Where to get your eat on in Huntsville, Ala.
LYSA ALLMAN-BALDWIN | 5/17/2012, 2:29 p.m.
As we learned in part one of this series, I sojourned to northern Alabama to enjoy an odyssey of epicurean indulgences to help celebrate 2012 as "the Year of Alabama Food."
The first stop was Huntsville, where I took time to grasp its history and get the general lay of the land and then started sampling all that the city has to offer.
My first impression of the city is that of a boutique, friendly small town that nonetheless offers a breath of cultural expansiveness for its native residents, transplants from bigger cities and those who have left and "come back home." This is evidenced by the number of cultural entities, including the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Huntsville Museum of Art, Veteran's Memorial Museum, North Alabama Railroad Museum and a variety of other entities.
But our main visit was to taste, taste and taste some more, and in that regard, Huntsville's got it goin' on!
Knife and fork adventures like none other
Our gastronomic adventures here started off with a real bang at Rosie's Mexican Cantina on University Drive--they also have another location in town, as well as one in Florence, Ala. Founded in 1995 by three longtime area residents who wanted to bring a more upscale flavor of Mexican food to the city, this area favorite is known--and patronized frequently!--by the locals who refer to it lovingly as simply "Rosie's."
The pride and joy of Rosie's is their chef, who brings his expertise and artistic culinary touch learned in Central America to create fresh, savory fare that keeps you coming back for more.
The menu features a wide variety of appetizers like their Deluxe Blanco, layers of spicy beef, queso blanco (a blend of rich white cheeses, tomatoes and peppers) and pico de gallo; soups like the chicken tortilla soup, a tangerine-hued bowl of a bisque-like broth with chunks of moist chicken topped with multi-colored tortilla strips and a slice of avocado (outstanding!); what they call "Rosie's Tradicionales," such as the Pollo Loco, a chicken breast marinated, seasoned and chargrilled on a bed of Mexican rice and topped with creamy queso blanco and served with shredded lettuce and pico de gallo; combination platters; special vegetarian plates, including vegetable and/or spinach enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and fajitas; and more.
Honorable mention goes out to the soft tacos filled with prime cuts of flank steak--marinated for 24 hours and cooked to perfection, the meat was so tender it literally melted in your mouth--and the fish tacos, prepared with a light, flaky and incredibly moist Mahi Mahi with drawn butter on the side.
To say that they serve generous portions would be an understatement, as each plate was brimming with succulent, savory and lovingly prepared dishes like your grandmother would make. All of our entrees were accompanied with a beautiful bowl of, again, generous dollops of sour cream, guacamole (amazing!), an aioli-like sauce and the most unique coleslaw I have ever tasted--it was made with red cabbage, vinegar, mayo and a touch of cayenne pepper that gave it a slightly piquant flair.
Even if you dine at lunch, you would be remiss to miss dessert--large enough for three or four to share--an amazing array of decadent indulgences to satisfy anyone's sweet obsession: the sopapillas, a classic Mexican flan, tres leches cake and fried ice cream.
One evening we dined at Grille 29, located in the village of Providence, one of the city's newest neighborhoods. The first thing to catch your eye is the expansive outdoor patio with a beautiful fountain, wrought-iron furniture, small performance area for bands and the very warm and welcoming ambiance in which to mix and mingle with friends, neighbors and strangers if you are new to town or to the area. It really captured, I thought, the essence of the Southern hospitality that is so much a part of Huntsville and of the South in general.
The menu here focuses on fresh, upscale steak and seafood offerings and they did not disappoint. For starters, there is the gorgonzola fondue, served in a copper crock teeming with creamy gorgonzola and served with fresh oven-baked breadsticks; the Firecracker shrimp, petite gulf shrimp dusted with seasoned flour and tossed in spicy firecracker sauce (yummy!); the jumbo lump crab-stuffed portabella mushroom; and classic escargot.
Meat lovers can choose from a variety of hand-cut steaks, including an 8-ounce sliced butcher's tenderloin finished with a mushroom ragout; 14-ounce Duroc porterhouse pork chop with an apple cranberry compote--I've never seen a pork chop this huge!--garlic mashed potatoes and fresh green beans; and a 22-ounce premium bone-in cut cowboy rib eye served with a homemade steak sauce and beer-battered onion rings.
As I was trying to tick off as many items on this five-day culinary sojourn from the brochure "100 Places to Eat in Alabama Before You Die," I chose the grouper Oscar, a pan-seared fresh black grouper topped with jumbo lump crab, fresh asparagus and hollandaise. Start the "When Harry Met Sally" chorus! This dish is one of the best grouper dishes I can remember eating and certainly earned its spot on "the list." It was accompanied by a wonderful risotto that was equally to die for.
The Georges Bank sea scallops; Cajun shrimp pasta; Scottish salmon brlee, a very unusual but wonderfully flavorful entree made with broiled salmon crusted with a brown sugar glaze, served with sweet potato hash and caramelized baby onions; and, hold on now, jumbo scallops stuffed with lump crab and topped with a light herb shallot cream sauce stacked on lobster mashed potatoes that made everyone at our table ecstatic.
For dessert --another must here--there's the Tiramisu Tower surrounded by espresso anglaise and chocolate mocha beans, chocolate souffle with brandy cream sauce (amazing!), chocolate truffle cake and raspberry mousse (aka the raspberry truffle cake) covered in chocolate ganache and served with a raspberry coulis or the warm sour cream fudge cake (completely wicked!), served with warm chocolate sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. And that's just a few of the sweet offerings!
To complement each of your courses, Grill 29 offers a fantastic and wide selection of wines plus a bevy of signature cocktails and excellent service on every level. All told, this was a delightful, and delectable, dining experience.
We've still got still more delicious stops to make in Huntsville!
- Grille 29:(256) 489-9470, www.grille29.com
- Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau:(800) 843-0468, (256) 551-2230 www.huntsville.org
- Rosie's Mexican Cantina: (256) 922-1001 www.rosiesmexicancantina.com
- The Year of Alabama Food: www.yearofalabamafood.com