In the Local Palate’s 2023 Restaurants Issue, our state-by-state guide highlights the new restaurants that have emerged since 2022. Here, local writer Jennifer Kornegay highlights 12 new Alabama restaurants.
When classes began for 2022’s fall semester, students in Auburn University’s Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management got their first taste of the state-of-the-art education now being served at the new Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a $110-million facility that’s changing the culinary school game not just in Alabama but also across the country. It’s blending comprehensive, hands-on training in almost every aspect of the culinary and hospitality fields and building a workforce pipeline for the South’s growing hospitality and tourism industries.
A key ingredient is 1856, a 48-seat fine-dining restaurant staffed by students under the guidance of service professionals from Ithaka Hospitality Partners, the entity which manages the commercials aspects of this center. They’re at the host stand smiling and warmly greeting guests. They’re waiting on diners at their tables near the wall of windows, affording a view of stately Samford Hall across the street, or adjacent to the open kitchen, where other students are chopping, whisking, sautéing, and saucing, all with the guidance of each year’s chef-in-residence (CIR).
Current CIR Tyler Lyne praises the center’s avant-garde approach as well as the dedication of the first batch of students. “What makes the culinary science center so special and impressive is that it is something new and innovative,” he says. “And these students have a ‘head-down, ears-back’ work ethic. They are future industry trailblazers.”
Freshmen and sophomores run the lunch service. At dinner, upperclassmen prepare and serve a nine-course tasting menu with wines paired by a master sommelier, Thomas Price, and pulled from the restaurant’s two-story, temperature-controlled wine room. The experience is invaluable for students with an eye on a career in food, but the surrounding community is eating up the benefits, too. Diners are relishing every drop of foraged mushroom and farro soup and each bite of the 72-hour-braised short ribs that practically melt over silky potato puree and delicate sweet onions.
And 1856 puts equal emphasis on service, Tyler explains. “The book Unreasonable Hospitality notes, ‘Service is black and white, and hospitality is the color,’” he says. “You learn the right and wrong way to do something in service, but hospitality is how you make the guest feel. That positive feeling, the color, is what I hope guests of 1856 take with them when walking away.”
Can’t Miss at 1856
This refreshing riff on the basic marg is built with lemongrass grown in the culinary center’s rooftop garden and Casamigos Blanco tequila infused with spicy ginger and orange liqueur, plus a hint of simple syrup, and served in a glass with a curried-sea-salt-crusted rim.
Wild Game Pithivier
This hearty dish—a rustic yet refined pie of airy puff pastry encasing squab and pheasant—is Lyne’s favorite 1856 creation so far. He calls it a fancy, more complex beef Wellington. “It’s a timeless, old-school dish that still holds its own and is an example of cuisine that you don’t come across often, the perfect blend of flavor and technique,” he says.
This big burger is the cure for a bottomless appetite and almost anything else that ails you. It features a sunny-side-up fried egg shining atop a hefty, cheddar-blanketed beef sausage-mix patty and crisp bacon on a tender brioche bun slathered in truffle dijonnaise. Take it over the top with the addition of foie gras.
Yuzu Meringue Tart
A smooth curd of tangy, fragrant yuzu rests in a buttery tart shell with buttons of meltaway meringue, velvety white chocolate sauce, and sugared huckleberries.
Restaurants in Alabama on Our Radar
Belying its name, this 1920s-themed lounge and speakeasy is providing full permission for flavorful fun from top to bottom. In the downstairs pub, dig into an eclectic mix of Asian, Latin, and Southern smoked tastes. On the roof, up your libation game with a tangy tequila and mezcal-based Springtime on the Moon (acknowledging the Rocket City’s key role in space exploration). Prohibition also offers large-format platters piled with meats, homey barbecue-joint-style sides, and pickled items and salsas for a crowd.
Travel to Paris with a fork instead of a passport at Bar La Fête, the newest venture from chefs Victor King and Kristen Hall. The downtown bistro brings the City of Light’s flavors and vibrant energy to the Magic City, but mirroring modern Paris, the menu isn’t exclusively French. “Paris is packed with multicultural influences, so you see some of that here, too,” Hall says. Sip wine (130 bottles are on the list, including a few vintages from lesser-known regions like Jura) and nosh on shareable snacks like deviled eggs crowned with paddlefish caviar, small plates like a potato pavé that King dubs “a beautiful expression of what a potato can be,” and sweets that transport your tastebuds to a Seine-side sidewalk cafe.
In July 2022, after months of delays, when Ravello Ristorante welcomed its first diners to an exhaustively and thoughtfully renovated and refreshed historic bank building in downtown Montgomery, it instantly elevated the capital city’s culinary credentials. Chef Eric Rivera’s combo of strictly traditional coastal Italian cuisine—mastered with the help of a friend and chef in Pietrasanta, Italy—and a few creative takes on the same have proven well worth the wait.
In Alabama’s Black Belt region, Sarah Cole’s pop-up Abadir’s draws on her family’s Egyptian heritage. Middle East-meets-American South dishes elicit compliments exclaimed through mouths full of toasty tahini cookies and sourdough pita pockets stuffed with za’atar-spiced carrot and eggplant—manners be damned!
Abadir’s scored a cottage on the edge of Greensboro’s downtown last fall and will soon be a “regular” restaurant, but it’s currently hosting sporadic lunches and other eating events announced on Instagram, while still popping up around central Alabama. The space is also home of the Black Belt Food Project, a food and nutrition-focused nonprofit Cole founded to address the region’s health issues and inequalities.
The hyper-fresh bounty of the nearby Gulf, including farmed oysters, is the true jewel and only constant on the Pearl’s seasonally changing menu, which is diminutive but diverse. Its shotgun space fronting a side street in Fairhope’s quaint and quintessentially small-town downtown is equally intimate and anchored by a raw bar where diners can down ice-cold platters of oysters, peel-and-eat shrimp, and crab claws marinated in nouc cham and serrano alongside the signature cocktail, a fusion of vodka, lemon, bubbles, and elderflower liqueur.
Focusing on Mexican cocktail culture with a more authentic lens was the aim of Adiõs owners José Medina Camacho and Jesús Méndez. As Birmingham restaurant-biz veterans born in Mexico, the duo hopes their downtown bar (opened last fall) will have guests saying farewell to notions confining their heritage to solely tequila margaritas and mezcal, and hello to fresh flavors like the Central American fruit guanabana and less familiar spirits like single-barrel, 20-year-aged Mexican rum. “There’s so much more to Mexico. We want to showcase it all,” Camacho says.
A part of Fort Condé Inn, a collection of accommodations (historic cottages as well as rooms in a circa-1836 house) tucked among gas-lantern-lit cobblestone streets in downtown Mobile, this new eatery expands upon the indulgent breakfasts once reserved for inn guests. Harkening back to Mobile’s rich melting-pot past, menus are dominated by classic European fare fashioned with Alabama ingredients (like nuggets of state-fave Conecuh sausage cozied up to Gulfcaught crab in an omelet).
Do it all in this soothing green garden space: Shop home decor, local art, and nursery items—and eat. Choose from salads, pastries, and specialty coffees at the Market. Graze from boards stacked with Southern-cured meats or rich, bite-sized desserts at the Patio Bar. Or snag a table at the Grille, where chef James Jolly’s whimsical twist on the perennial Southern snack combo of Coke and peanuts is a standout: cola-braised short ribs topped with peanut gremolata, orange zest, and a drizzle of green peanut oil. A fourth eating option, the Garden, is still sprouting but will immerse diners in an oasis of plants and blooms under a retractable greenhouse roof. @shop.botanic
Alabama Restaurants Worth Watching
Opened in December, this family-owned restaurant serves authentic and Halal Hyderabadi cuisine, including kabob platters, biryani, curries, and wraps—and seafood appears prominently on the menu.
Their opening was delayed by more than six months, but the Southern-Mexican combo cuisine from the team behind SoHo Social and SoHo Standard is now open for business.
This bar, restaurant, and patisserie from celebrated Tasting TBL chef and current 1856 chef-in-residence Tyler Lyne (read more on page 67) is set to open this spring, amid much anticipation.
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Hannah Lee Leidy
- by Amber Chase
- by Emily Havener