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Archived Story

Local restaurants featured in Alabama Food

Published 11:57am Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Eating is an American pastime, but in Alabama there are a number of dishes you just can’t miss – three of them located right here in Tallapoosa County.

Alabama Food: Classic Dishes, Restaurants and Chefs hit the shelves yesterday, and its pages feature three local menu items: catfish fingers at Circle A Catfish in Dadeville, the s’mores at Springhouse and blackened catfish from Cecil’s Public House.

The book is a publication of the Alabama Tourism Department, and Brian Jones, regional director, said they see it at least in part as a service to travelers.

“Here are not only the great original restaurants that aren’t these nationwide chains … here’s what they’re really known for,” Jones said. By highlighting local restaurants and dishes, Jones said they try to ensure travelers don’t spend their whole vacation eating out at chain restaurants.

“If my dad was still alive, he would be so proud,” said Kimberly Aldridge Benson, owner and chef at Circle A Catfish. “He’s the one that started the business, and he’s the one who taught me how to cook.”

Circle A Catfish was featured with a picture and short blurb in the 128-page, full color hardback book. Springhouse was also featured with some detail. Cecil’s, however, was a special case.

“When they asked us to be in the book, we were planning on it,” said Staci Futral, former manager of Cecil’s. “I had already gotten all the information – gathered the recipes that we were actually going to enter into the book and all that.”

The restaurant, however, burned to the ground March 17 in a fire.

“Occasionally … when I hear the train go across the track, especially if it’s dark or if it’s late, the first thing that pops into my head is seeing that building on fire,” Futral said. “I don’t know why the train triggers it … but I see it, over again.”

But Futral and owner Stacey Jones said they are still proud to see the dish listed in the book, along with Springhouse s’mores and Circle A catfish fingers, as one of the 100 Dishes To Eat In Alabama Before You Die – a listing that was also previously published in brochure format.

“Every ‘restaurant’ serves some kind of blackened (food),” Jones said. “It’s just the difference in the seasoning that you use and how you prepare it.”

The catfish was served as one filet or two, as well as in a salad or as a sandwich. Futral said they had to give credit to the chefs for making it just right.

“There was a little bit of Cajun kick to it, but it wasn’t spicy spicy,” Futral said. “It wasn’t too much. It just gave it a really good flavor, … and it was consistent. It tasted the same way every time you had it.”

Jones said it wasn’t just one thing that made the fish so delicious.

“I have given that seasoning to different customers,” Jones said. “They come back and say, ‘It’s not the same.’ It’s the difference in cooking it on a flat-top grill, whether you use butter, vegetable oil or olive oil …  it’s just the difference in what you do.”

Benson said their catfish is highlighted by the side dishes they typically include –hush puppies, French fries, and coleslaw her mother makes.

“It’s a good Southern dish,” Benson said. “It’s just the way we cook them … they’re just really easy to eat and everybody enjoys them.”

Springhouse s’mores came to the menu after Chef Rob McDaniel went on a camping trip and have been on the menu since the day the restaurant opened.

“(The Alabama Tourism Department) had called and asked what one of our favorite dishes were,” McDaniel said. “It’s all homemade graham crackers and marshmallows and chocolate lava cake … It’s changed a little but not much.”

Jones said while it’s sad that no one will be able to try the catfish or any of Cecil’s other great dishes, seeing the dishes in the book still honors the memories made.

“Whether the building is there or not, nobody can ever take your memories away,” Jones said.

Benson said they were just thankful to the Lord for all of his blessings in the restaurant business.

“I’m just excited that we’re in the book,” Benson said. “It makes me feel good.”

Alabama Food is available at bhamstore.com, amazon.com, Alabama Booksamillion stores and in various regional bookstores.

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