He built it, and they came
Ride a boat (or car) to dine alfresco at popular Lake Martin eatery
By Jennifer Kornegay
There are countless ways to enjoy time at Lake Martin, the massive man-made lake filled with beautiful blue-green waters in east-central Alabama.
Zip around its shimmering surface on a jet ski. Drop a line from the banks or a boat in hopes of landing a big bass. Paddle a kayak into quiet inlets to explore the tree-lined shores. Sit back on a pontoon boat and take a tour of house-envy-inducing lake homes. Or simply relax on a raft and float the day away. Whatever you do — active or not — water works up an appetite, so you’ll need to eat.
Meeting that need hasn’t always been easy if you want to dine at a restaurant. Compared to the size of the lake, there still aren’t that many around, and a few years ago, that was even more true if you were on the far west side of the lake. That’s the dilemma that faced Herb Winches, owner of The Landing at Parker Creek, an all-alfresco eatery and bar cozied up to the water in Equality, right beside Parker Creek Marina.
At the time he had the idea for The Landing, Winches was facing — literally — something else, too. “I was at my lake house and was standing on the porch late one afternoon, looking at this stunning view of the water across a nice flat and empty piece of property adjacent to mine. I thought a restaurant would be great right there,” he says.
Winches was also weary of navigating across the lake to eat out. And while the retired sportscaster from Birmingham was done with the broadcasting life, he wasn’t really ready to completely slow down. “So, I thought, I’ll open a spot here on this great property,” he says. He took full advantage of the waterfront locale, adding a roped-off swimming area for kids, plenty of boat slips for parking and decided to forgo walls and opt instead for tables on a series of covered decks, as well as some seating set in the soft grass under towering pines. The kitchen and other areas that needed to be enclosed are housed in shipping containers.
Winches had no idea exactly what to expect, but it was a classic “build it and they will come” scenario. And come they did.
In late spring 2015, The Landing welcomed its first guests. And they weren’t all “local.” Plenty of the diners that first year had charted a course from every nook and cranny of the lake in a trend that continues today. “People have to pass other places to get here, but they do,” Winches says.
Boats (and even some cars) come from all over, ferrying folks who land at The Landing happy to have their hair ruffled by constant breezes blowing off the water and ready to sate their rumbling tummies with the casual, yet elevated, cuisine served during lunch and dinner hours Thursday through Sunday, from mid-April through Labor Day. Diverse items like shrimp tacos, beef filet sliders and a spiced-just-right mahi sandwich with slaw are popular. And daily specials, like lobster tacos, often sell out.
It’s a family friendly spot, with ample space for kids to run and yell and splash in the shallows without bothering a soul. It’s got some grown-up treats, too. The bar’s chocolate-heavy version of a “beach cocktail,” the bushwhacker, is a must-try.
At night, dinner specials range from meltingly tender beef short ribs with mushroom-truffle risotto to halibut stuffed with sweet crab meat, enhanced with lemon-butter-caper sauce.
Chef Torrey Hall, who originally hails from Hawaii, provides the lift underneath these dishes as well as The Landing’s more upscale versions of standard sandwiches, burgers and salads. Winches profusely praises his work. “His red snapper is as good as you’ll get anywhere,” he says.
He touts the rest of his staff too, knowing they’re the key to the fast, friendly service that keeps crowds coming back, even when there’s a line at the walk-up ordering counter that’s 40 people deep. “It’s very important that once guests place their order, they get served fast, and my team makes that happen,” he says. “My wonderful staff is key to our success.”
As Winches has no restaurant experience and since his “retired” designation implied he should be relaxing, that success came as a bit of surprise to some quite close to him. “When I first told her my idea, my wife thought I was crazy. She doesn’t think that anymore,” he laughs. “Now she’s the business manager.”
Even the pandemic didn’t slow The Landing down. Thanks to its open-air concept and good safety protocols, many people felt safe dining there. In 2020, sales were up 35 percent over 2019, and that had been a record year. “There were so many more people at the lake,” Winches says. “A lot of them were working remotely and just stayed here the whole summer.”
Indeed, on any given Saturday or Sunday during the “season,” The Landing is packed. Winches loves to mix and mingle, chatting up diners like old friends. And many now are; the restaurant boasts a good group of repeat guests. “I enjoy socializing with guests so much,” he says. “I joke and call myself a ‘Walmart greeter.’”
While the food and service get rave reviews, they’re not the main attractions here. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself at The Landing during a summer sunset, when the sky’s layers of cotton-candy pink bleeding into fiery orange are mirrored on the water, you’ll see what Winches saw, and start to understand how something as simple as a lovely view could spark such a delicious idea. “I really wanted to showcase the lake and invite others to enjoy this spot too,” he says.
The Landing at Parker Creek
8300 Parker Creek Marina Road, Equality
Hours: Thursday, 4 p.m.-8 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.