Dean Robb and James “Huck” Huckaby call it a “perfect marriage.”
Some two decades after working together at chef Frank Stitt’s famed Bottega Restaurant and Cafe, and then moving on to successful careers elsewhere, they are reuniting at Blueprint on 3rd – the newest culinary attraction at Birmingham’s Pepper Place.
Robb hired the then-inexperienced but enthusiastic Huckaby when Robb was managing partner at Bottega. Huckaby then moved down the street to Stitt’s flagship Highlands Bar & Grill, and then helped Stitt open Chez Fonfon before leaving for other opportunities.
Robb went on to open restaurants in Nashville and later helped create the now-closed Dodiyo’s Restaurant in Homewood with George Sarris of the iconic Fish Market Restaurant on the city’s Southside before taking an executive post with the Taziki’s Mediterranean Café organization. The job with Taziki’s had Robb constantly on the road, across the South and beyond.
Now the two can’t hide their excitement about “Blueprint” – which is slated to open June 19 in the old Birmingham Blue Print Co. building on Third Avenue South, next to Hop City Craft Beer & Wine. Huckaby will serve as executive chef.
“It was Dean’s idea,” Huckaby said of Blueprint, but the menu is a Robb-Huckaby close collaboration.
“I’m excited about everything on the menu,” which ranges from a BLT tortellini with oven roasted tomatoes, bacon, wild watercress and garlic; to duck and dumplings with locally grown mushrooms, spring Vidalia petals and charred carrots. “We’re taking a lot of known foods and putting our twist on it,” Huckaby said.
“We’ve got the plenty of the world in the Southeast,” Robb explained, and the menu is built around the region’s natural bounty.
“It’s true American food, with a little bit of New Orleans,” Robb added, with dishes like fried whole Mississippi catfish with low country hushpuppy salad and crawfish aioli, or steamed mussels with local beer and crawfish sausage.
Huck’s Roasted Beet Salad combines local roasted beets, tiny French pickles called cornichons, walnuts, apples, shallots, arugula and goat cheese. On a steamy Saturday morning, samples of the tangy, cool and yet creamy salad hit the spot among market visitors, who lined up for a taste.
Huck’s Roasted Beet Salad
1 cup roasted local beets, cut in wedges
1 ounce cornichons, cut in half
1 ounce roasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 ounce honey crisp apple, cut in wedges
1 ounce sliced shallots
½ ounce arugula, leave leaves whole
1 ounce sherry vinegar
1 ounce extra virgin olive oil
1 ounce goat cheese
Mix cornichons, walnuts, apple, shallots and arugula in a large mixing bowl. Add beets and oil and vinegar to taste and toss again. Garnish with goat cheese.