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Dec 2, 2012 09:00 PM

Fine Dining - Birmingham

I'm headed to Birmingham in January and was looking through reviews of several fine dining spots--Highlands Bar & Grill, Cafe Dupont, Hot & Hot Fish Club. They all have more positives than negatives, but at the same time, none of them seems to be the clear winner. Can anyone offer some head-to-head(-to-head) comparisons to help me decide?

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  1. I've been to Highlands Bar & Grill. Excellent. Their menu changes daily & the service is superb. My DH and I were there right before T'giving and I got to meet and get a pic with Frank Stitt himself! IMHO, the whole experience there is quite divine. It's a small intimate restaurant, a lot of old school folks in there. Love the whole place. There is a bar and dining room. Bar is more casual, where the dining room would suggest men wear coats.

    The other two I've not eaten at, though I would love to.

    I have friends who live in B'ham, and they also frequent Chez Fon Fon - right next door to Highlands, and they almost prefer it OVER Highlands. They have been to Hot & Hot and said since the chef has been on Iron Chef, and won, he's raised his prices & food isn't that great anymore. That's probably a personal opinion. lol! I haven't heard them mention C Dupont.

    DH & I, and our friends have also been to Botegga. That's another one of F.Stitt's places. There is the Cafe, more casual, and the restaurant, more fine dining. We've only eaten at the Cafe and it has always been wonderful.

    We don't live in B'ham, but every time we are there in town, we always make reservations in advance b/c we know it will be awesome.

    And, if you go to Highlands (definitely requires reservations about a month in advance) - make sure you get the grits appetizer. Its been on the menu for over 25 yr., whereas everything else changes. That is so good, they've been threatened if they take it off. LOL!

    1. My vote is for Highland's. Hands down superior to H&H or Cafe Dupont. If you can make a reservation for a Thursday at Highland's, I would suggest getting the crab cake with beur blanc. It is legendary and fabulous.

      I like Hot & Hot, but for high-end seafood selections, I prefer Ocean (around the corner & up the hill from Highland's. The lobster pot pie is to die for.

      I like Chez FonFon (another Stitt restaurant), but know that it's more casual and very french. The fromage selection is wonderful.

      I've not eaten at Bottega, but have at it's side-by-side sister, Bottega Cafe. Again, it's an upscale casual. They make a mean martini!

      18 Replies
      1. re: sheilal

        I really enjoy Highlands and Chez FonFon. I've been to Bottega once, but was not very impressed (especially for the price).

        I have not been to Hot&Hot. Like chloebell said, they raised their prices after IronChef, then again after his James Beard award this year. I'd love to try it, but only if someone treats me...

        1. re: teemo

          Thank you for pointing out the prices! I was on the fence between Hot & Hot Fish Club and Highlands but I think I will go for the Highlands tomorrow night... which sounds like it was the original culinary destination here in B'ham.

          FYI for Sunday nights, only decent option I found was MetroPrime. Monday night I decided to try Jim & Nick's -- unimpressed. Big Bob Gibson BBQ in Decatur, AL was way better (from what I remember at the Big Apple BBQ block party in NYC anyway).

          1. re: drfoodie

            Huh, I like Jim and Nick's. I thought MetroPrime was total meh and maybe only worth it on an expense account. Jinsei is open Sundays.

            1. re: drfoodie

              You're probably right about the BBQ. Jim & Nick's has good food all around, but for straight up BBQ (esp. ribs) Big Bob Gibson surpasses anything in Birmigham, IMHO.

              1. re: Mediumgoof

                For sure. I've eaten at BBGibson many times (DH childhood home is near Decatur). They are great and their white sauce for the chicken is uniquely delish!

                Jim 'n Nicks has a new place in B'ham - The Little Donkey. Not exactly fine dining, but thought it was very good.

                1. re: Mediumgoof

                  I like Saws better than Big Bob Gibson. Give them a try.

                2. re: drfoodie

                  Jim & Nick's is to BBQ what Outback is to steaks.

                  1. re: G200

                    thank you for validating my opinion. and other thing -- the mac & cheese at my high school cafeteria may have been better.

                    1. re: drfoodie

                      Well what did you get at Jim and Nick's besides mac and cheese? I think their ribs (spares) are pretty good and their pulled is fine if not exceptional (much better than say steaks at Outback) but the brisket is too lean and suffers because of it. I think their mac is pretty good but I like eggy and cheesey mac. Saw's is better all around.

                      1. re: Dax

                        i got the bbq chicken -- sauce was like ketchup and meat was still pink inside. I'm surprised I didn't get sick.

                        1. re: drfoodie

                          Pink smoked meat is a good thing.

                          Dax, perhaps my drawing a comparison to Outback wasn't fair, but Jim N Nicks's is one of the last BBQ places that I take out of town guests to when they want to experience Southern BBQ. There are many better choices, in my opinion.

                          1. re: G200

                            I agree that smoked poultry does lend itself to a pink center, although I do not think it looks like raw or undercooked chicken.

                            Also G200, I'm with you that there are better places but JnN has always been solid in my experiences. Of course, at all bbq places I ask for the meat to be unsauced. I like to mix a little of their vinegar sauce and their habanero sauce.

                        2. re: Dax

                          I agree, Dax, Jim and Nick's is good. And consistent. I also very much love Saw's. Have driven by their new place in Avondale twice and it was too packed to bother stopping (and waiting).

                          1. re: curej

                            Saw's has an even newer place (Saw's Juke Joint) which took over the old Ore/Open Door in Crestline Park. I have not been yet but it definitely should offer more seating than Saw's Soul Kitchen. I like SSK but it's tiny. Sometimes it's easier to call in an order but they also put you on hold for a while. They only have like 3 employees including the cashier. Also, you can take your food to Avondale Brewing for a beer if the time is right.

                          2. re: Dax

                            Where is Saw's is it in Birmingham ? How far off I-59?

                            1. re: Johnbliss

                              There are actually 3 Saw's locations. The original is in Homwood, then there is Saw's Soul Kitchen in Avondale (Birmingham) and then the newest Saw's Juke Joint in Crestline Park (also Birmingham). From 59, I am not sure but Avondale is not far from the 20/59 interchange. Note, it is tiny.

                    2. re: teemo

                      The prices at Hot and Hot are ridiculous. It's not worth it. Was there recently...

                  2. Ocean? Stone's Throw? Mikey's Grill? Anyone have an opinion on these? I like Ocean and Mikey's a LOT. I haven't tried Stone's Throw (Mt. Laurel) yet, and was hoping someone had.....

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: curej

                      I haven't been to Ocean, but I know people who have. They say it's a wonderful restaurant. Would love to go one day, but I have a hard time staying away from Highlands. lol!

                    2. I'd make time for the jazz brunch at Veranda, too! I love it.

                      1. I realize I'm going to be in the minority but I've been underwhelmed by my three visits to Highlands (despite that, my girlfriend and I are returning for New Year's Eve).

                        My favorites in B'ham are (in order of preference):

                        1. Bettola
                        2. Dyron's Low Country
                        3. Bottega
                        4. Hot & Hot
                        5. 26 (I like their menu more than Ocean's)
                        6. Ocean
                        7. Chez Fon Fon
                        8. Highlands Bar & Grill
                        9. Avo
                        10. Jinsei
                        11. Ollie Irene
                        12. Daniel George
                        13. Old Savannah
                        14. Sautterfield's
                        15. The Veranda

                        I've been to all of these at least a half dozen times each (with the exception of Highlands). They're all good and worth a try.

                        At Bettola, I always get their charcuterie plate. It's excellent.

                        Dyron's is great low country food. Very consistent.

                        Bottega's a neighborhood go-to for me. Both the cafe and restaurant serve great Italian (Bettola's charcuterie and house made pasta edge them ahead of Bottega for me).

                        Hot & Hot has great seafood and a menu that edges out both 26 and Ocean for me.

                        26 is the sister restaurant to Ocean but I really prefer 26's menu. Despite Ocean being the "flagship" restaurant, it's menu seems more casual with items like lobster pot pie.

                        I really like Chez Fon Fon. Very good food and great atmosphere.

                        Highlands came very hyped. My expectations may have been too high leading to disappointment. That said, my meals have been inconsistent with most visits including at least one so-so course.

                        Avo's the restaurant to the attached bar Dram. Avo's biggest downsides are the popularity of Dram and the fact that the best dishes are scattered across both Dram's and Avo's menus. Great people, great food though.

                        Jinsei is the best sushi in Birmingham hands down. A great sushi restaurant for any city and a respectable sake selection.

                        Ollie Irene is really growing on me. I was a bit disappointed my first visit there right after they opened. They were still working the kinks out and I think they were on a tight beginning budget. Things are a lot smoother now and their budget doesn't seem to be a problem anymore.

                        Daniel George has solid food and a good menu. My only complaint is that my last visit there included my girlfriend's fish being VERY overcooked. Despite that, they still served it. Neither the chef nor the waiter should have let it leave the kitchen.

                        Old Savannah would have rated higher but your title is "Fine Dining". The atmosphere is a bit more casual here so I knocked it a handful of spots. That said, the food is very good.

                        Sauterfield's has very good food but is definitely a step below the places listed above.

                        I've had some very good dishes at the Veranda but most have been mediocre. If Birmingham didn't have such a good restaurant scene for a city its size, The Veranda would be one of the top places.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: mahalan

                          Oh man, Bettola. That's my favorite too! Always delicious.

                          1. re: teemo

                            We went to Bettola tonight. The pasta dishes were great. However, the charcuterie plate was a pretty poor value. For 12 dollars we got two half thumb size pieces of cheese and two thin slices of speck ham. When in Italy we got a lot more generous portions for our money than that. I was pretty disgusted.

                            1. re: curej

                              We had the large one with I think 2 meats and 3 cheeses and they were reasonably generous portions. Few places in town seem to give you much cheese on a cheese plate. The charcuterie platter for 2 at FonFon is pretty sizable and we can rarely finish everything on it.

                              1. re: Dax

                                I was so frustrated after our meal at Bettola that I stopped at Whole Foods and bought some Pecorino, Taleggio, prosciutto, and Humboldt fog to make our own charcuterie plate at home.