RTJ Trail Dining
Granted, most of Alabama's dining options are generally not listed among the world's best, but the state definitely has come on strong in recent years, with Birmingham leading the way.
FISH HOUSE EATERY
(Seafood) 805 South Mobile Street, Fairhope; 251-929-2322. $
This aptly named fish joint opened right down the street from the Grand Hotel last year. When you are on the Gulf, you should eat like you are on the Gulf. Oysters, shrimp or crab claws . . . take your pick.
HIGHLANDS BAR AND GRILL
(French Eclectic) 2011 Eleventh Avenue South, Birmingham; 205-939-1400. $$$
Highlands is a must-visit on the Trail. Last year chef and owner Frank Stitt won the James Beard award for the best chef in the Southeast, and the restaurant was also named fifth best in the country by Gourmet magazine in 2001. Typical of the Southern gourmet style is the starter of stone-ground baked grits with country ham.
HOT AND HOT FISH CLUB
(New American) 2180 Eleventh Court South, Birmingham; 205-933-5474. $$$
Christopher (chef) and Idie (manager) Hastings opened this restaurant in 1995, and it is a big open space with custom-made steel tables and chairs that create a stark urban feel. As for the food, some locals argue that it's better than Highlands' fare. The menu changes seasonally and, like Highlands, is not afraid to add a Southern flair.
(American) 1604 Quintard Avenue, Anniston; 256-236-0503. $$
As the name and address suggest, this is the Victoria inn's restaurant, but you'll see locals as well as guests taking advantage of the fine food. Look for typical standbys such as tenderloin and tuna.
(American) 405 Cloverdale Road, Montgomery; 334-264-8463. $$$
Located in downtown Montgomery, this restaurant has been a city staple for twenty years. It is easy to see why. The food is simple yet excellent, and the atmosphere in the dark, well-boothed lounge is Rat Pack cool. The sesame-crusted halibut stays on the menu for a reason.
THE WAREHOUSE BISTRO AND PUB
(Eclectic) 105 Rocket Avenue, Opelika; 334-745-6353. $$$
Joe Hippely, owner and chef, opened this restaurant eight years ago in a former Budweiser warehouse about fifteen minutes outside of Auburn. The decor isn't the finest, but people often travel from Montgomery and other outlying cities for the food.
Barbeque to Alabama is like pasta to Italy; enjoy it while you are there because you'll rarely find it any better. Go with the pork sandwiches and get some coleslaw on the side. After an arduous scientific examination, here's the short list: The Original Golden Rule Bar-B-Q, Birmingham; 205-956-2678. Mike & Ed's Bar-B-Q, Auburn; 334-501-1866. Pruett's Bar-B-Q and Catfish, Gadsden; 256-547-4118. Fat Boy's Bar-B-Que Ranch, Prattville; 334-358-4227.