Autumn Perspective

Chef Evans hones heartwarming, fall dishes at Café Dupont.

By Jan Walsh

Executive Chef, Chris Evans’ tenure at Café Dupont started at Springville in 1997. There he was the sous chef at the restaurant’s original location until 2000, returning later when Café Dupont moved to Birmingham in 2003. Fast forward to 2022, he and wife, Angela, who had also had her own stint here as pastry chef, became the owners of the restaurant…

Today Chef Evans is the personification of Café Dupont. He has mastered the perspective of “perfection is knowing when to stop.” Shrewdly holding tight to Café Dupont’s signature classics, such as Fried Oysters and Okra appetizer and Buttermilk Fried Chicken Breast entrée, there would be a riot by regulars otherwise. Meanwhile he evolves and pivots the menu, not only to the season but also to the moment. The fresh touch of his inventive excellence is evident, from the menu’s descriptive dish titles to the presentations on custom, Earthborn Pottery “CD” plates, and with each fulfilling bite of his satiating fare.

Tonight, Chef welcomes us with a window table, where we catch up and offers to select our courses and pair with wines. Nice! A tempting offer, yet we have our hearts set on a few of the fall dishes already. So, we decide to do a bit of both. And sommelier, Cayla selects all the wines and shares Cafe Dupont's method of wine preservation. Click wine pairing links to view pairing descriptions.

But first, cocktails, from Café Dupont Bar! I see an Espresso Martini on the dessert menu online and offer it as a before dinner drink to Kev, who rarely can find his favorite cocktail, a chocolate martini on a menu anymore. And I am in the mood for a Dirty Dupont Martini. Kev’s cocktail is a complex mix of espresso, Grand Marnier, Bailey's, Kahlua, and Chopin Vodka, served in a cut crystal coupe. We don’t often find such elegant stemware in restaurants, yet this decadent, deeply layered drink deserves it. My salty, briny, olive-y martini is appropriately opaque, made of Grey Goose Vodka, Bianco Vermouth, brine, and blue cheese olives, and clearly a classic. Both are generous in portion… no mini martini glasses here. Atop thick, generous slices of Birmingham Breadworks sourdough, we slather Chef Evans house made spread that recently replaced butter in the bread course. This creamy, creative spread is a marvelous mix of whipped marscapone, Capriole goat cheese, and local Eastaboga honey.

Looking back over the menu, our cocktails tempt me to come back for a bar night here. And the Café Dupont Charcuterie will be perfect for this. Thus, we pass up sharing it tonight for the Farm-to-Table Vegetable Tasting to share. From garden to table: golden fried green tomato, crisp grilled asparagus, tangy sous vide beets, vegetal, haricot verts, comforting fingerling potatoes, grassy fried okra, and sweet roasted parsnips round out the ultimate veggie plate! Veggies are difficult to pair with wine, especially this dish of multifaceted flavors. Yet is paired to perfection with Felsner Gruner Veltliner 2018.

As a shared starter we enjoy Chef Evans recommendation of Steen's Glazed Pork Belly. The sweet and salty pork is thick and very generous in portion, tender, rich and savory, with enough fat for flavor but not overpowering it. Dupont is in the details of its preparation and presentation, served with sautéed red cabbage, candied walnuts, and finished with a captivating capriole tea rose. Manzanos Tinto 1961. Yes, 1961. Ask the sommelier the back story behind this one!

Fall also brings Sweet Tea Brined Duroc Pork Chop, Cornmeal Crusted Frog Legs, Sweet Cornbread Stuffed Manchester Farms Quail, a duo of Braised Mississippi Rabbit with Grilled Mississippi Rabbit Tenderloin to the menu. Kev opts for the chop. But it is red snapper season too! Grilled Gulf Red Snapper for me. And although the snapper’s risotto has shiitake mushrooms, before I could ask, Chef graciously offers to make mine without it, as already he has my allergy noted. Chef brined the chop in sweet tea, like a good Southerner, imparting a sweetness, while tenderizing the pork and enhancing the juiciness of this melt in the mouth long bone chop. The accompanying sweet potato custard is mild in flavor, with just enough sweetness to persuade your palate that you are eating pie with an entree. Glazed Brussels sprouts compliment by contrast with their earthy bitterness. Adding a touch of pizazz atop is a cranberry apple and fennel seed chutney. The chop is paired with Littoral Wendling Block E 2020, from Anderson Valley.

My catch arrives with its red skin glistening at me, to a backdrop of my white customized, creamy, crab risotto and a French blue plate that resembles lace. And it is topped with an elegant, orange saffron hollandaise and crispy parsnip chips. It is a dish, such as this that keeps me from cooking at home! The snapper is sweet, mild, and pristine. And I did not miss a thing leaving off the shiitakes, other than a possible trip to the ER. This risotto is a stunner! Milk white, plump grains of risotto are purposefully a touch beyond al dente, chef’s privilege. As a writer, I get it! Sometimes perfection is not playing by the rules… but stretching them. Catch it if you can! My fish dish is paired with a Burgundy, Domaine Barraud Pouilly-Fuisse La Verchere 2019.

Before dessert we enjoy an “extra pour” of Napa Valley’s Robert Sinskey Vandal Vineyard 2017. And for dessert, Pastry Chef Chase whips up an off the menu, Affogato with house made Chai Ice Cream, and from the menu, Pumpkin Brûlée paired with Hopler Trockenbeerenauslese 2017. Affogato translates to drowned in Italian. Think iced latte in a dramatic presentation of ice cream drowning and melting quickly in espresso… Try this at home and impress guests. Breaking through brulee’s hard, caramel top reveals a rich, creamy pumpkin custard. And a gingersnap cookie is the cherry on top, perfect for fall. Highly recommended!

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