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An Alabama epiphany: Frank Stitt's newest


Gifted Gourmet
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interview/review of Frank Stitt's new cookbook

Back in 1982, back when the only "good" restaurant towns in the South were (grudgingly) considered to be New Orleans, Frank Stitt opened the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama. It set out Stitt's personal culinary mission—to blend Southern ingredients and traditions with French provincial style and technique—and showcased the sort of truck-farm seasonal produce the fast-food generation had almost forgotten.At last, Frank Stitt's Southern Table: Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill is in print, and it's a beaut, warmly and generously written, with more than 150 recipes and many gorgeous photographs—all shot in natural light, and with unbelievably seductive texture

Only seems appropriate that with the inception of eGullet's new Southern Food Culture Forum, we pause and reflect upon Frank Stitt and his book and his ideas about southern cooking ..

Have you eaten or read anything by this interesting man? If so, please talk to us ...

If you are a devotee of southern foods, even if you live outside the South, do you subscribe to Stitt's theory:

I'm really dedicated to authentic cultural roots. I think that's what makes Southern writers and artists so distinctive; they grow up on the farm but then they leave for years to travel and explore and gain that sophistication, and then they come back to enrich the culture.

Any other southern chefs who have done likewise? Scott Peacock comes to mind instantly ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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There are a few that are on this list that I can think of. I had the pleasure of regularly dining at Highlands for a few years when I was operating a brewery in Birmingham and often had to be there on business and it was a top notch experience, easily on par with many places in New Orleans.

And then there is one amazing example that I can think of that fits the category of your last question

Joe Major of Joe's Dreyfus Store in Livonia, LA

This place is, has been, and remains, my single favorite place to eat in the State of Louisiana. And that is saying something. I am including fine dining in New Orleans all the way to gas station boudin stops in Acadiana (our gas stations are better than many of your restaurants :raz: ). Is it beautifully plated? No. Is it served in august surroundings? No. Is the wine list world class. No. It's about the food, man, the food! It's all great. Prepared with GREAT ingredients, served in decent, sensible portions at a price that will suprise you by being much, much, less than you might expect elsewhere for food less well prepared. The waitstaff is wonderful and the place itself (an old country mercantile literally surrounded by cane fields. On any given day you may be surrounded by lunch ladies who drove the 40 miles from BR, lawyers from Opelousas, a couple of cane farmers, a state trooper of two, a few (very few) tourists who knew about the place and stopped by, and a couple of fawning morons like me who just sit and drool as they await the coming pleasure.

More reading about Joes's and a warning-this place is in Livonia, LA. A VERY small town between BR and Opelousas on Hwy 90. If you are traveling I-10 you will need to get off at Breaux Bridge and take the Maringouin Hwy across the Atchafalaya (or skirting it) and head for Livonia. While you are on your way you pass very close to Poche's Marketwhere you can augment your drive with a selection of fine products to fill up your ice chest on the way home. It keeps kind of interesting hours, they close in the afternoon (very common here) and open up for the dinner hours. They change their hours to close earlier in the winter (stop seating at 8 p.m. - I learned this the hard way with the Perleaux's, although it worked out great anyway). Go there. Sit, take your time, order lots of diferent stuff, eat. Wish you lived within driving distance. Go look at real estate. Move. You'll be glad you did.

Hell. You could spend the night.

The New York Times found it, you can too

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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...

Any other southern chefs who have done likewise? Scott Peacock comes to mind instantly ...

Bill Neal and Damon Lee Fowler

One of Bill Neal's early ventures before Crook's Corner was a formal french restauirant, La Residence. (Chapel Hill, NC). He went on to write very important cookbooks on traditional Southern cuisine.

Damn Lee Fowler cites his formal passion and commitment for food developing during an extended stay in Italy. He then wrote several important Southern cookbooks and is now a part of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

I'm not doing justice to either of these chefs and writers with such a brief synopsis' but thought I would include a little background on them for people not familiar with them...

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Here's an egull-amazon link for Stitt's book. There are a few reviews already and if you order through this link it puts $$ in egullet's coffers: click

I definately want to check this out soon; wish I had more chances to be in or near Birmingham!

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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the article

Master chefs have created some unusual combinations, but few are as unbelievable as Frank Stitt's. Stitt, who will be at Montgomery's Capitol Book and News today to sign copies of his first cookbook, "Frank Stitt's Southern Table," has managed to combine Southern food and healthy cooking....But can Southern food be good and good for you?  "I'm on a mission to discredit the idea that Southern food can't be healthy," said the Birmingham chef, who was named "a culinary legend" by Bon Appetit magazine last year.  "I really did it because of the way I like to eat, how I like to cook and how I like to feel. Because as much as I like to eat, I also like to feel good. I don't like having a stuffed feeling."

Healthy Southern Food? Sure, I suppose it is possible ... :rolleyes:

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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If someone doesn't buy me Stitt's book for Christmas, I will have to go buy it myself! I flipped through a copy at the bookstore and it is absolutely, mouthwateringly gorgeous.

As a Birmingham resident, I eat at Highlands several times a year, and it is absolutely incredible. The way he uses traditional Southern ingredients such as grits, blackeyed peas and okra and mixes them with French techniques and influences, with the emphasis on fresh and local from the California school, has rightly won him many awards.

You can read two reviews at our website, Bhamdining.com:

www.bhamdining.com/Reviews/review_highlands.html

www.bhamdining.com/Reviews/review_highlands_revisited.html

These are from 2000 and 2001, but we have been this year and it is just as good as ever.

Birmingham has a number of other excellent upscale restaurants, as well, such as Hot & Hot Fish Club, Cafe DuPont, and daniel george. Nearly every chef/owner has worked with Stitt at one point or another.

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I have the book and I consider it an instant classic. It is by far in the top 5% of my 400+ cookbook collection. I have eaten at the Highlands and I cooked with Mr Stitt at different charity events. Both were incredible opportunities that I will never forget.

Gorganzola, Provolone, Don't even get me started on this microphone.---MCA Beastie Boys

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  • 2 weeks later...

Have you eaten or read anything by this interesting man? If so, please talk to us ...

My, my .... all this talk about Highlands is well-deserved, but when I lived in Bham, the place to go, and for good reason, was Stitt's Bottega Restaurant. Same idea, Italian accent. I had one of the best dishes of my life there - it was lamb and a wide flat pasta with blackeyed peas and a light brown sauce. Flat-out delicious!!

Nearly equally good was the hot spot Bottega Cafe next door. Anyone know if these places are still good? and what's the story with Chez Fon Fon? silly name, but I hear it's good too.

Any other southern chefs who have done likewise? Scott Peacock comes to mind instantly ...

Also, Frank Lee in Charleston (Slightly North of Broad), and Louis Osteen (Louis's at Pawley's Island) are outstanding. Hit Louis's restaruants in their first year or so, while he's still interested, and you'll be richly rewarded.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Frank Stitt is great. His new cookbook is informative and inspiring. But what I like most about Stitt is his passion for local food and how he uses local produce, herbs and anything he can manage to work onto his menu. His commitment to the Chef's Collaborative and the Slow Food movement is admirable and upon learning this I spent an afternoon researching both essential organizations

I've come across Stitt around town and have found him to be a pretty cool guy to boot. I remember when I used to wait tables years ago at a local restaurant he'd often pop in near closing time, sit quietly in an out of the way booth and have either a steak sandwhich or a NY strip and a drink before heading home for the night.

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  • 3 years later...

I worked for Frank Stitt @ Bottega and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. He sources out the finest ingredients, and his staff puts a lot of pride and love into every plate that goes out. I am glad to have worked for him and will always practice/adhere to many of the philosophies/techniques I learned there.

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