By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Provare: to try. It’s what you see advanced culinary students doing as they slide a pizza into a brick oven or top a Napoleon with fresh blackberries in the open bistro kitchen at Jeff State’s Shelby Campus.
When you enter the dining room, which culinary Program Director Joseph Mitchell describes as a European/Tuscan environment, you don’t realize you are on a school campus.
“Some days you will have 20 red hat ladies at a table, and art students at the bar,” Restaurant Chef Jason Bierley said.
Bistro Provare’s fresh, from-scratch menu makes for a relaxing, white tablecloth dining experience. “This summer we’ll have lots of fresh produce: peaches, peas, green tomatoes, figs,” Bierley said.
And indeed, you see this produce on their menu, which changes regularly to incorporate fresh ingredients.
For lunch, we started with an order of thick slices of green tomatoes that were lightly fried and served with a vegetable relish, remoulade and arugula—all for only $4. You also get a basket of assorted fresh baked breads as a starter. For our entrees, we tried pizza with Chilton County peaches, mascarpone, smoked bacon, fresh mint and pickled red onion, along with their daily special of chicken served atop a salad of arugula, watermelon and goat cheese.
And because you can’t have too many Chilton County peaches, we finished with a daily dessert special of caramelized peaches and mascarpone ice cream, but that choice meant turning down the other options: a Napoleon with lemon curd and fresh blackberries, a flourless chocolate cake, the ice cream of the day, and vanilla crème brulee. An advanced pastry class prepares the desserts and is always changing the menu.
“Customers are usually surprised at the value and quality,” Bierley said. “Most are shocked that this is here and find out about it through word of mouth.”
Prices are extremely reasonable. Salads and appetizers are $3-4, personal-sized pizzas $5, sandwiches and burgers $6-7 and lunch entrees $8-9.
For the summer, the restaurant is open in the evenings for the first time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they hope to open again for evenings in future summer semesters. On the dinner menu, appetizers are $5-6, and entrees like Gulf seafood or sirloin, which both come with a salad, cap out at $16.
About 50 percent of students have worked in restaurants before entering Bistro Provare, but the others learn how and why to do things right on the job. In typical restaurant jobs, you learn how but not always why.
Having students as chefs brings a positive energy of a learning environment to the restaurant that you won’t find elsewhere.
The restaurant opened four years ago when the Health Sciences building was completed. The dining room is limited to 40 seats, so the staff recommend calling to make reservations in advance.
“Since then, we have worked out kinks and have seen more skilled students come through that can do more things,” Bierley said. “We are fine tuning what our clientele likes to eat, too.”
Bisto Provare is located in the Health Sciences Building at the corner of Jaguar Drive and Valleydale Road. To enter the restaurant, there is a separate door to the left of the main entrance, but someone inside the school can point you in the right direction if you have trouble finding it.
4600 Valleydale Road
Mon. & Wed., 11:30 a.m.-1p.m.*
Tue. & Thur., 6-8 p.m.*
*Summer semester hours run through August 2. The fall semester hours of Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. will run August 29-December 9.
To keep up with their hours and see their latest menu, visit the Bistro Provare Facebook page. To make a reservation, call the culinary school. To get the restaurant’s email updates on openings and closings, inquire at the restaurant.