Becky Satterfield believes that fine dining need not be pretentious. She’s also a woman who gets things done, so in 2005 she created a place “where the family dinner table and fine dining meet.”
Satterfield’s in Cahaba Heights in the Birmingham area is both elegant and comfortable. Large, colorful, contemporary paintings of wines and favorite ingredients add a whimsical touch to rooms where tables are dressed in white cloths and soft lighting flatters the food and the customers.
Extending a warm welcome is important, Satterfield says. “When fine dining is offered in a more relaxed setting, I feel it opens the doors for many more to feel comfortable to come sit at our table.”
Dishes here are sophisticated, plates are beautifully composed and ingredients are time-honored and familiar – like fried okra with Comeback sauce and pan-roasted Gulf snapper with succotash. The kitchen knows how to have fun, and even comfort food is elevated and celebrated. Consider Coca-Cola braised beef short ribs with potato purée, carrots, onions, celery and white cheddar fondue. One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is a poached egg with savory Conecuh sausage, fresh Gulf shrimp, watercress and Grana Padano. Even globally influenced dishes usually have a Southern twist, as when Carolina Gold rice and bok choy come together in an Asian-inspired dish starring steelhead trout.
The cocktails shaken and stirred in Satterfield’s stylish and popular bar are a mix of modern libations and respected classics. The G&T is made with Bombay dry gin, cranberry tonic, orange and thyme. The Oak-Aged Manhattan mixes Benchmark bourbon, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, Berg & Hauck’s orange bitters, Angostura bitters and Heering Cherry Liqueur. Corpse Reviver #2 is probably the most famous cocktail from Harry Craddock’s “The Savoy Cocktail Book” (written in 1930). Satterfield’s bartenders do it right with Bombay dry gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, fresh lemon and a Lucid Absinthe Supérieure rinse.
From the beginning, Satterfield has been committed to what’s local – the food she serves, the people who grow it, her customers and her community.
She recently hired Tripp Mauldin as the restaurant’s executive chef, and his approach to food clearly mirrors her own. A native Alabamian who enjoyed a family garden growing up, Mauldin graduated from the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Colorado and then honed his skills with some of the top talent in the San Francisco Bay area, including James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Mina and Sylvain Portay. He most recently was with chef Chris Hastings – another James Beard Award winner – at The Side-by-Side in Tuscaloosa.
“We bring in seasonal ingredients and let those ingredients shine at the peak of their seasonality,” Mauldin says. “I’m not necessarily making it simple, but letting the main ingredient shine and putting the proper components with it. We’re using a lot of winter squashes, a lot of root vegetables – beets and carrots and turnips and greens – collard greens and turnip greens – and a lot of mushrooms right now.”
But that’s right now. This restaurant follows the seasons, so in six months the menu will look quite different. In fact, this menu is not even the same from day to day.
“We work with the local farmers, the farmers market and local purveyors to bring in the best product at the best part of the season,” Mauldin says. In addition to the Alabama Farmers Market on Finley Avenue, Satterfield’s relies on Snow’s Bend Farm in Tuscaloosa; Habersham Farms in Mentone; forager Tim Pfitzer with Herb Inc.; Henry Fudge’s heritage pork from his Madison-based Fudge Family Farms; Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia; and Evans Meats & Seafood, to name a few local and regional connections.
Because the menu changes daily, it creates excitement for the customers as well as the staff, Mauldin says. Staff members share their enthusiasm with friendly, attentive service in every corner of the restaurant – the main dining room, the full-service bar, the outdoor patio, the cozy private dining room and the busy chef’s counter.
Mauldin says he especially enjoys his interaction with diners at the chef’s counter. “It’s a great way to talk to the customers and get to know them, find out their preferences – their likes and dislikes. You can kind of navigate with them through the menu. And a lot of people will watch us work before they order. They’ll say, ‘I want that, and I want that.’”
The restaurant business is actually a second act for Becky Satterfield. “After my daughter went to college in San Francisco,” she says, “I knew that I had to change gears into the next phase – empty nester – so I decided to go to culinary school at Culinard.”
Satterfield approached her new life with gusto. She became a pastry chef and is a founding member and the current president of the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, a worldwide organization of professional women in food, wine and hospitality with a mission of education, advocacy, mentoring and philanthropy. The chapter recently awarded its first educational scholarship to a Birmingham woman pursuing her own culinary career. Satterfield and her fellow Dames will mentor this woman as she makes her own way in the business.
That’s how it works, Satterfield says. “There are so many contributing factors to being a woman in this business, as opportunities open all the time. I have found that one thing leads to another and another and another.”
3161 Cahaba Heights Road
Birmingham, AL 35243
Dinner served Monday-Thursday 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 10 p.m. Bar opens each day at 4.