This Alabama restaurant tandem raises a glass to the fulfillment of culinary dreams

Kristian Denis has created his own domain and covers downtown Huntsville.

This restaurant owner has grown from a small wine shop (400 square feet in a former lumber yard building) into two distinct dining destinations. Additional restaurant concepts just a stone’s throw from each other near the Madison County Courthouse offer French-inspired cuisine; craft cocktails; simple, tasty sandwiches and bistro; gourmet grab and go; breakfast; and wine. A lot of wine.

Wine was actually the starting point of it all.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to open a little wine bar and people will come in and have a cheese board and cold meats,'” Denis says of the businesses she owns with her husband. She grew up in Germany, where her father was an officer in the US Army. Her parents, she says, loved good food and wine, so they took her and her sister to several European countries, each with unique traditions and cuisines, to seek out. “There were always these fantastic little neighborhood restaurants,” he says. “I wanted something that felt like that. And I didn’t think we had something like that here. So I created it.”

Domaine South and Le Petit Bijou offer a special Alabama food and wine experience from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

After working as a wine representative and at a local wine retailer, Denis entered the hospitality industry in 2015 when she opened a small retail store with two wine racks, a few cards and handmade gifts. A year later, she moved her business to a slightly larger space nearby where she could focus on wine and cheese. Zoning and beverage laws allowed her a two-hour window each day for wine tastings.

It wasn’t enough; Neither did Denisa and her customers.

Expanding to a site on the north side of Courthouse Square, she styled the new space as a “cave à crèche,” part wine bar, part restaurant typical of those found in Paris. She offered wines by the glass, small plates and charcuterie. Today, Le Petit Bijou Sandwich & Wine Bar is still a cozy place for a glass of wine, lunch or breakfast (just added). There are gourmet sandwiches, such as a simple French-style baguette filled with ham, herb butter and cheese, or chicken salad with tarragon or the chef’s choice of charcuterie. Special items are also available. And of course, there’s plenty of wine in this bottle shop. The small place beckons with a handful of tables inside surrounded by local art and prime seating on the terrace for people-watching the square.

But Denis realized that there was still room for more. She wanted more room in the kitchen for creativity and more room for her guests who had dined in, who had already become regulars.

In October 2021, she opened Domaine South, an establishment with beautiful green views of Huntsville’s Water Trail. This larger restaurant, like its smaller sister across the square, offers fresh seasonal dishes from a menu that changes frequently. It’s a casual dining experience with dishes that have Southern roots but French accents, an extensive craft cocktail program and a wine list that runs 12 pages.

Showcasing locally and regionally grown food and supporting local and regional businesses is the idea behind the name Domaine South. Denis says it’s the kind of food she “grew up loving” and that it’s created with ingredients straight from Southern growers and purveyors. “We’re going to the Madison County Farmers Market. We work with a lot of independent farmers and then find beautiful cheeses from all over the world. And we find these great creameries that are in Georgia and Tennessee. They make world-class products and we just want to make them shine and bring that to the people.”

From the first small wine and cheese shop to two restaurants, charcuterie was a constant item on the menu. “We’re still very well known for our beautiful boards and for sourcing really quality ingredients that you can’t do in a commercial kitchen – beautiful cheeses, beautiful cold meats. It’s still a big part of our program,” says Denis. “People like to come and break bread and share something with their friends.”

Cheeses include Alp Blossom cow’s milk cheese coated with rose petals, lavender and chervil from Germany; Paški Sir, sheep’s cheese from Croatia; and Central Coast Creamery’s “Seascape” (a blend of cow’s and goat’s milk) from California. Meats range from speckled trotter “Cecina” Spanish air-dried beef to Molinari & Sons Calabrese (seasoned dry salami with red wine and pepper) to rabbit and pork terrine with nutmeg, parsley and white pepper from Smoking Goose Meatery. These plates feature homemade crostini, grapes and roasted almonds. Add homemade hot pepper jam, dried cherries, deviled eggs, caramelized onion jam, Spanish candied walnuts, or other things. That’s a lot. You can create your own board, or the kitchen can help you decide.

This kitchen is led by Executive Chef Jay Hendricks, who creates beautiful, imaginative dishes that the wait staff expertly describes because they have already tasted them.

Appetizers include the popular Farm Fresh Vegetable Platter “from Polly at Bronze Star Farm.” The last fall weekday’s colorful assortment included violets, roasted peppers, grilled squash and zucchini, Amish heirloom tomatoes, fried green tomatoes, pickled okra, carrot puree and red tomato coulis. “I don’t know that there is another non-vegan restaurant that really focuses so much on making the produce the star of the plate,” says Denis, “but we love it.”

On a recent visit, Joyce Farms chicken confit with white bean cassoulet, butternut squash and Conecuh sausage was also on the seasonal menu. The tomato tian was a beautiful stack of fried and grilled Whited Farm green tomatoes with crispy arugula and served on a green tomato coulis. There’s a burger with fried onions and smoked aioli. Don’t miss the duck fat fries with homemade herb aioli and curry ketchup.

The wines here—about 18 to 20 by the glass and 400 bottles—are mostly old-world selections, mainly French and Italian, but there are also plenty of select wines from Oregon and California on that long list. “We’re really focused on small family wineries, low-intervention wines,” he says, “things that are artisanal and made with care—not in a factory.”

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