While many may stereotype the cities of the American South as fried chicken and barbeque, Birmingham is quite the foodie haven. The sprawling Southern metropolis is home to a number of James Beard Foundation Award winners and a flourishing dining scene. We pick the most exciting restaurants in the city.
Chez Fonfon was established in 2000 by local restaurateurs and husband and wife Frank and Pardis Stitt who wanted to create an authentic French dining experience in the heart of Birmingham. The casual and welcoming bistro was designed by antique collector Patrick Dunne, also the proprietor of the New Orleans-based culinary antique shop Lucullus, who sourced authentic items including Belle Époque café tables, an etched glass door all the way from Lyons dating back one hundred years and mahogany panelling salvaged from a disused Birmingham office block. Chez Fonfon creates a vibrant and warm ambience serving wholesome French cuisine classics such as steak tartare, crawfish and escargots served with petit pois and chervil and veal shank with mushrooms, tarragon and white wine.
Bottega has been a fixture of the Birmingham dining scene since 1988. The much-loved Italian restaurant resides in the historic Bottega Favorita building, which was constructed in 1926 in a neo-classical style and is located on the edges of the vibrant, cosmopolitan Southside neighborhood. The spacious yet inviting restaurant features high ceilings, sophisticated marble floors, comfortable leather banquettes and a mezzanine level. While the menu is Italian and many ingredients are sourced directly from Italy, the culinary team mix classics with produce sourced from the American South such as the strawberry gazpacho made with Stone Hollow goat’s cheese from the neighbouring town of Harpersville and the crawfish spaghetti with scallops, charred leeks, tarragon and Calabrian chillies.
Bar, Bistro, Restaurant, Seafood, Contemporary, $$$
For some of the best seafood in the city visit Ocean, the popular restaurant set up in 2002 by owner and chef George Reis that has been the recipient of The Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence for several years running and is also a consistent winner of the AAA’s Four Diamond Award. Located in the fashionable historic Five Points community, Ocean offers contemporary seafood dishes in a vibrant bistro-style setting with a casual atmosphere and dishes made with the finest fish and shellfish sourced from across the globe. There are dishes with unmistakable local flavours such as the Southern favourite fried green tomatoes with spicy shrimp, tabasco cream and a tangy red cabbage, lime and coriander slaw, while Ocean’s raw bar features daily changing speciality oysters that regularly include Chincoteague Salts from Maryland and the Savage Harbour variety from Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
Dyron’s Lowcountry was established in 2009 by Dyron Powell and his wife Sonya who, inspired by their travels through the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia, decided to open a restaurant celebrating the unique cuisines of this area. Located in the affluent Mountain Brook neighbourhood, the laidback and inviting restaurant’s rustic interior features wooden floors and rafters decorated with strings of lights, while a charming covered porch offers al fresco dining. Dyron’s menu is directed by head chef Chris Jooste who, with a focus on fresh, local produce, creates lowcountry classics such as Dyron’s gumbo, a hearty soup of Gulf-caught shrimp, grouper, conucuh sausage, peppers, okra and rice. Visit early in the day for a distinctly Southern brunch of chocolate gravy, biscuits and Applewood smoked bacon or the Lowcountry Po Boy, shrimp or oysters served with coleslaw, remoulade and a side of house fries.
Located in the revitalised Cahaba Heights neighbourhood of Birmingham’s Vestavia Hills suburb, Satterfield’s was opened in 2008 by owner and pastry chef Becky Satterfield who wanted to provide the city with a fine-dining experience in elegant surroundings but without the pretentious air and price tag of other restaurants. The menu at Satterfield is contemporary American with global influences, Southern flavours and a preference for locally produced ingredients. The menu is seasonal and changes daily, though guests can expect dishes such as tangy tomato gazpacho with poached shrimp and basil and Gulf yellow fin tuna with braised artichokes, cipollini onions and snap peas in romesco sauce. Don’t leave without trying one of Becky’s desserts such as the spring fruit tart or Satterfield’s signature beignets with sautéed apples.
Established in 2006, The Veranda on Highland is a homely yet elegant restaurant located in a former residential property on the historic Highland Avenue. The neighbourhood known as Highland Park includes properties dating back to the 1880s and was the first suburb of the city to have its own streetcar service. The restaurant, whose culinary inspiration is ‘Southern and seasonal’, resides in a property known as the Merritt House which was built in 1908 in the American Foursquare style and retains original features such as dormer windows, stained glass and a large porch. The menu includes many seafood-based Southern classics including Louisiana oysters with a fennel and pink peppercorn sauce and the pan-seared Florida red snapper served with okra, corn, leeks, grape tomatoes and creole meuniere.
Bar, Restaurant, Italian, Fast Food, Vegetarian, $$$
Husband and wife Doug and Niki Hovanec are the brains behind Bellini’s Ristorante, a cosy neighbourhood Italian steakhouse in the Hoover suburb of Birmingham serving quality 21-day aged steaks and classic Tuscan fare in friendly yet upscale surroundings. Established in 2008, Bellini’s head chef is Matthew Lagale who studied locally at Birmingham’s Culinard culinary school before working at some of the city’s top restaurants and helped earn Bellini’s the Best New Restaurant award from the Birmingham Weekly in the same year it opened. Try one of Bellini’s signature steaks such as the 14-ounce New York Strip or a homemade pasta dish such as the linguine with beef tenderloin and veal meatballs in a marinara sauce. Guests also rave about the Gulf crab cake starter and white chocolate bread pudding.
John’s City Diner serves up tasty Southern comfort food in a retro but upscale space in downtown Birmingham. Opened in 2004 by owner and chef Shannon Gober, the diner occupies the site of former Birmingham landmark restaurant John’s, but has undergone a makeover to meet the cosmopolitan tastes of the city’s residents. The restaurant’s retro design includes diner booth-style seating and tiled floors, while the menu is filled with updated Southern classics featuring local produce. Try the comfort food staple macaroni and cheese ‘three little pigs’ style made with imported cheeses, Fudge Farms bacon, prosciutto and pulled pork or the slow-roasted chicken from Springer Mountain Farms in neighbouring Georgia served with smashed potatoes and baby new greens followed by a slice of frozen lemonade pie.
Restaurant, Contemporary, Wine, Beer, Coffee, Fast Food, American
Opened in 2005, Avo offers fresh and contemporary Californian and American fare and gets its name from an abbreviated term for avocado, a staple ingredient in the cuisine of California. Located in the heart of Mountain Brook, Avo has a covered outdoor terrace overlooking the centre of the picturesque village, while inside it has a fresh and modern feel with white minimalist spaces accented with avocado green artworks and tableware. The uncrowded menu reflects the restaurant’s ambience with simple, refreshing dishes made with quality American home-grown products like the kale Caesar salad with house croutons, golden raisins and another California favourite, quinoa, and the entrée dish of marinated and grilled Colorado lamb chop with farro, fennel and charred grapes.
Bar, Pub, Restaurant, American, British, Wine, Beer, Fast Food, $$$
Celebrity chef Todd English, a four-time winner of the prestigious James Beard Award, is the man behind Todd English P.U.B., which stands for ‘public urban bar’, a new gastro pub offering a contemporary interpretation of traditional English pub fare. The restaurant features a classic tavern-style bar, a carvery where guests can construct their own sandwiches, a raw bar offering the freshest seafood, and a grill serving British classics like bangers and mash. Try a hearty dish of beer battered fish with English-style chips or prime beef on sourdough from the carvery. The restaurant also has an extensive selection of craft beer from across the globe.