with owner Kristian Denis & Executive Chef Cory Grothe
Have you ever had a meal so good that you wanted to hug the chef and thank everyone who contributed to its creation? That actually happened- sans the hugging, because of social distancing recommendations.
During my first month in Huntsville, I enjoyed a meal so good that I insisted on thanking the owner, chef, and our server for such an incredible meal and dining experience.
Exactly what was this gratitude-inducing meal? It was a delectable charcuterie board dreamed up, curated, and prepared by the Domaine South culinary team. It was pure magic.
I have since enjoyed plenty of meals there, each time exploring the menu outside of hug-inducing charcuterie boards. With each visit, I trust that every menu selection made, will result in another moment of gastronomic magic at Domaine South. I now liken my visits there to culinary nature hikes. Pleasant, enjoyable, good for my well-being, and never regrettable. The cherry on top of it all, there is zero pretentiousness there, only good food, wine, and atmosphere.
I reached out to Owner, Kristian Denis to learn more about their recent move, new chef, and of course their food. What follows is an insightful look into Domaine South as told by Kristian and Executive Chef, Corey Grothe.
Let’s start with the origin story of Domaine South- tell us about your motivation to begin and can you share the original concept with us? Why Huntsville?
Kristian: Domaine South opened in the tiny switch house building at The Lumberyard on Cleveland Avenue in 2015. We filled the historic building with wines made by families not in factories, with beautiful cookbooks, artisan crafts, vintage art and curated home goods. It was our little jewel and quickly gathered a loyal following. We hosted wine tastings with other locally owned business and when the opportunity arose, moved the shop to larger quarters not once, but twice. We eventually found a space downtown with a little kitchen. There, the vision that we had, became a reality.
Inspired by the sidewalk cafes and shops in Europe, where I grew up, our team made magic happen. In 2021, we were awarded the Best of Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator, an ode to the beautiful palate and mind of our Wine Director, Hazel Sikorski.
You recently moved your restaurant to a larger location. Can you tell us more about the motivation behind that, as well as share the success, challenges, and opportunities that presented themselves as a result of the move?
Kristian: Last year, we were presented with the opportunity to open in the landmark mid century building overlooking Big Spring Park and made a leap of faith. We moved Domaine in October of 2021 and have kept our little sidewalk cave on the Northside Square (le petit bijou) as well. The full kitchen and bar in our Big Spring Park location has allowed Chef Corey Grothe and his team to fully realize their creativity and craft.
Making such a big move during a pandemic certainly had its challenges, but our Domaine family met each one with courage and optimism. We’ve worn a path between our two locations (exactly 90 steps) and managed to grow our team to over 40 people, each one of them inspired by the art of hospitality.
Tell us about your new chef! Who is he? What’s his culinary background?
Kristian: Our Executive Chef, Corey Grothe, took over the kitchen in January of 2022. Corey started working in restaurants at the age of 14, in Iowa, where he grew up. He became obsessed with cooking and the industry, and moved to New Orleans in 2016. He started out at a bakery and then moved to Lillette, a well known French restaurant in the Garden District, where he worked under Chef John Harris. There he moved quickly from prep cook to grill and met his fiance, Haley.
In 2018, Corey and Haley moved to France and worked on a farm in the Savoie, making goat cheese and learning French farming culture. That experience changed the trajectory of his viewpoint on being a chef and inspired him to buy a farm in Morgan County . Haley’s family is from North Alabama, and he reached out to us when they moved back to the States from France.
It was Covid times and it took a minute for us to connect – during that time he worked for Duncan Farms and became the Sous Chef at The Ledges. He joined us in 2021 – and now is cooking the food he has always wanted to. We share a common experience and vision – it’s been a tremendous partnership.
Chef, can you tell us what makes Domaine South special? What can we expect from you in terms of menu development and exploration this year?
Chef: The thing that makes Domaine South so special is the time and care we take to make everything from scratch. We pay attention to our guests and offer a depth of dishes for everyone, including those with allergies and dietary restrictions. Our food is simple, fresh, delicious – we want the ingredients to shine. We are committed to working with local farmers, like Polly at Bronze Star Farm in Grant and are excited to begin working Sweetgrown Alabama, a network of small farmers, to showcase the beautiful produce of our state.
Working closely with our Wine Director and Bar Manager, Shannon Pease, we have created a cohesive beverage program that compliments our food.
Do you have any plans during the spring/ summer to share with us in regards to your menu, events, etc.?
Kristian: We are beginning a series of wine dinners this Spring that will be regular events in Downtown Huntsville; bringing winemakers and importers together with local farmers. Our menu is always seasonal and driven by Corey’s knowledge and passion for farming and European inspired cuisine.
Our signature dishes are the Roasted Breakfast Radish Salad, our fish dishes (constantly changing), and, of course, our deep cheese and charcuterie program. The menu changes daily, many times twice daily, but we do keep signature items on all the time (we’d have a revolt on our hands if the Butter Ham ever went away!)
Corey has also created a menu of small plates at le petit bijou (the Northside Square wine shop & cafe) that are meant to be shared and are inspiring our talented team of chefs to challenge themselves and their creativity – that kitchen is tiny!