Special thanks to the Huntsville/Madison County CVB for hosting our Huntsville dining tour.
In an effort to prepare for our relocation later this year, we recently traveled to Huntsville, Alabama for a preliminary visit. Going in, I had no idea what to expect. Having lived in both Augusta, Georgia and Nashville, Tennessee, I was accustomed to what life in the south might look like. I was a bit thrown off by Huntsville, though, because everything I’ve heard about it flies in the face of southern stereotypes. Huntsville is not one of those cities in which Confederate flags are emblazoned on every truck window and fried chicken is considered a food group.
Huntsville, for those who might not be aware, is nicknamed Rocket City, and for good reason: it shares a close association with all things space related. As a hub for technology, aerospace and aviation, Huntsville would seem to be the place where geeky engineers settle–not exactly a lifestyle hotspot. On the contrary, though, Rocket City is enjoying a renaissance of sorts as artisans from various trades breathe new life into this northern Alabama city.
I’m a confessed foodie. I love tasting unexpected culinary creations and sipping my way through wine festivals. You can imagine, then, my surprise and delight in learning that Huntsville is a global city, making a name for itself with an annual craft beer festival, downtown wine festival and food festival, too! During our recent visit, I had the chance to dine in some of Huntsville’s best restaurants and spend some time chatting with the talented teams behind them. I came away both impressed and excited to return soon. Today, I’m sharing a glimpse at Huntsville’s culinary scene. Whether you find yourself in Hunstville visiting the U.S. Space & Rocket Center or hiking one of its scenic trails, you’ll want to be sure to add these restaurants to your “must try” list while you’re in town.
Dinner at Cotton Row will leave you with a whole new understanding of southern hospitality. Think beyond sweet tea and grits; this is dining at its finest, my friends. We stopped in on a Friday night and were duly impressed by every aspect of our experience–from ambiance to service to food.
Step inside the intimately-sized dining room and you’re greeted by upscale urban decor. Exposed brick behind the bar gives way to rustic wooden beams and open duct work overhead. High-back chairs, white linens and warm lighting round out the space, lending a sophisticated, contemporary feel.
Service is impeccable, but not the least bit stuffy. We were greeted almost immediately with the offer to take our coats to the coatroom for safekeeping. It only improved from there. Our server, Chris, was extremely knowledgeable in giving us a brief tour of the menu, complete with recommendations for the specialties of the house. When he learned that we were visiting from out of town, Chris was quick to offer insight into his hometown in a natural, friendly way that never felt wordy. In discussing the cocktail menu, he and my husband, Jeff, discovered a shared affinity for bourbon which resulted in Jeff ordering what he declared to be one of the best drinks he’s ever had.
While ambiance and service help to create a backdrop for any memorable dining experience, we all know that the food takes center stage. Cotton Row did not disappoint in that aspect. We started with a seafood offering that included lobster ravioli, shrimp and octopus. The tastes came together perfectly on the plate. From there, we moved on to entrees. Between the four of us, we tried the nightly seafood special, the chicken, the duck and the short ribs. I can tell you that there was a lot of sharing bites at our table. I can also tell you that when all was said and done, there were four clean plates to go back to the kitchen. Every bite was delicious. Though I’m not complaining, I would even venture to say that menu items are under-priced. I wouldn’t blink an eye at paying fifteen to twenty dollars more per entree when enjoying food of this caliber. We, of course, could not pass up the dessert menu. On trusted advice from our server, we opted for the Peanut Butter and Jelly in Phyllo as well as the Warm Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Crunch Cake. While chocolate is never my first choice, my bite of that offering was quite good.
The chocolate cake, however, was beat out by the peanut butter and jelly in Phyllo.
It sounds odd, right? I know. Oh, but friends. It was a feast of flavor and texture. Sweet strawberry and rich chocolate come together with salty peanuts and gooey marshmallow for a dish only an accomplished chef could pull off with success. After my last bite of it that night I mentioned that Cotton Row should be declared an Alabama state treasure and still today I stand by that statement.
If ever you find yourself in Huntsville, it would be a colossal mistake not to visit Cotton Row. It most assuredly presents an opportunity for fine dining to mix and mingle with southern hospitality.
Located in the quaint little village of Providence, Grille 29 is another Huntsville dining gem. Outside, a beautiful brick building with a patio that looks particularly perfect for cocktail hour welcomes Grille 29 guests. Once inside, warm woods and casual decor will make you feel like this is a restaurant where you’ll become a regular. I imagine that after our move, Jeff and I will do just that. We visited with our kids for lunch on a Friday. The thoughtful hostess was quick to seat us next to a large aquarium in the bar area because she suspected the kids would enjoy it. That they did.
Here again service is top-notch. Max, our server, was attentive and friendly without hovering. We were not kept waiting too long between courses or on drink refills. Max gladly shared his favorite menu items and proudly described dishes the restaurant had won awards for in a local culinary competition.
One of the first things I noticed was Grille 29’s extensive wine list. Whether you’re a fan of sweet Reislings or spicy Zins, Grille 29 has several sippable offerings as well as quite a few creative cocktails–yet another reason why this place strikes me as the perfect spot for happy hour or a casual date night dinner.
During our visit, we enjoyed several of the hearty lunch menu offerings including their yummy Chicken Divine.
Since our visit, Chef Steve has revamped the entire menu, bringing several new creative dishes to life on the plate; Chicken Divine is no longer on the menu. In its place, Chef Steve is putting forth lunch entrees that have me salivating. The Fried Chicken and Pineapple Salad, for instance, sounds so good, as does the New England Lobster Pot Pie. I’m eager to try both of them sometime soon.
When it comes to dessert, Grille 29 knows a thing or two. Their Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffle has won the title of “Best Dessert” in the Taste of Huntsville awards. Consequently, I felt obligated to try it–totally against my will, of course.
I can report back that this particular culinary concoction was (a) every bit as decadent as the photo indicates and (b) worth every single calorie. Furthermore, I can whole-heartedly recommend Grille 29 as an excellent dining choice in Huntsville. As I mentioned before, it strikes me as a great cocktail hour go-to but it’s also a perfect spot for date nights and casual business lunches. Families are welcomed and made to feel right at home, too!
Connors Steak and Seafood
Tucked into one of Huntsville’s upscale outdoor malls–Bridge Street Town Centre–is Connors Steak and Seafood. With dark woods and stone accents, the ambiance at Connors is perfect for an upscale steakhouse. Jeff and I enjoyed dinner here on a chilly Thursday night with the kids. The location couldn’t be more convenient to our hotel, The Westin. We walked to the restaurant in five minutes. I would highly recommend it as a great and convenient alternative to dining within the hotel.
During our visit, our server, Chance, made us instantly comfortable, offering a look at the wine list and water for the table. Given our celebratory moods, both Jeff and I started with a glass of bubbly, though we were tempted by the creative cocktails on the menu. They serve a drink called the Absolut Vodka Strawberry Pineapple Hotness–a fruity beverage that features a Tabasco kick. I was curious, but craving champagne. You can be fairly certain that I’ll give the Strawberry Hotness a go next visit, if for no better reason than the fun name of the drink.
We ordered oysters for the table to start and thoroughly enjoyed the tasty beginning of our meal. From there, I stuck with seafood, opting for the Parmesan Encrusted Alaskan Halibut while my dining companions chose steaks from the menu.
While I can attest to the popularity of the steak, I’m glad I chose the halibut. It was served with a lemon white wine sauce and creamed Asiago spinach. The description alone is mouthwatering, no? Every bite was savored.
Given the generous portions as well as quality of cuisine, Connors Steak and Seafood proves to be a wonderful choice when dining out in Huntsville. I love that it provides an elegant backdrop with quality cuisine while still welcoming families. This would be a perfect spot for a celebratory family meal or a date night.
Located in one of Huntsville’s historic districts downtown, 1892 East is another great option. Stepping inside, it’s immediately apparent that the owners strive to maintain a casual, comfortable ambiance with a classy feel. We stopped in immediately after pulling into town for lunch on a Wednesday afternoon. The dining room bustled with locals. Though all of the tables were full, the pace of both the service staff and diners seemed relaxed and comfortable–I chalk the ease up to southern hospitality perfected. We appreciated the attentive, though laidback service, and, of course, the food.
For my welcome-to-Alabama lunch, I tried a southern favorite, shrimp and grits. In spite of this being a recognized southern specialty, 1892 East’s version takes an unexpected turn by presenting the grits in a fried cake format. Crispy on the outside and tender inside, it served as a tasty base for the sauteed shrimp in a tomato white wine butter sauce.
Jeff, meanwhile, ordered a crispy chicken sandwich served with apple slaw and a whole grain mustard aioli. I have to admit to being tempted by this menu item, too; apple slaw and mustard aioli sound like a culinary match made in heaven, right?
It’s definitely worth noting that 1892 East strives to source locally-grown meats and produce as well as local cheese whenever possible–always a plus in my book.
On the day we visited, we were racing against an impending (and highly unusual, I am assured) snow storm that promised to cripple the city. For that reason, we were not able to linger long enough to enjoy dessert. I suppose that alone is reason enough to return at our earliest convenience.
1892 East strikes me as a wonderful lunch or casual dinner spot. Children are made to feel welcome with crayons and coloring sheets, so this is a perfect choice for families with little ones.