The best seat in Bistro V is perhaps the chef’s counter. There, Chef Jeremy Downey will talk shop with you on how to best grill fish while he prepares your plate. For him, the restaurant is about the people as much as the food. “We have an open kitchen where people talk to you and give you a hug,” Jeremy says. “At least half the people who come in are people I know. It makes it a nice, friendly atmosphere…I like being part of their life. It means a lot. Food is about family anyways. That’s why people gather around the table, for the camaraderie and fellowship. That’s what drew me to it—it always felt good to cook and eat and talk.”
Growing up in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, Jeremy spent part of his teenage years working in seafood factories, unloading and unpacking shrimp, gaining firsthand knowledge of the industry. He played football at the University of Alabama from 1992-1996, but he didn’t go to school to be a chef. He started at the bottom of restaurants and worked his way up, training from Tuscaloosa to California and Washington D.C., and finally, Birmingham, where he worked at Bottega and City Hall Diner before opening Bistro V seven years ago.
“I was a kitchen rat that was all over the country learning and picking up my trade as I went along,” he says. “I enjoyed all the ins and outs of the kitchen. I liked the people, the vibe in there. I still do. I love hanging out with the kitchen guys—I’ve always loved being a kitchen guy.”
And that kitchen guy has produced a menu at Bistro V full of local favorites. From the popular Fish of the Day to the Fried Oyster Salad or their staples of Shrimp and Grits to pasta dishes like Gulf Crab Ravioli, the restaurant’s mainstay plates keep the regulars coming back and entice in new people too. Other popular plates include Seafood Bisque, Fresh Pea Succotash with Grouper, and the Risotto of the Day. Customers start asking for the seasonal Farmer’s Market Salad, a summer dish of fried okra and fresh peas, tomatoes and corn, in March because they miss the plate so much when it’s out of season.
Jeremy’s biggest inspiration for cooking comes from the product itself as well as creating new takes on favorite dishes from the past. “If you have any memories of summers in Alabama, all your senses come alive. You can smell the tomatoes and corn in the air. The hotter it gets, the tomato season is about to hit. I’m heavy into vegetables and seafood, that’s what we do really well at Bistro V. We also do meats well, but seafood’s the draw. It always will be. I’m proud of that. I’m a Bayou guy—got to respect the history.”
He also does a lot of “spinning on Mediterranean and southern food” for his dishes, he says. And locals love it, says Co-Owner and General Manager Emily Tuttle-Shell, who lives close by in Homewood, as does Co-Owner Jeremy, noting that not only does the restaurant draw the Vestavia community, but also surrounding neighborhoods like Hoover, Homewood and Mountain Brook.
“We are just happy to serve people,” Emily says. “We are happy to have the opportunity to make someone’s day, make someone’s birthday, make someone’s Tuesday. We’re happy and grateful that we can do what we love, and someone can enjoy it. That’s the best part of our job, I would say.”
Bistro V is located at 521 Montgomery Highway and open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., and closed on Sunday. Find out more at bistro-v.com or call the restaurant at 823-1505.
Meet Chef Jeremy Downey
Go-to Seafood: Oysters. I have good memories of my childhood with my dad catching them and feeding them to me after opening them.
Kitchen Inspiration: It’s the product for me. Just seeing it, I get excited. Also memories — something my mom made, remembering how it tasted.
Favorite Dish: Always the Fish of the Day.
Favorite Cocktail: I love a nice white burgundy — a Chablis and good piece of fish. If I was sitting down and having a meal at Bistro V, I would lean toward that and go from there, and my day would be a beautiful day.