Mise en Place, the French term for having all ingredients prepared before cooking, isn’t just a relic of conventional culinary wisdom. At The Bottle, it’s a driving philosophy and essential ethos. Conveniently located on the corner of Washington Street and Clinton Avenue, chances are you’ve peered through the windows and were enticed by the allure of the fine dining place settings. With napkins meticulously folded at the center of the setting and surrounded by the appropriate utensil arrangement, it doesn’t take long to realize this precision is executed in every single offering on the menu. The Bottle is a place rich in Huntsville history as denoted by the name, an ode to the Huntsville’s Green Bottle Grill where Chef Andy Howery worked as an extern during his time at the California Culinary Academy. While The Bottle is a joint venture between he and Chef Chris McDonald, it’s Chef Andy that is in the trenches of the kitchen every day transforming seasonal ingredients into culinary creations.
Chef Andy wouldn’t have it any other way. I was delighted, even on a busy Friday early evening, that Chef Andy would take the time to speak with me about what keeps The Bottle a Huntsville favorite for so many years. It’s this sort of spirit, dedication to pleasing others, that is apparent the minute you walk through the door. From being received with a warm greeting upon entering to enjoying a masterfully crafted cocktail and conversation while you wait, it’s hard to not feel at home. I even get up to explore the building and, upon my return, and greeted by a variety of dishes, all beautifully plated to magnificent detail.
As I look at each dish that is presented, Chef Andy is quick to emerge from the kitchen and guide the experience as I taste each dish. He explains that The Bottle prides itself in finding the freshest ingredients and creating a menu around what is available. These selections are typically seasonal, so you likely won’t have the same experience twice. Of course, favorites like The Jumbo Lump Crab Cake are mainstays and for good reason. I ask Chef Andy how he manages to find these ingredients. Between Evans Meats out of Birmingham and Sandy Bay Oyster Company from Irvington, AL, Chef Andy takes great pride in locally sourced ingredients and supporting the businesses behind them. I even tell Chef about a recent visit to Seattle where I went to Pike’s Place Market and local chefs could shop each morning. He tells me that if we had a larger farmer’s market in Huntsville that allowed local restaurants first pick before officially opening for the day that he would do something similar.
It’s this commitment to quality that makes this Chef’s tasting experience unique. Here’s what you can expect from Chef Andy and his team at The Bottle:
Freshly source Gulf Shrimp cooks in Corn Stock, a golden broth derived from the natural sugars of the corn, which allows for a savory infusion into the delicate briny flavor of the Shrimp. The Corn Stock adds a slight sweetness which allows the horseradish in the house-made cocktail sauce to pop. This isn’t your boring, from frozen Shrimp Cocktail.
Who doesn’t love a Cheese Platter these days? This one isn’t made for the sake of being trendy and focuses on delivering the freshest cheese and fruit preserves. My platter came with an assortment of Greek Feta, crumbled Blue Cheese dressed in a Walnut reduction, Aged Gorgonzola drizzled with Raspberry Jam, and Creamy Brie topped with Apricot preserve. Surrounded by a collection of crackers, fresh baked Crostinis, Capers, and Olives, this decadent platter is nearly a meal in itself.
Jumbo Lump Crab Cake
It’s easy to mistake this as a giant meatball if you didn’t know what you were getting. Easily the best Crab Cake I’ve had in recent memory, you won’t be disappointed by the sweet, subtle undertones of the crab as it’s paired with breadcrumb and deep-fried. Beurre blanc, an emulsified butter sauce that’s the hallmark of French cuisine, adds a rich creaminess that celebrates the slight saltiness of the crab. Arugula, Pickled Apple Slaw, and Microgreens add a beautiful textural contrast which makes this Crab Cake anything but ordinary.
Pastrami-cured Tuna Tataki
An interesting spin on a Japanese classic, this dish is usually served as a bowl. Black rice, serving as a crunchy and nutty base, is as tasty as it is beautiful against the glowing Tuna. The curing of this fish is simply amazing as it takes on the flavor of Pastrami to the point of needing a reminder you are eating seafood. Freshly made seaweed salad, a little sweeter than traditional versions, brings out the same characteristic of the Nori dusted Tuna.
As Chef Andy put it, this is fusion cuisine in every way. Traditional Southern-inspired dishes are executed to the French standard. Fusion elements are unavoidable when dealing with frequently rotating ingredients, especially in the middle of a pandemic when supply chains can be unpredictable.
What’s Chef’s secret to navigating the unknown? Mise en place.
“If there is any place for OCD, it’s in the kitchen”, Chef Andy explains. Everything, everyone has a place and purpose. There is no corporate driving force to be found here. This restaurant exudes historical excellence not only in a perfect Downtown location but in the stories that you can feel seeping from the walls. I can feel a journey, a life story presented in the food.
“How is The Bottle different from its inspiration the Green Bottle Grill?”, I ask. Turns out the answer is about 30 years of experience and a constantly evolving local restaurant scene. If I were asked to pick a favorite dish, I couldn’t. That’s an impossible task which is an experience Chef Andy almost seems to purposefully curate. Creativity and the willingness to try something new reign supreme.
Next time you pass by The Bottle and look into the 1920s mafia-esque corner booth through the window, know that the best stories are told through food. Go inside and taste history as told by a cornerstone of the fine-dining scene in Huntsville. Be open to new experiences. There’s much to learn about the food, the people, and maybe even yourself.
Growing up between the Washington DC suburbs and Savannah, GA, Brett always found music and food to bridge the gap between the two worlds. Musician, US Army veteran, Software Engineer, dedicated home chef, Brett has worn a variety of proverbial hats and is used to traveling outside his comfort zone in pursuit of new experiences. Whether studying abroad in Greece or deploying to Afghanistan, food and the people involved in the process, became a way to relate to his ever-changing world view.
While an engineering career may have led Brett from Tampa, FL to Huntsville, more importantly, there was a flourishing food scene to explore. After discovering most of his coworkers had no idea what their city had to offer, he started a food blog to catalog his experiences and share recipes that demystify culinary techniques. He has found an audience in fellow foodies and industry professionals alike.
Aside from food, Brett also enjoys building his vinyl collection, sipping craft beer and whiskey, and building websites for small business owners. He loves exploring the city through the stories told by its long-time locals.
Follow Brett (RocketFuel HSV) on Instagram and Facebook.