Where to eat, drink in Auburn

Friday June 30th, 2017

Heading to Auburn, Alabama soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for a fried softshell crab or a Big Fat Steak, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town. 

Acre

210 E. Glenn Ave, Auburn, AL 36830
This review of Acre originally appeared April 18, 2016

The bartender at Acre could see my disappointment. He’s probably also excellent at reading people, but I’ve never been great at hiding my feelings. Of course my mouth drooped and my shoulders slumped when he told me the menu had rotated and the bacon-fried ribeye, the dish I’d come to taste, wasn’t on it anymore. Pretty much everything else on the menu also sounded excellent, but once a man has been tempted by the notion of a ribeye cooked in bacon grease, a mental point of no return has been passed.

I didn’t press the issue. Acre, with its garden out front and thoughtful sourcing, wasn’t toying with the menu to toy with my emotions. Still, I thought, other items on the menu included bacon, so there had to be some grease on the premises. no. This is the wrong attitude. I don’t want to make demands of people who clearly care about food as much as I do. They know best. So I ordered two appetizers and pondered my next move…

… and then the bartender reappeared.

He’d visited the kitchen, and yes, there was bacon grease. Yes, the cooks could pan-fry a ribeye in it.

The only thing I conceal worse than my disappointment is my delight. The place had just opened, so only a handful of people caught the audible squeal.

I shouldn’t have been so worried about the entree. I could have walked out happy after the appetizers. I ordered the bread board, which is less about the bread than it is the spreads. Slices of ciabatta and sourdough surround house-made pimento cheese, rosemary butter and bacon sorghum butter. Pimento cheese is the only reason mayonnaise should exist, and the pimento cheese at Acre is sublime. The bacon butter mixes bacon and butter, so it never had a chance to taste anything but great.

Next came a softshell crab fried like a piece of Nashville hot chicken. I named mine Pinchy. The heat coming off Pinchy didn’t match the face-melting spice of Nashville institution Prince’s, but the crispy skin had just enough capsaicin to make it interesting. Pinchy sat atop a thick slice of white bread that soaked up all the excess spice. After Pinchy went for a swim in my stomach, I slathered the excess bacon butter on that spicy bread.

Then came the steak. After a bite, I realized I shouldn’t have been so worried about the bacon fat as a cooking aid. The bone marrow butter made the ribeye even richer, but it wasn’t necessary either. The additional flourishes added some depth, but the fine folks at Acre knew they didn’t need to do much to enhance a thick, one-pound hunk of marbled meat that in most places would cost a lot more than the $32 Acre charges for it. I ordered it rare, and the chef wasn’t afraid to actually cook it rare.

Even though the raw material was of such high quality that it didn’t need any bacon gimmickry to taste wonderful, I appreciated the staff at Acre working extra to make sure I got exactly what I wanted. That, more than any particular preparation, will ensure I return on my next trip to Auburn.

The Hound

124 Tichenor Ave, Auburn, AL 36830
This review of The Hound originally appeared Nov. 6, 2016. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about grown-up oases in college towns when I reviewed Theo’s in Fayetteville, Ark. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring to your attention another spot in a different SEC town that serves the same purpose. So order an Old Fashioned and pull up a stool at The Hound, another haven for grown-ups surrounded by the swirl of hormones on campus.

Auburn’s dining scene has taken off in the past few years. You already know about Acre. The locals also rave about LiveOaks. But it’s tough to beat the combination of beverages and comfort food at The Hound (http://thehound-auburn.com/). The photos section of The Hound’s Facebook page probably qualifies as NSFW. Each day brings a new sandwich or mac and cheese concoction. A Monte Cristo may follow a wild boar burger. Pork belly may replace chorizo in the appetizer mac and cheese special.

The aptly named Big Fat Steak.
Andy Staples

The deer antler door handles might be a tad over-the-top, but any people who care this much about meat, macaroni and cheese can decorate however they damn well please. On my visit, the mac and cheese special was Philly Cheesesteak, with chunks of beef suspended in gooey melted cheese. There were three of us. A fight nearly broke out over the last bite.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop slathering the Mama Sue’s jalapeño jelly and cream cheese on Ritz crackers. The Hound, like nearly all its college town counterparts, has a pimento cheese appetizer, but we skipped it in favor of the pepper jelly. This was the wise play. I wound up scraping the last few drops of jelly onto a cracker just to get one last fix before we departed.

For the main course, I had the beautifully named Big Fat Steak. It’s a 16-ounce ribeye served swimming it its own juice with a side of compound butter. There are no exotic seasonings, because this orgy of bovine fat and meat requires none. I ordered mine rare, and it was cooked perfectly. Each bite got dipped in the stew of the steak’s juices and lustily consumed. My only regret is that I had a drive ahead and couldn’t enjoy anything from the wall of bourbon behind the bar. Next time I visit, I plan to stay considerably longer.

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