Dee – “Big Papa’s are a two-man business who started out as mobile street food vendors specialising in soul food, but have recently become the caterers-in-residence at the Sunflower Lounge, Queensway, Birmingham, where their profile and reputation have been steadily gaining momentum.
Their menu is made up of a selection of popular dishes from the Tex Mex fusion and US Deep South cuisines, with a recent addition of jerk ribs. The recently expanded selection still isn’t huge; There is a choice of four starters, six mains, six side dishes and two desserts. The whole menu fitted landscape style onto a single side of A4 and was laid out in a manual typewriter style font. It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into branding, making Big Papa’s a dining experience rather than just a meal in a pub, and the menu included a ‘what we’re about’ section which backed this up nicely.
As far as the décor of the venue is concerned, the Sunflower Lounge is neither sunny nor flowery. The ground floor bar area is painted in black and charcoal grey, with the walls adorned with photographs of musicians in mid-performance, possibly those who have played live there in the past. The smaller, raised seating area is painted in red and slightly more brightly lit. Music was very much a feature in the venue generally, and I recall hearing songs from the Pixies and the Gorillaz while I was there.
After perusing the menu, Jay found the sweet sticky ribs impossible to resist, wheras I wanted to explore the vegetarian options.
For starters we ordered the spicy fried okra and a plate of loaded nachos but without the advertised buttermilk chicken. The okra was deep fried in a crispy tempura style batter and was served with a spoonful of spicy mayonnaise and a hot, fruity dipping sauce. The okra, having been quickly fried, had an al-dente texture, quite different from the softer, stickier vegetable that I am used to. The mayo and the sauce proved ideal accompaniments, providing cleaner, sharper flavours to cut through the fried vegetables. The nachos were a great big delightful mess of tortilla chips topped with chopped tomatoes, guacamole, cheese, sour cream and red chilli. Each of the toppings were presented separately rather than on top of each other, which made a nice change. Considering they were advertised as starters, both portion sizes were very generous and we ended up sharing both dishes between us.
As previously mentioned, Jay ordered the Sweet & Spicy Jerk Ribs, while I went for the Sweet Potato & Black Eyed Pea Chilli. We chose fire roasted red chillies and Cajun sweet potato fries as side orders. Both main courses arrived with a portion of the same hot fruity sauce that was served with the okra but, although it was a good sauce, it was a bit of an optional extra as the mains both had plenty of flavour on their own. The chili was made up of rice, tomato sauce, sweet potatoes, cheese, chillies, peas and beans and was highly flavoursome with sweet and spicy tastes with occasional bursts of chilli heat. Jay is fussy about spare ribs but enjoyed these immensely and declined the offer of wearing the blue plastic gloves that were provided for them; part of the joy of spare ribs is getting messy after all. There was another pleasant balance of sweet and spicy flavours here, with the meat being nicely tender. The side orders were also noteworthy. The chillies were softened, with slightly blackened skins and started out tasting similar to chargrilled peppers, but gradually increased in heat up until the tongue tingling final bite. The fries had a spicy crispness to them and proved a great accompaniment to the chilli and the ribs.
We planned to order the two desserts on offer; Mississippi Mud Pie and Lemon Meringue Pie, but were a bit on the full side by the end of the main course, so decided to visit the Sunflower Lounge again, ordering main and dessert rather than starter and main.
By 7pm, when we finished our meal, the venue was beginning to fill up and there was an all-hands-on-deck feel to the service. We had no complaints in this regard though, as it had been polite and friendly throughout our visit. The staff checked with us to make sure that we were happy with our meals, and talked to us about how the Big Papa’s and Sunflower Lounge partnership had come about.
Fine dining this is not, but if you want good grub and lots of tunes then kick back and let the Sunflower Lounge and Big Papa’s deliver, because they certainly do”.