Named for one among America’s most legendary cooks, the annual James Beard Foundation Awards are probably the most breathlessly-awaited prizes within the United States restaurant trade. One restaurant is celebrating its record-breaking tenth time as a finalist for Outstanding Restaurant – and it’s not positioned in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and even Charleston, however Birmingham, Alabama. Can Highlands Bar & Grill lastly nab the final word prize on 7 May?
Chef Frank Stitt has been lifelike about his restaurant’s “little engine that could” standing amongst heavier hitters within the trade. “I think it is a bigger hill to climb when you’re from a smaller city,” he informed AL.com after final 12 months’s loss to Topolobampo, citing the truth that there are extra voters from main metropolitan areas. Highlands has lost to eating places in New York (5 instances), San Francisco (twice) and Chicago (twice).
Yet any customer to Highlands will let you know it may possibly measure as much as any big-city restaurant – after which some – delivering constantly wonderful meals and repair. Pardis Stitt, Frank’s spouse and business accomplice, handles the latter; she is well-known amongst regulars and has assembled an completed and skilled staff of waitstaff. Many servers, together with patron favourite Goren Avery, have labored at Highlands for many years, a rarity in an trade with a lot turnover.
Stitt credit his staff (which incorporates longtime pastry chef Dolester Miles, who acquired her third James Beard finalist nod this 12 months) with serving to him “create magic in a restaurant,” and anybody who tastes a spring Alabama strawberry or the flown-straight-from-the-Gulf oyster at one among Highlands’ tables will perceive what he means. The Stitts develop a lot of the meals offered of their eating places, which now embrace Chez Fon Fon, Bottega and Bottega Cafe in addition to Highlands, on their very own farm.
Stitt opened Highlands Bar & Grill in 1982, contemporary off a stint at Chez Panisse and a sojourn in France with Richard Olney. Going native earlier than it was cool – no less than within the Southern USA – Stitt wished to convey what he had realized again to his native state and apply it to Southern delicacies. Housed in an unassuming, single-story 1920s constructing in Birmingham’s Five Points, Highlands’ understated decor, expansive bar and pristine white tablecloths make delicate nods to French cafe design. With its subtle, contemporary tackle Southern classics, the restaurant nearly instantly gained a loyal clientele in a metropolis that was hungry for eating choices exterior of barbeque and the nation membership.
Highlands’ success energized Birmingham’s restaurant scene, allowed the Stitts to open extra eating places and served as a mannequin for different cooks to embrace their roots and apply basic strategies to regional fare – assume Sean Brock’s Husk or Eduardo Jordan’s JuneBaby.
Stitt gained a James Beard medal for Best Chef within the Southeast in 2001, however he says he’d like to see the restaurant as an entire get acknowledged for its work. Still, as with the Oscars themselves, even being nominated for “the Oscars of food” is an honor. And no different restaurant has been a finalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant greater than eight instances. “Our life will go on if we never win this award,” stated Stitt.
The James Beard Awards will likely be introduced on Monday, 7 May, on the Lyric Opera in Chicago.