Highlands Bar and Grill

Before Frank Stitt comes to Kentucky for the Growing Kentucky II conference, we visited the acclaimed restaurant he founded in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1982. I wanted to know firsthand about the food at Highlands Bar and Grill, a restaurant that is at the pinnacle of the "local is best" renaissance. The late winter food I shared with three happy companions on Saturday night filled our mouths with the warm, rich, brown taste of umami. That's my favorite of the fundamental tastes. I saw a quick definition recently of umami as "meaty."

We ate lamb, venison, pork, duck, and veal during this meal - those were the entreés. Add pork shoulder, Kobe beef, country ham, and foie gras in the appetizers. Several of the entrees and appetizers included a combination of two or more meats or seafoods. I'm guessing the Highlands kitchen never lacks for fond, the wondrous brown bits that stick in sauté pans and enrich pan sauces.

Whether or not umami and meaty are synonyms, we had plenty of both during our delicious dinners. We divided each of four appetizers into fourths and passed clockwise three times - so each person ate one fourth of each appetizer:

  • Grits with country ham and mushrooms
  • Foie gras with something deliciously sweet-tart glazing it
  • Kobe beef with arugula, shaved parmesan, and horseradish cream
  • Gnocchi, browned and cooked in a pork shoulder broth, served with several vegetables and some pork pieces

And for dessert? Two shared among the four of us: Classic creme brulée and a chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on top and chocolate sauce on the side.

Sweetly, my man suggested the creme brulée because I would enjoy it, and our son suggested the chocolate dessert because his sweetheart would enjoy it. Though each of us females demurred just a bit, our men were so right. The desserts were indescribably good. The creme brulée was the best I have ever eaten. Add one cup of perfectly made, fresh decaffeinated coffee (it was nearly midnight!) and we were done.

POSTSCRIPT, March 14, 2007

Listening to Frank Stitt in person, as he gently advocates for more support for fine local farmers, I get a clue to the experience our family had after eating at the wonderful Highlands Bar & Grill. Frank briefly mentioned the French insistence on clearing meaty fats from braised dishes before serving - and said he was committed to that in his cooking. "After you eat, you feel great." We did. We commented on not feeling over-full, which means we enjoyed our spectacularly indulgent evening even more.