Adam Evans may have earned acclaim for his way with seafood, but it wasn’t love at first bite. “Growing up, I remember eating oysters with my dad,” says the chef, who gained national recognition helming the kitchen at the Optimist in Atlanta. “I tried them twice, and got sick both times, so I thought I must be allergic.” Turns out, the problem was the horseradish, not the oysters.
Bivalves will be a fixture on the menu of Evans’s new restaurant, Automatic Seafood & Oysters, in Birmingham, Alabama, slated to open in early March. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Evans, who grew up in Muscle Shoals and attended Auburn University before starting a career that took him from New Orleans to New York, then back South. His wife, interior designer Suzanne Humphries, is also from Alabama, and the two have been planning a move back to the Yellowhammer State since shortly after they met. In the Magic City, he’ll be part of a flourishing culinary scene that includes such lodestars as Frank Stitt and Chris Hastings. “I remember being a cook in New Orleans, and I saw Frank’s book, and started learning about him. I thought, ‘Well, if this guy is from Cullman, Alabama, and he made it, I want to be the guy from Muscle Shoals who makes it.’”
Evans’s new restaurant occupies a 1940s warehouse—once the Automatic Sprinkler Company—on the edge of Birmingham’s booming Lakeview district. Sustainability will be a guiding principle of the menu, and with it, flexibility. “As a chef, I was buying literally tons of seafood, and I realized that if I feel strongly about sustainability then I could actually make a difference,” Evans says. He aims to continue that commitment at Automatic, plating more bycatch. “You can get grouper and snapper anywhere. Not to say that we won’t have them, but there’s so much more out there. The fin-fish offerings will and should change daily.” His raw bar will blend Gulf favorites like Murder Points with West Coast offerings. “If you love oysters, you love all kinds.”
Chargrilled oysters are one dish he promises will always be on the menu. His take is inspired by Drago’s, a New Orleans-area Louisiana seafood institution. “They have these massive grills, and guys are shucking the oysters right there, putting them on the fire, and ladling butter over them,” Evans says. Evans brightens that richness with tart preserved lemon and fresh thyme. Sample it for yourself with his recipe, available exclusively here, or at Automatic, when it opens in March.