By Ally Morrison
The West Coast meets the Deep South at Blueroot, where owner Jennifer Ryan aims to make healthy eating accessible and approachable.
Opening a restaurant that serves healthy food in a comfort food culture can be challenging at times, but Ryan looks at the opening of Blueroot as an opportunity to provide information, education and new options to the people of Birmingham. Ryan hopes that people will be interested and curious enough to try new things and be pleasantly surprised by choices they may not have selected originally.
Located in Mountain Brook Village, the West Coast-infused menu at Blueroot already is a healthy fan favorite. Ryan welcomed Over the Mountain food enthusiasts into her family-owned and operated restaurant in July 2020.
“We were really lucky to have an opportunity to open (in 2020) and very fortunate to have the community support,” Ryan said.
Ryan, a Southern California native, moved to New York City to work on Wall Street after college. After 10 years in New York, she and her husband, Mike Ryan, moved to Birmingham, where he works for Andrew Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.
“I never would have anticipated moving to the Deep South, but as many people know, there is a charm and sweetness about Birmingham that we immediately fell in love with,” Ryan said. “About two years ago, I was lamenting the lack of healthy food here in Birmingham, but I was really impressed by the marriage of local food and talent that I saw at a fine dining level. My question was, could we make that experience more accessible to the everyday Birminghamian and really focus on healthy food that not only leveraged our amazing economy and agricultural system but also brought health, wellness and maximum flavor and experience to more of the everday person.”
Focusing on simple ingredients such as greens and vegetables and eliminating processed foods, Ryan’s vision for her new endeavor included the two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and Birmingham native Robin Bashinsky along with an incredible team of people striving to redefine healthy eating.
“It was important for us to make healthy food accessible but also make it approachable, interesting, exciting, flavorful and nutritious,” Ryan said.
Ryan stressed the importance of locally and sustainably sourced fresh ingredients for maximum nutritional impact.
The creative process of Blueroot was one like no other. Ryan explained her difficulty in creating a local restaurant in a town that was not her home originally.
“I didn’t have the culinary expertise, I wasn’t from Birmingham and I was a female in a very male-dominated space,” Ryan said.
Ryan explained the challenges brought on by being different. By bringing a West Coast-oriented mindset and cuisine to a Southern culture, different became Ryan’s advantage.
“What I have realized is there is an increasing focus on health, wellness and self-love,” Ryan said. “Part of this comes from putting good things in your body, and the other part comes from being educated about what you’re eating.”
Before the restaurant’s opening, health became a top priority for people not only in relation to COVID but in healthy eating, working out and taking care of their bodies. Blueroot could not have opened at a better time, in a better environment, ready to serve patrons of Birmingham, Ryan said.
Blueroot’s menu leans on the principal of simplicity – simple ingredients, simple preparation styles and not many extraordinary experiments in the kitchen. Roasting, sautéing and blanching ingredients together allows the ingredients to be celebrated and enjoyed in an almost effortless way.
Not Your Mama’s Rice Crispy Treats are a fan favorite, made with puffed millet, unsweetened coconut, almond butter, goji berries, pumpkin seeds, honey and sea salt.
Other top menu items at Blueroot include the Farm Stand Salad and the Magic City Bowl.
“I always wanted to focus on salads and green bowls, goods from the ground, and removing processed ingredients. The hope is that the variety on the menu and the various experiences you can have be lended to a variety of people to provide a simple beauty, experience and healthy eating in a really flavorful way,” Ryan said.
Opened in July 2021, Blueroot’s newest location, in Pepper Place, features indoor and outdoor seating to accommodate customers.
Birmingham Restaurant Week
Blueroot will be participating in Birmingham Restaurant Week, Jan. 20-29.
“We are so excited for Birmingham Restaurant Week. For breakfast, we will have a $10 Breakfast Duo, featuring our Overnight Oats or Chia Seed Pudding, as well as a superfood snack choice of Not Your Mama’s Rice Crispy Treats or our Collagen Bliss Bites, and for lunch we will have a $15 Lunch Duo, featuring one of our salads and a superfood bite of your choice,” Ryan said.
Ryan and her team are still amazed by the support they have received from people in the Birmingham area.
“We have been astounded so much so it almost brings tears to my eyes, and filled with gratitude by this community,” Ryan said. “The people that live here did not need to support someone who wasn’t from here, but they showed up and continue to show up. I don’t know that this type of community exists in very many places at the extreme experience that it does in Birmingham.”