This article originally ran in Alabama Living magazine, in my Worth the Drive column that I write monthly for the statewide magazine. In WTD, I cover out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall spots, usually mom-and-pop eateries. SpringHouse in Alexander City, Ala., definitely does not fit in that category, but it is absolutely worth your drive, especially around brunch time.
The idea of ordering bacon, scrambled eggs and a gravy-smothered biscuit for brunch when there are other selections to tempt your taste buds like a chicken biscuit with jalapeno white BBQ sauce, eggs benedict with hickory-grilled sirloin (instead of boring ole Canadian bacon), and a lamb omelet served with a side of locally sourced stone-ground grits may seem odd to some. Why choose the simple one, something you could easily whip up at home? Well, because I feel fairly comfortable proclaiming that while you can certainly make this meal at home, you probably can’t make it as well as what you’ll find at SpringHouse in Alexander City. I know I can’t. (I also doubt your breakfast nook boasts the warm, rustically elegant ambiance that fills every corner — as well as the outdoor areas — of this stone and timber, lodge-looking restaurant crowning a hilltop in the Russell Crossroads development at Lake Martin.)
But back to that brunch plate: Pale yellow clouds of scrambled eggs play with crisped fatty bacon (with zero chew) like a soft and salty symphony. A light biscuit is topped with peppery gravy that strikes just the right consistency note: not too thick and not too thin. If you order coffee, it comes to the table in your own French press. This music-to-your mouth meal begins with quality ingredients: farm-fresh eggs, house-cured bacon (which you might even see smoking in front of the massive stacked-stone fireplace in the main dining room), specialty roasted coffee with raw sugar (if you take it sweet). I hear you saying, “I can go buy all that if I want.” Sure you can. Thanks to a renewed emphasis on real food and a farm-to-fork philosophy reviving our support of area producers, today it’s not too hard (and really never was if you knew where to look) to get your hands on any of the above.
But it’s not just what you start with; it’s what you do with it. And more importantly for my argument, who “you” are. In the kitchen at SpringHouse, the “you” is Chef Rob McDaniel. This Alabama native has reaped praise since the restaurant opened in 2009; he was just nominated, for the second year in a row, as the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the South.
And it’s simple stuff like the eggs, bacon and biscuit of a SpringHouse brunch that has pushed McDaniel above other great chefs in our area. It’s easy to shine when pulling off a complex ballet of exotic flavors and textures; it’s tougher to do basic better than anyone else. And a commitment to using what’s in season and what’s nearby lends his dishes a pure, pellucid quality that’s refreshing. (It also means the menu changes constantly.)
But that’s not to suggest McDaniel’s dishes are plain, that there’s nothing special about his cooking or that he lacks skill. His talent and innovation are obvious in twists on regional favorites like pork loin with black pepper dumplings in ham-hock broth with collard greens and fresh herbs, his version of a Southern Sunday dinner staple. His Springhouse S’mores alone are worth any drive you have to make to get to this place. The artful take on the classic campfire treat is playful and delicious with homemade graham crackers buried under warm dark-chocolate cake (complete with a gooey center), fluffy marshmallow cream and homemade marshmallows.
So I’ll confidently make another proclamation: Brunch at SpringHouse, no matter what you order, will leave you in a sunny, satisfied mood, and the only thing that could make you ornery is the thought of what you’ll be missing when you’re having breakfast at home the next day (so don’t think about that ‘til later).
P.S. Dinner at SpringHouse is wonderful too, so don’t fret if you can’t make it there for brunch.