Fine-dining restaurants cover Auburn, Opelika area



Students may have to wait for a visit from mom and dad to eat at the top-notch restaurants in the surrounding area, but when the day arrives it's vital to know where to go.

Jimmy's in downtown Opelika focuses on New Orleans fare, but don't think that means spicy.

"We don't do Cajun," said Jimmy Sikes, owner and chef. "That's not New Orleans."

Offering instead a Creole menu, Jimmy's features dishes like shrimp and grits, steaks and jambalaya, all with a high level of service.

"The finer the dining, also the finer the service," Sikes said. "The fate of your kitchen is in the hands of the person who puts the food down. If they slam it on the table, the food's automatically not as good, even though it is."

Fine dining is as much about service as it is about the food, price or atmosphere.

"We don't ever have to walk out and ask a person what they're eating," said Andrew Harris, who claimed the well-trained table staff is part of what makes Maestro 2300 fine dining. "We know what every single person in the dining room is having at any given time."

Maestro 2300, at 2300 Moore's Mill Road, was the brainchild of Harris' uncle, who wanted to open a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant after his travels through Europe.

"Our classical thing that we do is we take a lot of their food style preparation and then use our Southern ingredients," Harris said. "They use a Tuscan white bean soup; we use our white beans here, and instead of kale--what they would put in it--we put collard greens."

Harris said they focus on food quality, with everything being "extremely fresh to order."

"We don't do sheet pans of crab cakes and stick in a holder somewhere then take them out and stick them in the oven," Harris said. "Everything's cooked from scratch, made from scratch."

Sikes said Jimmy's also focuses on fresh, quality food--and plenty of it.

"If you order 12 shrimp and you need two more, just tell us," Sikes said. "Another potato? OK. Virtually no restaurant says that ... We're going to give you what we think you need. We assume you're going to order an appetizer or a salad or a soup or something and a main course and a dessert. If you do that, you're going to have two pounds of food, which is a lot. But if you need two and a half pounds, raise your hand. We'll give you some more."

In downtown Auburn, Zazu Gastropub bridges the gap between fine dining and a more casual dining experience.

"It's got the best of both words--trying to keep the fine dining aspect but trying not to have that stuffy feeling," said manager Scott Warren. "We don't really have the white tablecloth atmosphere anymore that we used to have."

Zazu transitioned to a more casual atmosphere a few years ago when owner and chef Graham Hage wanted to attract more of the college crowd. While food and good service are still a focus, the restaurant also features live bands, trivia and open mic nights.

Of course, quality food still gets the spotlight. Warren said one of their best-selling appetizers is the shrimp and cornbread waffles.

"Instead of doing shrimp and grits, which everybody does, (Hage) does a cornmeal, Belgian-style waffle with three shrimp on there, and he does a homemade Andouille pepper cream sauce," Warren said. "That one by far and away outsells everything."

Maestro 2300 shares not only a similar entree (shrimp and polenta, a dish with Spanish ingredients and a Southern preparation style), but also provides a mix between fine dining and casual.

The bar area is completely separate from the dining room and might feature an Auburn game on TV or live, local bands.

"In the dining room it's much more low-key," Harris said. "The dining is very specific, (and) the acoustics were something we really really harped on ... We really wanted to keep our dining room acoustically sound, so if there's 50 people in there or five people in there ... to be able to have a nice, peaceful kind of feel to it and a very refined kind of feel to it."

The room features sound absorbing details like hanging curtains and a second drop ceiling.

Sikes said Jimmy's resulted from a community poll of what locals wanted in a downtown restaurant. With so much positive response, he decided to make a go of it.

"We get more business every year," Sikes said. "The first year I knew 95 percent of the people who walked in the door. Now I'll know 15 or 20."

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