Text by Mary-Kate Tucto
If you love cast iron, you’ll feel right at home when you step through the door of OvenBird. The main dining area is flooded with light, a live-fire oven burns cozily behind the room-length bar, and stacks of cast iron sit at the ready on the open shelves lining the walls. “It’s the restaurant that I’ve had in my mind for 20 years,” says Chris Hastings, the owner and executive chef of this Birmingham, Alabama, restaurant. “I grew up hunting and fishing, so I’ve always cooked over open fires.
Most cooks don’t do much of it these days, but I fell in love with that unique thing that fire adds to a dish.” From blistered okra to ember-roasted vegetables to an outrageously popular take on crème brûlée, Chris’s menu items weave his Southern roots together with flavors and traditions gleaned from his passion for the cuisine of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, and other locales where live-fire cooking is an integral part of the food culture. And though his flavor profiles span the globe, it all started with a summer job in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, for this envelope-pushing chef.