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Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club Review – Tastes of Earth, Rivers and Sea

By Amy Munice with photography by Peter Kachergis

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From the bustling kitchen, the chefs and sous-chefs can look out at the main dining room

 

A hunter and wildlife enthusiast, Chef and owner of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris Hastings, brings a new menu to his restaurant’s tables every night, reflecting the goodies foraged, fished or grown by local purveyors.   A disciple of Frank Stitt, chef owner of Highlands and the elder statesman of the farm-to-table movement of Birmingham, Hastings is anything but shy, and has much to say about his dedication to food that tastes of the wild.

 

Chef Chris Hastings was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as the Best Chef of the South in 2012

 

The intriguing and delicious food that makes its way onto the Hot and Hot Fish Club menu speaks louder still. 

 

A local artist, Tina Payne, created the distinctive pottery on which food was served. Here, a very fresh amuse bouche, reminiscent of a banh mi

 

After recounting his earlier culinary milestones in his native North Carolina and also how working with Stitt landed him in Birmingham, Hastings describes the dramatic impact that three years in San Francisco had on his culinary philosophy.  Hastings recounts, “I learned a lot there about the farm-to-table approach…There were no distributors and it was all about relationships with the fishermen, the pig farmers, etc…Actually, it was about the relationships with human beings who are disproportionately passionate about what they do.  That’s the holy grail for a chef--- getting the finest products.   These human relationships made it possible to buy foods at their peak of flavor and also when they are most affordable…This way, you find that your mouth informs where your feet are ,and it’s a great opportunity for a chef to express this in his work…

 

Five kinds of bread -- sourdought, rye, baguette, ciabbato, and cheese biscuit- are served with your meal

 

“This was an epiphany for me and I knew it was the only way I could live and cook…

 

Hudson Valley Foie Gras: Petals from the Past persimmon and satsuma, lemon gel, caraway seed tuile and candied kumquats

 

“..You find yourself in moments and you can’t let them pass you by.  There is a lifecycle.  There are moon phases.  Because I relate closely to the outdoors it means, for example, that if rain is increasing it might be especially opportune to forage for mushrooms…or last April there was wild watercress…

 

Hot and Hot Noodle Bowl: pork skin noodles, baby bok choy, wood ear mushrooms, cobia jowl and head-on shrimp with red lily flowers. The jowl is a usually unused part of the fish. The pork comes from a farm in Northern Alabama

 

“If you live seasonally you can take your cooking to another level.  Nature provides different opportunities than agriculture alone…We have a foraging network of outdoorsmen, a subculture of people who grew up in the country….all types of people from simple country folk to the most sophisticated intellectuals…

 

Green eggs and ham ravioli: Wright Farms Egg, Spicy Ham Hock broth, Fall squash and wild juniper oil. The green comes from green parsley and pine needles

 

“…Food has magical qualities and the people who bring us their foods give us ideas..For example, a former cook who lives on a south facing hill has a quarter of an acre of wild strawberries that are the closest to Frais Du Bois (European wild strawberries) as anything you’d find here.  They are different in shape but the flavor profile is the same…He brought in a pot of them and it was an Aha! Moment – a new galaxy, a new star…”

 

Our top recommendation-- Wood Fired Wreckfish. Wreckfish from the nearby Gulf is not a pack fish and is somewhat similar to swordfish in taste. This preparation includes fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, celery root puree, rye crumble, compressed apples, local collard greens, and wilted chard

 

“..It’s those kind of people who seek us out because we are known to be very open to these discoveries….

 

Fudge Family Farms Pork: loin, belly, and crepinette with roasted sweet potatoes, creamed local greens, alabama apples, kumquat and acandied pecans

 

“Our menu mentions these people and every day we (the staff) meet in late afternoon to discuss the farmers, fishermen, etc. that we can tell the public about…It tells the story of place…

 

Chuck and Tonya Kemper were enjoying Hot and Hot Fish Club for the first time and strongly recommended the Simple Grilled Swordfish (with Anson Mills Farro Risotto, crispy brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and roasted cauliflower) and the Tanglewood Farms Chicken (with Carolina Gold Rice grits, Lion's mane mushrooms, burgundy fall truffles, watercress and pine needle oil).



“..We do everything to support them…This is a serious food community and the heroes are the purveyors.”

 

The chef serves a specially prepared grouper in a salt and egg whites preparation. Explaining why they go to great lengths to honor such special requests, the Chef said "We are in the yes business"

 

Whether it was noodles made from pork skin, or accents from satsumas (Southern varietals of tangerines), reveling in a dish that had three kinds of pork along with three kinds of sweet potatoes, or our clear favorite, a wood-fired wreckfish (said to be the most sustainable fish species to be found)—all dishes at Hot and Hot Fish Club that we sampled were not only creative and unique but did  seem to shout “earth”, “sea”, “lake” and most of  all “local”. 

 

Kumquat sorbet with brioche crumble

 

A tip is to steer to the more exotic items you find on the menu. 

 

Austin (left) moved to Birmingham from Southern Mississippi to work at Hot and Hot Fish Club. Pastry chef Nicole similarly was joyous that we were enjoying her creations

 

Hastings seems to leave most of the final preparations to his most able and congenial staff and instead makes himself a presence on the floor, mingling with guests as much as possible. 

 

A semi-circular open kitchen counter looks out at one of the dining rooms

 

He quips, “Who wants to eat in a food church?  

 

An adjoining dining room away from the kitchen seemed to offer a quieter dining area and allow for more private conversations

 

If this is a romantic evening or other time when you want to make your table’s uninterrupted conversations as important as the food, your best bet is to arrange for a table as far away from the high energy dynamic kitchen as possible. 

 

As you enter the restaurant you pass by an obviously well-stocked bar

 

For more information visit the Hot and Hot Fish Club website

 

Hot and Hot Fish Club

2180 11th Court South

Birmingham, AL 35205

 

205 933 5474

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published on Jan 02, 2016

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