The town of Eureka Springs was named—perhaps unsurprisingly—for the preponderance of natural springs that first drew Europeans to the area in the late 19th century. And while they feature prominently in town iconography and culture, only one restaurant uses a live, natural spring as the centerpiece of its very dining room. Since 2015, Grotto Wood-Fired Grill has been serving American fare cooked over a wood-fire grill while one of the town’s namesake springs gently trickles forth from an exposed cave that makes up the back wall of the restaurant.
While the cave-and-fire setup lends a rather Stone Age atmosphere, the concept that chef Rodney Slane and his wife initially started out with was anything but. The space had previously been a seedy dive bar with a stage that often attracted local metal bands. Deviating from its former reputation, Slane had planned to open an ultra-modern, appetizer-forward restaurant where diners ordered through iPads embedded in their tables. It was only when Slane dismantled the stage and found a live spring beneath it that he realized where the musty smell and perennial water damage were coming from. Around the same time, Slane had purchased a large wood-fired grill. Due to these serendipitous discoveries, the restaurant concept became Grotto Wood-Fired Grill.
To keep things flowing and the restaurant dry, Slane channeled the spring into a moat which leads to outdoor drainage (come early enough before it gets busy and you may be able to hear its gentle trickle in the background). A wine cave in the back of the restaurant is literally a natural cave, keeping the bottles at a steady temperature. In keeping with the theme of working with one’s natural surroundings, the fire is fueled by oak trees felled from the property and dried and seasoned in town.
Nowadays, diners can enjoy wood-fired steaks, duck, quail, cedar-plank salmon, and an array of small plates beside the restaurant’s natural spring. The cave from which it emerges is gently illuminated by dedicated lighting, making it as much a part of the decor as the local art on the walls or the bulbed wine bottles over the bar.
Know Before You Go
To be seated closest to the spring, arrive early. If there’s a wait, visitors are invited to kill time at Slane’s Tavern, an old-world Irish pub with a sizable library located just next door.