I love it when I get to experience the efforts of someone who has years of training in a skill and runs a business with excellence. Chef James Boyce is doing just that with three diverse, but equally exceptional, restaurants in the Rocket City.
My husband and I have dined at Cotton Row Restaurant twice now and loved it both times. Its location at 100 South Side Square in downtown Huntsville is perfect for folks who work in the area. But with a parking garage a block away and a fair amount of street parking, it is accessible for diners coming from all directions. As a matter of fact, it is well worth the effort to make your way there for any kind of special occasion or upscale event.
We purposefully made our reservations for lunch on Friday, August 18, because it was the last weekday of Huntsville’s Restaurant Week. All three of Chef Boyce’s restaurants were participating, but we especially liked the sound (and the price) of the special three-course lunch being served for this promotional event.
The meal started with Southern Seafood Chowder, which was thick, rich and loaded with flavor. The ingredients included clams, snapper, shrimp, bacon and smoked tomatoes. I believe the smoked tomatoes put it over the top. So good.
The entree was Grilled Chicken and Potato Paillard (“paillard” is basically a preparation method that involves pounding thin and then cooking on a grill). The chicken and potatoes were surrounded with blistered cherry tomatoes, chargrilled red onions and topped with a perfectly poached egg. The combination was delicious, and the portion size was just right.
The meal was topped off with a small Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee, garnished with fresh strawberries and a small cookie. All of the items on the Restaurant Week special lunch appear on the regular menu, as well — likely in large portions.
Cotton Row is small, so reservations are recommended. When the weather permits, there is a nice outdoor seating area.
The website lists 11 farms which provide the restaurant with fresh quality produce. All are very near the Huntsville area.
Cotton Row serves brunch on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., lunch Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner Monday through Saturday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.
Chef Boyce’s second downtown restaurant is on the opposite end of the same block at 300 Franklin Street. Commerce Kitchen is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., on Saturday from 4:00-10:00 p.m. and is closed on Sundays. The menu is slightly more casual, and the prices are a little more moderate than at Cotton Row. I have not had a chance to try it out yet, but knowing the quality of Chef Boyce’s other restaurants, it is on my Restaurant Bucket List to sample in the near future. If you’ve been, I’d love to read your thoughts and hear your recommendations from the menu.
Pane e Vino has yet another distinct location and identity. This Italian-themed restaurant is on the ground floor of the Huntsville Museum of Art and overlooks Big Spring Park. It is open everyday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and is wonderful for a pre-event meal with its proximity to the Von Braun Center. Salads, paninis, pizzas, pastas and calzones dominate the menu, and the prices are very reasonable.
There is a small dining area inside with the advantage of smelling all of the tantalizing aromas, but if the weather is nice, I highly recommend the outdoor patio. In addition to people-watching, wildlife and nature are on constant display.
Chef Boyce offers cooking classes throughout the year. A current series is entitled “Eat Simply. Eat Smart. Eat Well.” Details are on the website. Who wants to go with me?
Congratulations, Chef Boyce, on your success in Huntsville. All of us who dine in your restaurants enjoy the tremendous benefits of your hard work.