Recently I was invited by the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau for a sneak peek at the annual Hunstville, AL Restaurant Week, a 10 day celebration of the area's eclectic mix of casual and fine dining offerings. Running from August 14-23, restaurant week features fixed priced lunch and dinner deals at 60 local eateries.
And while the food was the central focus of my visit, it also allowed me the opportunity to spend some quality time with he Huntsville/Madison County CVB team and several amazing food bloggers including Christy Jordan of Southern Plate, Constance Smith of Cosmopolitan Cornbread, Sarah Belanger of The Jealous Crumpet, Stephanie Walker of RocketCityMom, and Katie Wright of Katie Actually, while also further exploring the area.
Having never spent any real time in Huntsville (other than a boy scout trip to the US Space & Rocket Center), I thoroughly enjoyed checking out some of the local sites like the Sci-Quest Science Center (which was having a demo of one of my latest obsessions -- tiny houses!) and the historic Constitution Village, and the various shops at the amazing Bridge Street Town Centre. Central to it all (we actually joked that everything was exactly 8 minutes away according to our GPSs!) was my host hotel, the Huntsville Marriott (5 Tranquility Base), which was not only located just feet from the Space & Rocket Center but also had one of the most hospitable staffs I've experienced at a large hotel.
Back to the star of the trip -- the food -- I was able to try three of the participating restaurants including an amazing Sunday brunch at Grille 29 (445 Providence Main St. NW #101) featuring two items from their restaurant week lunch menu, cast iron shrimp and grits and gazpacho with lump crab meat, as well as one of their most popular brunch dishes, chicken and waffles. While all three dishes knocked it out of the park flavor wise, my favorite was the gazpacho, a chilled summer soup featuring tomatoes, cucumber, and bell peppers.
For Huntsville residents, both the lunch ($15) and dinner ($30) options at Grille 29 are worth the visit as you certainly won't be disappointed by the food, the service, and the amazing restaurant week prices.
For non-Huntsville residents, it's worth planning a visit to Huntsville during next year's restaurant week but in the meantime I've put my own grilled twist on Grille 29's gazpacho by fire roasting several of the ingredients.
GRILLED AND CHILLED GAZPACHO
1.5 lbs. roma tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1/2 small white onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 lemon, halved
1 cucumber, seeds removed and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
Prepare grill for medium-high heat cooking, approximately 425 degrees. Add 1-2 chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the ashed over charcoal briquets for maximum smokey flavor.
Place tomatoes, jalapeno, red bell pepper, sliced onion, and lemon on the grill and cook until lightly charred (approximately 2 minutes for the lemons, 4 minutes for the onions and jalapeno, 5-7 minutes for the tomatoes, and 8-10 minutes for the bell pepper). Remove the ingredients from the grill.
Remove the charred skin from the tomatoes and red bell pepper along with the core and seeds. Remove the stem, ribs, and seeds from the jalapeno and roughly chop. Roughly chop the onions and place the tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeno, onion, garlic, cucumber, and parsley in a food processor. Add the juice from the grilled lemon, the red wine vinegar, and olive oil, and pulse until smooth. If the mixture is too thick simply add water until the desired consistency is achieved. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to chill before serving.