The extreme pleasure of dining at the Bright Star Restaurant isn’t due only to its delicious food. It is a five-star Roadfood choice also for its gracious hospitality, its sense of tradition (Alabama’s oldest family-owned restaurant), the extreme comfort of its well-upholstered booths, and the quiet beauty of its well-aged wood and brass interior decor. No, it is not a dive or diner. Far from it. Bright Star is a polite town restaurant to which pilgrims come from Birmingham and beyond for traditional meat-and-three casual lunch and an impressive array of top-dollar steak and seafood dinners.
Like so many of the better restaurants in this area, the kitchen’s accent is Greek. A fine Greek salad is served with little cups of both vinaigrette and creamy garlic dressing (“Mix them together!” advises waitress Linda). Roast chicken comes garnished with Greek-seasoned celery and tomato. Many customers believe the garlicky Greek-seasoned tenderloin is the best steak anywhere. For a large number of clientele, the must-eat dish is snapper — a buttery, pan-seared fillet that arrives swimming in a simple sauce of olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, salt and pepper. This fish is fresh, the presentation simple and perfect.
Glorious gumbo! Bright Star’s is nothing short of spectacular: smoky, complex, very spicy, crowded with soft nuggets of fish and vegetables. On a very short list of the best gumbos anywhere, including Louisiana, this one would be at or near the top.
For dessert, lemon icebox pie is a cool, sweet-tart classic in a moist Graham cracker crust — a must-eat. But then there’s the Bright Star specialty baklava cheesecake — a must eat, too. It is the traditional fine phyllo pastry, honey and nuts wrapped around a shaft of creamy cheesecake. Insanely luxurious, a sweet tooth’s dream.
Bright Star has been around since 1907 and seems to be doing boffo business. Its continued success warms my heart. The genial and truly helpful professionalism of the waitstaff and a roster of impeccably prepared square meals make it a rarity in today’s world. No, not simply a rarity; Bright Star is one-of-a-kind.