The 2020 James Beard Awards are canceled, but we’re still celebrating Automatic

Even on a rainy day, it still looks good. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Birmingham restaurants are no strangers to nationwide accolades, even from The James Beard Foundation—the NYC-based nonprofit that serves as one of the nation’s top food authorities. In another wave of 2020 news, Bham favorite Automatic Seafood and Oysters will remain a James Beard finalist, well, forever.

What’s this award?

Some of the freshest seafood you can find in the Magic City. Photo via Automatic Seafood on Facebook

An award from the James Beard Foundation is one of the highest culinary achievements one can reach in the U.S.

You may have been keeping up with the James Beard saga this year—plenty of Birmingham foodies certainly have. In February, four Birmingham restaurants and bars were named James Beard Award Semifinalists, including:

  • Best New Restaurant: Automatic Seafood & Oysters
  • Best Chef of the South: Timothy Hontzas, Johnny’s Restaurant
  • Outstanding Hospitality: Chez Fonfon
  • Best Bar Program: The Atomic Lounge

In May, we reported that Automatic Seafood and Oysters had been named a James Beard Finalist for Best New Restaurant. This is incredibly impressive news—they were one of only 10 to make the list, the closest being in New Orleans.

Postponed until… forever, you say?

Hey, as long as we can still chow down on some oysters, it’s a win in our book. Photo via Automatic Seafood on Facebook

The James Beard Foundation announced on August 20 that they would not be announcing the rest of the 2020 award winners—which is a first in the awards’ 30-year history.

Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach says they did not come to this unprecedented decision lightly.

“As we strive to provide an Awards program with the highest ethical standards, one that is fair, equitable, and reflective of the industry which we serve, we know that the right move is to step back and take stock of the nominees’ and honorees’ achievements.

We hope to focus our collective energy on helping our community get through this crisis and on addressing the inequities in the industry going forward. We look forward to bringing the Awards back when the industry is once again ready for them.”

Clare Reichenbach, CEO, James Beard Foundation

So where does that leave Automatic Seafood? In the proverbial finalist purgatory. We’re not upset, though. We know they would have won—now we just have to celebrate on our own.

Don’t worry—you can still get your seafood.

It’s no secret that our team members here at Bham Now are fans of Automatic. It’s still a huge accomplishment for them to be named a finalist for this award, and it’s easy to see why they were.

If you want to see (and taste) it for yourself, just visit their website to get the latest hours, order online or make a patio reservation.

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Beth Cunningham
A Birmingham transplant who can usually be found hitting a new hiking trail or restaurant opening when she's not writing stories and snapping photos for Bham Now.
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