“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!”
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who loves a good food experience. The perfect ambiance, freshest ingredients, beautiful food presentation, and good conversation all come together to turn what would otherwise be mundane into something marvelous! Being the foodie that I am, some of my best and most vivid memories center around food! Many are from childhood, and others stretch across the oceans! My love for food began right here in the Appalachain foothills…
I am a Southern girl through and through, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the food that my Mother prepared was the best around! We always had farm-to-table vegetables in summer…crispy fried okra, pink-eye peas, vine-ripened sliced tomatoes, along with perfectly prepared meats…pan-fried chicken, slow-cooked pot roast, and meat loaf that exploded with flavor! Of course, bread rounded out the meal…the lightest, fluffiest biscuits this side of the Mississippi and rustic cornbread baked in a seasoned iron skillet. Let’s not forget the tastiest desserts that melted in your mouth like fresh peach cobbler and tart lemon ice box pie! And being the good southerners that we are, we topped all of this with a glass of sweet iced tea…is your mouth watering yet?
Since Butch and I started traveling, I have had the opportunity to eat the creamiest gelato in San Gimignano, pampas raised beef in Buenos Aries, and vegetable layered moussaka in Crete, to name a few. So why am I telling you all of this? To introduce you to my culinary hero, Frank Stitt. Who is Frank Stitt? I’m glad you asked!! Chef Stitt is the genius who put Birmingham, Alabama on the culinary map when he opened Highlands Bar and Grill in 1982! But his history goes beyond Birmingham… Stitt’s culinary journey took him from Cullman, Alabama to San Francisco to Provence and back to Sweet Home Alabama! Even with his classical French training, he has never left his deep southern roots. This signature appetizer at Highlands is simple southern with a little finesse. The baked grits epitomizes the humble southern ingredients, jazzed up with a buttery parmesan sauce garnished with wild mushrooms and country ham. Pure comfort food!
Highlands companion restaurant is Chez Fonfon, a French bistro serving the best hamburger in Alabama! On this particular day, I chose this crawfish tartine as my appetizer! The fresh flavors were a pure symphony! According to Chef Stitt, “We serve a daily changing menu informed by classic French technique, incorporating the foods of our Southern region.” The menus change by the day or the week, not the season, to reflect the freshest foods available” Bottega Restaurant and Cafe were opened in 1988 in an elegant and historic Palladian-style building. Chef Stitt’s love affair with Italian food could now be showcased in the Deep South! The slightly dressy main dining room is balanced by the adjacent and slightly raucous cafe! In celebration of Valentine’s my appetizer in Bottega’s dining room was music on a plate…duck egg ravioli with fresh ricotta and black truffles!
“Like Highlands, Bottega has become an institution in Birmingham, a culture devoted to the best in Italian traditions enriched with the finest ingredients and served with a sense of graciousness, respect, and humor.”
Is there any food more indicative of summer in the south than fried green tomatoes? I was totally captivated by this summer goodness on a plate one afternoon while enjoying the festive Italian ambiance of Bottega Cafe with its Pompeii red walls, huge brick wood-fired oven, and communal table!!
What a gorgeous plate that says “bring on spring”…scallops alla plancha with sugar snap peas, haricot verts, prosciutto, and mint beautifully presented in Bottega’s dining room!
Highlands Bar and Grill has once again been named a finalist for the James Beard Award For Outstanding Restaurant! This makes its seventh time to be nominated as Outstanding Restaurant in the United States. The other 4 finalists this year are all NYC restaurants. With the fabulous food served in all of Chef Stitt’s restaurants, it is not hard to understand his national recognition by the Beard Foundation and major publications like Southern Living, Garden and Gun, Esquire, and Gourmet! All you have to do is sit down to one of his delectable dishes like Poulet Rouge-two ways with potato purée, carrots, chanterelles, and sauce fois gras! Immediately you sense the greatness of melding Provence and the Deep South on a plate!Everyone knows that the highly sought after crab cakes can be enjoyed at Chez Fonfon on Thursdays! Recently for early dinner, I savored every bite of this “combo of fresh jumbo lump and crab claw meat mixed with melted butter, bound with eggs, and flavored with lots of lemon, parsley, shallots, nutmeg, and cayenne. Another key element is perfect bread crumbs. A French baguette, one to two days old, make perfect crumbs with ideal texture!” – Frank Stitt
Desserts are the grand finale to a Chef Stitt meal! A tall bed of torched meringue tops a lemon tart served in a bright red strawberry coulis… a perfect blend of sweet and tart! When you want a “showstopper”, this dessert is a sure bet-a seven layer tower of moist coconut cake with a fluffy icing!! This is the cake that we will drive sixty miles to Birmingham just to satisfy a craving. Always on the menu at Chez Fonfon and highly recommended by me! What’s not to love about anything chocolate? Bottega’s menu described this as-Chocolate Pave…sponge cake with chocolate caramel buttercream and blood orange sorbetto and I didn’t leave a crumb!Butch and I were given a gift card to Bottega for our anniversary. Chef Stitt included this warm wish in the card! Without fail, he and his lovely wife Pardis, are gracious hosts that make you feel very welcome, and extremely important, and they are sincerely glad that you have come! Recently while Butch and I were dining at Bottega, after I returned from the ladies room, my chair was pulled out for me, which is a common practice for their polished and polite staff! When I looked up to offer thanks, it was none other than Frank Stitt…a true Southern gentleman!
I highly recommend Frank Stitt’s two cookbooks-Southern Table and Bottega Favorita! The famous 7 layer coconut cake is included in the first one. Pictured above is my version of his cake. For Katy’s birthday I wanted to make the cake for her because she absolutely loves it! It was a huge success and you can see more here: Let’s Party! Maybe I will share the recipe in the future!
Frank Stitt was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in 2011. He was also named the “Best Chef in the Southeast in 2001. The James Beard award ceremony is Monday, May 4 in Chicago. I have eaten at great restaurants in New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans, but no one has even come close to Frank Stitt! I consider myself a pretty good judge of food…and hopefully, on Monday, those who make the decision will agree!
Linking with Pieced Pastimes, It’s Overflowing, Be Different Act Normal, Silver Pennies, Life on Lakeshore Drive, Thoughts From Alice, Pink When, Mod Vintage Life, Coastal Charm, My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia, The Dedicated House, Dwellings-Heart of Your Home, Savvy Southern Style, Ivy and Elephants, French Country Cottage, From My Front Porch To Yours, Stone Gable, Confessions of a Plate Addict, Worthing Court, Between Naps on the Porch, Cedar Hill Farmhouse, A Stroll Thru Life, The Style Sisters, The Charm of Home, The Winthrop Chronicles, Cornerstone Confessions, A Delightsome Life, Imparting Grace, Craftberry Bush, Posed Perfection, Katherines Corner, My Romantic Home, Chic On A Shoestring Decorating, Rooted In Thyme, Share Your Cup, The Enchanting Rose, Alabama Women Bloggers, 21 Rosemary Lane, Northern Nesting, Oh My Heartsie Girl, Cozy Little House, Rattlebridge Farm, The Turquoise Hom