Rooted in its loyalty to local farmers, Birmingham’s food scene is garnering national attention. Zagat tips its hat to the epicurean haven as No. 1 on its list of Next Hot Food Cities. Chefs across the city embrace the farm-to-table philosophy because fresh, local, heirloom vegetables and heritage meats yield more complex and intriguing flavors.

Just a sample of the many colorful, flavorful menu options at local restaurants that source local foods.

Just a sample of the many colorful, flavorful menu options at area restaurants that source local foods.

Legendary Birmingham chefs Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings pioneered the city’s locavore culture, opening their kitchens to “brown baggers,” local farmers with brown paper bags of ripe tomatoes or delicate pea tendrils. The chefs then craft daily menus that place these locally sourced ingredients in the limelight, putting farmers’ names on the menu. Today, throngs of locals stroll Pepper Place Farmers Market each Saturday because they know that the farmers from the menus will be there.

Bettola Chef de Cuisine Drew Terp, formerly of Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley, CA, advises the aspiring home locavore to go to the farmers market early – 7 a.m. – and talk to the farmers about their wares and how they’re preparing them. Buy a new, tasty-looking vegetable and find an inventive online recipe that elevates that ingredient. “When you hold a perfectly ripe heirloom tomato up to your nose,” says Terp, “eventually it tells you what to do.”

Let’s take a look at five noteworthy farm-to-table eateries.

Bettola

2901 Second Ave. S., Birmingham • (205) 731-6499

Talk to the farmers at Pepper Place Market about their loyal restaurant clients, and the common thread is Executive Chef James Lewis of Bettola. Local foragers recently brought wild mushrooms to the rustic bistro at Pepper Place, which inspired Chef de Cuisine Drew Terp to create the Wild Mushroom Risotto.

Bettola risotto

Decadent Wild Mushroom Risotto features Snow’s Bend green garlic and wild Alabama mushrooms and is complemented by a mushroom-and-truffle emulsion.

Pan-seared cauliflower at Bettola

Pan-Seared Cauliflower is combined with sliced olives, garlic confit, Majuelo vinegar and smoked paprika.

Insalata erbe at Bettola

Bettola’s Insalata di Erbe features local basil, arugula, parsley, romaine, red onion and cherry tomatoes, gently tossed in a lemon emulsion and topped with shaved Parmigiano.

Gnocchi at Bettola

Capesante con Gnocchi is a dish of tender, seared sea scallops, house-made gnocchi, Parmigiano Mornay sauce and sautéed wild mushrooms.

“The most exciting thing a forager has brought in was the morel crop last year,” says Terp of Birmingham’s singular foraging culture. “They had morels the size of my hand! Firm and tender, the pungent richness of morel exuding from each structured pore – gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.”

Bettola highlights farm-fresh flavors in their wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas and house-made pastas and atop charcuterie platters.

Brick & Tin

2901 Cahaba Road, Birmingham • (205) 297-8636

“The farmers are friends of mine. They call and tell me what they’re planting and what’s ready for picking,” says Brick & Tin Executive Chef Mauricio Papapietro. “Trent Boyd (of Harvest Farms), for example, just started growing Romanesco cauliflower this year because we asked him to. It’s one of the most rewarding relationships a chef can have, talking to a person who will actually go out in the field and grow and pick the crops themselves.”

The Alabama pie at Brick and Tin

Alabama Pie is a Southern-style quiche with South Alabama-grown Swiss chard, spring onions and Stone Hollow goat cheese.

Tomato salad

Brick & Tin’s Tomato Salad features vine-ripened Brandywine tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, shaved squash and radishes, and is topped with delicate squash blossoms, crumbled feta and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Red snapper at Brick and Tin

Red Snapper is seared to perfection alongside succulent Florida clams and Gulf shrimp in a light “clam chowder sauce” with sweet corn, Conecuh County sausage and baby leeks.

Brick and Tin desserts

An in-house bakery offers beautiful breads and tasty desserts, such as pink macarons and fresh strawberry confections.

Freshly baked loaves are up for grabs at Brick and Tin

Freshly baked loaves are up for grabs at Brick & Tin

With its first restaurant serving the downtown lunch crowd, Brick & Tin opened its second storefront in Mountain Brook with a menu that leans more toward the haute cuisine of Highlands Bar and Grill, where Papapietro honed his craft. However, as diners requested more casual dishes, he acquiesced, giving his customers the simplified menu they craved, doing so with exquisite execution and the freshest ingredients. A casual bistro, Papapietro’s 15-item lunch and dinner menu has farm-to-table integrity and crowd-pleasing staying power.

Café Dupont

113 20th St. N., Birmingham • (205) 322-1282

Before foraged foods were trending in cutting-edge kitchens across America, Executive Chef Chris Dupont was foraging for watercress to prepare with dishes for his Springville, AL, restaurant 20 years ago. Chef of downtown Birmingham’s premier white-tablecloth restaurant, Dupont is excited about co-ops like the Urban Food Project and Alabama Organics, because they offer fledgling farmers the support they need to grow a flourishing farm operation and make it onto local menus.

Cafe Dupont in Birmingham

Organic Red Buttercrunch Salad features vine-ripened, heirloom tomatoes, pressed egg and Parmesan and is finished with black garlic Caesar dressing.

Cafe Dupont in Birmingham

Roasted Candy-Stripe Beets are paired with shaved fennel, organic arugula, Point Reyes blue cheese and candied pecans with a shallot-herb vinaigrette.

Cafe Dupont in Birmingham

Pan-Seared Duck Breast with house-made malfatti and wild ramps is complemented by a blackberry and local greens-strawberry reduction and topped with delicate sweet potato “hay.”

Fresh eggs used at Cafe Dupont are sourced from a young preacher who recently decided to try his hand at chicken farming.

Fresh eggs used at Cafe Dupont are sourced from a young preacher who recently decided to try his hand at chicken farming.

Dupont says his house-made malfatti, gnocchi-like morsels incorporating ricotta and local Swiss chard, wouldn’t have their sophisticated and surprising flavor without the rich natural eggs from a young preacher who recently decided to try his hand at chicken farming. He also cites Terra Preta Farms and Petals from the Past, both specializing in heirloom vegetables, fruits and flowers, as the superstars of the local movement.

FoodBar

3156 Heights Village • (205) 876-8100

Executive chef of the elegant and casual Vestavia eatery FoodBar, George McMillan comes from a farming family. “If I wasn’t putting the farmers’ food on the table,” he says, “I would be out there running my own farm.” And he is continually inspired by the way familiar local flavors can express themselves in surprising new ways. For example, McMillan created a beautifully balanced Sautéed Gulf Red Snapper dish which originally featured French Haricot Verts. But upon tasting Snow’s Bend Farms’ fresh pea tendrils, he was moved to reinvent his dish. “The pea tendrils brought a pop of color, crisp texture and subtle, sweet floral aroma,” he says.

Owl’s Hollow Organic Greens – a mix of Lollo Rosso, red mustard, red oak and herbs – features Chilton County peaches, avocado and candied pecans, and is topped with edible Nasturtium flowers.

Owl’s Hollow Organic Greens – a mix of Lollo Rosso, red mustard, red oak and herbs – features Chilton County peaches, avocado and candied pecans, and is topped with edible Nasturtium flowers.

The FoodBar New Merkle Shellfish Stew features Gulf white shrimp, mussels, snapper collar, scallops and calamari in an aromatic fennel fumet.

FoodBar‘s New Merkle Shellfish Stew features Gulf white shrimp, mussels, snapper collar, scallops and calamari in an aromatic fennel fumet.

The Pan-Seared Destin Red Snapper sits atop the Finley Avenue Farmers Market succotash of bacon, pink-eyed peas, corn and okra, and is finished with a tomato aioli.

Pan-Seared Destin Red Snapper sits atop the Finley Avenue Farmers Market succotash of bacon, pink-eyed peas, corn and okra, and is finished with a tomato aioli.

The Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras on brioche French toast is complemented by poached pear and port wine syrup. While this particular dish isn't locally sourced, it's still pretty to look at, don't you think?

Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras on brioche French toast is complemented by poached pear and port wine syrup. While this particular dish isn’t locally sourced, it’s still pretty to look at, don’t you think?

Ollie Irene

2713 Culver Road, Mountain Brook • (205) 769-6034

This neighborhood gastropub in Mountain Brook Village evokes both modernity in its forward-thinking, cross-cultural dishes and a return to the front porches of a sepia-toned era when farm-fresh food was king. “It’s an idea as old as the hills that has resurfaced,” says Anna Newsome, wife of Executive Chef Chris Newsome. “A farm-to-table mentality means we are taking part in healthy relationships with the seasons, our bodies and our communities.”

A chalkboard sign at Ollie Irene

A chalkboard sign at Ollie Irene

Ollie Irene in Birmingham

A Pickled Cucumber Martini mixes Hendrick’s gin, cucumber shrub and black pepper.

Leg of lamb at Ollie Irene

Ollie Irene’s Leg O’ Lamb is accompanied by fresh mint, shiitake mushrooms, spring onions and asparagus in au jus.

One dish that fully exemplifies this farm-to-fork philosophy is their 20-mile Salad, which incorporates the summertime ingredients of the South – all from within 20 miles of the restaurant – heirloom tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and lots of herbs. “It’s picked and delivered the day we make it, and it’s easy, fresh and delicious,” says Anna Newsome, adding, “How could it not be?”

Visit our local farmers on their farms or peruse their wares at Pepper Place Farmers Market, attend a Chef in the Garden supper or follow your farmers’ Instagram feeds to see gobsmackingly gorgeous produce make it from field to fork.

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