Road Trip to Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, AL

I have found myself in Birmingham, AL with my friend, Margaret. Her mom is also a good friend and a long time running partner of mine.  I have catered Margaret’s graduation and her grandmother’s 90th birthday party.  They do feel like my family away from LaGrange.   Margaret helped cater a wedding last weekend and has babysat for my girls for many years.  We all worked really hard on the wedding, and I am feeling really restless, so we went to do a bit of research on other eateries, and let them do some of the cooking.

Marg and I in Birmingham

So, here we are in Birmingham being “foodies”.  I have been wanting to visit a couple of restaurants here for quite some time now.  One of the restaurants is Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill.  His cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table, has beautiful photos and recipes but mostly I like his writing throughout that tells of his personal experience.  His cookbook is  a story of his journey throughout his culinary life which brought him back to the South.  I love that my life is continuously changing but this wonderful journey has this constant—my love for food and people.

His restaurant has been in the James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Finalist for the last 5 years.  That is pretty impressive and I  don’t think any other restaurant has accomplished it.  It is beautifully decorated and the staff is very professional.  They had two suited maitre d’s. Our table wasn’t ready (we had forgotten the time changed as we entered Alabama to central time zone) so we headed into the crowded, but very classy bar area. The seats at the bar were all occupied by beautifully dressed young couples and posh old money Southerns. Small, two person high tables situated around the perimeter of the bar allowed for overflow patrons to still enjoy the relaxed bar setting. One table remained totally empty, embellished with  a simple brass plate that said “Mr. Hunter”. We timidly hovered around the table before finally asking a near by staff member about our seemingly important mystery man. “Mr. Hunter” was one of Highland Bar and Grill’s first costumers who had passed recently. It was like Mr. Hunter had been saving us a seat, oddly welcoming us to Birmingham amongst the business of the bar. We each drank a Manhattan and began our night. A fast moving waiter lightheartedly poked fun at us to stay at the bar as he whipped delicious smelling seafood under our noses. But when the proper middle aged host offered us a table, we agreed.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely, despite the stuffy presence of our waiter, who could have been an actor on Downton Abbey as a butler. with glasses that perched on the tip of his nose. We chose to have a bunch of small plates to try rather than one large entrée.  We chose a Manchester Farm Quail, Paradise Farm Dandelion Greens Salad, Smoked Sunburst Trout, Oyster Pan Roast, and Stone Ground Baked Grits.  My favorite was the Paradise Farm Dandelion Greens Salad.  It had a creamy dressing with chunks of salty house cured ham.  It was the perfect balance of flavors with the bitter dandelion.  I loved it.  The trout mousse came in a close second.  It really was mouth watering.  We finished with the Creme Brûlée. Every time I have it, I think of my Grandfather who ordered it every single time we went out to eat.  He would have loved it with the real vanilla beans on the bottom.  Delicious…

My conclusion to this jaunt- Yes, I would eat here again but in the more relaxed bar area.   Most people who dine out whether it is fine dining or fast food are searching for a type of service.  If you do it well, people will travel really far for it.  That is the goal!  Next stop: Hot and Hot Fish Club.

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