Frank Stitt’s Bottega Cafe: BLT and a Filet o’ Fish?

Bottega’s impressive architecture
Bottega’s impressive architecture

“I drove 250 miles for a BLT and a Filet o’ Fish?!”

Well, no. Maybe. Kind of. Pretty much, yes. But these were so much better than that!

The Squad hit the road this weekend and headed to Atlanta to squeeze some culture into Squirrelly, Jr. Of course, that meant we had trip planning to do, and trip planning means meal planning for us. Our Atlanta meals were planned quickly (more on that later), so we were left with our road food decision. We decided we could get out of Memphis early enough to make it to Birmingham for supper.

Now, when I was growing up, we used to go through Birmingham on our way to Huntsville or to see my uncle in Cullman. Frankly, Birmingham just wasn’t an exciting destination back then. Thankfully, times have changed.

Frank Stitt has done some wonderful things for food in Birmingham. We didn’t want to go all out and spend our whole weekend budget at Highlands or Chez Fonfon, but Papa and I really wanted to try out a Frank Stitt restaurant.

We decided to have supper at Bottega Café, the more relaxed (and inexpensive) side of Bottega Restaurant. We got there right at 8:00 on a Friday night, so, since the Café doesn’t take reservations, we had a 45 minute wait. Teh Boy had been sleeping along to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band all the way there, so he was okay with having some time to wake up. The wait also gave us some extra time to appreciate the great architectural space that is Bottega Café and sneak a few peeks into their very busy kitchen.

Bottega tea
Iced tea and mint simple syrup

Of course, the first question once we were seated was what we would like to drink. Sweet tea, of course. But they only have unsweetened. Horrors! We figured that we could suffer through it, though. When our waiter brought out our beverages, sure enough there was the tell-tale tea spoon and regulation artificial sweetener packets. But there were also brown cubes of turbinado and a cute little pitcher of what looked like water. Hmm. We were very excited to learn that it wasn’t water. It was mint simple syrup. Who needs sugar, natural or otherwise? We were in iced tea heaven!

Grilled polenta
Grilled polenta

We started our meal with grilled polenta with mushrooms and little sausages. The polenta was grilled crispy on the outside with just the perfect touch of char and was wonderfully creamy in the middle. The sausages and mushrooms were a great complement.

For his entree, Teh Boy ordered the baked stuffed shells with a side salad. The pasta shells were stuffed with a ricotta and sausage mixture and were topped with a rich tomato sauce. He devoured it in short order and had to be restrained from licking out the last bits of his “chesse mush”. He liked the salad, too.

Spinach and pancetta piadine
Spinach and pancetta piadine

Papa decided to try one of the piadines from the menu, a flat bread topped with salad and folded. He chose #3: spinach, roast garlic, pancetta and grilled red onion with fontina. It was warm, large, and very much a delicious upscale version of a BLT. The spinach was fresh and crisp, the strips of pancetta were rich and savory, and the melted fontina held it all together.

I chose the panino di pesce of the day: wild striped bass served on Bottega’s wonderful salty-crusted foccacia with onion marmalade, romaine and caper mayonnaise. Yep. A Filet o’ Fish. But what a Filet o’ Fish! The grilled bass was meltingly light, and the condiments complemented without overpowering.

Caramel pot de crème and gelati
Caramel pot de crème and gelati

Surely you can guess that we had room for dessert. Teh Boy chose gelati, a trio of coffee, vanilla and chocolate served in a cookie tuile bowl with strawberries and raspberries with chocolate chip cookies on the side. Papa went for the tiramisu. Bottega’s tiramisu is based on a beautifully rich polenta pound cake. It was different and we all loved it. I decided on the caramel pot de crème with pistachio biscotti. The caramel pudding was rich with vanilla bean flecks and was topped with fresh whipped cream. It was a perfect comfort dessert.

So, yes. We did drive 250 miles for a BLT and a Filet o’ Fish. And we won’t hesitate to do it again. Next time, though, we’ll be making Birmingham our destination instead of a stop on the way to somewhere else.

Three Acorns
Bottega Café
2240 Highland Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35205
(205) 933-2001

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