Cotton Row Wins Best Southern Fine Dining Category!

River and Rail, Cúrate, 404 Kitchen and Highlands Bar & Grill also winners

Gone are the days when Southern cuisine meant home-cooked comfort food or greasy spoon fare. Chefs all around the South (including Texas) are reinventing, fusing and elevating Southern dishes and ingredients, making this region one of the best in the U.S. for foodies.

  • Cochon
    New Orleans

    Within a renovated New Orleans warehouse, James Beard Foundation National Outstanding Chef Award nominee Chef Donald Link specializes in Southern Cajun cuisine – think fried alligator with chili garlic mayo, shrimp and deviled egg gumbo or catfish courtbouillon – served in a rustic meets contemporary setting. Many of the ingredients used at Cochon, from pork to produce to seafood, are sourced locally (and you can see the list on the website).
    Photo courtesy of Cochon

  • Clifton Inn
    Charlottesville, Va.

    The dining room at the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville has become a haven for local foodies, thanks to a culinary team who mills their own flour, churns their own butter and forages for local ingredients to use in the delightfully creative menu. Most diners take their meals in the formal dining room or sun-drenched verandah, but eating at the Chef's Counter (for up to seven people) transforms dinner into an interactive and educational experience.
    Photo courtesy of Rob Garland Photographers

  • Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
    Lovettsville, Va.

    Patowmack Farm started growing in 1986 and became one of the first certified organic farms in Virginia. Today, the tradition of growing fresh, sustainable and high-quality seasonal ingredients continues. Guests seated at The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm choose from three menus, Found, Grown or Raised, all served in a setting reminiscent of a greenhouse.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Loudoun

  • Proof on Main
    Louisville, Ky.

    Located within the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Proof on Main is all about local – local ingredients sourced from local farms, local drink (the bar features more than 75 Kentucky bourbons) and local hospitality. The menu, inspired by seasonal bounty of the Ohio River Valley and the culinary traditions of the American South, includes specialties like charred octopus, beet salad with blood orange and the guest favorite Proof Bison Burger.
    Photo courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

  • Hot and Hot Fish Club
    Birmingham, Ala.

    Located in downtown Birmingham, Hot and Hot Fish Club blends Southern, French and Californian cooking into an ever-changing menu inspired by Alabama ingredients. Guests lucky enough to snag a seat at the chef's counter enjoy a front row seat overlooking Chef/Co-Owner Chris Hastings and his team at work in the open kitchen. The farm-to-table menu often includes things like Hudson Valley Foie Gras Brulée, Oven Roasted Rabbit Roulade and meat preparations using pork and chicken from nearby farms.
    Photo courtesy of Hot and Hot Fish Club

  • Highlands Bar & Grill
    Birmingham, Ala.

    Highlands Bar & Grill set the standard for fine dining in Birmingham long before farm-to-table fine dining became a norm, and a high standard it is. Owner and chef Frank Stitt, along with his wife Pardis, have married Southern dishes with French culinary techniques to delectable effect since the restaurant opened in 1982. Daily menus might include oysters on the half shell, stone ground baked grits, crispy sweetbreads, strawberry cobbler and an assortment of house-made ice creams.
    Photo courtesy of Highlands Bar & Grill

  • 404 Kitchen
    Nashville

    Housed in a re-purposed shipping container, The 404 Kitchen uses locally sourced, seasonal ingredients (including herbs grown on the restaurant's very own rooftop garden) to prepare a menu of modern European classics. This Nashville eatery, with Chef Matt Bolus at the helm, was a James Beard Awards finalist in 2014 for Best New Restaurant. The burrata is not to be missed.
    Photo courtesy of The 404 Kitchen

  • Cúrate
    Asheville

    Cúrate translates from Spanish as 'cure yourself,' and Executive Chef Katie Button would recommend eating Spanish tapas as an appropriate way to do so. After a seven-month internship at the lauded elBulli in Spain, Chef Button brought the tradition of Spanish small plate dining to Asheville. The restaurant opened in a former bus depot in 2011, serving classics like Ibérico ham, Spanish tortilla, cheese-stuffed piquillo peppers and crispy fried potatoes served with a spicy "brava" sauce.
    Photo courtesy of Evan Sung Photography

  • River and Rail
    Roanoke, Va.

    The River and Rail, a Southern bistro in the middle of Western Virginia, serves a menu of elevated Southern, Appalachian and French traditional dishes, crafted weekly by Chef Aaron Deal. Craft cocktails wash down deviled farm eggs, Virginia oysters, applewood smoked pork ribs, veal sweetbreads and Virginia clams.
    Photo courtesy of River and Rail

  • Cotton Row Restaurant
    Huntsville, Ala.

    Under the direction of Chef James Boyce, Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. features an ever-changing menu of inventive modern American dishes. The atmosphere matches the food in quality; the restaurant occupies a three-story brick building from 1821 in Courthouse Square, and the name is a tribute to the cotton traders who once worked in the area.
    Photo courtesy of Cotton Row Restaurant

We asked USA TODAY 10Best readers to help us name the top 10 Southern Fine Dining establishments, and after four weeks of voting, the polls are closed and we have a winner!

Taking home top honors and the title of Best Southern Fine Dining is Cotton Row Restaurant in Huntsville, Ala. With Chef James Boyce at the helm, Cotton Row serves an always-changing menu of modern American fare.

Runner up River and Rail in Roanoke, Va. wins over diners with its elevated Southern, Appalachian and French traditional dishes, crafted weekly by Chef Aaron Deal.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Southern Fine Dining are as follows:

  1. Cotton Row Restaurant - Huntsville, Ala.
  2. River and Rail - Roanoke, Va.
  3. Cúrate - Asheville
  4. 404 Kitchen - Nashville
  5. Highlands Bar & Grill - Birmingham, Ala.
  6. Hot and Hot Fish Club - Birmingham, Ala.
  7. Proof on Main - Louisville
  8. Restaurant at Patowmack Farm - Lovettsville, Va.
  9. Clifton Inn - Charlottesville, Va.
  10. Cochon - New Orleans

A panel of experts picked the initial 20 nominees, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. Experts Larry Bleiberg (LarryBleiberg.com), Tanner Latham (AuthenticUsStories.com) and Lacy Morris (10Best Editor) were chosen based on their extensive knowledge of travel in the American South.

Other nominees for Best Southern Fine Dining included 610 Magnolia in Louisville; Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn.; Empire State South in Atlanta; Husk Restaurant in Charleston; Kimball House in Decatur, Ga.; Little Serow in Washington; Miller Union in Atlanta; Rhubarb in Asheville; Rolf and Daughters in Nashville and Rose's Luxury in Washington.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners. The contest was promoted on 10Best and USA TODAY.

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Larry Bleiberg

Larry Bleiberg

Tanner Latham

Tanner Latham

Lacy Morris

Lacy Morris