Café Dupont is in chefs’ hands with new owners, Chris and Angela Evans.
By Jan Walsh
Entering Café Dupont’s stately Bar conjures up a Déjà vu experience. I go way back with this café, all the way to its origins in Springville. Thus, it is natural to recall my long and storied relationship with the restaurant. Yet I am not here for a trip down memory lane, but instead for a fresh start with its new owners and chefs, Chris and Angela Evans. Chris was sous chef at the original location in Springville from 1997 until 2000, and back at Café Dupont since it opened in Birmingham in 2003. Angela was his pastry chef for several years before taking the position of Culinary Instructor at Clay Chalkville High School in 2021. Yet she still makes time to help with the desserts when needed.
For a before dinner drink from the House Specialties cocktail list, we select both Sazerac and French Gimlet. The Sazerac is a golden cocktail of rye whiskey, Herbsaint, demerara sugar, and Peychaud’s Bitters. It is whiskey forward, as it should be with notes of star anise, rhubarb, and tart cherry. Perfect drink for ladies who love whiskey, as it is served in a pretty, cut glass coupe, garnished with lemon. Don’t let the gimlet’s pretty color fool you. Derived from the purple gin blended with the yellow St. Germain, its tempting tart flavors are non-floral notes of citrus, juniper, coriander, elderflower, and lime.
Seated at our favorite window table in the dining room, soft light pours into the space¾illuminating the vanilla walls with the shadow of a scripted, “D” painted on the storefront window. Just as I am feeling at home again, enveloped in its warm and inviting ambience, Chris and Angela come to greet us, donning pristine chefs’ jackets. They are also wearing their new roles as owners very well. We are treated to glasses of sparkling wine and toast the new owners, who offer to select our menu for the evening.
To start Cafe Dupont carries on the French custom of a cheese course in a thoughtful manner, with its Artisan Cheese Plate. Although the restaurant setting is perfect for trying new cheeses, when I see a cheese on some restaurants’ menus, I wonder, “Why bother?” I can buy this cheese or better myself. At times I also wonder, “Where’s the cheese?” Condiments should complement the cheese, not be the star of the plate. These are not questions I have looking at the Café Dupont Artisan Cheese Plate. The Evans are serious about cheese, having their own cheese tastings. And to land a spot on the Café Dupont plate, each cheese, whether traditional French or American Artisan, must speak to the palate, telling its own unique story.
Just as the cork is popped on a bottle of our favorite, Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc Brut 2018, our plate starts with a lovely Imperial Brie with Eastaboga Honey and walnuts. Next we go to the center of the plate for a taste of Italian, buttery, soft, triple cream Burrata, what a beauty! Directly above it at the top is a California, Point Reyes Blue with strawberry reduction… Never had a better blue. Clockwise to its right is the hardest cheese on the plate, Comté with marinated fresh cucumbers. Continuing clockwise is the compelling Sequatchie Cove Coppinger with decorative vegetable ash. At the bottom is for wine lovers, such as us, a drunken goat cheese paired with pickled onions. Winding back up the plate, counter-clockwise is an amazing, Welsh cheese, Red Dragon Mustard Seed and Ale, my favorite! Above it, to its right is an 18-month Beemster Gouda alongside the buratta. Afterwards, and throughout the evening, our palates are refreshed and amused by various amuse bouche, each of which reflects the style of Chris, now as executive chef.
Next Kev enjoys Steen's Cane Syrup Glazed Pork Belly, and I delight in the Seared Foie Gras. Steen’s is one of the last producers of 100 percent, pure cane syrup, having sadly been replaced by corn syrup through the decades. And it is still made the old-fashioned way. They harvest ripened cane to the sweetest state of maturity, then grind and extract the juice, and cooking it in open kettles until it reaches the desired clarity and consistency. The dark, rich pork is crisp on the skin, and tender inside. The belly boasts a mild, loin like flavor with the sweetness of caramel and molasses, yet no bitterness. Walnuts add a touch of candied whimsy and delightful crunch to the fatty pork. Coupled with the pork are radicchio endive salad, adding color, crispness, and acidity, and blue cheese, bringing a pungent creaminess. Much like a jeweled crown, a lovely slice of foie gras rests atop Hinkel’s Bakery French Toast. This French delicacy is buttery rich with tastes of umami, and its earthiness is elevated by pretty port poached pears and fruity chutneys of strawberry and rosemary chutney. Highly recommended!
Although Café Dupont has become famous for its execution of French techniques, it has remained loyal to its patrons’ humble Southern favorites: Fried Chicken, Oysters and Okra, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Tonight’s fried, golden tomatoes are bundled with grilled, chilled succulent Gulf shrimp and delicate gulf crabmeat remoulade. Organic micro greens finish the dish, adding color, nutrition, and ease of digestion. I too never tire of this dish, as it takes me back to my farm girl roots.
Next, we are treated to Braised Mississippi Rabbit and Pan Seared King Salmon. The earthy, meaty, rabbit is tender and robust, grounded with a comforting, organic, stone ground grit cake, and accented by carrots bursting with farm freshness. Only the shiitake mushrooms are missing, forgone due to allergy. The King Salmon is deep in color, firm, moist, and full of clean flavor. Floating on a scrumptious, succotash-like, summer farro salad and a classic lemon caper meunière, the fish is flawlessly finished with crisp, finespun, fried leeks and colorful micro greens. Not only a work of art, this plate is also a beautiful balance of protein, veggies, ancient grains, and touches of acidity.
Our final course includes desserts, port, and cappuccino. Cafe Dupont Beignets have always been heavenly. Yet tonight’s beignets are bigger and even better than I recall. And hearing Angela’s describe her process and techniques of making them, it is no wonder! Sounds laborious to me, but just describing it puts a smile on her face. The results are puffed up, with high yeasty risen, light texture, well dusted with confectioner’s sugar, yet not overly sweet. I have had beignets in both France and in New Orleans, but these beignets are out of this world! And the Flourless Chocolate Cake is an artistic delight that synthesizes three of my favorite flavors: chocolate, blackberry, and espresso. From the flourless cake, blackberry compote, to the espresso mousse, the evening ends with this decadent, divine darkness.
As the valet brings our car, I take one last memorable glance inside. Café Dupont is at capacity, warmly lit, and full of life… just as I remember it.
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