Words by Mary Alayne B. Long
Chef Chris Hastings and his wife Idie are two names that have long been synonymous with the Southern restaurant scene. Hot and Hot Fish Club, their original Birmingham staple, holds a place of honor on the map and is a favorite of foodies everywhere. Stories of the famed Upside Down Plaza building where Hot and Hot made its home for twenty five years are not hard to come by. From celebrities to your everyday Joe, the people who walked through the doors are as varied as the items on the ever changing menu.
Idie, a talented business woman in her own right, and Chef Hastings nurtured this restaurant like their third child, all the while raising their two boys—Vincent and Zeb—right there in the kitchen with them. That kitchen, an open setting surrounded by barstools, was the first of its kind in Birmingham. Having the opportunity to see your food being prepared right in front of you opened the eyes of many who never knew all that went in to making a great meal and also nurtured relationships between patrons and the many chefs who found their way there. Many of those chefs went on to start their own restaurants after spending time under the careful eyes of Chef Hastings.
The move to the new location at Birmingham’s much loved Pepper Place caught many old time fans off guard. With The Hastings’ Oven Bird only a block away, it was a perfect fit when the owners of the original location sold out to a developer. Once it was clear that Hot and Hot would continue to thrive just a stone’s throw away; a sigh of relief was heard all across the South. After learning that this long time favorite would survive, the second thought on everyone’s mind was the floor. That famous tile floor from years gone by was a staple of the original location and it only takes one step inside the new front door to find yourself stepping on circles cut from that unmistakable pattern. Chef had the brilliant idea to cut sections and transport them to the new place, creating a sort of hopscotch pathway connecting the old and the new. It was a stroke of genius and provides a touchstone of sorts for those of us who have so many fond memories of the not so hidden gem that Hot and Hot was for so many years.
Special touches are evident throughout the new space. The open kitchen has been repeated here and is an exact replica of the original. The all too familiar antique hall tree used as a hostess stand is present as well. And the centerpiece, a hand made bar from Alabama Sawyer, immediately catches the eye as you enter. Of course, the main attraction here is the food and I can assure you there are great surprises in store. That ever changing menu will continue to delight with a plethora of carefully curated dishes along with some delightful cocktails. The new, wonderfully creative R&D Menu features items such as: Flour, Water, Eggs, Noodle Bowl, Offal and Fish Head. Chef Hastings’ is even bringing out some of his most asked for old standards and of course, that famous chocolate soufflé is making a comeback as well.
Even during the pandemic, The Hastings continued to support the Birmingham community by offering take out menus and providing complimentary meals to hospital workers. And while they were forced to close their doors for a time; they returned rather triumphantly by offering their renowned Hot and Hot Tomato Salad for exclusive curbside pick up orders. On their first weekend back in business they quickly sold out after packing up over 600 to-go boxes with those famous salads. The recent addition of strawberry shortcake to the take away choices has been a huge success and if you are fortunate to find yourself nearby on a Saturday morning during the Pepper Place Farmer’s Market—they’ll gladly provide you with a bloody mary or mimosa as well. The overwhelming popularity of their pandemic fare led them to test the waters at Oven Bird with a special Mother’s Day menu a few weeks ago; something they had never tried before, and in no time at all they sold 385 meals. Soon, they’ll be debuting a new summer menu there as well, so get your taste buds ready.Idie and Chris have great concern for the health and well being of not only their patrons but also for their devoted staff and therefore are being especially cautious with their careful planning as they move toward a renewed normalcy. In the meantime, if you’re local, you can call in an order today. Or if you’re like me—you can drive four hours to get a little taste of the magic that only Hot and Hot can provide. A trip well worth the time and effort. And no matter where you are, mark your calendar for June 2nd when they plan to reopen the doors (and patios) of this Southern landmark. Ovenbird too. And then will you be able and see for yourself how they’ve made the transition with style and ease—and with the addition of their son Zeb and his wife Molly to the family trade, they’re sure to be entertaining and feeding us for generations to come. It won’t matter if you’re a regular or a first timer; they’ll have you feeling like family in no time at all.