The Wire

  • Three takeaways from Alabama’s Runoff Election


    With Alabama’s primary election runoffs now in the books, here are three takeaways from the results.

    North Alabama has spoken.
    When this election cycle began, it became evident that north Alabama saw a window of opportunity to increase its influence.  The results from the Republican primary runoff have shown the electorate in that area of the state was eager to flex its muscle.

    Will Ainsworth pulled out an impressive come-from-behind victory in the Lt. Governor’s race. Steve Marshall enjoyed a resounding win in his bid to retain the Attorney General’s office.

  • On Roby’s win: One false media narrative dies, a new one is born


    Like Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts comic strip fame repeatedly pulling the football away from Charlie Brown as he lines up to kick it, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) once again has shown you can’t beat her in a Republican primary.

    Similar to when she defeated “Gather Your Armies” Rick Barber in the 2010 GOP primary and “Born Free American Woman” Becky Gerritson in the 2016 GOP primary, Roby defeated former Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright for a second time on Tuesday night, this time by a whopping 36 points.

    Heading into yesterday, many national media reporters were sent into Alabama’s second congressional district looking at the possibility that Roby might have to answer to a revolt for not sticking with then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on the infamous Billy Bush weekend during the 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

2 weeks ago

Alabama’s ‘Highlands’ named one of the ‘30 most influential restaurants of the last 30 years’

(Highlands Bar and Grill/Facebook)

Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill has had an impressive run in 2018.

This year, the restaurant took home the most outstanding restaurant honor at the James Beard Awards, while pastry chef Dolester Miles won the award for the most outstanding pastry chef.

Robb Report named executive chef and owner Frank Stitt’s restaurant Monday one of “The 30 Most Influential Restaurants of the Last 30 Years.”


Star Chef Mike Lata praised Highlands Bar and Grill in Robb Report’s rundown, saying Stitt has “paved the way for new Southern cooking.”

From Lata, via Robb Report:

“Highlands paved the way for new Southern cooking. Frank Stitt had studied in France for a long time and basically brought back all his knowledge and sensibilities and his passion for French food and applied it to Southern cooking. He then created a great experience—both food and service—that hadn’t been achieved of yet in the South. It’s around 35 years old, and it’s still recognized today as being a restaurant that has changed so many people’s outlooks on what was possible with Southern food.”

2 months ago

Gabrielle Hamilton, Alabama Highlands Bar and Grill win Beard Awards

(Highlands Bar and Grill/Facebook)

Chef and owner Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in New York City took home the outstanding chef award Monday night at the James Beard Awards , and Alabama’s Highlands Bar and Grill won the outstanding restaurant honor.

Highlands Bar and Grill received the top award after multiple nominations in the category over the years. The menu changes daily at chef Frank Stitt’s Birmingham restaurant, which is rooted in classic French cooking techniques. Diners can experience regional, heritage ingredients crafted into interesting dishes, like crawfish beignets or a New York strip paired with a duck-fat potato cake.


It was a double-winning night for Highlands, too. The restaurant’s Dolester Miles won the award for outstanding pastry chef.

Hamilton also is a previous nominee, earning a nomination in the same top category last year. Hamilton opened Prune in New York’s East Village nearly 20 years ago. She previously won the Beard Award for Best Chef New York City. Her current menu offers diners such dishes as a smoked bluefish salad with pickled celery and rye crackers, and chicken wings and Manila clams braised in sherry with leeks.

The Beard Awards moved to Chicago in 2015 after being based in New York for more than 20 years. The awards are to remain in Chicago through 2021.

This year’s best new restaurant honor went to the Southern cuisine of JuneBaby in Seattle. The outstanding baker award went to Belinda Leong and Michel Suas of B. Patisseries in San Francisco. Caroline Styne of The Lucques Group in Los Angeles won the outstanding restaurateur honor.

Camille Cogswell of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia was named the rising star chef of the year. Zahav’s Michael Solomonv won last year’s Beard Award for outstanding chef.

The James Beard Foundation’s lifetime achievement award went to multiple-time James Beard Award-winning author Paula Wolfert.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

7 months ago

Birmingham eatery voted among the 100 Best Restaurants in America

(Highlands Bar and Grill/Facebook)
(Highlands Bar and Grill/Facebook)



Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham has been voted among the 100 Best Restaurants in America for 2017, a list published by the popular dining forum OpenTable.

What makes Highlands special: The restaurant has many unique dishes, but perhaps its most distinguishing feature is its oyster bar, which serves mollusks sourced from the coasts of Alabama, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Brunswick, Canada.

The details:

— Patron reviews, verified by OpenTable, determined that Highlands deserves a seat at the national Best Restaurants table. Eateries from 47 other cities made the list, with some major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago having multiple.

— OpenTable examined more than 12,000,000 reviews of more than 26,000 restaurants across the country. Honorees were rewarded based upon their exceptional dishes, hospitality and overall dining experience.

Jeremy Beaman is a Huntsville-native in his final year at the University of Mobile. He spent the summer of 2017 with the Washington Examiner and writes for The College Fix. Follow him on Twitter @jeremywbeaman and email him at

11 months ago

Birmingham Server Shares His Secrets From a Long Career in the Service Industry

Courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance and Joe York (Youtube)
Courtesy of Southern Foodways Alliance and Joe York (Youtube)

In our world today, many have begun to view the service industry as an increasingly lackluster position. To some, it is just a stop on the road to a greater career. However, to a select few, a career in the service industry is where they find their passion. They approach every day as a chance to serve and strive for excellence, and in achieving that excellence, they become legends in their community.

This is the story of Goren Avery. Avery was featured in a short film by Joe York entitled Red Dog. The film was made for the Southern Foodways Alliance, which strives to document and explore food cultures in the changing American South. In it, Avery explains that he has been a server at Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham since 1982. He began his serving career at the Hyatt Regency in 1971 and recalls the struggles of being a black waiter during that time. “They pop their fingers when they want something…they’d call you ‘Hey boy, I need this.” Tips were hard to come by, and it was a battle to even make a living.

Avery has learned nearly every secret there is to learn about the food industry. He says, “You have to read a table before you get to the table.” Many customers come for business meetings or family functions, and Avery has learned to master the art of when to swoop in to the conversation. His communication skills are impeccable, as Avery can be seen joking and laughing with every one of his tables. He strives to make every customer’s experience the best that it can be, which sometimes means making sure they know what they are ordering. For instance, Avery has mastered a delicate way of explaining that beef carpaccio is raw without sounding condescending.

Avery mentioned the difference between approaching the service industry as a career, rather than simply a way to earn big bucks. He says that is what seems to define people like himself from the younger generation of servers. “This is all I do. This is a living for me.”

In 2014, Avery was presented with the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award, which acknowledges the unsung heroes of the food and restaurant industry. His genuine care for his customers and unrelenting strive for excellence is what has cemented Avery’s name as a service legend. “You have to show every table some love,” he says. He added that while he has contemplated retiring over the years, he has always felt a call back to the industry. “I can’t stop until I get to the point that I can’t do it no more.”

2 years ago

Birmingham was just named one of America’s ‘most misunderstood’ cities; here’s why

Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline
Birmingham, Alabama skyline

National travel website Thrillist has named Birmingham, Alabama, one of the country’s “most misunderstood” metro areas, ranking The Magic City among other would-be travel destinations that tourists spurn because of the cities’ inaccurate or unwarranted reputations.

The reasons vary greatly for why these cities have been “misunderstood,” but for Birmingham it is really quite simple, according to Thrillist: The city maintains a reputation among outsiders as having been “dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century,” and many people still don’t believe it has gotten there yet, particularly on civil rights issues.

“Most people I’ve encountered from outside the Southeast can’t even fathom the idea of the state of Alabama having actual ‘cities,'” wrote Thrillist contributor Jeff Zanotti. “They assume Alabama is more or less some mix of Forrest Gump and My Cousin Vinny, with a beach at the end. And those that actually have heard of the state’s largest city typically as the contentious epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Mass media and Hollywood have perpetuated this reputation, and even though city leaders have rightly sought to honor the leaders and martyrs of the civil rights movement, the city’s choice to singularly brand itself as “the Cradle of the Civil Rights Movement” may have the unintended effect of giving outsiders the impression that racial strife continues to define daily life for the city’s residents.

This is unfortunate, according to Thrillist, because the city has so much to offer residents and travelers alike.

Thrillist’s Jeff Zanotti explains:

Birmingham has a metro population of over 1.1 million which is roughly equivalent to pro sports towns like Salt Lake City, Buffalo, and New Orleans… Though “clubbing” will never be synonymous with Birmingham, it does have incredibly sneaky great options for restaurants, bars, and outdoor activities.

Yeah, we’ve got great barbecue, namely Dreamland and Saw’s. But we also have nationally recognized chefs: Frank Stitt’s restaurant Highlands Bar and Grill has been a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Most Outstanding Restaurant in the Country for eight years in a row. Hot & Hot Fish Club’s Chris Hastings also won the 2012 James Beard’s “Best Chef in the South” and beat Bobby Flay on an episode of Iron Chef.


(W)e passed legislation relaxing permissible alcohol content, which has opened the way for craft beer to take hold, with local favorites Good People Brewing, TrimTab, and Avondale.

But Birmingham is still a Southern city, so you may as well take advantage of warm weather and beautiful country. Without even leaving town you can canoe, kayak, or tube down the Cahaba River, which flows through the city. The Cahaba, believe it or not, contains more species of fish than all freshwater bodies of water in California… COMBINED. On land, you can hike the rails at Oak Mountain State Park, hop on a zip line at Red Mountain Park, or even stick around Downtown and take a jog along the green space of Railroad Park.

Other cities included on Thrillist’s “misunderstood” list are Albuquerque, NM, Baltimore, MD, Cleveland, OH, Detroit, MI, Houston, TX, Jacksonville, FL, Jersey City, NJ, Orlando, FL, Reno, NV, Sacramento, CA, Tacoma WA, and Worcester, MA.

“Most of these cities also have an intense civic pride, and for good reason,” Thrillist says. “Sure, they may have their flaws, but spend some time in the cities and you’ll see you’ve probably got them all wrong.”

Those of us who call Birmingham home can attest to that being the case.

Check out the reasons why the other twelve cities are misunderstood on Thrillist.

3 years ago

Restaurant rankings show Alabama is becoming the food capital of the South

Photo courtesy of Cotton Row Restaurant

Photo courtesy of Cotton Row Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Cotton Row Restaurant

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A new ranking by USA Today of the South’s best fine dining restaurants boasts 3 Alabama joints in the top 10, including Huntsville’s Cotton Row coming in at No. 1.

“Under the direction of Chef James Boyce, Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. features an ever-changing menu of inventive modern American dishes,” USA Today’s article on the ranking says. “The atmosphere matches the food in quality; the restaurant occupies a three-story brick building from 1821 in Courthouse Square, and the name is a tribute to the cotton traders who once worked in the area.”

Highlands Bar and Grill, and Hot and Hot Fish Club, two Birmingham restaurants that helped put the Magic City on every foodie’s map were named #5 and #6, respectively.

20 of the South’s best restaurants were selected for ranking to be voted on by readers. Alabama’s 3 entries in the top 10 were only matched by Virginia, which also landed 3 restaurants on the list.

Birmingham has garnered significant attention in the last several years for its burgeoning food scene. From the fine, French-inspired dining of Highlands, to the slow-smoked Saw’s BBQ, The Magic City’s culinary offerings seem to land on another ranking every week.

3 years ago

Birmingham named one of the most underrated food cities in America

Birmingham, Ala. skyline from atop Red Mountain in 2006
Birmingham, Ala. skyline from atop Red Mountain in 2006

In a recent article, Thrillist ranks Birmingham as one of seven most underrrated American food cities in 2015.

Morgan Murphy, describes Birmingham’s food scene in his Southern Living book, Bourbon and Bacon.

“From high-end to low-end, there’s an expectation of freshness and quality in Birmingham because we are so close to the food that we produce. That proximity, plus Southerners’ love of the outdoors, farming, and hunting, plays right into the current food scene, with its emphasis on fresh, quality, and local. And really, that’s what Birmingham has been about for years.”

The article mentions Highland’s Bar & Grill along with Niki’s West, which has had their vegetable buffet listed as a top 25 dish in the world by USA Today. It also includes a “don’t miss” menu item from Highland’s: baked grits with country ham, mushrooms & fresh thyme.

This isn’t the first time Birmingham has been at the top of America’s food chain. Zagat, a source for all things travel related, including food, ranked Birmingham #1 on its 2015 list of up-and-coming food cities. Birmingham’s mix of high-end and casual food culture landed it a top spot on the list.

3 years ago

Highlands Bar & Grill reaches for crown of America’s best restaurant, comes up just short

CHICAGO — Birmingham’s Highlands Bar & Grill on Monday came up just short in the “Outstanding Restaurant” category at the James Beard Foundation Awards, commonly referred to as “The Oscars of Food.”

2015 marks the seventh consecutive year that Highlands was a finalist for the prestigious award, which was won by Blue Hill at Stone Barns of Pocantico Hills, NY.

“Covering all aspects of the industry — from chefs and restaurateurs to cookbook authors and food journalists to restaurant designers and architects and more — the Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America,” the James Beard Foundation explains on their website.

Birmingham’s culinary scene has had an incredible three-decade run that started with the opening of Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill in 1982.

The New York Times perfectly summed up the Highlands’ “Southern cuisine married to French technique” in a profile that appeared in the Times’ Sunday edition in October of 2013:

The Highlands is one of a very few American restaurants that has managed to age with no discernible loss of quality in service, food or atmosphere. If you are from Birmingham and under 50, the Highlands has been the city’s best restaurant for your entire adult life.

Prognosticators had predicted 2015 could be the year the Highlands crew brought home the hardware, as the awards were held in Chicago, rather than New York, where the other four finalists were from.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be — at least not quite yet.

4 years ago

Alabama eateries pack list of ‘100 Best Restaurants in the South’

Highlands Bar and Grill Birmingham, Ala. (Photo: Cathy Danh)
Highlands Bar and Grill Birmingham, Ala. (Photo: Cathy Danh)

Nine Alabama restaurants made Southern Living’s ever-evolving list of the “100 Best Restaurants in the South,” which was updated this week.

“Southern Living intrepid restaurant scout Jennifer V. Cole hit the road to determine the top 100 places to eat in the South now,” the magazine explains on its website. “The list leads with the South’s 10 best new restaurants and continues with Jennifer’s favorite restaurants for 2014, both new and old, in her most frequented towns.”

Cole didn’t have to travel far to find Alabama’s best spots. She’s a Birmingham resident. Southern Living is published by Birmingham–based Southern Progress Corp., a division of Time Inc.

Georgia and Texas led the way on the list with 12 restaurants a piece, followed by Tennessee with 11 and North Carolina with 10. But the Yellowhammer State had a strong showing with 9 restaurants making the cut, further evidence that Alabama’s rich culinary scene can compete with any state in the region, and even has more room to grow.

Inside the state, Birmingham had the most restaurants on the list with five, plus another in the suburb of Mountain Brook.

The full list of Alabama restaurants that made the cut can be found below.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

4 years ago

Alabamians once again nominated for awards at ‘The Oscars of Food’


Several Alabamians are once again nominated as finalists for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, commonly referred to as “The Oscars of Food.”

Highlands Bar & Grill is nominated for Outstanding Restaurant, and Cooking Light, which is published by Alabama-based Southern Progress Corp., is nominated for two awards in the journalism category.

“Covering all aspects of the industry — from chefs and restaurateurs to cookbook authors and food journalists to restaurant designers and architects and more — the Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America,” the James Beard Foundation explains on their website. “The awards are presented each spring at Lincoln Center (in New York City).”

Birmingham’s culinary scene has had an incredible three-decade run that started with the opening of Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill in 1982.

The New York Times perfectly summed up the Highlands’ “Southern cuisine married to French technique” in a profile that appeared in the Times’ Sunday edition in October of last year:

The Highlands is one of a very few American restaurants that has managed to age with no discernible loss of quality in service, food or atmosphere. If you are from Birmingham and under 50, the Highlands has been the city’s best restaurant for your entire adult life.

Frank Stitt
Frank Stitt

But Stitt’s greatest gift to the city may not be the restaurant for which he is best known, but rather the ever-growing family tree of chefs who have studied under him before launching their own successful Birmingham establishments.

Perhaps most notably, Stitt’s former sous chef Chris Hastings, who now owns Hot and Hot Fish Club, won Food Network’s Iron Chef last year.

According to the most recent Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau report, dining has for the first time past shopping as the top expenditure for tourists visiting The Magic City. Tourists spent over $430 million on dining last year.

The Birmingham Business Journal recently designed an interesting “Magic City Food Family Tree” infographic. You can check it out below.

This year’s James Beard Foundation Awards are set to take place the first weekend in May.

(Click to enlarge)

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

5 years ago

Nine Alabama restaurants make Southern Living’s ‘100 places to eat now’ list

"Hamburger Fon Fon," a local favorite at Chef Frank Stitt's Chez Fon Fon restaurant in Birmingham.
“Hamburger Fon Fon,” a local favorite at Chef Frank Stitt’s Chez Fon Fon restaurant in Birmingham.

The Daily South, a section of Southern Living magazine that calls itself “the hub for southern culture,” has just released their “100 place to eat now” list, and nine of the restaurants are located right here in Alabama.

The list includes restaurants located all over the south, but Alabama’s nine honorees make it one of the most well represented states on the list.

Here are the Alabama eateries that made the cut:

Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, Mobile, AL

Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, AL

El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar, Birmingham, AL

Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham, AL

Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, AL

Little Donkey, Birmingham, AL

Miss Myra’s Pit Bar-B-Q, Vestavia, AL

Ollie Irene, Mountain Brook, AL

Satterfield’s Restaurant, Birmingham, AL

Springhouse, Alexander City, AL

Vittoria Macelleria, Birmingham, AL

Wintzell’s Oyster House, Mobile, AL

Click here to view the full list.

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamYHN