Auburn Restaurants Awards
Get a taste of our best dishes of 2022.
Food Writer and Publisher, Jan Walsh shares her favorite Auburn Restaurants food memories of 2022, in our inaugural Fan Favorites Awards. In future years, starting in 2023, we will also include Fan Favorites of our readers, who have downloaded Auburn Restaurants App.
Auburn Restaurants initial group of Founding Member Restaurants stands in ovation and on the shoulders of the restauranteurs and chefs that made Auburn a foodie city. The brand-new and the old guard must now join hands, in support of each other, as their interests are aligned, in redefining Auburn as, more than a culinary city but a culinary destination. And Auburn Restaurants + App is here for them all as we invite more Founding Members throughout 2023, to join our curated culinary community.
1856 - Culinary Residence: Foie Apple with “Frenchie” Viennoiserie Bread
1856 – A Culinary Residence is an upscale teaching restaurant, named after the year of Auburn University’s founding, anchoring the first floor of the new Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center. Students in the Auburn University College of Human Sciences Hospitality Management Program will work under the guidance of a Chef in Residence to prepare and serve an à la carte lunch menu and tasting menu format during dinner service.
An unforgettable food memory from Fall 2022 at 1856 – Culinary Residence, is the Foie Apple course, which has Chefs Tyler and Jennifer Lynes signature all over it. I have previously had the peach version at their Tasting TBL in Birmingham. Be it peach, apple, orange, etc., each is a dramatic work of art and a divine concoction. The apple is a sculpture of foie gras, apple bavarois, along with rosemary quince puree. 1856 – Culinary Residence’s Master Sommelier, Thomas Price pairs this dish with Saint M, Riesling, 2020 from Pfalz, Germany. Elegant notes of apple and citrus marry well with the apple glazed art. The wine also has a lovely balance of sweetness and acidity. Also accompanying the apple is the Lynes’ signature “Frenchie” bread. The viennoiserie bread is the namesake of their restaurant, Frenchie, coming to Birmingham’s Southside in early 2023. Difficult to imagine that a bread could stand up to such a dish. Yet Frenchie bread is also unreal, soft, light, buttery inside and crusty on the outside, perfect for slathering the foie apple atop.
Ariccia Cucina Italiano: Tiramisu Cheesecake
Ariccia Cucina Italiana is Auburn’s Italian restaurant, which opened in 2001 in partnership with Auburn University and its sister campus in Ariccia, Italy. Here Executive Chef Marc Osier executes Italian excellence, incorporating fresh seasonal products, house made focaccia, wood fired pizzas, Italian cheeses, and Italian meats, including their signature Porchetta.
I typically do not order tiramisu. Although some restaurants do it well. More often, I find it to be a mushy mess. But Tiramisu Cheesecake? Now you are speaking my language. This dreamy dessert layers cocoa, creamy yet light cheesecake, and espresso-soaked lady fingers into one tidy and tasty dish.
Hey Day Market Food Hall
Adjacent to the main entrance of the Tony & Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, Hey Day Market Food Hall's bright and airy 10,000-square-foot food hall welcomes students, the local community, as well as visitors and alumni returning to campus. Beyond the end zone of the lawn is the future home of the Micro Brewery and Tap Room, scheduled to open March 2023. The namesake of Auburn’s tradition of HEY DAY, which dates back to WWII, when the Auburn family gathers wearing name tags and greets each other by name. Today, Hey Day Market is where Auburn’s campus and community gather.
From the moment I first walked in the door, I dubbed it, “Food Hall Heaven.” This global food map of eateries lure with colorful neon signage and a world of options, inviting me to eat with my eyes. I am in good company as these fresh, fast food stalls and bar are among the go to favorite Auburn restaurants for Auburn students, faculty, residents, and visitors. In addition to Hey Day Market, three of its eateries are also Founding Members of Auburn Restaurants: La Cubanita, Pizzeria Ariccia, and Saint Bernardo Gelateria.
La Cubanita: Cubano
La Cubanita is the place to find authentic Cuban sandwiches in Auburn. At La Cubanita Auburn, classic pressed Cuban sandwiches are prepared in the traditions of old Havana. Ham, mojo pork, yucca and plantain chips, and traditional Cuban drinks round out every meal. If you are craving a Cuban sandwich or never had one, I recommend Cubano. This Cuban pressed sandwich is a tasty, stack of ham, mojo pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mayo, and mustard on toasted, grilled, and Cuban bread.
Pizzeria Ariccia: Porchetta Pizza
On my first visit to Hey Day Market, “they had me at” Pizzeria Ariccia. Entering from the side, back door, it was the last of the stalls on my walk down this carnival like experience. Pizzeria Ariccia is situated beside the front, main doors, yet I had spotted the flames from the pizza oven, from the back. Watching students prepare fresh pizzas and carefully placing and removing them with a log, shovel like, wooden peel had my mouth watering. And as I approached Pizzeria Ariccia, aromas of fennel sausage, garlic, wine cured pepperoni, peppers, and porchetta seal the deal. This will be my first taste of Hey Day Market. I order the Porchetta and watch as it is prepared. Meanwhile a Pepperoni pizza is removed from the oven, making me question my choice. Yet as my Porchetta Pizza is served, I am pleased at first sight. Generous portions of aromatic, savory, and flavorful porchetta crown this perfect pie along with Peperonata sauce and bubbling mozzarella, creating a scrumptious synthesis in every bite.
Saint Bernardo Gelateria: Chocolate Gelato
Saint Bernardo Gelateria serves a vibrant and delicious mix of flavors, both traditional and fun. This gelato makes an incredible dessert to any meal at Hey Day Market. But I would also come here just for the gelato. Saint Bernardo Gelateria’s Chocolate Gelato is the best I have ever tasted anywhere, deep, dark, and divine. Don’t miss the seasonal and holiday flavors. You can also find their gelatos at Ariccia Cucina Italiano restaurant.
PONKO Chicken: Chicken Tenders & Fries
PONKO Chicken is home of the Award-Winning Japanese American Chicken Tender made from scratch in small batches, one chicken tender at a time. After two trips to the ER, I always ask what is in the fryer before ordering fried foods. Typically, this brings puzzled looks on servers faces. Most often they do not know and head to the kitchen to ask the chef or cook. Not at PONKO, they are so proud to cook with Non GMO Rice Bran Oil that it is front and center on the menu along with a list of its health benefits. Extracted from the outer bran or husk of rice grains, rice bran oil has a high smoke point, making it a great option for high-heat cooking. It is often used in various cuisines of South and East Asian countries and is a “go to” oil for stir fry.
PONKO Chicken’s Team, led by Matthew Ventimiglia, surprised us at our Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting in December 2022, with scrumptious trays of PONKO Chicken and PONKO Fries. Remarkably, by the time we cut the ribbon both the chicken and fries were still piping hot on this cold day. I am told they just get juicer as they sit, making PONKO Catering’s Menu a popular option. One bite, and I delight in the best chicken fingers I have ever tasted! The outside is crisp, golden, and enhanced by mild, nuttiness from frying in the rice bran oil, yet does not overpower the tenders. Inside the white chicken is juicy and pristine. The fries are also outstanding and among the best! PONKO also offers a variety of healthy sides, plates, sandwiches, salads, hotdog, and more with vegan, veggie, and gluten free options.
Rooftop Lounge: Toasting the Town
The Laurel Hotel & Spa’s Rooftop Lounge takes Auburn Restaurants to new heights! Rooftop Lounge is open to the public for nights on the town. For a before dinner drink, a night cap, or light eats, I head up to Rooftop Lounge, where open seating is available with reservation and nominal cover charge.
Here I get a bee’s eye view of the current scenes and happenings of Samford Hall and downtown Auburn, including Jordan Hare Stadium. The menu is divided into cold apps, hot apps, and desserts, along with cocktails, wines, beers, and spirits. And I am delighted to find three sparkling wines on the list, from California to Italy. My level of relaxation also rises with each tiny bubble of the rising effervescence as the sun goes down.
Taco Mama: The Sizzler Taco Basket
I might be new to Auburn’s culinary scene, but Taco Mama and I are old friends. Taco Mama’s five Birmingham metro locations are loyal Member Restaurants at BirminghamRestaurants.com + App. From the start, Taco Mama’s plans were well-conceived and deliberate: from the people, design, music, food, to the margaritas. They all have the Taco mama “feel.” And patrons feel it in this happy colorful War Eagle atmosphere, which includes a hand selected playlist that plays the exact same tunes in all Taco Mama locations at the same time. The Feel also exudes from every happy member of Taco Mama’s friendly and efficient staff. And most importantly it is tasted it in every bite of Taco Mama’s vibrant fare and hand shaken margaritas.
The Sizzler Taco Basket has long been a Taco Mama favorite of mine. My three soft, scrumptious tacos are filled with grilled, tender, steak tenderloin, grilled onions, fresh avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, which melt and meld together, made even better by this beauty—red chile butter sauce. And when in season, the Blood Orange Margarita is a must!
Vintage 2298: Sunrise Caught Trigger Fish
Chef, Owner Randall Baldwin's new Auburn restaurant, Vintage 2298 is a tribute to his mother, Nancy. She taught him to cook as a boy and encouraged him to become a chef. Chef Baldwin's deep coastal roots are Mobile County. A Culinary Institute of America (NY) graduate, who has been a chef at some of the finest restaurants in Birmingham, Chef Baldwin brings his heritage and expertise to the table at Vintage 2298, where fine dining meets Southern comfort. Vintage 2298 locally and regionally sourced menu changes daily, and includes a variety of meats and foul. In the restaurant with him, is Randall’s leading lady, wife, partner in life and in the restaurant, Laura manages the everything from the back office to the front of the house.
Chef, Owner Randall Baldwin recently hosted Auburn Restaurants for our private Grand Launch Luncheon at Vintage 2298. What a fabulous feast! And the Sunrise Caught Trigger Fish was a standout! This fish dish originated from his mom’s Shrimp Creole recipe. Chef Randall evolved it into this lighter, broth style dish. His broth is made of Gulf shrimp shells, and their plump and succulent shrimp are cooked in the “red rice,” not red in color, but rice that is red with tomatoes. The Holy Trinity (carrots, onions, and celery) and bits of Conecuh Sausage further fulfill its flavor profile. Fresh parsley, dill, and lemon brighten this incredibly interesting dish, and Tabasco adds a touch of heat. Boasting hickory grill marks, a filet of light, white, and sweet triggerfish crowns his classic new creation. This dish is made to order, also accounting for its freshly built flavors. Catch it if you can!
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