Meet the Nominee: Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, 2014 James Beard Oustanding Restaurant Finalist
Find out more about Highland Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, which is a finalist for the 2014 James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant.
Highlands Bar and Grill is the first of four restaurants from Alabama-native and James Beard Award winner Frank Stitt and his wife and business partner, Pardis. For almost 30 years, Highlands has provided Alabamians with a seasonal menu, showcasing the many flavors of the American South while combining consummate French technique. The focus at Highlands is a love of cooking and the enjoyment captured when sharing food at table. Whether casual or formal, guests enjoy both artistry and tradition. Drop in for oysters at the bar of Birmingham or make reservations for an evening of food and wine.
Highlands Bar and Grill2011 Eleventh Avenue South Birmingham, AL205.939.1400www.highlandsbarandgrill.com
Highlands is one of the South’s destination restaurants where graciousness and a sincere welcome is matched by the finest ingredients. Stitt’s fondness for humble southern fare comes from his own roots in rural Alabama. His culinary journey began; however, in San Francisco and includes such mentors as Alice Waters, Simca Beck and Richad Olney. His adventurous spirit then took him throughout the French countryside working in vineyards and exposing the young chef to the foods and traditions that continue to be so much a part of Stitt’s vision today.
With more than 300 labels on the wine list, guests can enjoy the best wines from around the world—from Burgundy to Barolo, Austria to Alsace and Oregon to Santa Barbara. Additionally, one of America’s most talented winemakers, Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, crafts the house white and red wines. One, the ”Southside Red” is a fruity, soft wine made primarily of Barbera and the second, a beautiful and supple pinot noir.
“To participate in the ritual of the cocktail hour after a hard-worked day and to sit at a handsome bar in anticipation of a perfect cocktail is certainly a great pleasure. That is what we try to accommodate at our little bar in Birmingham.”
–Chef Frank Stitt
Chef Frank Stitt's fondness for humble southern ingredients comes directly from his roots in rural Alabama. He grew up in Cullman, a leading agricultural county in north Alabama, where there was a great deal of pride in being a small family farmer. Stitt, from an early age, developed a spiritual connection to food, to the land, and to farming. But there was another side to his childhood: Stitt's father, like his before him, was the county doctor, and his love of travel exposed young Frank to cosmopolitan cities and leading restaurants. In fact, he was equally at home experiencing some of the great restaurants of New York and New Orleans as he was picking the first tender shoots of asparagus with his Grandmother White in her beloved garden. Stitt's culinary journey began to take shape when he moved to San Francisco and, as a philosophy student, noticed that beloved cookbooks were taking precedence over the works of Plato and Kierkegaard. He honed his kitchen skills at various Bay Area restaurants, including the kitchen of Alice Waters at her now legendary restaurant, Chez Panisse. Waters introduced him to Richard Olney, who at the time was working on the Good Cook series for Time-Life Books and needed an assistant. His professional path further evolved as he worked alongside Jeremiah Tower, Stephen Spurrier and Simca Beck. Eventually, travels throughout the French countryside led to work in vineyards in both Provence and Burgundy.
Stitt made his way back south, to return to the foods and traditions of his childhood. Today those roots combine with his vast culinary experiences and adventurous spirit to add up to what can be described as a singular, deeply rich, and passionate approach to food. He remains highly committed to the ideals of sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry. Today, Stitt is involved with Slow Food (he and his wife, Pardis, founded the Slow Food chapter in Birmingham in 2006) and is a standing board member of the Jones Valley Teaching Farm and Pepper Place Farmer’s Market, both in Birmingham. Recognizing a responsibility to promote sustainable agriculture, Stitt uses produce from area farmers at his restaurants whenever possible. He was one of the first Alabama chefs/restaurateurs to champion sustainable agriculture, and his influence in this area has been noted in his community and beyond. His flagship restaurant, Highlands Bar and Grill, opened in 1982, and its menu combines simple southern ingredients, such as stone ground grits and country ham, with French sauces and braises. The result is superb, delicately balanced flavors. Highlands was an immediate success, and soon after, he opened Bottega (1988), Café Bottega (1990), and Chez Fonfon (2000)—all in Birmingham.
2004 marked the release of Stitt’s first cookbook, Offer: 1579652468 Frank Stitt's Southern Table, Recipes and Gracious Traditions from Highlands Bar and Grill (Artisan Books). The Southeastern Booksellers Association named Southern Table the best cookbook of 2005. Stitt’s second cookbook, Offer: 1579653022 Frank Stitt's Bottega Favorita (also Artisan Books), was released nationally in January 2009. Bottega Favorita showcases Stitt’s love of the Mediterranean and Italy.
In 2011, Chef Stitt was inducted into Esquire magazine’s Restaurant Hall of Fame and to the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America”. Highlands Bar and Grill was nominated for the sixth consecutive year by the James Beard Foundation for the Outstanding Restaurant Award in 2014. Stitt received the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2001, and was nominated in 2008 for Outstanding Chef. Chef Stitt has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance and was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 2009, the most distinguished award given to an Alabamian. He has appeared on the “Martha Stewart Show”, PBS’s “Chefs A‘Field”, ABC’s “Nightline”, and the CBS “Early Show”. His restaurants are regularly featured in top national and regional outlets such as The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire, Food Arts, Men’s Health, Saveur, Cooking Light, The Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine, Southern Living, Garden & Gun and Newsweek.
Stitt lives in Birmingham with his wife and business partner, Pardis. He has two children, Marie and Weston. The Stitts have a working farm about an hour away from Birmingham, where they raise chickens, gather eggs and grow produce for use in all of their restaurants.
Content Courtesy of Amy Corley Public Relations