: Red or White Wine & Gourmet Center

Red or White Wine & Gourmet Center brings something delectably different to the table. The popular shops, located on both sides of the Bay, offer an impressive, intriguing array of vino along with fun, fabulous food. It’s a cosmopolitan concept, with the lively bustle of business and a hip, date-night vibe. Hop in for a great pizza, and pop a cork on a good bottle of wine. (There is a $5 corkage fee for the first bottle only.) Or, if you prefer, the restaurants offer  more than a dozen wines by the glass from a selection that changes monthly.

“The wine bar aspect is a major part of what makes us unique, ” says owner Randy Williams. “We were the first in the state, that I know of, to combine a full retail store with a serious food menu to accompany a glass or bottle.” The original Red or White in downtown Fairhope opened almost a decade ago. The midtown Mobile location opened in the historic Nixon drugstore in 2007.

“It’s small plate-type dining, but most things are meant to be shared, such as our sampler platter that has cured meats, cheeses, marinated beans, olives, bruschetta and ravioli.” One of the cheese boards complements white wine, another pairs with red. Or you can mix and match from a number of American artisan cheeses. There are two types of bruschetta: a classic capped with house-made herb and garlic cheese with fresh tomatoes and olive oil, and the more unique offering of  strawberry black pepper jam and cheese. The menu features four pizzas that are staples, all 10-inches for $10, and usually a creative chef’s special for $12 – such as the remarkable recent pear and prosciutto. However, says Williams, “No matter how many tasty and innovative pizzas we create, the Margarita Pizza is the king. Handmade thin crust with just the right touch of balsamic vinegar and a firm mozzarella.” If it is just a nibble you need, simply order nuts, marinated beans, warm olives or a ramekin of warm mushroom ravioli (a bargain for $4.50). “We never intended to be a spot for a full dinner, but if you choose carefully you will not go away hungry.”

There are no desserts, but an after-dinner sip of something sparkling may suffice. Saturday tastings at each location feature a small assortment of antipasti along with five 2-ounce wine samplings for $15. The special events are from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., and there is always a theme, such as wines from the Loire Valley or new finds from California.

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on the menu

Antipasto Board
This is a smorgasbord of meat and cheese, including sopressata (Italian pork salami) and bresaola (air-cured beef), a wedge of ultra creamy Camembert-style cheese and divine, nutty goat cheese with a Parmesan-crystalline component. Walnuts, warm olives, gigantic, tasty, marinated fava-like white beans and olive-oil-drizzled baguette slices round out the board.

Wild Mushroom Ravioli
A quartet of tender, round ravioli are filled with sautéed wild mushrooms in a creamy, roasted red pepper sauce and sprinkled heartily with a hail of Pecorino cheese. The dish can be served solo or as part of the sampler board.

Shrimp and Asparagus
In this seasonal favorite, snappy, citrus-marinated shrimp with ribbons of shaved asparagus, slivers of avocado and red onion are  sprinkled with sassy fresh cilantro.

Pear and Prosciutto Pizza
Divinely salty prosciutto and soft slices of warm, ripe pear beneath a blanket of bubbly, golden brown, melted cheese  top a thin, crisp crust. Slightly sweet, splendidly savory and potentially habit forming.

Red or White Wine & Gourmet Center
Retail: 10:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. M, 10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. T – Sa. Dining: 3 p.m. – 8 p.m. T – Sa.
1801 Old Shell Road. 478-9494. 323 De La Mare Ave., Suite A. Fairhope. 990-0003.

text by Sallye Irvine • photo by Devin Ford

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