Culinary: Hot and Hot
Birmingham has experienced steady growth as a food destination for some time now. It has been inspiring to see the resurgence of life in the urban areas spurred by restaurants and other small businesses and I hope it continues. On my last trip to visit family and friends, my aunt reminded me of a very important fact…my cousin William is a bartender at Hot and Hot Fish Club on Highland Avenue. I thought to myself…”How did I forget this important fact?” So I immediately text William to see if he can get us in Saturday night. To my relief and excitement he responds, “Absolutely!”
The building that houses the Hot and Hot Fish Club first opened as Caddell’s Creamery, a popular burger joint in the 1950’s. Those who may not remember the creamery may recall the site’s later inhabitant the Upside-Down Plaza, a popular pool hall in the 1970’s and 80’s. Much of the building’s original design has remained. However, with the help of architects Joe and Chris Giattina and Marzette Fisher, formerly of Birmingham’s Fisher, Giattina and Aycock, the casual classic nostalgia transcends perfectly into the Hot and Hot’s elegant décor and modern functionality.
I’ve always loved Hot and Hot’s building. It’s fantastic that the Hastings were able to reuse this building as it is unique and was already established as a popular hangout in the area. It definitely has that minimalist mid-century modern aesthetic, but the remodel done for Hot and Hot exudes elegance while keeping it’s comfortable neighborhood vibe. The understated building is so inviting with its warm glow and quaint patio seen from the street; not to mention the superb reviews from Birmingham natives as well as national foodies.
Hot and Hot opened in 1995 by married couple Chris and Idie Hastings who met in Birmingham, then moved to San Francisco, and back to Birmingham to open Hot and Hot restaurant together. “Today, although the menus change daily to highlight the best possible products available, several signature items remain: the Hot and Hot Shrimp and Grits made with Country Ham, Fresh Thyme, Tomatoes and Ver Jus is always a favorite among the locals; and Elton’s Chocolate Soufflé with Fresh Cream continues to be the preferred ending to many meals at the restaurant.” –Hot and Hot
The restaurant and chefs have received many accolades including the Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” 11 consecutive years. In March 2007, Chris was one of five finalists nominated for “Best Chef in the South” by the James Beard Foundation, 1998 winner of the Robert Mondavi Culinary Award of Excellence for “Best New Restaurant” and voted Birmingham’s best chef in Birmingham Magazine’s Readers’ Poll. In 2003, the Birmingham Business Journal listed Idie Hastings as one of the Top 10 Birmingham Women. This year she was listed in the Women’s Issue of Birmingham Weekly, which promotes women in business. Their incredible careers make me tired just looking at their bios….but wow! The most recent and one of the most prestigious…This year, celebrating their 25th year, the James Beard Foundation announced the winners of the 2012 James Beard Foundation Restaurant and Chef Awards. Chef Chris Hastings was awarded Best Chef of the South.
Now let me get to the food….As we walked in, in true Hamrick family fashion (a standard 15 minutes late), we see our seats at the bar marked with very official “reserved” plaques. We quickly hustled over to them as if they might take them away because of our tardiness. William greeted us and placed a very interesting cocktail menu in front of us. The cocktail names immediately catch my attention…the Donny Draper, Attack of the Killer Tomato, Buck Shot, etc. My sister and I decided on the Mercenary and Claire went with the Southern “Sloe” Gin Fizz. We were not disappointed.
The Mercenary consists of Sauza Silver tequila, Aperol, Fanta reduction, orange and grapefruit, and a chorizo tincture. Oh yea… It was basically a really awesome orange fanta soda with a kick. The trick, William explained, was to eat the chorizo first then take a swig. Yep; it was awesome. The gin fizz was equally good. Very refreshing with muscadine infused Bombay, lemon, lime, and soda.
We started off the meal with the cheese plate. Is there anything better than cheese? The standout to me was from my neck of the woods… the Elberton Blue Cheese from Nature’s Harmony Farm in Elberton, Georgia. So creamy and sharp.
We continued the feast with an amuse bouche of shrimp and corn cake then a palette cleanser of house-made muscadine sorbet. Both were delightful bites that held us over until the main event.
Madeline ordered the roasted Viking Village Sea Scallops with foraged chantrelle mushrooms, onions, granny smith apples, cerliac puree, and veal jus….fabulous.
Claire had the Border Springs Lamb: Roasted Chop, Leg and Crepinette with Lentils, Eggplant, Tomato, Mizuna, Curry and Yogurt. Cooked perfectly and so tasty.
I’m a sucker for heirloom tomatoes so for dinner I had the Simple Grilled Fish: Apalachicola Pompano with Tomato, Avocado, Grilled Vidalia Onions and Basil-Lime Vinaigrette. It was one of those plates with everything you love to eat, but way better than you could ever make it. It was light, fresh, and the perfect send off for my favorite summer foods and flavors.
We had fun taking suggestions from William and hearing about the unique farms that supply the restaurant. Their extensive wine list proved to be intimidating to us so we looked to William to pair wines for each dish. We were pleasantly surprised.
To really send us over the edge…William sent out the Chocolate Soufflé with Crème Anglaise and Whipped Cream and the Hot and Hot Doughnuts: White Chocolate Cream Filling, Lavender Gel and 9 Honey lce Cream and Sorghum Crunch.
I hate to say it but O-M-G. You read right…it was one of those moments. I’m pretty sure I said this out loud; a little louder than I probably should have given my respectable surroundings. To my surprise and almost horror that more was coming…we received our nightcap: the Donny Draper. This after dinner drink is Hot and Hot’s take on a classic complete with Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Sassafras Syrup, Bitters and Lemon.
Incredible meal made even better with wonderful company. Thank you William and the rest of the Hot and Hot staff for making us feel oh so VIP and incredibly full. I look forward to next time.