EATS & DRINKS

Grotto Wood Fired Grill and Wine Cave

10 Center St., Eureka Springs | www.grottoeureka.com
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By Case Dighero | Photos by Meredith Mashburn

 

There are countless destinations throughout Arkansas that are beautiful, but few elicit the magic feeling attached to Eureka Springs. With rolling hills, natural springs, and a community culture that transcends the sum of its parts, Eureka Springs evokes excitement and exhilaration while en route and a bittersweet longing when leaving. My first trip in the early‘90s left me reeling from the art, food and Ozark elevation — an experience that echoes even today.

Grotto Wood Fired Grill and Wine Cave is nestled in the center of the small city, surrounded by a natural cave, traced by history and a small underground spring that trickles inexplicably with an ethereal, delicate force no matter the season. Owners Rodney and Autumn Slane, although transplants like most of the Eureka Springs population, seem at home in their creation that can only be described as one of the last great secret restaurants in the Natural State.

Like the town in which it resides, Grotto Wood Fired Grill and Wine Cave is stratified with myriad experiences that begin and end with nature — a cavernous ambience and wood fire-kissed technique that is the epitome of High South. On the base level that shares space with the kitchen, nearly every seat faces a gorgeous, rustic rock wall — even when perched at the sexy, well-equipped bar. The upstairs is designed with a stage for live entertainment, utilized for busy-night overflow and private parties. And don’t forget the new speakeasy-esque Slane Tavern separated by a side-to-side moving bookcase that serves as a secret entrance, or escape, depending on your situation.

Autumn Slane seamlessly oversees the front of house, traversing guests’ needs with a perpetual smile and friendly demeanor. Rodney, her partner and husband, serves as executive chef. Le Cordon Bleu trained, he carefully conducts the intricate orchestra of cuisine that is primarily cooked over oak and hickory wood. The food is equally nuanced and rustic, yet another extension of the people and culture of Eureka Springs.

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Even introductory nosh, such as Peppered Goat ($11), is singular and interesting as chevre coated in crushed peppercorns, then adorned with homemade candied peppers, dried cranberries and spiced nuts. And there’s something for everybody here, such as the delectable Grilled Shrimp Ciabatta ($15), canoe cut Bone Marrow ($11), or perhaps my favorite from this section of the menu, Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts ($11), which are exquisitely blanched, flour-dusted, then fried to a slightly crunchy gem-like morsel. 

Still, Chef Slane is perhaps at his best when it comes to the thoughtful manipulation of fire and animal protein. Wood, temperature and time are part of his secret algorithm — long before he’s even contemplated gentle treatment of the meat. The Filet Mignon ($42) is an artistic endeavor, nestled against a cluster of cremini mushrooms bathed in white wine, garlic and butter. Each lean, delicate bite is perfectly marked, giving way to the most perfectly cooked medium rare steak I’ve had in recent memory. And the same could be said for the Boneless Ribeye ($45), boasting only the most perfect whisper of delicious fat.

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Hemingway

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Red meat reigns supreme at Grotto Wood Fired Grill and Wine Cave, but trust in knowing that there is something for every diner, no matter how deep their preference and desire. Vegetarians are whole-heartedly welcomed with a menu that includes scrumptious Grilled Portobello ($19), embellished with intermingled goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. The wood fired Cedar Plank Salmon ($24) is flaky and delicious, but the Smoked Duck Breast ($24) might just be my favorite item on the menu — delicate, nuanced with a faint layer of homemade barbecue sauce that is nothing short of culinary nirvana, especially when served with a side of fire-roasted acorn squash. 

The portions are perfect, so if requiring a bite of something sweet for dessert, please follow my lead in ordering the Chocolate Bombe ($12), ganache encased in a fragile dome and finished with raspberry coulis. It’s wonderful when set against a cup of black coffee — just the ticket before the drive home.

Grotto Wood Fired Grill and Wine Cave, just like Eureka Springs, will undoubtedly leave an impression, so prepare yourself to be exhilarated on arrival, more than satisfied, and maybe even a little melancholic upon your departure. 

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Hemingway:
Rum, lime, grapefruit with sugar rim

 

Rosemary Smash:

Slane Irish Whiskey, Elderflower, Rosemary & lemon muddles topped with ginger beer

Case Dighero is a culinary and cultural influencer, and contributing food editor for Citiscapes, working and residing in Northwest Arkansas for more than 20 years. Join Case for interactive cooking lessons as he guides participants through these recipes and more ! This virtual experience includes a Zoom link as well as recipes and locations to purchase ingredients. Visit www.edibleculture.net to learn more.

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