No local restaurant has evolved with as much mind and soul as Restaurant Eugene. When it opened in 2004, executive chef-owner Linton Hopkins's signature dish was the Tower of Crab, a crab cake stacked on a fried soft-shell crab over a dressy tuft of coleslaw. It showed off the skills of a competent New American chef who favored rich foods.
Nowadays, the mainstay on the menu is the deceptively dull-sounding "tasting of seasonal vegetables," a joyful cornucopia of ten or more just-harvested dazzlers that may be as everyday as glazed carrots or as esoteric as fried lily blossoms—all bursting from a squat, handled pan. It speaks to the adoration Hopkins, the current president of the Southern Foodways Alliance, developed for local farmers and growers.
Hopkins has developed into a thinking man's chef who likes to wink at Southern archetypes while composing modern plates full of clever elements. A smoked coffee glaze over black grouper nods to redeye gravy while spring onion puree, shaved fennel and carrot, and wild frisée surround the fish. Crawfish and a slick of herbaceous gumbo launch crisp nuggets of sweetbreads into Creole territory. He recruits talent that reflects his duality. David Sweeney came on board as farmer liaison after his beloved Dynamic Dish closed, and Aaron Russell is the city's most intellectual pastry chef: A recent creation showcases chunky peach marmalade rising out of cocoa crumbles that resemble soil.
And thanks to the restaurant's partnership with A Cappella Books, the staff fetes a luminary food writer by creating a multicourse meal inspired by the author's book for its semi-monthly Author Series.
Photo by Amy Herr