Southeast Alabama has all of the necessary ingredients for a romantic getaway or a weekend shared with friends. With award-winning restaurants and chefs, an inspiring art museum and an impressive calendar of activities on and near the campus of Auburn University in Alabama, the area attracts thousands of people each year in addition to the devoted year-round residents. Sports events pitting championship-caliber teams bring in hordes of additional rabid fans on a regular basis. Pursell Farms, in nearby Childersburg, has a first class golf course, an amazing spa, two restaurants and beautifully appointed accommodations. Some visitors choose to stay there and commute back and forth to Auburn. Others venture out to Lake Martin to appreciate the recreation and the cuisine there.
Acre, The Depot and Lucy’s provide upscale dining near the Auburn campus, while Arrington and SpringHouse serve superior dishes to diners willing to drive a short distance.
1. Acre continues to garner recognition and awards
Owner and Executive Chef David Bancroft was a 2018 Semi-Finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South category, and his restaurant Acre was named Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant in Alabama by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Named for the size of the property on which it sits, Acre cultivates nearly every inch (millimeter) with herbs, vegetables, fruit trees and all kinds of edible products to use in the kitchen.
The charcuterie boards artfully arranged and presented to diners include cheeses and meats produced locally and humanely, and other menu features include the creatively prepared vegetables grown on site and gathered from nearby farms.
Acre is a mere three blocks from the edge of the Auburn University campus and the iconic Toomer’s Corner where sports victories are celebrated. Cam Newton, one of Auburn’s most famous former football stars, is especially fond of the cuisine at Acre and has his special requests whenever he visits.
It is a delight to walk from the parking lot to the front door past all of the plants. Those moments add to the anticipation of a great meal. Acre is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, for dinner Monday through Saturday and for brunch on Sunday.
2. The Depot provides upscale dining in an historic building
The train station building where The Depot now serves its guests was built in 1847 and has a storied history involving the Civil War and later busy times. The exterior appears much as it did in those days, but the interior has been renovated while still retaining a vintage feel with patterned tile floors, painted brick walls, decor accents representing bygone years and stunning crystal chandeliers.
The menu consists primarily of seafood, much of which is prepared over a wood fire grill. There is also a hint of New Orleans with Po'Boys, gumbo and jambalaya, plus other international flavors coming from the chef’s extensive background and training. Executive Chef Scott Simpson is an expert in preparing seafood and was named a finalist in a recent Alabama Seafood Cook-off.
The Depot is within a five-minute walk of the Auburn campus and downtown. It is open Tuesday through Thursday for lunch, Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday for brunch.
3. Lucy's is new and gleaming
Lucy’s, on Moores Mill Road, opened its doors to eager diners in June 2018 and has gained momentum from returning satisfied customers and word of mouth. Although it is a few miles from the center of town, there is a steady flow of traffic coming in for their so-called “killer cocktails,” wine on tap, shareable appetizers, Wednesday night burgers and Thursday night specials of fried chicken and oysters for 1 USD each. Oysters are, in fact, a heavy favorite on Lucy’s menu, along with burgers, steaks and salmon. Whenever braised short ribs appear on the list, they are ordered and devoured enthusiastically.
The interior is a beautiful reflection of the owner’s skill and eye for color and design. Lisa Van Der Reijden is, in fact, an interior designer who owns and operates VDR Designs.
Executive Chef Brian Paolina is originally from southern California, so he brings a taste of the southwest into the heart of the south for the lucky diners at Lucy’s.
Greeting guests at the door is a sign stating: “Good vibes only.” Staff members do a great job of creating many of those good vibes with their friendly and helpful attitudes.
Lucy’s is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
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4. Arrington at Pursell Farms is worth the short drive
Pursell Farms in Sylacauga is about a 45-minute drive from downtown Auburn via US-280 West highway. The amazing property is well worth the extra time with its perfectly manicured 18-hole golf course, boutique spa, horseback riding, fishing, hunting and shooting, but the luxurious accommodations and exceptional dining push it even further to a must-visit category.
Arrington is the fine dining restaurant inside the guest lodge, and it serves breakfast seven days a week and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.
Executive Chef Andrea Griffith, with previous experience in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia, had no intention of moving to Alabama until she saw the property and met the Pursell family. They offered her complete creative freedom in the kitchen and exuded such a welcoming vibe, she was quickly lured to the South. Breakfast offerings include eggs Benedict, omelets, waffles, avocado toast and delectable homemade muffins and jams. Dinner has entrees such as shrimp, grouper, beef filets and duck breast, but Chef Andrea says chicken and dumplings may be the most requested dish.
The scenery, attractive furnishings and decor create an elegant atmosphere, then the food adds the crowning touch.
5. SpringHouse lures visitors with location and cuisine
When the owners of Russell Lands On Lake Martin and Executive Chef Rob McDaniel decided to collaborate on a restaurant, they chose a stunning piece of property with views of pasture lands, hardwood and pine forests and the sparkling waters of Lake Martin. The architecture of the building is exceptional too, with wood beams, a great stone hearth and tasteful rustic accents. Chef McDaniel who oversees several gardens on the property is a five-time nominee for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South category. He is an advocate of sustainable cooking and a supporter of local farmers.
SpringHouse is also accessible to Auburn via US-280 West highway, and the drive takes about an hour. SpringHouse is a sought-after venue for celebrations of all kinds but is also a great place for an elegant meal and worth the time to find it.
SpringHouse serves dinner Wednesday through Saturday and brunch on Sunday.
Remarkable chefs and restaurants serve Auburn diners
It is truly remarkable to find five restaurants of this caliber within such a small radius, especially in this generally rural section of Alabama. However, the influence of a large university such as Auburn brings in discriminating diners who expect and enjoy the very best culinary experiences. Reservations are highly recommended with each one. Their reputations continue to grow, as do their recognitions in the state and beyond. You will find some wonderful Southern cuisine prepared with extraordinary skill at Acre, The Depot, Lucy’s, Arrington and SpringHouse.
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