By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
All the flavors of the South, even the South of France, come to mind when you mention Birmingham’s Little Savannah restaurant.
Owners Clif and Maureen Holt, both Southern born and bred, spent a year exploring, eating and drinking their way through France. They absorbed much of the country’s love for freshly grown fruits, vegetables, artisan cheeses and wines.
When the couple, each of whom had previous experience in the food service industry, decided to open their own restaurant in 2003, they knew that they wanted to become known for their use of fresh, locally grown foods. Today, ten years later, that’s just what people think of in conjunction with Little Savannah.
The rich flavors of farm grown eggs with saffron yolks yield wonderful dishes, the crisp green lettuces and ripe red tomatoes for Little Savannah’s salads are what makes their restaurant such a delightful place to dine!
Their journey has culminated in an explosion of regional southern cuisine. They love using all kinds of fresh, clean, locally grown produce because there really is a difference in serving fresh as opposed to canned or frozen foods.
Clif developed the menu while Maureen came up with the cocktail and wine list. Each compliments the other. “We always bounce ideas off of each other,” Maureen explained.
The ambiance of Little Savannah is also reminiscent of the Southern roots from which they came. Reclaimed church pews and even a pulpit from an old church give the restaurant a charm that is missing in many upscale eateries.
Maureen came from a family of nine children. Her parents, who came from Pennsylvania, cooked hardy dinners for them every night.
Clif, originally from right here in Cullman, son of Jean and Dodd Holt, grew up eating farm fresh food, too.
This weekend, the Holts will bring a taste of Little Savannah to Cullman. “We’ve done food demonstrations at the Festhalle Market but we have never served a formal, elegant meal here like the upcoming Farm-to-Fork dinner,” said an excited Maureen.
“We are looking forward to serving locally grown foods to the very people who are responsible for growing it!” she exclaimed.
The Holts are passionate about where their food comes from, and are committed to passing that knowledge along to their customers and to the world. “All this wonderful food starts with a seed,” said Maureen. “Meeting the people who planted those seeds and grow all this food for us is very important. We have a relationship with the farmers who provide food for our restaurant. Everyone should know where their food comes from.
“If the Food Network would get some of the chefs off of the shows and introduce some of the farmers who grow the food, people would have a much better understanding of what is going into their bodies,” she said.
The Holts feel responsible for seeing to it that the word gets out there — know what you are eating, know your farmers.
The Farm Y’All Festival kicks off with a formal dinner Friday evening, Aug. 23. The festival begins the following day with games, contests, great food, including fried pies and homemade ice cream, cooking demonstrations, and the weighing-in of the giant pumpkins. Come out and join the fun.
For more details, visit www.farmyall.com or contact the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce at 256-734-0454.
Quinoa Salad with Fruit
1 c. organic quinoa
3 c. spring water
2 tsp. salt
2 cups sliced strawberries
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 c. white Balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. high quality EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Healthy pinch of finely ground black pepper
2 spring Vidalia onions
1 c. fresh blueberries
1/2 c. toasted pecans, broken coarsely
1 bunch arugula
5 large basil leaves
Place quinoa in a bowl and cover with cold water, let sit for 5 minutes. Strain and rinse until water runs clear. Bring 3 cups of spring water to a boil then add salt and quinoa; bring to a boil and reduce heat to low and cover for 15 minutes. Drain any excess water and cool.
Combine strawberries with lemon zest, juice and white balsamic, macerating for 10 minutes. Remove and reserve strawberries and blend oil into remaining liquid.
Roast or grill onions whole and dice once cooled.
Combine gently the berries with diced onion, quinoa, almond and arugula. Mix in vinaigrette and torn basil leaves. Serve promptly as the arugula will wilt quickly.
Summer Tomato Panzanella
4 c. tomatoes, cut into large chunks
4 c. day old (somewhat dry and hard) crusty bread (Italian or French loaf), cut into chunks the same size as the tomatoes
1 cucumber, skinned and seeded, cut into large chunks
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, torn into little pieces
1/4 to 1/2 c. good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix everything together and let marinate, covered, at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, up to 12 hours. Do not refrigerate or you will destroy the texture of the tomatoes. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.
Larded Beef Tenderloin
1 each 8-9 ounce beef tenderloin filet
1/2 lb. fatty bacon
Medium ground black pepper
Larding needle (optional)
Begin with the best quality beef and bacon possible. Set oven to 375º, then slice bacon into thin square strips that resemble a French fry (approximately quarter inch by quarter inch and 3-4 inches long depending on width of filet). Place on a cooling rack with a drip pan and render in the oven for 5-7 minutes. Reserve fat. Bacon should still be pliable and not over cooked. Remove from oven, allow bacon to cool for 15 minutes, transfer to freezer for 1 hour.
Remove filets from refrigerator and bacon strips from freezer. With a sharp pairing knife, cut 2 slits in one side of filet then 2 more perpendicular and on the opposite side of the filet face. Completely insert frozen bacon into 4 slits through the tenderloin. A larding needle will make for much easier work of this process.
Coat each filet with reserved bacon fat, season with salt and pepper, then to the awaiting grill. Cook to desired temperature. Summer Sides: Bacon Cornbread Panzanella.
Goat Cheese Ice Cream
2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. milk
4 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
3 T. corn syrup
4 oz. goat cheese
Prepare an ice water bath. Bring the cream and milk to a boil. Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar and slowly pour in some of the hot cream to temper the eggs. Pour the eggs into the cream and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and steam rises from the top. Whisk together the corn syrup and goat cheese and then whisk this mixture into the cream mixture until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and chill over the ice water bath. Freeze in an ice cream machine. Keep frozen until ready to use. Yield: approximately 3 cups
Summer Peach & Crème Brulee
1 qt. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 c. vanilla sugar, divided
8 lg. egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 325º. Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7- to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to using. Cut peaches in half, lengthwise, and remove pit. With a melon grapefruit spoon, remove red center from peach. Scoop a healthy spoonful of the custard andfill the hollowed peach half.
Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the peach halves and spread evenly on top. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for a few minutes before serving.
Black & Blueberry Compote
1-1/2 c. fresh blueberries
1 c. fresh blackberries
1/3 c. water
2 drops sherry vinegar
1/4 c. honey
Combine blackberries and blueberries, honey and 1/3 cup water in heavy small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until berries burst, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Cook until compote coats spoon, stirring often, about 8 minutes. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill). Serve warm with Peach Crème Brulee or over Goat Cheese Ice Cream.