A new restaurant has arrived on the Birmingham scene—not your average chain restaurant of the past century, but a new concept, a reimagining of American diner food. Top Chef contestant and fellow Southerner Richard Blais has chosen Birmingham as the second site for his FLIP Burger Boutique concept. Think Mel’s diner with a chef’s point of view.

Don’t let the name or hype fool you. This is food as art and restaurant as theater. Yes, there are cheaper burgers to be found in this city, but experiencing FLIP will help you understand why a few extra dollars can make the difference between diner fare and great innovative American food. The menu lists “beef burgers” alongside “FLIP burgers.” The former are classic American offerings pumped up with Richard’s blend of audacity and fun. The latter are unexpected treats, from lamburger to faux-lafel. Kimchee ketchup, anyone?

Start with the bacon and cheese burger, the American standard. Imagine a burger perfectly prepared, cooked gently and evenly, without the tough outer layer synonymous with backyard and fast food burgers. Layers of cheese, homemade pickles, onions, butter lettuce, ketchup, and a little FLIP sauce—a spin on traditional ketchup—play supporting roles. This is an American masterpiece, meticulously presented, refined and delicious.

That basic burger formula gives Blais a solid foundation from which to build his other offerings, a riotously cheeky list that runs the gamut from the sinful (a Southern burger has a country-fried beef patty, pimiento cheese, pickles, and green tomato ketchup) to the sublime (the Kobe beef patty bears truffle oil, red wine syrup, and seared foie gras).
Blais’ hallmark is his sense of humor, and an adherence to the theory that simplicity is overrated. Hand-cut fries require a surprising, and addictive, smoky mayo; onion rings take on a vodka batter (the alcohol evaporates more quickly when it hits the hot oil than water does, leaving behind uncommon crispiness); fried pickles perk up noticeably under a shower of fresh dill.

If you’ve heard of FLIP you’ve certainly heard about its milkshakes, thick, indulgent towers with flavor combinations that have taken on legendary status. S’mores and Krispy Kreme versions please purists; pistachio and white truffle or foie gras will delight the adventurous.

The restaurant’s contemporary interior doesn’t distract from its stunning 280 view, and the long bar is ideal for enjoying the scenery and the scene. Talented, earnest young bartenders prepare FLIP’s funky selection of signature cocktails, many made interactive with the help of liquid nitrogen. A mango martini arrives with a thin frozen layer on top. Using a cocktail spear to break the ice sends a perfect sphere of mango puree plunging into the vodka below. Those same bartenders will be watching, waiting for your reaction, that moment of giddy delight. Here, it’s customary to play with your food.

FLIP has point of view in spades, and Birmingham has received a true culinary gift. In a city filled with some of the best restaurants in the country, FLIP is a seamless fit, sophisticated yet accessible. Eat at FLIP if you like a well-made burger and fries. Then let down your guard and splurge a little. Try something wild. You might just flip.