By Susan Swagler, Alabama Newscenter
For Ryan Zargo, the chef-owner of Farmhouse of Springville, the idea of local is serious business. It’s personal, too. That’s exactly why he opened his fresh, new restaurant near where he lives.
“I’m local,” he says. “I grew up in Trussville; I live in Odenville. I’m very passionate about food, and … there’s just not a very big variety of food out in this area. … It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, just bring that variety of … fresh food to the people in this area.
“Business has been good,” he says. “Reception from the community has been great. I’m just glad to be a part of the Springville community.”
The restaurant, just off Interstate 59, is the realization of a long-held dream for Zargo. But the chef took an interesting, detour-filled journey to get where he is today.
Just out of high school, Zargo tried out for a semipro baseball team. He spent time in south Florida playing ball until a shoulder injury cut short that career. After rehabbing that injury, he joined the Marine Corps and served his country for four years.
It was after his time in the military when a television ad for classes at Culinard Culinary School caught his attention. So Zargo, who grew up with a hands-on appreciation for freshness that comes from a family garden and food made at home from scratch, decided on a new career track. “When I find something I enjoy doing,” he says, “I take it and I run with it.”
After finishing culinary school, Zargo worked at The Fish Market on Southside, where he says owner George Sarris taught him general restaurant management and how to handle high volume. He also worked at The Club, where the chefs helped him hone his skills in French techniques and fine dining. Along the way, he worked at barbecue and meat-and-three restaurants. He spent the past five years as executive chef at Bellinis Ristorante, putting it all together. But he always wanted his own place.
So, after 15 years in the food industry, Zargo opened his Southern-style Farmhouse. He describes it as “family owned and locally operated; we have a little bit of something for everybody – from barbecue to seafood to a good old-fashioned burger to steak.”
Farmhouse of Springville has been open for about six months but already has a local following. It’s attracting customers from Birmingham and Gadsden, too. The restaurant, with its certified Angus 8-ounce filet and 16-ounce ribeye, was named “Best Steak Restaurant” by the Trussville Tribune.
Those steaks are one good reason to visit; the chicken is another. That’s because they, like lots of things here, benefit from Zargo’s solid techniques with a smoker. The steaks are “cold smoked” before grilled; so is the salmon. It’s a technique Zargo picked up at The Club. He even cold smokes the Gouda for his mac and cheese. The result is a layer of flavors including notes of wood. The rich, mouthwatering scent of hardwood smoke surrounding ingredients is one of the first things visitors notice. It originates in a small shed out the restaurant’s back door.
While simple salt and pepper will go a long way, Zargo isn’t afraid to mix things up in his kitchen. Even the breading for the fried homemade pickles is a subtly complex combination of about 20 ingredients, including celery seed, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, onion powder and a touch of confectioners’ sugar. This sort of mixture makes the fried okra and green tomatoes special, too. It’s the kind of thing that sets a restaurant apart; Zargo says he’s simply trying to bring something different to the Springville area. “I like building layers of flavors.”
Of course, this kind of detail takes time. Sometimes days.
The restaurant’s award-winning pastrami is brined for three days with cinnamon, ginger, bay leaves and a Marsala pickle spice, among others. Then it’s dry rubbed with similar spices, rested for 24 hours and hot smoked for 12 more hours. The smoked chicken, which is one of the most popular items on the menu, also takes time. It is bathed for a day in a simple brine of brown sugar and salt, then dry rubbed to sit for another day before being smoked for three hours.
Zargo uses the chicken for dishes like the popular “mid-night chicken Cuban,” where he layers pulled smoked chicken with avocado, smoked provolone, chipotle-caramelized onions, spicy mayonnaise and homemade pickles.
Burgers, made with certified Angus beef that’s ground in-house, are another favorite here, and there are several options, including a classic farmhouse burger, another with melted blue cheese and another with smoked Gouda sauce, honey-glazed onion rings, and sweet and spicy barbecue sauce.
There are soups, salads, catfish, shrimp and grits and pan-seared grouper, too.
Farmhouse, as the name implies, is about using the best of what’s fresh and locally grown, and sometimes that means produce straight from Zargo’s own 1,000-square-foot backyard vegetable garden where he grows cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and squash.
What he doesn’t grow, he tries to source locally from producers like Allman Farms & Orchards in Oneonta. He gets extra tomatoes from nearby Sand Mountain. Zargo relies on quality meats and fresh Gulf seafood from Evans Meats & Seafood.
“We really have a passion for what we do,” he says. “We try to provide a variety of things – very fresh and flavorful food – for everybody.” Word has gotten out, business is steady and customers range from lunching ladies to date-night couples.
“They’ve been great,” Zargo says. “And especially at the opening, they really came out and supported us. We’ve been real thankful for that. We still get a lot of regulars coming in. It’s been a real supportive community, and we’re trying to … get more involved … trying to get out and do things for the community to give back.” He says they are starting small but doing what they can, donating to the nearby schools and a food pantry. “We donated to (the food pantry) for the holidays and are going to continue trying to donate and keep it stocked for the people in need through the holidays.”
Zargo figures that his entire career up to now has prepared him for owning his restaurant. Ingredients in his success are the dedication, commitment to hard work and a deeply instilled affinity for teamwork that gave Zargo the confidence to pursue a professional sports career and then led him to serve our country. The teamwork, he says, is especially important.
“I’m real team-oriented,” he says. “You know … I don’t look at certain positions in my kitchen … A lot of people say, ‘Here’s your grill cook, your fry cook.’ We have those, but we’re all a team; we all have got to help each other. That’s what I relate to a lot. That teamwork. That feeling of camaraderie.”
Check out the photos and video below.
Farmhouse of Springville
85 Purple Heart Blvd.
Springville, Alabama 35146
Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.