Whistling at the Table
The idea of service and the grace of wonderful food is central to the business that Mac Russell has built in Birmingham.
Written by Joe O’Donnell // Photography by Beau Gustafson
The new Whistling Table restaurant in Forest Park is the culmination of a dream for chef/owner Mac Russell. That dream goes back at least to 2011 and the opening of the Shindigs food truck founded by Russell and Chad Schoefield. But really it extends back much further; through the years he worked in the kitchens of mentor chefs like Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club and Bud Skinner at Jubilee Seafood in Montgomery, and back to childhood days at the family’s farm in the Black Belt, Seabed Ranch.
That same rich farmland today yields the corn and peas that find their way into his kitchen.
The new restaurant has been built at the site of the former grocery store V. Richards, and it retains some aspects of the venerable store. The prominent booths, for example, are made of white cedar repurposed from the old beams at V. Richards. After some input from architects, Russell and Maggie Hannum, the chief experience officer for Russell’s Good Soil Group (which includes Shindigs Catering, Whistling Table, Seabed Ranch and SmoothRock Café), did much of the interior design themselves.
The menu replicates some of the favorites from the Shindigs food truck and catering menus along with items informed by Russell’s devotion to farm-to-table ingredients.
The famous Korean Bun Trio with pork belly, beef short rib, and the Bama Roll with avocado puree, crawfish and Royal Reds is on the lunch menu, as is the Willis Burger with two beef patties, blueberry mostarda, truffle yogurt, local arugula, applewood smoked bacon and gorgonzola.
The restaurant opened in July with a lunch service only but was expected to serve dinner by the end of that month. The restaurant will keep alive a bit of the V. Richards experience by offering prepared foods for takeout and bottles of wine for purchase.
While the food is paramount in Russell’s world, the culture of Good Soil Group and his new restaurant is just as important.
“My heart has been in the right spot, but that’s not always what my actions showed. It’s been a time of growth for me personally and professionally,” Russell says.
“Whistling Table is a neighborhood place more than a fancy dinner place. My heart’s desire is to create a place where we can encourage date nights and friends gathering together, and families enjoying meals,” he says.
Russell foresees an all-day utility to his new restaurant. There are even plans to do late-night menus utilizing the large parking lot and the food truck.
“I want people to have better than they expect. That’s what God did for me,” Russell says.
Whistling Table’s mission statement is: “We are Whistling Table. We believe the table is a place of God’s grace and goodness. The tables at our restaurant will be those places. Places of excellence. Places of integrity. Places of stewardship. Places of grace. Places of authenticity. We are a Whistling Table. We invite all around our table to dine with expectation. To dine with wonderment. To dine with love. And above all, to dine with joy.”