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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Acre: Humble, Southern and Inspired

by Aimee Tortorich

After an epic road trip to New York cooking at the James Beard House & Chefs and Champagne and eating at some of the best restaurants in NYC, Team Bite and Booze had one more important stop to make. Jay had been talking about having dinner at Acre in Auburn, Alabama for over a week. I didn’t think it would live up to the amazing dishes we had in New York, but Chef David Bancroft blew me away.

Acre in Auburn, Alabama
Acre in Auburn, Alabama


Nestled only two blocks from the historic Toomer’s Corner in Auburn lies one of the South’s hottest new restaurants. Acre is a restaurant that passionately follows the farm to table concept. Surrounded by an acre of fruits, vegetables and herbs, Chef David has fresh ingredients fueling his creativity a few steps away. A self-proclaimed “country boy” and a master culinary magician in my eyes, Chef David welcomed us with true southern hospitality. Seating us at the Chef’s table he immediately began offering up simple, but flavor packed, inspired dishes. 

Chef David picked watermelon from the front yard of the restaurant for a snack and a cocktail!
Chef David picked watermelon from the front yard of the restaurant for a snack and a cocktail!

As a chef, it’s a dream of mine to build a career focused on the harvest of southern, seasonal ingredients. Raised to live off the land, I’ve always had a passion for this kind of cooking.

The first dish that hit our table was the Chicken Fried Bacon. Two strips of house-made smoked bacon were gently fried in a pepper batter and served with silky white sawmill gravy, Vermont maple syrup and garnished with local pecans. We were fighting over the last bite because it was that good!

Chicken Fried House-Made Bacon, sawmill gravy, Vermont maple syrup, local pecans
Chicken Fried House-Made Bacon, sawmill gravy, Vermont maple syrup, local pecans


These tender Gulf shrimp swimming in an Asian-inspired sweet and spicy BBQ butter sauce almost knocked me out. We were only on our second course and a single bite of the crispy sweet corn donuts dredged in the flavored butter had me feeling feelings. 
 
Peel & Eat Shrimp-“Top secret” BBQ Butter, Sweet Corn Donuts
Peel & Eat Shrimp-“Top secret” BBQ Butter, Sweet Corn Donuts


This was easily one of my favorite dishes of the night. If curry is on the menu, I’m all over it and this dish didn’t disappoint! The balance of heat and sweetness around the tender oyster was absolutely addicting.

Chargrilled Oysters-Curry Butter, house-made hot sauce
Chargrilled Oysters-Curry Butter, house-made hot sauce


The beef tartare with stone ground mustard was the perfect balance of umami and tang. The creaminess of the tender beef with the acidic, spicy mustard was a perfect bite on a charred bread.
 
Wagyu Beef tartare-stone ground mustard, grilled bread
Wagyu Beef tartare-stone ground mustard, grilled bread

The smoky flavors of the salmon balanced well with the acidity of the mustard and pickled veggies. I could ping pong back and forth between this dish and the beef tartar any day.

Smoked salmon rillettes-mustard, pickled veggies, grilled bread
Smoked salmon rillettes-mustard, pickled veggies, grilled bread



The flavorings of the sausage were far from traditional. Chef de Cuisine, Caleb Fischer added bright Asian flavors to the sausage, which balanced out the fattiness of the pork. The house-made waffles had a nice crunch, but tender on the inside, while the huitlacoche purée brought the whole dish together with nice, earthy notes. 

Sausage and Waffles-house-made sausage, house-made waffles, Huitlacoche (corn smut) sauce
Sausage and Waffles-house-made sausage, house-made waffles, Huitlacoche (corn smut) sauce
  


As our bellies began to get full, Chef David slowed the pace down with a nice and refreshing intermezzo. A fresh picked watermelon from the garden graced our table garnished with torn basil, Gulf of Mexico salt from our friends at Cellar Salt Co. and a slight drizzle of Georgia olive oil.

Sliced watermelon, torn basil, Cellar Sea Salt, Georgia olive oil
Sliced watermelon, torn basil, Cellar Sea Salt, Georgia olive oil


Chef David brought out his magician skills with the highlight of the evening, a two-year aged ham. Beautiful in color and thinly sliced, the ham melted in my mouth. Following boucherie-style tradition, we shared a shot of whiskey with a Bancroft twist. First, you place a drop of Poirier cane syrup on your tongue and let it sit. Then, we took a sip out of a mason jar filled with skins/fat from the ham soaking in Woodford Reserve and finished it all off with a bite of that heavenly ham. 
 
2 year aged ham, Poirier cane syrup, 2 year old ham skins/fat in Woodford Reserve
2 year aged ham, Poirier cane syrup, 2 year old ham skins/fat in Woodford Reserve


The cream poached sweet corn with sweet corn donuts was a simple, yet flavor packed dish. It came as no surprise that Chef David picked the corn from the restaurant garden. He described the Silver Queen variety as the “cream of the crop.” Super tender, extremely sweet, and a perfect welcome back to the South.

Cream poached Silver Queen corn with corn donuts
Cream poached Silver Queen corn with corn donuts
We closed out our amazing dining experience with a humble but tasty dessert, fig cinnamon rolls. It was especially touching for Jay because we had just served his Granny’s famous cinnamon pecan rolls earlier that week at the James Beard House. They were warm, fluffy and drenched in icing; job well done Chef Caleb Fischer!

Chef Caleb Fischer's cast iron fig cinnamon rolls
Chef Caleb Fischer's cast iron fig cinnamon rolls


After dinner, we took a tour around the property where Chef explained the significance and importance of living off the land. Every crop in the garden and protein used inspired the kitchen to create dishes that were not only well thought out but executed with a humble touch. I hope to return to Acre sooner rather than later to see what Chef David is cooking up!