That’s because an award-winning chef with a fine dining background helms this open kitchen (next to the open brewing production) and is turning out dishes that are delicious and inventive, seasonal and locally sourced and perhaps more than you’d expect.
Owner and CEO Douglas Brown says the full restaurant is one thing that sets Back Forty Beer apart from other great breweries in the Magic City. That was part of the plan from the very beginning, and executive chef Russ Bodner has led the restaurant since before Back Forty Birmingham opened in summer 2018.
Bodner, a St. Louis native who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, worked in the kitchen of the Michelin-starred, haute Greek restaurant Anthos with celebrity chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia. He was the sous chef with James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft at Taste in St. Louis. Bodner honed his unique blend of fine Southern comfort food and exciting global influences on Lake Martin at SpringHouse (with acclaimed chef and Hot and Hot Fish Club alum Rob McDaniel – a five-time James Beard “Best Chef: South” semi-finalist) and then at Kowaliga as executive chef.
“Our goal here,” Bodner says, “is to provide not just regular brewery fare but to have a restaurant that brews beer or a brewery that has a restaurant.”
Either way you look at it, it’s working.
Chef Bodner has created an impressive yet casual farm-to-table menu that is more than just pub food. Most everything here is made from scratch – the pickles, the mustards, the sausages and sauces. Bodner relies upon local growers like BDA Farm near Tuscaloosa and Ireland Farm for his seasonal produce. He visits farmers markets for smaller, specific quantities, and he turns to locally owned Evans for most of his meats and Gulf seafood.
“We try to take my fine dining experiences that I’ve had, whether it was in New York or at Lake Martin at SpringHouse, and take that same approach to the food here.”
So you’ll find a beet salad that’s colorful with mustard greens and radishes, or local butternut squash soup topped with pickled golden raisins and homemade crème fraiche. Pan-seared jumbo scallops might come with caramelized bok choy, local sweet peppers, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and radishes in a homemade dashi broth. The Niman Ranch pork porterhouse is paired with sweet potato hash, Benton’s ham, peppers and onions. Pastas are homemade, and Bodner is excited about the Asian noodle bowls and ramens guests can enjoy during the cooler months.
It’s comfort food, Bodner says, “but done in a really nicely presented way and using the best ingredients that we can.”
That approach gets you wings that are confit-cooked and perfectly spiced, whether you choose the mild Naked Pig sauce or Puck’s smoky-sweet heat.
Thin-crust pizzas are popular and range from a simple margherita with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, to a bright, flavor bomb of a pie topped with pancetta and broccolini, mozzarella, garlic, fennel pollen, Calabrian chilies, chili crunch and preserved lemon.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)