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Landmark Dining

Five Alabama restaurants where you can offer business clients a great impression of your home place.

Signature dishes in a fine arts setting create a unique atmosphere at Oscar’s at the Museum.

Signature dishes in a fine arts setting create a unique atmosphere at Oscar’s at the Museum.

Photo by Art Meripol

Be an impressionist, at Oscar’s at the Museum

When Jim Cobb and his wife, Krystal, took over operations at the Birmingham Museum of Art’s restaurant four years ago, he was already a 35-year veteran of the food and beverage industry, he says.

Cobb, who owns the catering company, A Social Affair, began operating Oscar’s at the Museum in July 2010 after the restaurant, previously known as the Terrace Café, underwent a major renovation.

Oscar’s at the Museum is on the art center’s second floor. Krystal Cobb manages the café. The couple’s son, Christopher, works as a sous chef under the direction of Executive Chef Lorrin Rames.

“We’re basically a little bistro,” says Jim Cobb, “and more than anything else, we highlight the art of eating local. We try to use as much local ingredients as we can, like fresh farm eggs, greens and pork and chicken items from local purveyors as much as possible.”

The café offers a seasonal menu. Among the restaurant’s best sellers is the Knuckle Sandwich with lobster claw and knuckle meat sautéed with scallions, roma tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and roasted garlic and placed on grilled focaccia.

But this February, Rames added several French-inspired dishes to correspond with the museum exhibition of works by 19th century French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix that runs through May 18. The new menu, says Cobb, has been a hit and includes items like the vegetarian ratatouille crepe with zucchini, eggplant and tomato and a lobster thermidor crepe with a creamy béchamel infused with white wine and shallots.

Oscar’s serves beer and wine during lunch. For the lobster thermidor, Cobb recommends a muscadet.

Oscar’s is open 11 a.m. - 2 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and during the Delacroix exhibit, it is also open for lunch on Saturdays. The restaurant seats 170 in the dining room, the outdoor patio and the Member’s Room, which is just off the dining room.

While Oscar’s attracts museum tourists, its location in the city center — close to the financial district, city hall and the Jefferson County Courthouse — makes it a lunchtime destination for many local business professionals. Oscar’s also hosts a monthly First Thursday Tapas Bar, a favorite of business professionals for after work drinks, says Cobb.

“We have quite a few doctors from UAB and a lot of lawyers from downtown and judges from the courthouse,” he says, “and we see a great deal of business people.”  

Enjoy the view but don’t neglect the fine cuisine at 360 Grille in Florence.
 

Dazzle them with vistas, at the 360 Grille

From 20 stories above the ground, diners at the 360 Grille, a revolving restaurant in Florence, can get scenic, panoramic views of the Tennessee River, Wilson Dam, O’Neal Bridge and, at night in the distance, the lights from downtown, says Director of Food and Beverage Operations Einar Gudmundsson.

“We can adjust the speed,” he says, “but we usually have it at a rotation where you can go one full circle in about an hour and a half.”

Open since 2005, the revolving restaurant is perched atop the Renaissance Tower, a tourist attraction adjacent to the Marriott-Shoals Hotel and Spa. Built as a state-funded tourist attraction in 1991, the “space needle” tower never really took off until the RSA’s David Bronner packaged it with the hotel and the Shoals leg of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. A $100 million investment in the then-vacant tower even got the pinnacle restaurant to rotate, as originally conceived.

Customers at 360 Grille often include a generous number of golfers during the summer season, Gudmundsson says. But it’s also a showcase for business and economic prospects.

“We also tend to have a lot of local business people and business meetings and client entertainment,” he says, “and being part of the hotel, we also see CEOs or people in high positions with companies that are either looking to expand or open a new plant. So we get a lot of people entertaining out-of-town business folks or holding dinner meetings up there.”

The menu is prepared by Executive Chef Michael Wehner and his staff, who work in an open kitchen inside the non-revolving center of the restaurant. The cuisine is generally American and Southern dishes and includes menu items like crab cakes served with fried green tomatoes and grilled chicken breast with truffle mashed potatoes and shiitake mushroom salad.

To impress a client, Gudmundsson recommends the seared flounder served with cheddar grits and locally grown green beans sautéed in salt, pepper and olive oil or the dry-aged beef New York strip with blue cheese butter and bacon braised green bean potato salad.

With the New York strip, Gudmundsson suggests a cabernet from the restaurant’s award-winning wine menu. For those seeking cocktails, he suggests a Vesper Martini with gin, vodka and vermouth with a lemon twist or a Manhattan made with bourbon, vermouth, cherry bitters and brandied bing cherries.

“To combine the menu, the service, and the quality of the atmosphere, with the view and the rotation,” he says, “it just creates a unique atmosphere.”

The building is historic, the setting is historic downtown Anniston and the food is sophisticated at Classic on Noble.

Photo by Art Meripol

Make them at home in history, at Classic on Noble

David and Cathy Mashburn opened Classic on Noble in 1999 in the old, four-story Levy and Clark building on Noble Street in the historic section of downtown Anniston.

The couple restored the building, which they believe to be more than 100 years old, built sometime within the decade after the city’s incorporation in 1883. It blends well with the revitalization spearheaded by Spirit of Anniston, a nonprofit group that is using the National Main Street Four Point Approach of organization, promotion, economic restructuring and design.

Classic on Noble is a fine dining restaurant that is easily identified by the three black awnings that adorn the front of the building. The restaurant has a dining room on the second floor and a bar and another dining area on the third floor, Mashburn says. Across the street from Classic on Noble is one of the couple’s other restaurants, Classic Too, which has a large outdoor patio and offers its customers a more casual dining experience.

“We’re steps away from the courthouse,” says David Mashburn. “There are several law offices in our block, and we’re within walking distance of some of our city’s largest banks.”

Paul LaRocca is the executive chef for the restaurant, which serves Southern comfort food with a sophisticated twist like its signature dish, shrimp and grits. The dish is on the Alabama Department of Tourism’s “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die” list. Jumbo Gulf shrimp are sautéed with andouille sausage, Mashburn explains. The grits are prepared with heavy cream, apple-smoked bacon, fresh collard greens, chopped tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Another popular dish, says Mashburn, is the pan-seared pork chop with a side of sweet potato hash cooked with apple-smoked bacon to add flavor.

For entertaining business clients, one could start the evening with a mixed drink. Classic on Noble offers exotic martinis like the Washington Apple, made with sour apple pucker, Crown Royal, amaretto, a slice of apple and served in a 10-ounce glass.  

The Mashburns say they and their staff strive to make customers feel as if they are visiting the couple’s home.

“Our goal,” he says, “is to make everybody feel comfortable.”

Steak, seafood and sunsets at The Grand Steakhouse have been keys to many a business deal.
 

Seat them in spectacular sunset, at The Grand Steakhouse

The Grand Steakhouse is located inside the main building of the historic Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club and Spa in Point Clear. The hotel, originally built in 1847, overlooks Mobile Bay, the place where Union Adm. David G. Farragut and Confederate Adm. Franklin Buchanan clashed during the Civil War Battle of Mobile Bay, in August 1864.

Today, patrons at The Grand Steakhouse can enjoy dinner and watch sailboats skim peacefully across the water. They can also view the sunset, which Michael Herzog, director of food and beverage for The Grand Steakhouse, describes as stunning.

“The sunsets are absolutely spectacular,” Herzog says. “I like to call them million dollar sunsets. Each day is a little bit different, but they’re quite spectacular.”

Among the restaurant customers enjoying those million dollar sunsets are vacationers as well as local and out-of-town business professionals, he says. They have included, he says, everyone from pharmaceutical reps to shipping executives, politicians and representatives of national companies in town to scout possible locations to set up U.S. offices.

“We’ve had international businesses come to Baldwin County and come to this restaurant,” he says. “This is certainly the place if you want to entertain and close the business deal. This is a great place to do that.”

Over the years, The Grand Steakhouse has carved out its own reputation for its beef steaks, its Catch-of-the-Day menu and the fresh produce from the “Chef’s Garden,” which lies just outside the restaurant’s windows.

For dinner, Herzog recommends an eight-ounce, Kobe-style, center-cut ribeye steak or the 16-ounce “Cowgirl,” which is a bone-in ribeye. He also recommends the “Catch of the Day” or the Dover sole, which he says has become a customer favorite.

The Grand Steakhouse also has an extensive wine menu and offers mixed drinks and cocktails, he says.

“We utilize a lot of fresh mint for our drinks and cocktails,” he says. “A recommended cocktail is the mojito, which we mix with fresh raspberries or blueberries or whatever you would like.”

Cotton Row offers elegant dining in downtown Huntsville — a great asset for wooing business deals.
 

A Perfect Manhattan in High Cotton

The restaurant Cotton Row, in downtown Huntsville, is nested like Old South tradition in an 1821 brick building that was once the hub of Huntsville’s thriving cotton trade. Today it opens onto Courthouse Square and is the place where modern commerce meets for fine dining.

Executives from high-tech firms, manufacturers, scientists and administrators from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal are among the patrons who regularly gather at Cotton Row to talk business and feast on fine cuisine.

News accounts report that Remington Outdoor Co. CEO George Kollitides and other company executives dined with local and state politicians at Cotton Row before announcing their decision to build a gun plant in Huntsville.

“Huntsville is a transient city, and a lot of people are here for business,” says Eric Van To, director of operations for Boyce Restaurant Concepts Inc., the parent company of Cotton Row. “It’s also a huge defense city. We do a lot [of business] with government defense contractors, pharmaceutical companies and others.”

Cotton Row is owned by acclaimed chef James Boyce who, after moving to Huntsville from Laguna Beach, Calif., opened the restaurant in 2008. Since then, Boyce has burnished his reputation for creating innovative, seasonal dishes using locally grown produce from Alabama farmers and foragers, farm-raised meats and fresh fish.

The restaurant is housed in a historic, three-story brick building in downtown Huntsville, not far from Boyce’s other eateries, Pane e Vino Pizzeria and Commerce Kitchen. Cotton Row has a patio, a third-floor balcony, a loft and its Cedar Pipe Cellar with nearly 5,000 bottles of some 300 varieties of wine, says Van To.

For a dinner meeting, he suggests the pan-seared halibut with French black truffles or the braised short ribs with Anson Mills grits, balsamic portobello mushrooms, spring greens and tomato or the beef filet mignon.

With the filet mignon, he says, “You would definitely want a California cabernet.” But for cocktails, Van To recommends a traditional Manhattan prepared by one of Cotton Row’s mixologists. “They make the greatest Manhattans I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s bourbon whiskey and sweet vermouth muddled together and served on the rocks.” 

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