8 months ago

Automatic Seafood & Oysters is fresh, vibrant addition to Birmingham’s dining scene

It’s easy to think of Automatic Seafood & Oysters as a singular kind of place: It looks and feels like nothing else in Birmingham, and the menu is filled with adventurous approaches to familiar (and perhaps unfamiliar) foods.

But what really makes it special are a few important partnerships: between local and regional suppliers and the kitchen, between the servers and the customers in the dining rooms, and between the husband and wife team who put it all together.

Adam Evans and Suzanne Humphries Evans work side by side – he with acclaimed kitchen skills and her with design expertise and warm hospitality – to celebrate clean, fresh flavors with friendly, gracious service in a space that is hip, modern and respectful of the past.

Automatic Seafood & Oysters opened in April in a 1940s warehouse that once was the home of the Automatic Sprinkler Co. But the buzz about its chef-owner began long before that.

Adam spent time in the kitchens of some of America’s most celebrated restaurants, from La Petite Grocery in New Orleans to Craft in New York City. Before moving back to his home state, Adam was the executive chef at Ford Fry’s The Optimist in Atlanta when the restaurant was named Esquire’s Restaurant of the Year and made Bon Appetit’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants.

He then helped Jonathan Waxman open Brezza Cucina, also in Atlanta. However, Adam’s appreciation for fresh food goes back to his childhood in Muscle Shoals, where he helped his grandfather with the family’s vegetable garden and cooked those vegetables with his mother and grandmother.

Automatic specializes in fish, although there are salads and turf-based dishes, too, like arugula with Alabama strawberries and pickled wild onions, or hanger steak with Sea Island red peas and ramp butter. There are chilled dishes like smoked mackerel with rye bread toast or octopus with yogurt, harissa and herb salad.

The shellfish and finfish are sourced primarily from the Gulf of Mexico, but Adam pulls from other coastlines, too. Most of what’s on the menu is familiar, but the combinations or preparation might be a surprise.

Consider roasted scallops with oxtail marmalade or snapper crudo with pickled ginger, crispy skin and lime, or duck fat-poached swordfish with sunchokes and pancetta vinaigrette. Some of the fishes are unusual – things like fresh-caught sardines and seasonal bycatch like hake, which Adam prepares blackened with blue crab, watercress, potato puree and green garlic butter.

“What the Gulf of Mexico has to offer is way beyond snapper and grouper,” Adam says. “There are a lot of different species that aren’t maybe common to see but are equally as delicious. It’s especially important for me to try and utilize the bycatch products, the things that they’re not targeting when they’re fishing for snapper and grouper (but) that they’re pulling in. … It’s a great opportunity for me to highlight different species from the Gulf that you don’t normally see on restaurant menus.”

The long, sleek oyster bar at Automatic is a focal point in the restaurant; as many as eight different kinds of oysters are piled high on ice. You’ll likely find Mo Boykins there. He started at Automatic as a dishwasher but told Adam he wanted to do more. Now he’s the restaurant’s main oyster shucker, as entertaining and engaging as Jose Medina Camacho and his team of friendly bartenders nearby who are creating craft cocktails like Springtime in Mexico with Lunazul blanco tequila, Vida mezcal, Herbsaint, cucumber, mint and lime.

“It’s really cool to … have people like Mo who can come in and make a difference,” Adam says. “When someone does the job they’re supposed to do, and then they ask, ‘What else I can do?’ it kind of speaks to the person, and so I’m really proud to have someone like that on the team.”

Automatic’s team is not just in the restaurant. Adam is committed to supporting farmers of all kinds – from oyster farmers in the Gulf to traditional growers closer to home. He’s says he’s delighted with the product he’s getting from regional oyster farms like Alabama’s Murder Point and Point aux Pins and with local farmers markets like the one at Pepper Place.

“We work with a lot of local farms within a couple hours radius of Birmingham and work with a lot of fishermen and boats coming out of the Gulf and Panama City and Port St. Joe. Down on the Alabama coast is a company that will call me when the fish hit the docks, and I can pick out fish (with) the guy who’s looking at what they’re unloading.

“There’s a local guy in Birmingham who is a commercial spear fisherman. So he’s been going to the Gulf for years. … I just recently received some fish that he harvested, and it’s really interesting to see the quality that he’s bringing. It’s unlike the other fish that I get because of … the way he’s harvesting it. You really see the difference.”

These fish – snapper and grouper; triggerfish and amberjack; cobia; and the invasive, nonnative lionfish – are listed as “spear-caught” on the menu and often are used in a raw preparation “so people can get a sense of the quality that they’re eating,” Adam says.

The 39-year-old chef has wanted to own a restaurant in Birmingham since he read “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table” cookbook.

“I remember reading Frank’s book and thinking, ‘This guy’s from Cullman. He’s a great chef; he’s been around. I want to do the same thing.’ I’ve always thought about coming here and doing this, and it just became time. I met Suzanne in Atlanta, and we shared similar paths; she had been in New York and I had been in New York, and she moved to Atlanta and I had moved to Atlanta. We both had goals to move back to our home state … (but also) to go out in the world and experience different cities and things and bring that knowledge back here and do something a little different.”

Suzanne, co-owner and project designer of the restaurant, is in the dining room most every night. It’s a different kind of role for her, but she says it’s the best job she’s ever had: “And I wouldn’t even call it a job. It’s really a pleasure every night to have a restaurant full of friends and family and a lot of folks that we’ve never met before.”

She was introduced to Adam one evening when dining at The Optimist, where he was executive chef. She has a master’s of Fine Arts in Interior Design from the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C. Her background in residential, corporate and commercial design includes work with Miles Redd and Ralph Lauren in New York City and Suzanne Kasler and Smith Hanes Studio in Atlanta.

When Adam showed the Birmingham restaurant space to Suzanne, it was a windowless warehouse filled with remnants of a dance club. But it had no neighbors on either side or upstairs, so there was room for a patio, a bocce court and room to grow. She says, “It really felt like something that would give us the opportunity to, over time, create this vision that we had formulated together.”

As far as design, she says, “We took a lot of cues from the structure itself and the time frame in which it was built. We took the 1950 Americana aesthetic and applied it as well. We wanted to create a space that felt classic but not in a re-creation … just maybe like it had been here for a while.”

She created a chic, vintage Palm Beach vibe in the private dining space with bold, vibrant wallpaper and matching drapes from Catherine Martin (a set designer and costumer who won an Oscar for “The Great Gatsby”). “It’s over-the-top. It’s theatrical. … When I saw it, it was an immediate, no-questions-asked decision:  We’ve got to use this. It’s perfect. It’s fun.”

She worked with local artisan Grant Trick of Design Industry on the restaurant’s booths and barstools with sleek, reflective channel upholstery. “We looked at antique wooden speedboats. We looked at classic cars. We looked at advertisements of fishing and boating and leisure from that time period” for the channeling and color combinations, she says.

The restaurant feels somewhat coastal, although it’s hard to figure which coast. That’s on purpose.

“We want you to sit in here, eat the freshest piece of fish possible and feel like you’re near water where that fish might have been caught earlier that morning, even though we’re … hundreds of miles from the coast. We wanted to create the feeling that water was somewhere nearby and not any particular body of water. … Maybe we’re in Florida … or on the Gulf Coast of Alabama or Louisiana. Or maybe we’re in the Hamptons.” It depends upon what you’re eating, she says. It’s all about realizing “the freshness of the dish that Adam goes to great pains to get to this landlocked city.”

The idea behind every detail, she says, is to “highlight and support what Adam is putting out of the kitchen. That’s our goal: never to take away, but it’s always to support and tell the story of his food in ways that he can’t because he’s back there cooking it.”

Adam and Suzanne will celebrate their first wedding anniversary soon, and Automatic has been a huge part of the whole of their married life. They’ve worked on the restaurant for the past two years, and they share an immense appreciation for each other.

Suzanne had never worked in restaurants, Adam points out. “And she has stepped up and has been there for every service and been there for every guest. … It’s amazing to have her out there (while) I’m in the kitchen. It’s really comforting for me. … It’s been great.”

Suzanne puts it this way: “I’m proud of him. I’m proud that we are able to do this every day, that he gets to do what he loves. I know it’s really his story and I’m lucky enough to be a part of it. … He’s so talented, but he’s so humble; that’s a wonderful combination in a human being. And so, if I can help to … tell that story and share it, then I’m happy to.”

“It’s a good time to open a restaurant in Birmingham,” Adam says. “There’s a lot of national attention.

“With Frank (Stitt) doing what he’s done over the past 30 years, he’s made it possible for me to open a restaurant at this kind of level. We’re just trying to provide really good food and a great experience and do it in a little bit of a casual atmosphere but with the food and drink and service still elevated and attentive and detail-oriented.

“Birmingham has been great. It’s really amazing to see the support and the response to something that we work so hard on,” Adam says. “That’s the whole reason we do this, right? To have people come in and to have them enjoy it and have a good experience.”

“I think the biggest compliment that we have received is from a guest who wrote back to let us know that she felt at home,” Suzanne adds. “I think that the feeling of comfort and satisfaction on all levels and being taken care of in a way that you do, in fact, feel at home, is something we strive for every night.”


Automatic Seafood & Oysters

2824 5th Ave. S.

Birmingham, Alabama 35233 (in the Lakeview neighborhood)

205-580-1600

Open every day for dinner

Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m.

Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.

www.automaticseafood.com

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

Livingston, Whatley elected to lead Alabama Space Authority

The Alabama Space Authority this week held a meeting, respectively electing State Senators Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) and Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) as chair and vice-chair of the body.

Both senators, who were appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) to the authority, plan to work diligently towards making Alabama a leader in the space industry, according to a joint release.

The Alabama Space Authority was created in 2017 to promote research and development of new space exploration and spaceport technology; to sponsor conference and business roundtables within the aerospace, aviation and related industries; and to promote activities and industries related to exploration.

The authority includes representatives of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Alabama Department of Transportation, the governor, the State legislature and other stakeholders and experts.

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Livingston, who recently played a leading role in the creation of the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus and serves as its chair, stated that the Alabama Space Authority will be looking into how the Yellowhammer State can further improve this industry.

“We are looking into the possibility of the Dream Chaser being able to land in Huntsville,” Livingston said. “This is going to be a great opportunity to look into how the legislature can aide in supporting the aerospace and defense industry in Alabama.”

Whatley added that he was honored to be selected as vice-chair and that space is a growing industry in Alabama.

“I’m proud to be a member … because this is a big deal for our entire state, from Huntsville to Auburn’s aerospace programs and to the robust aircraft manufacturing on the coast. Aerospace is a $12 billion industry and a key component to Alabama’s economy,” Whatley commented.

Livingston concluded by advising he expects to receive an update from the U.S. Space Command and is looking forward to bringing more space industry projects to Alabama.

RELATED: Ainsworth in Huntsville: Alabama is ‘the aerospace capital of the world’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Lewis touts McCutcheon; Brooks touts Trump, his record with space and defense

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) this week endorsed Chris Lewis in the GOP primary race in the Fifth Congressional District.

The surprise endorsement by McCutcheon caught many in the state off-guard because this race has flown under the radar and polling shows this race, like all of U.S. Representative Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) previous primaries, handily in the bag.

But McCutcheon’s endorsement rightly got the attention of multiple media outlets and observers of Alabama politics with many wondering what this was really all about.

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So when Brooks saw the endorsement and a hostage-style video promoting it by McCutcheon, Brooks responded by highlighting the most coveted endorsement a Republican candidate for any office could get: President Donald Trump.

Brooks told Yellowhammer News:

I have the strong endorsement of President Trump, a man I worked hard with to CUT TAXES on American families and secure America’s borders! In contrast, Chris Lewis has the endorsement of legislator Mac McCutcheon, whose greatest expertise has been RAISING TAXES on struggling Alabama families!

While speaking to WVNN on Friday, Brooks noted that the endorsement on the bounds of support from the space and defense industry is laughable.

“If Mac McCutcheon is saying that Chris Lewis has more support in Research Park, that is categorically false. We have received more support from the state and defense community, vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly more support from the state and defense community than Chris Lewis has,” he told “The Dale Jackson Show.”

Brooks also touted his seniority, and how that plays into serving his district in Washington, D.C.

“The people who engage in space and defense know that my growing seniority on science, space, and technology and on House Armed Services, coupled with more than a hundred occasions in which I’ve been able to get favorable language into legislation that they’ve wanted me to get for the benefit of our country and what we do in the Tennessee Valley,” he added. “They’re my primary support base in Congress: space and defense.”​

My takeaway:

This is all pretty interesting, but the idea that a McCutcheon endorsement on these grounds can overcome the booming North Alabama economy that Brooks has been a part of since being part of the Tea Party-wave in 2010 is false.

The Trump endorsement might make better television and radio spots, and it will definitely help Brooks, but the real issue is that Lewis and McCutcheon can’t point to how Brooks hasn’t served his district well — because he has.

Barring some massive bombshell to follow up this endorsement, a battle of endorsements between Trump and McCutcheon seems like a fight that was over before it started, much like the Brooks/Lewis race.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

10 hours ago

Human clinical study begins at UAB for groundbreaking brain tumor treatment

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to evolve as a worldwide leader in biomedicine, research and innovation.

Incysus Therapeutics, Inc., a Birmingham-based biopharmaceutical company, has now announced the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical study of a novel Drug Resistant Immunotherapy (DRI) technology for the treatment of patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

This trial is being conducted at UAB and is now active and open for enrollment.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM or glioblastoma) is a devastating and fast-growing brain tumor that typically results in death within the first 15 months after diagnosis. GBM is inherently resistant to conventional therapy and accounts for approximately 52% of all primary brain tumors.

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A release from the company outlined Incysus’ innovative DRI approach, which seeks to combine conventional chemotherapies with a γδ T cell-based immunotherapy to modify the tumor microenvironment and drive the immune system. By using alkylating agents such as temozolomide, chemotherapy can activate immunity through the upregulation of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. A significant challenge is that such chemotherapies also kill the white blood cells needed to drive an immune response. Incysus’ technology “chemo-protects” immune cells to allow them to remain functional while DDR activation creates an immune signal that allows directed killing activity against cancer cells.

Incysus is the first company to use this type of therapy in patients, and the research marks a landmark moment for Incysus, the overall biotech industry in Birmingham and anti-cancer research across the globe.

Dr. L. Burt Nabors, MD, the co-head of neuro-oncology at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, stated, “The initiation of this clinical trial represents a significant milestone towards developing effective immune-based therapies for the treatment of GBM. We are pleased to work with … the team at Incysus to bring this innovative therapy to patients for the first time.”

Further information on the clinical trial is available here.

Incysus is a UAB spinoff company. Its success in the Magic City — and this kind of potentially revolutionary research spearheaded by UAB — is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

RELATED: Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

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That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

11 hours ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.

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“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.

Watch:

“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.