The first thing you notice when you walk into Vittoria, James Lewis’s new restaurant at Pepper Place in Birmingham, Alabama, is a floor-to-ceiling, glassed-encased room in the center of the kitchen with various meats hanging from hooks. At first, you might think you’ve walked into a butcher shop from the 1940s and that would not be entirely untrue. Chef Lewis has doing something unique. He has taken the farm-to-table movement and put it into practice. Vittoria Macelleria, named after Lewis’s grandmother, is part butcher shop and part restaurant. You can order some salami to go or you can sit down, grab a glass of wine and build your own charcuterie plate.
So yes, this is what I would call a “meat-centric” restaurant and, yes, that makes my review somewhat biased because I freely admit that I am “meat-centric.” But what Lewis has done is so much more than that. The beef, pork, lamb, and poultry on his menu is local and grass fed. There is also plenty of excellent local vegetables to complete the meals.
One should first start by having one of the numerous creative cocktails offered, categorized by the predominant flavor profile: herbal, sweet, spicy, etc. (One of the great trends in restaurants in recent years is to provide unique, “signature” cocktails that change on a daily basis.)
Next, you should create your own personalized charcuterie plate. One thing I really like about this restaurant is the menu’s scalability. Like a tapas restaurant, you can pick exactly how much or how little you want and what kind you want.
I had smoked duck rillette, soppresatta, Iberico ham, green tomato mostardo, and cornichons. I highly recommend the smoked duck rillette, Iberico ham, and tomato mostardo. For the cheeses, I had garroxta and Oma. Speaking of cheese, you must try the local ricotta with Snows Bend favas, lemon olive oil, and lavash. Big hit! And this was just to start the evening!
The main course consisted of duck saucisson in brioche with pickled ramps, frisée, and grain mustard vinaigrette. The duck saucisson was delicious and the brioche perfectly prepared. The pairing of the duck saucisson and frisée with the mustard vinaigrette worked very well.
While the wine list is not extensive, it is thoughtful, with a strong emphasis on Spanish wine, which works well with the menu.
The service is friendly and knowledgable and while there were some hick-ups in service, I chalk these up to the typical growing pains that any new restaurant goes through.
Vittoria's design pairs well with the menu. The walls are covered in off-white subway tile and there is just the right mixture of metal and wood to give the place the feel of a well-worn kitchen knife or butcher's block. Behind the bar is a large antiqued mirror where the day's libations are written.
This restaurant creates its own niche that any serious foodie in Birmingham should embrace. In fact, I would put it in one of my top 10 recent dining experiences in Birmingham. (These recent experiences include Highlands, Bottega, Hot and Hot, Chez Fon Fon, and also Lewis’s Bettola.)
More information and reviews can be found on Urbanspoon.com: