At the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, chef-owner Frank Stitt lets the Alabama seasons direct the restaurant’s menu.
Photo by Christopher Hirsheimer, used with permission from Artisan Books
One of the joys of travel is finding a restaurant that makes the most of a region’s unique culinary bounty. Serving a range of tantalizing dishes—from savory slow-roasted pork to sweet pumpkin souffle—these eateries are well worth the trip.
1. Fore Street
288 Fore Street Portland, Maine (207) 775-2717
Even in the dead of winter, Fore Street chef Sam Hayward tracks down food from organic farms and sustainable fisheries and ranches. His Yankee ingenuity supports local farmers and provides diners with the highest quality foods such as salad greens and chervil grown in the snow. Hayward considers Fore Street’s pure, straightforward cuisine a “food narrative of New England.” Customers watch applewood-grilled meats, oven-roasted seafood, imaginative salads, and heirloom beans and root vegetables emerge from the open kitchen. “It’s a discourse about food, nutrition, and deliciousness,” he says.
A recipe from Fore Street's menu: Potted Lobsters with Wild Mushrooms
2. Highlands Bar and Grill
2011 11th Avenue South Birmingham, Alabama (205) 939-1400
Southern-style generosity has contributed to the success of Highlands Bar and Grill. Chef-owner Frank Stitt’s mother mortgaged her home to help launch the restaurant; in turn, he put up money for a former waiter to start an organic farm that now provides his produce. Stitt returned home after honing his craft in Europe and wanted to create a place that “weaves southern French sensibility with Southern ingredients.” Familiar stone-ground baked grits, cornbread, and country ham are paired with French sauces and braises. “I let the Alabama seasons direct the menu,” he says. He hopes the success of Highlands and his cookbook, Frank Stitt’s Southern Table (Artisan, 2004), will spark interest in Southern foods and locally grown ingredients.
A recipe from Highlands Bar and Grill's menu: Slow-Roasted Grouper with Root Vegetable, Walnut and Parsley Salad
1930 Hennepin Avenue South Minneapolis, Minnesota (612) 871-0777
Doug Flicker is so passionate about local cuisine that for years the restaurant’s parking lot was home to the city’s only organic farmer’s market. Recently named best Twin Cities chef, Flicker has an undying passion for food with a conscience. In a city known for long winters and blink-of-an-eye summers, Flicker finds inspiration in hearty local ingredients including foraged mushrooms, squash, celery root, and parsnips to enhance roasts, braises, risotto, and polenta made from local corn. His mission is to translate customers’ grounded intelligence into food. “It’s a developmental process to embody a culture and a life into food and a dish,” he says.
A recipe from Auriga's menu: Celery Root Soup with Truffle Oil and Mascarpone
4. The Kitchen Café
1039 Pearl Street Boulder, Colorado (303) 544-5973
Diners, chefs, and local farmers all gather at The Kitchen Café to share their appreciation for sustainably grown, organic food. Chef-owners Hugo Matheson and Kimbal Musk have created an eco-savvy restaurant that runs on wind-powered electricity and recycles used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. Musk began his second career as a chef in New York City after founding online restaurant guides for the New York Times. In Manhattan, he says, complicated dishes are king and seasonal foods are nice but not necessary. At The Kitchen Café, the opposite is true. “The challenge, as a chef, is to make the dish work using what’s available and not what can be ordered via FedEx,” he says.
A recipe from The Kitchen Café's menu: Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder
5. The Herbfarm
14590 NE 145th Street Woodinville, Washington (425) 485-5300
At the Herbfarm, a nine-course dinner lasts five hours and includes a garden tour and a narrative from the owners about the culinary history behind each course. A network of staff, vendors, and foragers keeps the restaurant supplied with Northwest herbs, wild mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood from nearby waters. “We work with the life cycles of the region,” says owner Ron Zimmerman. “The menu builds from what’s available each day, but final dinner decisions aren’t made until about 3 p.m.” Look for a new cookbook coming out in late 2005.
A recipe from the Herbfarm's menu: Pumpkin Bay Soufflé with Orange-Thyme Custard Sauce