I have worked for the Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau on and off for almost 14 years. And during this time, I have had the pleasure of watching my city grow from a "BBQ and Soul Food" dining reputation, to a globally inspired city filled with a multitude of James Beard Foundation winners and nominees who continue to create and inspire our culinary community. So whether it's French, Italian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian or something else, you'll soon discover there's a lot more to Southern cooking than you might think in Birmingham. And Southern Living magazine certainly agrees, placing Birmingham in a recent issue among the South's "10 Tastiest Towns" for its chefs, artisans and restaurants that give the city its distinct local flavor.
Let me share with you a few of my "Favorite Flavors" in Birmingham:
This restaurant is hands down my favorite in Birmingham. Family owned and operated and known to the locals as "a hidden jewel," it offers the complete dining experience. It is quietly tucked away in the neighborhood of Homewood, and offers traditional, northern Italian dishes, lots of pastas, veal and fish. You enter through the separate bar where reviews from various publications line the walls and patrons fill the bar stools and bar tables. On any given day, you may find a member of the Respinto family chatting it up with one of these lucky diners while enjoying the aroma of Italian sauces…all the while, feeling a sense of peace with candle lit tables and a softly lit dining room. This restaurant offers the perfect atmosphere for good conversation or a romantic night out. Please visit the wine bar and view the ever evolving wine collection and the retail shop, GianMarco Wine, which opened in 2011. My favorite? A bottle of Patient Cottat Sancerre Vielle's Vignes 2010 with either the Seafood Risotto or the famous Spaghetti and Meatballs… with of course the fresh hot bread served with their own creative blend of olive oil.
721 Broadway Street, Homewood
Highlands Bar and Grill
For the fourth year in a row, Frank Stitt's Highlands Bar and Grill is among five finalists for the country's most outstanding restaurants. Stitt opened Highlands in 1982 and is credited with his influence in changing the face of Birmingham dining. His creations have appeared in many publications such as The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Wall Street Journal, and he has been known to make an appearance every so often on the CBS Morning Show. This French-inspired Southern restaurant offers exquisite food and gracious service and patrons have come to mark special occasions, conduct business dinners or just drop by for a late evening cocktail in the fabulous Alabama Marble Bar. The lively energy you'll find here, created by shakers shaking (due to the quintessential martini!) and oysters being shucked, will likely bring you back time and time again. Best thing on the menu? The Beef Carpaccio (a favorite of Birmingham native Courtney Cox) and the Stone Ground Baked Grits. Also a must…Ask for Frank Stitt's "Orange Cocktail Thing"…they'll know exactly what you're referring to!
2011 Eleventh Avenue South, Birmingham
Open since 1988 in the historic Bottega Favorita building, Bottega presents a warm, sophisticated atmosphere with a classical limestone façade, arched portico, leather banquettes to sink into, lofted seventeen foot ceilings, elegant white marble and a grand staircase leading to a mezzanine level. They offer diverse regional Italian food in two different settings – the more casual side, The Café, where they serve the best pizza in town, roast meats and fish from a wood-burning oven along with pasta, sandwiches, and salads. The main dining room offers a more extensive menu of the finest seasonal ingredients, emphasizing homemade pastas, rich risottos, fresh seafood, meats and game. The Parmesan Soufflé? Well…Bottega's wouldn't be complete without it! The elegant and sophisticated atmosphere you'll feel in this "place to be seen" restaurant offers the most in an exquisite dining experience.
2240 Highland Avenue South, Birmingham
Café Dupont debuted in Springville, Alabama, in 1994, and was so popular that the Chef/Owner Chris Dupont, decided to relocate to Birmingham in 2002 in the historic North End district. Located in a storefront building that dates to the 1870s, the restaurant is modeled on a traditional bistro. The dining rooms' exposed brick walls, original floors, and high ceilings reflect the building's history. Upstairs, a private loft with expansive windows and period lighting creates the ideal setting for special events. The restaurant was recognized in 2004 with the Best Downtown Preservation Award by the Birmingham City Council and Chamber of Commerce. The menu, which changes daily, reflects Chef DuPont's appreciation for local growers and locally grown produce. In fact, Chef Dupont has started a long-term commitment to highlighting these locals on his menu with a few favorites such as Fried Oysters & Okra with Cayenne Butter Sauce, Seared Sea Scallops with Goat Cheese Soufflé, and Classic Beignets with Home-grown Strawberry Preserves. Of course, on the days he serves his Buttermilk Fried Chicken and the Fried Green Tomatoes are the days you will most likely find me there!
113 20th Street North, Birmingham
Opened by George Reis in 2006, 26 features a big-city feel that makes it unlike any other restaurant in town. From the art deco and industrial-chic décor inspired seating, to the LED-lit bar, there’s always something new to see at 26. The eclectic dishes on the menu rival those of the biggest names in food. Best of all, 26 keeps the kitchen open late, so you can go enjoy a show, and then still have time for a fantastic meal. 26 has a sibling, Ocean Restaurant, right next door…also owned by George Reis. Ocean was voted Best Restaurant, Best Chef and the recipient of The Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence for the past seven years. Ocean offers fresh seafood in an exciting and contemporary atmosphere. The menu here features fresh oysters and fish from around the world. You can't go wrong with either of these restaurants and both sit in the heart of downtown Birmingham in the Five Points and Southside District.
1210 20th Street South, Birmingham