A Day in Birmingham: Veranda on Highland

27 May 2011
Expensive ($26 and up)
Outside Madison County
3 out of 5

Veranda on Highland

Birmingham is a special city to Shane and me. I was born there, we were married there, and we’ve spent lots of time there on little getaways. Since it’s only an hour and a half to the south of Huntsville, it’s a convenient place to go when we want to get out of town for a day or two. We did just that last weekend and both tried a new spot to eat and visited two of our favorites in the Magic City. So, take a day trip and enjoy yourself! Five Points is a vibrant, hip area of Birmingham that is packed with tasty eats. You can find the trendiest and most awarded restaurants in town here, including Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar and Grill, a James Beard nominee for three consecutive years. In the same neck of the woods is Veranda on Highland, serving local southern cuisine with an emphasis on sophisticated presentation. The atmosphere at Veranda is exceptional; the restaurant is in a 1920s southern home that is both impressive and cozy at the same time.

Crabmeat and Corn Beignets

To start, we ordered jumbo lump crabmeat and corn beignets served with pickled okra tartar sauce. The beignets were light and sweet from the crabmeat and corn, and the tartar sauce added just the right amount of tanginess to the dish. Although it was good, it didn’t blow either of us away. We ordered our entrees, still in search of a mind-blowing dish. I chose the Tanglewood Farms All Natural Airline Chicken Breast, which was described as being served with dried cherries, orzo pasta, teardrop romatoes, baby spinach, crumbled feta, and orange horseradish au jus (apparently, fine dining descriptions must be verbose). I was intrigued by the mix of flavors presented in this one dish. The dish could have easily been overpowering with strong flavors like feta and horseradish, but it was balanced nicely. The sour cherries and orange added a nice brightness to a dish that could’ve been heavy-handed. Although it was well prepared and beautifully presented, it lacked that wow factor I was looking for.

Airline Chicken Breast

Shane (speaking about himself in the third person) ordered the Veranda Mixed Grill, described as “Double Cut Colorado Lamb Chops, Rabbit and Venison Sausage, Lyonnaise Sweet Potatoes, Apple Bacon Braised Greens and Roasted Beet Salad, Drizzled with a Green Peppercorn Roasted Pepper Jus”. In simpler terms and as the picture below shows, it was a pile of lamb, sweet potatoes, and greens adorned with sausage and beets. The lamb tasted fine. I’ve enjoyed lamb only a few times before, and it matched my untrained expectations for flavor and texture. The greens had a nice flavor, but the greens at Watercress were better. The sausage also had a pleasant rustic flavor, but it was a bit tough and lacked the uncommon flavor I was hoping to get from rabbit and deer. Unfortunately, it was not noticeably tastier than quality charcoal grilled pork sausage. I did appreciate the accompanying beet salad, which lacked the obnoxious flavor of most beet dishes I’ve had before. On the whole, the food tasted fine, and it contained the requisite number of costly fine dining ingredients, but it wasn’t exceptional. I wasn’t irritated at the dish, but for the cost I expected more.Veranda Mixed GrillFor our finale, we ordered the dessert recommended by our fabulous waiter: peanut butter pie with chocolate ganache and peanut brittle. The pie was beautifully presented and had a light and creamy texture. The rich ribbon of chocolate ganache in the middle was a nice touch; who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter? My one complaint about the pie was its crust. The menu described it as peanut brittle, yet there was nothing brittle about it. It was a bit soggy and didn’t add anything to the pie. Again, this dish was tasty, but it didn’t wow our tastebuds. Although Veranda on Highland gave us an good meal, it did not give us an excellent meal. Each dish was solid, but there was not one memorable dish that will keep us coming back.

Peanut Butter Pie

A few more thoughts:

  • Veranda’s exceptional offering is its atmosphere. Soft lighting, earthtone walls, wood floors, simple and attractive decor—it clearly is designed to be and truly is a nice place to enjoy a good meal.
  • They don’t serve sweet tea. That would be forgivable if they provided a simple syrup to add to the unsweet tea, but it was nowhere to be found. And, for the record, five packets of sugar did little to help.
  • As is expected in a fine dining experience, our waiter was attentive, kind, and gracious. Likewise, the maître d’ was friendly, professional, and inviting.
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