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Flying Beetle lands with Destination Restaurant

When Hieu Bui took his Flying Beetle food truck to the streets of Russellville this summer, he harbored hopes that it might transition into a full restaurant someday.

He had no idea someday would be this soon.

The Flying Beetle Destination restaurant opened Monday in the Old School Cage building at the corner of Washington Avenue and Montgomery Street, diagonally opposite to the AW Todd Centre. Landlord Greg Lane encouraged Bui to take the leap and give the community what it’s been demanding – a place to sit down and enjoy the food truck’s delicious dishes. Lane also inspired the name, Destination Restaurant, with a vision toward making the restaurant a draw for people from surrounding counties and beyond.

“It’s a blessing that we have all this support from the community,” Bui said.

The restaurant’s interior sports a major facelift with a sleek, classy atmosphere, far removed from what it used to be.

“We’ve tried to do our best to make it where it’s not a ’50s soda fountain,” said Ben Britnell, who will serve as sous chef for the Destination.

Bui is excited about the family and friends dining experience the Destination will offer, made possible by the large handmade concrete tables that can provide ample seating. Shadow boxes built into the concrete tables display vintage curios that hold symbolic meaning. A time piece, for example, represents that “it’s our time now,” Bui said. “We’re kind of young – Ben, Andrew and myself – and we’ve worked really hard for this for the past two months. We’ve done pretty much all of this by ourselves.” A vintage compass says “we’re heading in the right direction,” Bui said. The compass also carries the idea of guiding people to the Destination restaurant.

The eclectic décor – including a mural made of pennies that adorns the front counter – is matched by the menu, which is the brainchild of head chef Andrew Nix, who came on board when the Flying Beetle food truck first took flight and will continue as head chef in the Destination kitchen.

“Our food is a little different than a lot of the food around this area,” Bui said. “Everything is made pretty much fresh.”

The restaurant has been open this week by invitation and will open fully to the public next week.

Lunch will be a casual counter service that could transition into table service depending on the needs of the restaurant. The restaurant also plans to add breakfast to its menu soon.

Dinner, which will be by reservation only at least in the beginning but will soon be served regular hours at the Destination, will be catered to the diners’ tastes and preferences. “If you want me to open for you and your husband’s anniversary and do a five-course chef tasting, I’ll design a menu for you within a price point, and you can have this entire restaurant to yourself, full service,” Nix said. “We can do everything here from wedding rehearsals, to bachelor parties, to a quinceañera, to a 5-year-old’s birthday party with grilled cheeses and ice cream. There’s not a limitation to what we can do.”

It’s a business concept that has already been in play at the food truck. The Flying Beetle takes its cues from its customers, tailoring menu options to what’s meeting with approval and discontinuing items that don’t seem as popular.

Nix said the Destination will have some standard, core menu items but will also offer special twists on those items and serve seasonal dishes and unique chef’s creations.

Nix grew up in Franklin County and, after realizing how much he hated the job his business degree had gotten him, went on a culinary journey that began with education at the Arts Institute of Atlanta and connected him with Top Chef’s Richard Blais, with whom he opened five restaurants. He worked with and learned from award-winning chefs like Chris Hastings, an Iron Chef competitor and chef at the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham.

“Chef Hastings really opened my world. Before that I was so one-dimensional,” Nix said.

Nix said his menu will take familiar Southern comfort foods that everyone loves – barbecue, chicken fingers and burgers, for example – and plate them up with elevated flavors, unique twists and really fresh, delicious ingredients. “Imagine if breakfast at Grandma’s met Food Network while walking through a big city art studio,” is how the restaurant’s mission statement stylizes the food.

“It’s just that really good, down-home local flavor done with a modern Americana flair,” Nix said. “We stay simple and rustic, just like down-home family.”

The restaurant prides itself on offerings like local produce and hand-pattied burgers, as well as other fresh-made menu items.

“The only sauce I don’t make is ketchup, and that’s only because I can’t make it better than Heinz,” Nix quipped.

Prices, Nix and Bui said, will be comparable to those of any restaurant in town.

“The only difference is it’s crafted, handmade food,” Nix said.

Destination is open daily for lunch from beginning at 10 a.m. and will soon add breakfast and dinner. For information on dinner and event reservations, call 256-398-7000 or email destination@flyingbeetle.net.

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