Café Dupont Grows Roots Downtown

By Jan Walsh      Photography by Beau Gustafson

The brown storefront branded with “Café Dupont” — in gold letters — stands proudly in downtown Birmingham. And it should. When owner and executive chef, Chris Dupont opened on 20th Street in 2003, he brought new hope to the downtown culinary scene and a positive step towards the revitalization of downtown Birmingham. I first reviewed the restaurant just after it opened and recall conversations with this chef and entrepreneur. Mixed with Dupont’s staunch courage was a healthy dose of fear. Yet this fear soon turned to hope, confidence with the success of the restaurant’s lunch, dinner, private events, and bar in the years that followed.

The Place

Prior to the Birmingham location, the original Café Dupont opened in Springville, Alabama, in 1994. Here Dupont developed his cuisine and reputation. Building on this success, his Birmingham Café Dupont is located in a downtown storefront that dates to the 1870s. Sconce–lined, vanilla walls surround tall windows in the dining room, where tables with crisp white tablecloths dot the space. The room is filled with natural light in the day, making it a lovely lunch spot. Upstairs is a loft with a crisp, white ambience, which can be reserved for private parties.

In 2009 Café Dupont expanded the restaurant into the adjacent storefront. Since then you enter through the double doors into the bar. Dupont restored this 131-year-old building, keeping the original floor tiles and beamed ceiling above. For the bar, Dupont used the same interior designer he previously used for the restaurant — his wife, Leslie. Yet the ambiance of the dimly lit bar compliments by contrasting with the restaurant’s vanilla and white dining room, boasting dark woods and tones of forest green.

The Chef

Chris Dupont grew up in New Orleans and began developing his craft in restaurants at the age of 15. After college his kitchen experience included working with New Orleans chefs such as Emeril Lagasse at Commander’s Palace, Susan Spicer at Maison du Ville, and Daniel Bonnet at Tour d’Eiffel — before opening the original Cafe Dupont in Springville. Through the years Dupont has perfected classic techniques using the finest local and regional products. And he has been recognized for his culinary talents by both local and national publications as well as the James Beard Foundation.

Favorite Fare

We begin our lunch with a bottle of perfectly chilled Tramin Pinot Blanc 2010 while we nibble on slices of corn bread, as thick and moist as cake. For the first course one dish is always a must — oysters and okra. It is my favorite appetizer here and passing on it is unthinkable. Dupont’s mastery of frying okra in whole and half pods has spoiled me so much that I gave up cooking my own. And sometimes when I am craving it, I order “okra and okra” without oysters. Both the oysters and okra have a light, golden crust that adheres perfectly to the moist, yummy goodness inside of each. Another not to be missed appetizer is the fried green tomato with house made remoulade, tomato relish and grilled, chilled shrimp. Again Dupont’s batter and frying techniques achieve perfection in each crispy bite of tomato. Same as the oysters and okra, there is no air pocket between the tomato and crust. A touch of creaminess from the sauce with bites of red tomato relish and two succulent shrimp round out this appetizer.

Entrees of grilled Duroc pork tenderloin and sautéed Destin flounder are selected. Aromas and steam rise from both entrees as they are placed before us — whetting the appetite. The hearty plate of sliced, tender pork is cooked to order, medium. It is layered with an amazing sweet potato gratin that is accented by the acidity of sliced and grilled green apple slices. This entrée is crowned with lovely cherry chutney — plumped full of whole cherries — integrating a rich fruitiness to this well–balanced dish. In the fish plate, a large piece of moist white, flounder is prepared in a simple, rustic meuniere caper sauce, which drizzles down to the rim of the plate onto the bed of rice mixed with diced, colorful winter veggies and crisp haricot verts in between.

For dessert we decide on the flourless chocolate cake with mint chocolate ice cream. The small, round cake, cooked in its own ramekin, is accompanied by a dollop of fresh cream and a scoop of homemade ice cream, made for mint lovers.

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