Today I am lunching with my dear friend, Laura Calloway to celebrate her upcoming retirement from the Alabama State Bar. And we ladies have saved our appetites for this—and not here to order dainty salads.
Seated at “my table” in front of the fireplace in the dining room, we look over the menu, which includes some new items I have not seen nor tried before. Laura first decides on the new Roasted Granny Smith Apple Flatbread. But before she orders it, and to our delight, General Manager, Stan Reynolds treats us to one as a shared appetizer. It is crisp, hot, and delicious with apple slices melded into a bed of goat cheese and caramelized onion, topped with arugula and a balsamic reduction. Highly recommended!
For entrees, Laura has the Certified Angus Cheeseburger. Laura’s big, juicy, beef patty is topped with a delectable house pimento cheese, crisp Beeler’s Bacon, lettuce, onion, and the prettiest heirloom tomato I have seen all season. And I follow her lead ordering a “burger” too—Faroe Island Salmon Burger.
Remember when your mom fried salmon in an iron skillet? Chef James Boyce’s salmon burger is not your mother’s salmon patty. At first glance of this huge patty, I decide to forgo the bun and dig into the salmon with knife and fork. The beautiful fish sings with freshness and flavor. And the dill cream yogurt tops it off with a touch of moisture and a creamy acidity. I ask for extra and drizzle it on the patty, of which I was planning to eat half. But before I know it, bite after beautiful bite, I have eaten the whole thing. Both our burgers were accompanied by servings of scrumptious Parmesan fries.
And we do not stop there. Laura’s dessert passion is crème brûlée. She always tries it when she finds it on a restaurant menu. And as an accomplished home cook herself, she even makes her own. We share the Madagascar Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée, and pair with decaf cappuccino. The generous portion of golden goodness is topped with fresh, sliced strawberry. We dig in from each end of the oval ramekin and almost make it to the center before surrendering to this decadent dessert.
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Seafood Survival Highlands Bar and Grill serves Gulf seafood, post Hurricane Michael. By Jan Walsh
Hurricane Michael hit our Gulf Coast fishermen hard. Many lost their homes and boats, including captains and deckhands at Greg Abrams Seafood. Abrams lost three boats to the storm. Five more were damaged. Abrams is currently paying for hotel rooms, because most of his crew who lost their homes, and he vows to keep them together and be back. Abrams established Abrams Seafood, Inc. in 1990. And I have been a foodie fan of his fish since I first discovered it. Often times, through these years, I have been in a restaurant kitchen, when a call for the chef, or more recently a text would come in—that he had to take. And it was coming from Abrams boats, calling to let chef know what they are catching that day, so he could plan his dinner menu.And as you may know, if a fish dish on a restaurant menu has Greg Abrams name with it, as always, I order it. But tonight, at Highlands Bar and Grill, there is no “Greg Abrams” nor “Panama City” mentioned on the menu.
Yet much like Abrams, even a hurricane does not stop Frank Stitt from sourcing Gulf Coast seafood. The crab claws are back. Gulf shrimp, red snapper ceviche, black grouper and even Point aux Pins oysters survived and found their way to Stitt’s menu. Our dinner tonight starts with a bottle of bubbly and our favorite oyster bar combo of Marinated Crab Claws and Gulf Shrimp Cocktail. The cold plump, delicate claws and their tasty ginger sauce are just as delicious as ever. Andthe pink, firm, and succulent shrimp, served perfectly curled over the rim of their bowl of house cocktail sauce is as always, a can’t miss classic at Highlands. The shrimp and crabmeat are matched again in our next course of Gulf Shrimp and Crabmeat Louie, served with avocado, boiled farm egg, peppers, and cornichons over a bed of lettuce. This dish is a refreshing balance of layered textures and flavors, with an overlying creamy sweetness, offset with a touch of spice that excites the palate. In our final course, a generous portion of Black Grouper is served over Farro Verde, with PFTF Persimmons and slices of Asian Pears, in a honey vinaigrette. The cooked to perfection grouper is golden on the outside and white, moist, and pristine on the inside. The mild fish is accented by the light smokiness of the farro verde, and is enhanced by its grainy texture. And the fruits’ sweetness rounds out this delectable dish.
Please consider ordering Gulf Seafood and buying it to prepare at home in order to support our Gulf Coast fishermen. And if you want to do more, World Central Kitchen is an organization of chefs that feeds those in need. They served 250,000 meals to victims of Hurricane Florence and to date, have served 60,000 meals to victims of Hurricane Michael. You may donate at WorldCentralKitchen.org or via their Facebook page. Southern Living is planning a fundraiser, to be held in November, to support World Central Kitchen’s efforts to feed people in the Gulf area.
I look forward to seeing Abrams Seafood trucks back in Birmingham again. Recently spotted an Abrams Seafood truck outside Highlands and said, “Now that is what you want to see outside a restaurant.”
View Highlands Bar and Grill Profile
Bountiful and Beautiful
Bellini’s new fall dishes are highly recommended.
By Jan Walsh
Kev and I like to go the “back way” to Bellini’s Ristorante & Bar. From Liberty Park we drive over Lake Purdy and are there in fifteen minutes. And as we arrive tonight, fall is in the air, and the place is already packed at 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening. Good thing we have reservations.
We order a blood orange martini and a chocolate martini while we look over the menu. Kev is a chocolate martini enthusiast but seldom is impressed with what restaurants pour. His chocolate martini arrives in a large martini glass, striped with chocolate syrup. The frothy, creamy, smooth, and sweet drink exceeds expectations. My blood orange martini is also generous in portion and one of the best cocktails I have ever tasted—balanced and beautiful. We share an appetizer of fried crab claws, which is a nightly special. Chef Ryan Zargo battered the large, plump claws in polenta, which made a delicate crust that did not overpower the fragile claw meat. And he served with both drawn butter and house made cocktail sauce, which we quickly discovered are the ultimate if we dip each claw in butter first and then the cocktail sauce. I have never had better crab claws.
We finally decide on two new fall dishes as entrees—Berkshire Pork Chop and Autumn Duck Pasta. And we pair the entrees with our server’s suggestion of a Tuscan wine that is new to Bellini’s, Brancatelli Toscana, which proves to be a lovely, food friendly choice. Both dishes arrive piping hot, and huge in portion. Berkshire pork is the highest quality heritage pork from a 300-year old breed. And it is in good hands with Chez Zargo. He perfectly grills the enormous, 17-ounce, bone-in chop to order (medium well). Each bite is tender and flavorful, in part due to its nice layer of back fat that both adds flavor and locks in the juices. And if, forbid, your palate for pork has been dumbed down by commercial pork, this chop will bring back memories of what pork is supposed to taste like. While the chop hogs the plate, as it should, it leaves room for a tasty serving of sweet potato hash that is spiced up with Conecuh sausage and sweetened with a maple bourbon glaze. In the delicious duck dish, a bountiful amount of moist, rich, braised duck is interlaced with ribbons of al dente pappardelle and dotted with bites of sweet potato. And a garnish of with pepitas and crisp Brussel leaves add texture. If fall were a dish instead of a season, it would be this dish.
And for dessert we share a slice of scrumptious, creamy, Pumpkin Cheesecake. From start to finish, the portions are generous, the food is balanced and beautiful, and the service is exceptional.
View Bellini’s Ristorante & Bar Profile
Crab and Grits
Catch the soft shell crab special at Bistro V.
By Jan Walsh
The soft shells are back. And I just caught a beauty at Bistro V. Chef Jeremy Downey offers a daily Gulf fish special and a daily vegetable plate. But today, they are also offering a third special of soft shell crab.
The delicate crab is fried to a golden brown and is served floating on a bed of grits, and pan seared yellow corn, tomatoes, and spinach. The crab is cooked to perfection—crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside. The grits explode with flavor and are further enhanced by the crunch and color of yellow corn kernels. And the tomatoes and spinach add a touch of acidity and color to this delectable crab dish. Highly recommended!
Bistro V is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. View Bistro V Profile