The Birmingham Business Journal, it seems, can go months without having anything about the city's restaurant business, but a recent issue had two articles.
One was a look at whether Birmingham could become one of the cities to have its own Zagat Guide. As the article notes, "Birmingham has begun to make a name for itself on the culinary scene." Highlands chef/owner Frank Stitt is up for a national chef award from the James Beard Foundation, with Hot & Hot's Chris Hastings up for the regional award that Stitt won several years ago. "But despite the accolades and recognition, there is one status symbol of culinary success that has eluded the Magic City: the venerable Zagat guide," says writer Ty West. The guides feature the results of customer surveys and is regarded as a "food and travel bible."
A Zagat's representative told the BBJ reporter that the company considers several factors to determine if there is demand for an area, including the number of reviews online at www.zagat.com, plus requests or petitions from members or from an area's culinary industry. Daniel Briggs, who runs daniel george restaurant in Mountain Brook with co-chef and co-owner George McMillan, told the BBJ that while the city is experiencing an increase in second- and third-generation chefs who are branching out from the area's established restaurants to start their own, he's not sure if the city could support its own Zagat guide just yet. Tom Robey, executive chef at the Veranda on Highland, said he believes the city will be able to support a guide in the next few years.
The other BBJ article was an interview with Robey, who became executive chef at the Veranda on Highland after spending 18 years at the Commander's Palace restaurant in New Orleans. A few tidbits: One of the things that sets Veranda apart from other restaurants in the area is its Sunday jazz brunch. When asked about his cooking style, he said, "I get the best ingredients and I let them speak for themselves. I don't feel a dish should have 17 different adjectives to make it a great dish." Favorite food at home? Grilling and a lot of Italian food (he grew up in New Jersey so ate a lot of Italian-American food. My follow-up question would have been, what's his favorite Italian restaurant in town?).