Highlands Bar & Grill

Every blue moon I’ll have a random night that just goes perfectly. All is content, the moment is chill, life is happy…such nights usually involve food and friends. They’re impossible to plan and difficult to recreate.

But Highlands Bar & Grill (Birmingham, AL) has a magical ability to create them every time I eat there. Between the great servers, local ingredients, and french-chic Southern atmosphere (yes, that’s possible), I understand why it packs out each night.

Last year I moved from Birmingham to New York, and my last night in the ‘Ham was one that just went well. A close friend treated me to my last meal, and though I told him pizza was fine he read my mind and drove to Highlands. Stitt’s magic went to work and the evening was a great celebration of friendship, food, and life in a city that had become home for me.

I’m sure the libations helped fuel the good times, but fellowship and food made it a great evening. Through several courses, we enjoyed some of Stitt’s best dishes. The oven-baked grits won the evening, though. They always do, and always will. Hands down.

It is genuinely worth the trip, flight and all, just to savor these grits. (Go ahead, book your flight here and make reservations here.)

Several months have passed since I left Birmingham for the Big Apple, and I only miss three places. Highlands is one of them, and while the friends made each night special, you can’t gather around the table unless there’s good food on it — Stitt and his staff always exceed expectations there.

If you can’t make it to Birmingham to experience Highlands firsthand, you can cook up some of Stitt’s Southern magic in your own kitchen.

Another good friend gave me Southern Table for my birthday (I have great friends) and I’ve cooked recipes from both from books. While you might have to plan ahead to have all the ingredients, the recipes are easy to follow for anyone who knows their way around a kitchen. The photos are great, too.

I obviously recommend making the oven-baked grits, and the pizza recipe makes a great Italian crust. Order Southern Table here and Bottega Favorita here.

Variations on a Theme

On on the seventh day, the food gods made pimento cheese. Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone. Doesn’t it seem like everyone is trying to reinvent this classic southern staple?  Chefs and foodies everywhere are trying to improve on perfection with by using the latest in culinary trends and turning it into some new, jazzed up version.

Enough already. Just give me my traditional bowl of sharp, creamy cheese heaven and get out of my kitchen. Straightforward. Simple. Southern.

But if I have to grant anyone grace in this area, it would be Hugh Acheson, the author of The New Turn in the South.  He created his own version that incorporates smoked paprika and grilled red peppers. I shook off my skepticism and tried out his PC recipe this 4th of July and found the smoky addition to be nothing short of amazing. Oh, and while we were flipping through the book, we found a nice little recipe for Southern Pimm’s Cup.  It was the perfect libation on this hot summer day .

Thanks to Hugh, I am no longer a snobbish pimento cheese purist. My family and I thank you, Mr. Acheson.


Photography by Evelyn Laws. Pimento cheese image by Rinne Allen