Birmingham sweetheart, Highlands Bar and Grill (pride and joy of Chef Frank Stitt) contends for this year’s James Beard Award in the Outstanding Restaurant category. The prestigious award honors an establishment in operation for 10+ years, that sets a national standard for atmosphere, service, and food quality. In light of his nomination, we talked with Frank about the emerging Southern food scene, Southern hospitality, and Pappy Van Winkle bourbon.
(Go to jamesbeard.org to purchase tickets to the awards event on Monday, May 7th in NYC. If you can’t attend, check in on the live stream, broadcast from the website, or follow announcements on twitter @beardfounation or from our own Features Editor, Jennifer Cole @jennifervcole.)
Which Southern city has the most exciting emerging food scene?
Charleston, because of the surrounding hill country, fresh seafood from the bays and marshes, and accessibility to local ingredients—it gives the exciting restaurants a lot of room for creativity and uniqueness.
What’s your favorite flavor?
That’s a tough one—it always depends on the season.
What's your favorite cookbook?
Richard Olney’s Simple French Food immediately comes to mind. His passion and philosophical view on balancing technique and flavors have always been inspirational to me.
Who do you know that best embodies Southern hospitality?
John T. Edge, Patrick Dunne of Lucullus in New Orleans, and my mother.
What’s your favorite Southern summer vegetable? How do you eat it?
It’s definitely a tie between okra, corn, eggplant, lady peas, and butterbeans. I like to put them together in a variation of succotash.
What dish on your menu (at Highlands) best represents your style of cooking?
Our seafood pirlau, braised rabbit, or any sort of bird—cooked two-ways—with seasonal vegetables.
Pimiento cheese or chicken salad?
Pork rinds or boiled peanuts?
Sweet or unsweet?
Pappy 20 or 23 year?
Alabama or Auburn?