Laura Zapalowski grew up in the Birmingham area, but it took a trip to New York, two degrees, and a hurricane to get her back to Homewood.
“I lived in Inverness,” Laura recalls seated in Homewood Gourmet, a casually elegant quick-service restaurant located just off Highway 31 in Homewood. The navy walls set off the stainless appliances and counters and wood-grain tabletops, highlighting the handwritten chalkboard menu that spans most of the wall space.
“I graduated from Samford and moved to New York,” Laura continues, noting that she attended culinary school there at The Institute of Culinary Education. After graduation, she moved to New Orleans, where she met her now-husband, Chris, working as a line cook for Chef Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s Restaurant. “He used to yell at me to mop the floor better and now I yell at him about how he loads the dishwasher,” she says now, laughing with Chris as they recalled their years in New Orleans.
Then Katrina hit. “Chris’s dad was able to sneak back in to check on the house,” Laura recalls. Our home was totally destroyed, but my in-laws’ house was salvageable. I thought he might come back with some of the things I’d stored with them, like my silver. Instead he pulled up with a case of Hellman’s mayonnaise. I was in shock, but everyone else was so excited to see that case of mayonnaise! I couldn’t believe it.”
The hurricane devastated much of the New Orleans area, forcing the couple to move to Birmingham in 2005—what was supposed to be a temporary move. Once in the Magic City, the duo began working for Chris and Idie Hastings at Hot & Hot Fish Club. “Chris was in charge of the kitchen,” Laura says, “and I worked on the cookbook and standardizing chef recipes.” During that time, the couple had their first child, a son named Ellis, who is now 10. And things changed.
“We’d always been in fine dining,” Laura says, “but the hours started to be a lot with Chris not getting home until two in the morning.”
It was then that they called Franklin Biggs, the founder of a gourmet to-go, catering and lunch shop right off Highway 31, Homewood Gourmet’s founder. “I’d worked for Franklin at Homewood Gourmet while I was at Samford,” Laura says. “We kept in touch and he’d always say, ‘Let me know if you know of anyone who wants to buy this place. I’m ready for a change.’”
“Chris and I thought about it,” Laura continues, “and realized we were ready for a change, too.” In 2010, Chris and Laura became the owners and chefs of Homewood Gourmet because, as their website says, “we love sandwiches so much.”
Since then, they have become parents to another child, a daughter, Liza, who is now 7, and stayed close to Franklin’s menu while adding things they love. “We wanted to stay true to his vision while also growing into what the customers wanted,” Laura says. Today the menu boasts long-time favorites such as the Original Baby Blue Salad with their signature Spiced Pecans and the Zapalowskis’ NOLA flair in their fried Gulf Shrimp Poboys and more.
These days, Homewood Gourmet makes everything from salad dressings to casseroles fresh in house except for one very special ingredient. “We bring in Leidenheimer bread for our po boys,” said Chris, which NOLA experts would agree is absolutely the right call for any restaurant serving authentic po boys.
It may have taken a national disaster to get Chris and Laura back into the Birmingham city limits, but it would take more than that to get them to leave. “We just love Homewood,” Laura said. “Everyone is so supportive of local restaurants and businesses. There’s a real community here.”
Gourmet is open Monday through Friday 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m. and Saturdays 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m., and it is closed Sundays. It is located at 1919 28th Avenue South, Suite 113 in Homewood.
Go-To Gourmet Q&A
Best First Time Order: Shrimp Po Boy with Gumbo
Favorite Order for Laura: The Pimiento Cheese
Favorite Order for Chris: Grilled andouille sausage with pimiento cheese, or grilled ham on French with tomato and mayo
Most Popular Order: Baby Blue Salad with Gumbo
Favorite Takeaway Item: Enchiladas
Chris & Laura’s Favorite Homewood Date Spot: Lunch escapes! “We usually go lunch because the kids are in school. Last time we went to Johnny’s. Next one may be Greenhouse.”
Chris & Laura’s Favorite Family Spot: “Our kids love Saw’s followed by Edgewood Creamery.”
Must-Stop King Cake Shop
Where better to get your authentic King Cake for Mardi Gras than from New Orleans’ chefs? Chris is a New Orleans native, and Laura worked there in luxury restaurants. “We started selling the cakes years ago,” Laura says. “We offer the regular kind and the ones that are cream cheese filled.” When asked which is the best, Laura replies “cream cheese” while Chris overlaps with “regular.”.
“I’m a traditional guy,” Chris says. “I like a burger with cheese, tomato, the basics.” “And I’m the fun flavor combinations person,” says Laura. When even the chefs can’t agree which one is the best, you know you can’t go wrong.
Order by calling 205-871-1620 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bring Valentine’s Day Home
“Our tradition was always to buy nice meat and cook it at home together,” Laura says about Valentine’s Day. Life may have gotten busier with a restaurant and two kids, but they still continue their tradition and have expanded on it to help others have a nice night in. “We offer a takeaway set menu priced for two that features a salad, a main course, and a dessert,” Chris says. Check homewoodgourmet.com for details.