Executive Chef and General Manager Rob McDaniel and the decision-makers of Russell Lands on Lake Martin combined to design a restaurant that is luring diners off the beaten path who come for a visual as well as a culinary feast. Located at 12 Benson Mill Road in Alexander City, off of Highway 280 between Birmingham and Auburn, AL, SpringHouse is no longer a well-kept secret but is a highly-sought-after reservation for dinner on Wednesdays through Saturdays and for brunch on Sundays. With its photogenic natural setting, SpringHouse is also a popular wedding venue. Since its opening in 2009, residents and vacationers on Lake Martin, Auburn University faithful coming in for a big game and discriminating diners scattered throughout the Southeast are making SpringHouse an important part of their plans.
The architecture incorporates large stones, wood beams and ironwork in the exterior and throughout the three-level interior, creating an atmosphere that is rustic, casual and sophisticated. In addition to the main dining room, there is a Promontory, which is a more intimate bar and dining area upstairs, and a Well House, which is a 12-seat circular dining space that is reached by walking through the underground wine storage. It is great for private dinners, or it can be used by a bride and her bridesmaids preparing for a wedding.
The wide open spaces of woods and rolling hills create awe-inspiring views, and Chef McDaniel works hard to make a connection with the land by what he prepares for the plates. When he isn’t cooking or spending time with his family, he loves to hunt, fish and forage. And, he enjoys picking herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden a few steps from SpringHouse. He feels that he’s been successful if he “gets to the emotional side of people through food.”
Chef McDaniel has just become a five-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation Awards in the Best Chef South category. McDaniel’s skills in the kitchen pull from his Southern roots in Haleyville, AL and from watching his grandmothers cook. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management from Auburn University in 2002 and studied at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He figures he has at least 20 years of cooking experience under his belt. The cuisine at SpringHouse is described as Southern and Contemporary American, and McDaniel goes a step further by saying he uses meat and produce “as local as often as possible.” The daily menu (according to their website) is quite simply “a snapshot of a day in a season” using ingredients that are available at that particular time. It changes — at least a little bit — every week. McDaniel is an advocate of the Alabama Gulf Seafood Movement and uses mackerel often because it hasn’t been over-fished like other species have. He is also a member of Fatback Collective, a group of chefs, restaurants owners and farmers dedicated to breeds of heritage livestock. He has learned much about grilling from those experts. He cooks over live fire each day that the restaurant is open, and the bacon is smoked in-house. SpringHouse even hosts cooking classes throughout the year to educate interested eaters about ingenious ingredients and inventive methods of preparation.
Two different publications have cited SpringHouse for having the Best Brunch. Open Table Diners chose them as one of the “100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America for 2017,” using over 10 million reviews of 24,000 restaurants. And, Good Grits Magazine recognized SpringHouse for Best Brunch in their Character of the South Awards. I was there recently for Sunday brunch and agree wholeheartedly with these awards. For my entree, I chose Spring Onion Dumplings with Gulf Blue Crab, chicken stock, tarragon, Georgia olive oil and preserved lemon. The dumplings were light and bursting with flavor, and I can honestly say I’ve never had anything like it before. So good. My husband chose Pancakes with Vermont maple syrup and raved about their texture and taste. We also sampled a couple of stuffed pimentos that were very special.
Here are another couple of items on menus recently: Eggs Benedict and Snapper with spring vegetables. Look at these appetizing presentations.
I am already anticipating getting off of Highway 280 during our next trip to Auburn for a football game, so I can try another innovative and deliciously different creation at SpringHouse. Congratulations to the SpringHouse staff and to Russell Lands on Lake Martin for their tremendous success.