Highlands Bar and Grill
2011 11th Avenue South between 20th Street and Richard Arrington Junior Boulevard South
Birmingham, AL 35205
I had been desiring to dine at Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill since I moved to Birmingham. It’s regarded as the best restaurant in Alabama, it’s received praise on a national level (was just up for the James Beard “Outstanding Restaurant”), and Laura has been and has raved about it, so of course, I was waiting for a special occasion to dine at Highlands since it’s not exactly easy on the old wallet. Finally, said occasion arose. Reservations were painless, just hopped onto OpenTable a month in advance (way more time than needed) and had my pick of times for the selected date. I was excited to try French technique with southern ingredients.
There is valet available, but Dave and I just parked a block or so away and walked over to the restaurant. The place was packed; our reservation was for 7 PM on a Saturday night so that was to be expected. We were slightly saddened that our table was right next to the entryway for the dining area, but it was okay after all, and it was so busy anyway that there didn’t seem to be an alternative. Highlands is definitely quite the special occasion place. Looked to be a lot of birthdays and anniversaries celebrated that night.
Our server was pretty laid-back and personable. I should add that she seemed to be our main server, but then another guy took our orders. The menus are printed with the day’s date and make a wonderful souvenir, so naturally, Dave and I took ours home. The menu seems to change often depending on the available ingredients; I checked the current menus and noticed a lot of different dishes.
For drinks, Dave had the Pecan Old-Fashioned for $10 which included “Knob Creek, housemade pecan orgeat, orange peel and bitters.” He gave it praise though lamented the small glass and high price tag. I went booze-free and tried a delicious blend of grapefruit juice and berries. It just tasted so fresh. This drink sounded more like brunch but whatever. They were $5 each but I still tried to slowly sip my two beverages to extend the fruity goodness.
We shared appetizers of beef carpaccio ($12) and foie gras ($18). The beef carpaccio came out as a generous serving, with some salt sprinkled over the slices. What was more unique about this presentation was how a horseradish sauce was applied underneath the meat. The wide ribbons of Parmesan were an added bonus. The foie gras was divine as all foie gras is. The standout of this dish was the onion marmalade. It had a little vinegar kick which elevated the onions. Yum yum. Laura had recommended the stone ground baked grits which seem to be a signature dish, as verified by our server, but we decided to get them another time.
For the main course, I selected the seafood pirlau ($32) since I love seafood and had never had a pirlau before, much less knew what a pirlau (I think they called in “perloo”) was. Okay, why is there no entry for “pirlau” in Wikipedia? Well, basically it’s a seafood stew that’s served over rice. This particular version contained heaping portions of scallops, crawfish, shrimp, and trout. While it was good, I wasn’t bowled over with the dish. As is often the case, the appetizers were more interesting.
Even though I could have done without dessert, I couldn’t leave without trying dessert since Laura instructed me to have dessert. The server asked if it was a special occasion. Yes, yes it was. I ordered the peanut butter chocolate mousse ($8.95) while Dave went with the fried strawberry rhubarb pie. My mousse came out on a plate that read “Congratulations.” Aw, how sweet. The mousse was gigantic! We should have split it easily for sure, also because it was quite rich. The ball of mousse resembled an 8 ball. The brown 8 ball struck the right balance of chocolate and peanut butter. It was heavenly. Each bite filled me with happiness. The peanut butter ice cream was delightful, with tiny balls of peanut butter. The texture reminded me of cookie dough ice cream. The peanut brittle was fine but I’m not a huge brittle person anyway. You never see peanut butter-based desserts at upscale restaurants, but then again, peanuts are a southern staple. This dessert actually inspired me to make some chocolate peanut butter desserts recently. Dave loved his fried strawberry rhubarb pie. The pie looked like little empanadas, and there was also a shot of strawberry milkshake too. Frank Stitt must love desserts. I still think about the gingerbread cheesecake at Chez Fonfon on a regular basis.
The couple next to us ordered a zillion glasses of wine and were getting pretty hammered. At least the tables were not as close together as they could have been. Highlands Bar and Grill was not the most fabulous meal ever but it was still quite impressive and perfect for a special occasion in Birmingham!