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THE SOUTHERN FOODIE100 Places to Eat in the South Before You Die (and the Recipes That Made Them Famous)
By CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Chris Chamberlain and Bryan Curtis
All right reserved.
Cotton Row 2 Fox Valley Restaurant 4 Garrett's—The Art of Food 6 Highlands Bar and Grill 9 Hot and Hot Fish Club 11 Irondale Café—The Original Whistle Stop Café 14 LuLu's at Homeport 16 Mountain Laurel Inn 20 The Waysider 23 Wintzell's Oyster House 25
100 Southside Square Huntsville, AL 38501 (256) 382-9500 www.cottonrowrestaurant.com
Chef James Boyce's Cotton Row Restaurant is located in a charming three-story brick building right on the courthouse square of Huntsville, Alabama. The edifice dates back to 1821, when it was constructed alongside the old cotton exchange. The romantically rustic ambiance makes Cotton Row a favorite date night locale for Huntsville residents and visitors looking for a unique dining experience with an emphasis on the Southern hospitality of days gone by.
No matter how spectacular the décor might be, it is overshadowed by what the kitchen puts on the plate. Trained at Le Cirque in New York City, Chef Boyce has created an upscale menu of seasonal regional specialties. The list of entrées emphasizes seafood and inventively prepared game and beef dishes. If your appetite or your wallet doesn't allow for that much food, Cotton Row is also open for lunch with smaller portions and creative sandwich options.
In the nineteenth century a "ploughman's lunch" was a cold midday meal, usually consisting of a chunk of cheese, a pickle, and a piece of bread. At Cotton Row you can expect a lot more from the Ploughman's Specials, which are small plates that can be ordered as an appetizer or combined to create a tapas-like meal. They are also excellent for sharing if your dining companions are generous types.
Desserts have a more international flavor than the rest of the menu, but you won't be disappointed by the fact that you've left the country on your culinary tour as you enjoy treats like Tahitian Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée and plates of exotic cheeses accented with seventy-five-year-old balsamic vinegar.
Groups that are looking for private dining options at Cotton Row can enjoy a meal in the Cedar Pipe Cellar beneath the main dining room. This huge wine cellar houses the restaurant's collection of almost five thousand bottles. Special menus can be constructed around patrons' particular wine choices, or lucky diners can place themselves in the capable hands of the chef as he creates unique tasting menus. A meal in the Cedar Pipe Cellar also includes a tour of the kitchen where the magic happens.
With a modern menu steeped in old Southern traditions and a location in a historic building less than five miles from the US Space and Rocket Center, Cotton Row might seem like a place of contradictions. The truth is that it maintains a wonderful balance between old and new that has allowed it to become a real star in the Rocket City.
CUISINE: American cuisine with strong Southern influences
ATMOSPHERE: Seductive and historic
SPECIALTIES: Seafood, especially Scallops
INSIDER TIP: If you're a Martha Stewart fan, watch her magazine and her network for frequent contributions by Chef Boyce.
3 tablespoons olive oil 3 to 4 pounds bottom-round or top-round roast 1 teaspoon kosher salt ½ teaspoon pepper 4 cloves garlic, crushed 1 medium onion, cut into ½-inch pieces 1 stalk celery, cut into 3/4-inch pieces 1 large carrot, cut into 3/4-inch pieces 1 sprig fresh rosemary 2 sprigs fresh thyme 2 bay leaves 3 tablespoons unsalted butter ½ cup all-purpose flour 1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes 2 cups beef broth 1 cup quartered assorted mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 300°. Place a large casserole dish (with a cover) over medium-high heat on the stovetop and add the olive oil. Season the roast with the salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, brown the meat on all sides and then remove the meat from the casserole dish. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and carrot to the casserole dish and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until slightly brown. Add the rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, and butter, and cook until the butter is melted. Lower the heat to low and sprinkle in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the pan so the flour does not stick, for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar to the casserole dish and cook until the vinegar is reduced to one-third. Add the tomatoes and crush lightly with a spoon. Add the beef stock and mushrooms and stir until the ingredients are well mixed. Return the roast to the dish and cover. Cook on low heat for 2½ to 3 hours, until the meat is fork-tender. Remove from the oven and let the pot roast cool in the liquid before slicing and serving.
» MAKES 6 SERVINGS
FOX VALLEY RESTAURANT
6745 Highway 17 Helena, AL 35114 (205) 664-8341 www.birminghammenus.com/foxvalley
You have to slow down when you're looking for the Fox Valley Restaurant or you're liable to drive right by. Located between a gas station and a liquor store, this hole-in-the-wall gem serves some of the best seafood in Alabama at amazingly affordable prices. About a half hour south of downtown Birmingham, Fox Valley offers fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients. With an exceptional wine list to accompany the menu, diners can receive all the benefits of a fancy white-tablecloth dining experience without paying uptown prices.
Particular specialties of the house are the Crab Cakes served with brown garlic butter. There are even those who will hold up the Fox Valley's Crab Cakes against the best from Maryland. Those are fighting words, but if you listen to the calls going into the line chefs, you'll hear the "Steak and Cake" combo called over and over again.
The co-owners and executive chefs, Sue Lemieux and Anthony Mangold, met years ago when they were cooking together in a restaurant in Athens, Georgia. They respected each other's culinary ideals and knew they had to start a cooking venture together. After operating a business baking desserts and breads for Birmingham-area restaurants for a few years, Sue and Anthony decided to make the leap of faith and open Fox Valley.
Their concept of combining local produce and fresh seafood together in interesting ways was immediately welcomed by the Birmingham dining community.
Creative appetizers range from ice-cold Watermelon and Peach Soup to a savory Fried Stuffed Mirliton filled with sautéed shrimp and smoked sausage. Main dishes revolve around many of the same seafood elements that make up the outstanding starters. The aforementioned Steak and Cake pairs the garlicky goodness of the crab cake with a char-grilled filet mignon. Gulf fish like red snapper, triggerfish, and scamp often make appearances on the nightly specials.
Thanks to their wholesale bakery background providing sweets and treats for over thirty of Birmingham's best restaurants, you know that the chefs can create some outstanding desserts and breads. The dessert menu changes almost every day, but you can't go wrong if you see Anthony's Strawberry Shortcake on the list.
Feel free to drop in wearing your casual clothes or dressed to impress. At the Fox Valley Restaurant, the emphasis is on what's on the plate. Step through this particular hole-in-the-wall and you'll find yourself in a diners' wonderland.
CUISINE: Fried seafood, burgers, and sandwiches
ATMOSPHERE: Fine dining in a nonpretentious environment
SPECIALTIES: Steak and Cake
INSIDER TIP: If you happen to find out that the Fox Valley's addictive Crack Pie is on the dessert menu, order it in advance because the kitchen staff has been known to eat most of it before dinner even begins.
FOX VALLEY'S CHILLED CANTALOUPE SOUP
1 small ripe cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and chopped into chunks 1 cup heavy cream ¼ cup lime juice 1 teaspoon lime zest Sugar (optional, depending on ripeness of cantaloupe) Fresh raspberries for garnish Fresh mint for garnish
Purée the cantaloupe in a food processor or blender, in batches if necessary, until liquefied. Pour into a large bowl. Stir in the cream, lime juice, lime zest, and a little sugar if necessary. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours. Place 6 serving bowls in the freezer until ready to serve. Ladle the soup into the frozen bowls and garnish each serving with raspberries and a sprig of mint.
» MAKES 6 SERVINGS
Note: Although this soup is offered as a starter at Fox Valley, many people order it as a light, refreshing dessert.
GARRETT'S—THE ART OF FOOD
7780 Atlanta Highway Montgomery, AL (205) 758-8135 www.garrettsartoffood.com
Located in the capital city of Alabama, Garrett's was opened in 1995 by Chef Gary Garner, who set out to create a restaurant that would establish itself as the capital of Montgomery dining. With an inventive bar, a spacious modern dining area, and an original menu full of well-executed dishes, Garrett's has achieved that goal, according to plenty of Montgomery diners. Thanks to a sleek design scheme that features dark wood and shiny metal furniture and a bar with an actual waterfall cascading down the back wall, Garrett's could be easily mistaken for a trendy Manhattan bistro.
"The Art of Food" is more than just part of the name at this beautiful art deco location on the east side of Montgomery. It's also the mantra that the kitchen repeats with every dish as it creates artfully crafted presentations of exquisite food. Luckily, in contrast to other chichi restaurants where it seems like there is a contest to be the biggest minimalist and place as little food as possible on huge white plates, the folks at Garrett's believe in serving a healthy portion of food with actual side dishes instead of foam or a swirl of flavored oil for a garnish.
The food is not only beautiful, but delicious too. The Center-Cut Filet Mignon with Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce is so tender that you can cut it with a fork and comes accompanied with both smashed potatoes and a medley of seasonal vegetables. Chef Garner features at least two fish dishes daily based on what looks like the freshest fare from his fishmongers. If you happen to visit on a day when he's preparing Pecan-Crusted Grouper, count your lucky stars.
Desserts are decadent and big enough to share. Some of the best happen to have spirits as a major component, so you can have your after-dinner drink in a bowl in the form of New Orleans–Style White Chocolate Bread Pudding that comes smothered in whiskey sauce, or the famous Pecan Pie Martini served with Jack Daniel's ice cream.
Rare for a fine dining establishment like Garrett's, a midday meal is also served with a choice of entrée and two sides for an elegant affordable lunch. The businesspeople of Montgomery are lucky to have this sort of option available to them. Any extra opportunity to enjoy the food at a place this unique is definitely a good thing.
CUISINE: Sophisticated dishes to stimulate all five senses
ATMOSPHERE: Hip and modern
SPECIALTIES: Filet Mignon with Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce, New Orleans–Style White Chocolate Bread Pudding
INSIDER TIP: Garrett's offers an Early Dining menu with appetizers and entrées at about half off the dinner prices. It pays to skip lunch.
SEARED JUMBO SEA SCALLOPS WITH BLACK BEAN AND MANGO SALSA
32 scallops ½ cup dry fish seasoning
Black Bean and Mango Salsa (recipe follows)
Clean the scallops and detach the side muscle if necessary. Spray a medium skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Heat the skillet over high heat until very hot (no oil or butter is needed). Sprinkle the scallops evenly with the dry fish seasoning. Depending on the size of the scallops, cook for 3 to 4 minutes on one side, until the scallops are evenly browned. Turn off the heat, flip the scallops over and cover. Allow the scallops to rest for 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook or the scallops will become very tough. Serve the scallops on a bed of Arugula greens topped with Black Bean and Mango Salsa.
» MAKES 8 SERVINGS
BLACK BEAN AND MANGO SALSA
½ cup olive oil ¼ cup rice vinegar Juice of 1 lime 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic 1 (12-ounce) can black beans, drained 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced ½ cup diced red bell pepper ½ cup diced red onion 1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro Salt and pepper
In a large bowl emulsify or gradually whisk together the oil, vinegar, lime juice, and garlic to create a dressing. Fold the black beans, mangoes, bell pepper, red onion, chives, cilantro, salt, and pepper into the dressing. Serve as a dip or as a topping for broiled or grilled fish.
» MAKES 8 SERVINGS
HIGHLANDS BAR AND GRILL
2011 11th Avenue South Birmingham, AL 35205 (205) 939-1400 www.highlandsbarandgrill.com
Under the auspices of executive chef/ owner Frank Stitt, Highlands Bar and Grill is consistently ranked among one of the top restaurants in the entire country. Chef Stitt is a perennial nominee for the James Beard Awards for Best Restaurant in the region and won the Beard Award as Best Chef in the Southeast in 2001. In addition to opening two other successful Birmingham restaurants, Chez Fonfon and Bottega, Chef Stitt stills runs the kitchen at Highlands, where he serves a menu that changes daily based on the freshest seasonal ingredients available.
The menu is crafted with dishes designed to feature the flavors of the region's unique foods, often through the use of fine French culinary techniques and presentations. The chicken offering on the menu may appear as "Poulet Rouge with a Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto," but that yard bird isn't necessarily as highfalutin as it sounds. That chicken was pecking around in some Alabama red clay last week. The seafood dishes are similar, with classic European treatments of the freshest fish from the Gulf of Mexico or nearby streams and lakes.
Unlike at some other fancy restaurants, the menu descriptions reveal many common ingredients that you will recognize, but in unexpected and sublime combinations. An order of Seared Scallops, for example, might be accompanied by an old-fashioned Hoppin' John made with field peas, okra, cherry tomatoes, basil, and olive oil. In your bread basket crusty French rolls nestle happily side by side with crackling cornbread muffins.
If you do have any questions about the ingenious menu, the top-notch waitstaff is both informed about and interested in the food being served and genuinely wants diners to have the best experience possible. Chef Stitt is also known as a master in the field of food and wine pairings and offers a voluminous wine list to ensure that just the right bottle will be available to embellish the flavors on your plate.
Birmingham residents consider themselves very lucky that a native Alabama son like Chef Stitt chose to return home after studying fine cooking in California, France, and Italy. Gastronomes all over the country also recognize the jewel that resides in the Magic City and have been beating a path down Interstate 65 for years to enjoy the transcendent food of Highlands Bar and Grill.
CUISINE: Southern ingredients cooked with French sensibility and techniques
ATMOSPHERE: Classy with impeccable service
SPECIALTIES: Stone-Ground Baked Grits, North Carolina Fish Muddle
INSIDER TIP: Definitely make reservations in advance, but go ahead and arrive early for a wonderfully crafted cocktail before dinner in the lively Highlands bar. After all, bar is one-third of the restaurant's name.
Excerpted from THE SOUTHERN FOODIE by CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN Copyright © 2012 by Chris Chamberlain and Bryan Curtis. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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