Written by Ally Morrison
The West Coast meets the Deep South at Blueroot, where owner Jennifer Ryan aims to make healthy eating accessible and accessible.
Opening a restaurant that serves healthy food in a relaxed dining culture can be challenging at times, but Ryan views the opening of Blueroot as an opportunity to offer information, education and new options to Birmingham residents. Ryan hopes that people will be interested and curious enough to try new things and be pleasantly surprised by options they might not have made in the first place.
Located at Blueroot in Mountain Brook Village, the West Coast menu is already a favorite with healthy fans. Ryan welcomed foodies over the Mountain to her family-owned and operated restaurant in July 2020.
“We were really fortunate to have the opportunity to open (in 2020) and were fortunate to have the support of the community,” Ryan said.
Ryan, a native of Southern California, 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 at the Andrew Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics.
“I never expected to move to the Deep South, but as many people know, there is a charm and sweetness in Birmingham that we fell in love with instantly,” Ryan said. “About two years ago, I’ve been bemoaning the lack of healthy food here in Birmingham, but I was really touched by the marriage of local food and the talent I saw on the level of a fine dining diner. My question was, can we make this experience accessible to everyone who lives in Birmingham on a daily basis and really focus on Healthy food that not only boosted our economy and our amazing farming system, but also brought health, wellness, maximum flavor and experience to more people every day.”
Focusing on simple ingredients like greens and vegetables and cutting out processed foods, Ryan’s vision in her new endeavors included two-time James Beard Award-winning chef and Robin Bacchinsky of Birmingham alongside an incredible team of people striving to redefine healthy eating.
“It was important to us to make healthy food available but also to make it friendly, fun, exciting, delicious and nutritious,” Ryan said.
Ryan stressed the importance of fresh, locally and sustainably sourced ingredients for maximum nutritional impact.
The creative process at Blueroot was unparalleled. Ryan explained the difficulty she faced in setting up a local restaurant in a town that was not originally her home.
“I had no culinary experience, I wasn’t from Birmingham and I was a female in a very male-dominated place,” Ryan said.
Ryan explained the challenges of being different. By bringing a West Coast-oriented mindset and cuisine to a Southern culture, difference has become Ryan’s advantage.
“What I’ve realized is that there is an increased focus on health, wellness, and self-love,” Ryan said. “Part of this comes from putting the good stuff into your body, and part of that comes from educating about what you eat.”
Before the restaurant opened, health became a top priority for people not only in terms of the COVID virus but also in healthy eating, exercising and taking care of their bodies. Ryan said Blueroot couldn’t have opened at a better time, in a better environment, and is ready to serve Birmingham patrons.
Blueroot’s menu is based on the principle of simplicity – simple ingredients, simple preparation methods and not many unusual experiments in the kitchen. Roasting, sautéing, and blanching together allows ingredients to be celebrated and enjoyed in an almost effortless way.
A fan favorite, Not Your Mama’s Rice Crispy is 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’ve always wanted to focus on green salads and bowls, the merchandise from the grounds, and the removal of processed ingredients. The hope is that the diversity on the menu and the different experiences they can lend to a variety of people to provide simple beauty, experience, and healthy eating in a truly delicious way,” Ryan said.
Blueroot’s newest location opened in July 2021, at Pepper Place, and features indoor and outdoor seating to accommodate customers.
Birmingham Restaurant Week
Blueroot will be participating in Birmingham Restaurant Week from January 20-29.
“We are very excited about Birmingham Restaurant Week. For breakfast we’ll have a $10 breakfast duo featuring nightly oats or chia seed pudding, plus a choice of super snacks from Not Your Mama’s Rice Crispy Treats or Collagen Bliss Bites, and for lunch we’ll have a $15 lunch duo, Featuring one of our salads and a sumptuous meal of your choice,” Ryan said.
Ryan and her team are still amazed at the support they have received from people in the Birmingham area.
“We were so amazed that it almost brought tears to my eyes, filled with gratitude from this community,” Ryan said. “The people who lived here didn’t need the support of someone who wasn’t from here, but they showed up and kept showing up. I don’t know that in so many places this kind of community is in extreme experience as in Birmingham.”