Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama knows how to serve good Southern cuisine. Food reveals the soul of a place. It helps you understand the people and culture. One of my favorite food destinations might surprise some “foodies” — I love the tastes of Alabama food.

Chef Chris Hastings Hot and Hot Fish Club Tomato Salad

Hot & Hot Fish Club’s Tomato Salad from Chef Chris Hastings. Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Alabama Tourism Department

Perhaps it is my Southern roots that draws me to the food, although I left the South shortly after my 14th birthday. Mostly, though, I think it is because the people of Alabama know how to cook with fresh local ingredients. They have a connection with their food, the land, the animals, the water. In fact, the state is celebrating 2012 as “The Year of Food.” That’s my kind of celebration.

When I was in Birmingham, I enjoyed dinner one night at Hot and Hot Fish Club in the city’s Southside. The award-winning restaurant is owned by husband and wife chef team of Chris and Idie Hastings. The entire dinner was a gourmand’s delight with flavors reflecting the lengthening September days. However, it was Chef Chris’ signature Tomato Salad that I will remember as my food find in Birmingham. While the menu changes daily, depending on available ingredients, you will always find the tomato salad on the Hot and Hot menu.

The tomato salad is a work of art, but it tastes every bit as good as it looks. Chef suggest using Beefsteak, Golden Delight, Rainbow and Sweet 100 tomatoes. He prefers those locally-grown heirloom varieties, but always selects locally grown tomatoes even when those particular heirloom varieties aren’t available. The tomatoes, along with cooked fresh corn and peas, marinate in a Balsamic Vinaigrette. They are stacked on the plate, as shown in the photo, and served with cornmeal and buttermilk battered fried okra and a chive dressing. Chef tops the entire dish with a crispy slice of Applewood smoked bacon. If you want to brave it, you can download the recipe here and try it yourself at home.

Dishes like this tomato salad, or the shrimp and grits with country ham, are what won Chef Chris Hastings the honor of 2012 James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef of the South title. He also beat Bobby Flay on Food Network’s Iron Chef America this past spring, which is pretty good bragging rights for any chef.

Chef Chris Hastings with Tomato Salad

Chef Chris Hastings with his Tomato Salad. Photo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Alabama Tourism Department

There are award-winning chefs and restaurants throughout Alabama. During the 2012 “Year of Food” is an ideal time to discover such great finds as the tomato salad — or the farmer’s markets, wine trails, festivals and more celebrating Alabama’s culinary treasures. There are also some great recipes for Alabama dishes — from classic Southern to innovative international cuisine. Click here to find the recipes and more information about “The Year of Food”.

If you want to check out Alabama food for yourself, Alabama Restaurant Week is August 17 – 26, 2012, with over 150 restaurants across the state participating. Full details are available online at www.alabamarestaurantweek.com.

I love tomatoes. Serve them up in a beautiful setting in historic Birmingham, follow them with an evening of culinary delights and a glass or two of fine wine, and it creates one unforgettable food find.

Hot and Hot Fish Club
2180 11th Court South
Birmingham, AL 35205
205.933.5474
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 5:30 – 10 p.m.
www.hotandhotfishclub.com

 

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