When Allen Harris’s business ventures took him on frequent trips to Europe, he had the opportunity to dine at world-class restaurants offering the best in ambience, food and service. After he returned home to Auburn, he missed the divine flavors and sublime dishes of Mediterranean cuisine.
Allen had thought about the restaurant business since he was a student at Auburn University. The successful businessman discussed his ideas with Executive Chef John Hamme and Andrew Harris, a sommelier and restaurant manager. Once he assembled the expert and talented team, Maestro 2300 became a reality.
Hamme was executive chef for the Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center when he came on board as a partner in the restaurant. At the five-star Greenbriar, Hamme trained under a master chef. He worked at several Ritz Carlton hotels before coming to Auburn.
After six years in Auburn, he began dreaming of having his own place where he could focus on one area instead of many outlets in a hotel.
Andrew has been working in the restaurant business since he was 14 years old. After graduating from Auburn University in Hotel and Restaurant Management, he worked at several restaurants, the Ritz Carlton at Reynolds Plantation and the Baltimore Country Club. He gladly returned to Auburn for the opportunity to manage a unique, one-of-a-kind restaurant with the emphasis on creating a stellar dining experience in food and ambience.
“The restaurant is price competitive,” says Andrew, noting that the restaurant is not as expensive as some other restaurants in the area. “People can come in for tapas or a full dinner in a warm and friendly atmosphere that is appropriately priced.”
The former Village Grill Restaurant was completely gutted to design a restaurant and lounge appearing as though it had been transported from the south of Spain. With textured walls and wrought-iron panels, the warm earth tones of the Mediterranean countryside come together to create a sophisticated, casual Old World setting.
An artist’s rendering of a framed grape vine highlights the entrance. To the right is an elevated dining area. Two decorative wrought-iron panels separate the space from the lower dining adjacent to the lounge. Aged wood, mosaic tiles, burnished iron and fabrics embellish the candlelight setting forming an inviting atmosphere.
A private dining area is located at the rear where wine bottles are stored, forming a cellar setting. This dining space can be reserved as a Chef’s Table, where Chef Hamme serves a tailor made menu with wine pairings for each course.
Old World tiles frame the door to the lounge with a granite bar. Unique lighting provides a stunning effect.
All of the dishes at the restaurant are prepared from scratch using classic preparation and the freshest ingredients. “We are focusing on classical Mediterranean cuisine, seasonal delicacies, the vegetable garden from local farmers and the flavors from the culinary journey around the Mediterranean Sea,” says Hamme.
“A lot of the foods in that part of the world are common to the states. The main thing for me is going back to how we use to eat using local produce.”
Hamme is working with local farmers for fresh produce and has suppliers for the freshest seafood, which is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine along with flavorful olive oils.
“We have a wood-burning grill for cooking prime meats,” says Hamme. “We want to offer the best seafood and steaks in the area.”
Shrimp from Bayou La Batre on Alabama’s Gulf coast is featured in the classic signature appetizer shrimp in garlic with salmoriglio sauce and red chili salt. Other appetizers are geared for sharing.
The sharing theme is continued into the lounge with small plates and true tapas, such as steamed mussels in picada with tawny port and crispy ham or brioche toast with lemon marmalade and La Serena cheese.
Soups and salads include a bread soup with pork lardons, chives and ham caviar and a salad with oak-grilled white asparagus, house dried tomatoes, proscuitto and balsamic vinegar.
The wood grilled meats menu offers several steaks including Black Angus tenderloin medallions with blue cheese butter, potatoes La Roja style and fresh vegetables.
Seafood selections include poached seabass sanchocho with stewed Mediterranean vegetables and potatoes. Pork loin, short ribs, lamb and paella are also on the big plates menu. Save room for homemade desserts such as the chocolate pannetone bread pudding, traditional orange flan or caramelized rice pudding, among others. Reservations are accepted for the dining room, but not in the lounge. Along with small plates, a full dinner menu is also available in the bar. With vines climbing over brick posts, the patio offers another option for a glass of wine or a romantic dinner.
A selection of breakfast and lunch dishes is freshly prepared at various stations for Sunday brunch. An apertivo station offers tossed salads, sliced cured meats, house marinated olives, roasted peppers and other typical Mediterranean specialties. The dessert buffet with a selection of confectionary delights brings brunch to a close on a sweet note.
“The name Maestro carries the theme of what we want to do in the restaurant,” says Hamme. “The servers are students of the restaurant and hospitality program at Auburn University and people who aspire to be chefs one day.
“I trained under a certified master chef when I got serious about being a chef,” says Hamme. “The culinary staff will be predominately comprised of chefs who aspire to master their craft through perfection of their skills.”
Looking over the new establishment with gratitude, Allen remarks, “We offer a warm, cozy environment where people will want to come and enjoy being here. A restaurant should be fun.
“We have a great team,” he adds. “The community needs this. We intend to be here a long time and have fun. We are offering Mediterranean cuisine with American beef. The food is prepared a little different, but it is heart healthy and tastier.
“When people walk in the door,” Allen adds, “we want them to look forward, left, right and then look up and say, ‘Wow!’”
Maestro 2300 is located at 2300 Moores Mill Road in Ogletree Shopping Center across from The Flower Store. Dinner is served
5 p.m. until 10 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.