2 Birmingham restaurants, 1 bar and a chef honored as James Beard Award semifinalists

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — For years, the James Beard Foundation has honored several restaurants, chefs and all-things food in Birmingham.

This year, a few Birmingham mainstays and a local chef have been named semifinalists for the 2020 James Beard Awards.

On Wednesday, the group recognized Automatic Seafood & Oysters as a semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant,” The Atomic Bar & Lounge as “Outstanding Bar Program,” Chez Fonfon as “Outstanding Hospitality” and Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant as “Best Chef: South.”

Automatic Seafood, located in the Lakeview community, first opened last April through chef Adam Evans and designer Suzanne Humphries Evans.

“Our menu offers a variety of seafood dishes, featuring fish primarily sourced from the Gulf of Mexico, oysters from waters along the Southern and Eastern coastlines, as well as a selection of land-based produce and proteins,” the restaurant’s website states. “Comfortable, elegant, and classic, the space at Automatic is an ode to Americana and lends itself to a coastal setting — not speaking directly to one specific body of water or region, but drawing inspiration from all shorelines across the country.”  

The Atomic Lounge, located on 1st Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, was started by Feizal Valli and Rachael Roberts and is notable for having a selection of costumes patrons can wear.

Chez Fonfon is located near Five Points South and is an extension longtime restaurateur Frank Stitt of Highlands Br & Grille and Bottega. It first opened in 2000.

“Chez Fonfon is that cozy, casual French bistro that we hope transfers you to Paris, Lyon or Nice,” its website stated. 

Chef Timothy Hontzas comes from a long line of Birmingham restaurateurs. His uncle, Gus Hontzas, owned Niki’s West for years. Hontzas’ father, Constantine, was one of three family members to open the original Johnny’s Restaurant in 1954 in Mississippi. Hontzas’ opened his Johnny’s in 2012 in Homewood. Pete and Teddy Hontzas, who now run Niki’s, are cousins.

“Tim’s success has been driven by his Papou’s philosophy, ‘We prepare food for the body, but Good Food to feed the Soul,'” the restaurant website states.

The finalists will be announced at 8 a.m. March 25 through the James Beard Foundation Twitter page.


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