This March 3, the recipient of the James Beard Award for Most Outstanding Restaurant in America 2018, Birmingham’s own Highlands Bar & Grill, took over the Southeast’s hot-chicken empire, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, offering an exclusive group of Magic City residents an evening to remember. We had the honor of attending this extraordinary event — here’s the inside scoop. From the event’s inception to the charming environment and expertly crafted menu, here’s what happens when two of the South’s most creative and iconic restaurants become one for an evening.
Upon arrival, we sat down with Nick Bishop Sr., Cofounder of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, to discuss how this evening came about. Nick explained that the Hattie B’s team has, for years, been inspired by both Frank Stitt, the Executive Chef of Highland’s, and Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF), a local nonprofit with the mission of providing a meaningful educational experience through food, farming and the culinary arts. The Hattie B’s team was drawn to the creative concept of a pop-up dinner and wanted to bring that rare and fleeting of-the-moment feel to the event.
And since Chef Frank Stitt sits on the board of JVTF, it only seemed right to donate the proceeds from this collaborative culinary event to the beloved nonprofit.
“Frank and Pardis have supported our work from the beginning and have been such wonderful friends over the years,” says Amanda Storey, JVTF’s Executive Director. “And when Hattie B’s opened in Birmingham, they immediately reached out to us to see how they could support us. To have them both join forces to support us together means so much.”
The exquisite meal was rivaled only by the elegant atmosphere created by the Highlands Bar & Grill team. Pardis Stitt, Co-Owner and Operator of Highlands, encouraged her team to treat the space as if it was their own, describing the final outcome as “elevated, yet casual.”
Hattie B’s long communal tables were lined with white tablecloths, flickering candlelight and Highland’s own woven place mats, votives and cloth napkins. Dimmed lights and waiters in dapper attire made the atmosphere equal parts comfortable and sophisticated, inviting yet pristine. Even the Good People beer, all of which was kindly donated, was served in gorgeous carafes proving that the details make all the difference. It truly felt like a delightful fusion of what makes both restaurants special — a community-driven space and humble Southern ingredients elevated by Highland’s signature elegance and gracious hospitality.
And now, for the star of the show, the food! Zack Redes, Chef de Cuisine of Highland’s, teamed up with John Lasater, Executive Chef of Hattie B’s Hot Chicken and Chef Frank Stitt to curate this incredible menu. Zack says the first thing that came to mind when building the menu was “staying true to both Highland’s and Hattie B’s.” He was inspired by the idea of playing off Highland’s upscale cuisine while paying homage to Hattie B’s beloved hot chicken. After all, Chef Zack explained, “we’re both doing the same thing just in different settings.”
The evening began with three passed hors d’oeuvres. The put-up pea croquette was a delicious marriage of Highland’s put-up peas and Hattie B’s black-eyed pea salad, a family recipe from Chef John’s that’s a favorite of Chef Zack’s. The classic vinaigrette used to normally dress the Hattie B’s side allowed both him and Chef John Lasater to easily combine the flavors of both dishes.
Crispy, flavorful jambonettes and pimento cheese canapès, which were inspired by Hattie B’s pimento mac ‘n’ cheese, were complemented by bubbly and a craft sour beer, which served as an unexpectedly delightful curve ball that pushed Chef Zack out of his comfort zone and surely paid off.
The first course was hot shrimp paired with Jones Valley Teaching Farms’ lettuces. The heat of the crispy shrimp was cut by the fresh local lettuces and creamy remoulade, while the Good People Muchacho beer, a refreshing easy-to-drink libation, cooled our taste buds and played off the spicy, bright and crisp accents of the dish.
This was followed by Poulet Rouge Two Ways. The first Poulet Rouge was prepared in classic Hattie B’s hot-chicken style: crispy-fried and packing some heat. The second Poulet breast was prepared ballottine-stuffed with Jones Valley Teaching Farms Swiss chard and sultantas, a technique that Chef Zack and Highlands Bar & Grill are known for. This classic French preparation not only perfectly highlights the rich flavor profile of the protein — which is considered among elite chefs to be the finest chicken on the market — but the technique also showcases the expert skills of the chefs themselves. The crispy heat of the hot chicken was a clever juxtaposition to the earthy sweetness of the ballottine-stuffed Poulet Rouge; while the depth and complexity of Good People’s Coffee Oatmeal Stout rounded out the experience.
And the meal was finished with a lemon tart presented in a refreshing raspberry coulis. The tart was topped with a pillowy and perfectly toasted meringue, and the citrus notes were complemented by a bright raspberry coulis. Our table’s favorite part of the dessert was the flawless pastry crust. Even after devouring our first two courses, we couldn’t help but keep coming back for a final bite of the heavenly treat.
Hattie B’s will continue to support Jones Valley Teaching Farms throughout the year as $1 of every “Shut The Cluck Up” meal purchased will be donated directly to the farms.