My introduction to this week’s Friday Five will be short because my entry is long. Simply put: If I lived in Asheville, I’d gain one hundred pounds and would forget how to cook.
Of the fourteen gazillion independent restaurants in the Asheville area, Tupelo Honey Cafe was my favorite. My sample size of one or two meals per restaurant makes my study an unscientific one, but if you want rigid well-thought out restaurant ratings, I’m probably not your best source. And if you want cheesy smashed cauliflower that will forever change the way you view vegetables, then get thee to Tupelo Honey Cafe. Also worthwhile are their fried chicken, handmade biscuits, pickled beet salad and their tomato soup (pictured below) that actually tasted like tomatoes.
As far as I can tell, there were only two downfalls to the place, which, by the way, had a wait list at 1:30 p.m. on a weekday. The first: The dijonnaise on my sandwich came close to overpowering my sandwich. But one bite into that mashed cauliflower and all was forgiven. The second downfall is a little more difficult to conquer. With side dishes such as goat cheese grits, fried okra, mac and cheese and a homestyle squash casserole, a girl almost has to move in to try everything she wants. Good news though: the restaurant will soon publish a cookbook. I know what I’m getting myself for my birthday.
A bright and beautiful storefront and a sign declaring “Namaste Y’all” makes Chai Pani difficult to miss in downtown Asheville. As soon as I peered into its windows, I made a mental note that in some way or another, the Indian street food eatery would make it on my must-try list. Timing issues dictated that my experience with the restaurant would be limited to take out. When I called and explained that it would be a good twenty minutes from the time I picked up my food to the time we’d reach our cabin, the folks helped me determine which snacks would survive the drive and gave me reheating instructions. Ten points for customer service.
I ordered more food than I could carry, which I’m guessing, is the antithesis of street food. Samosas, aloo tikki, pakoras with dipping sauces and fish thali served with rice and at least six accompanying containers of sauces, sides and desserts were balancing in my arms upon my arrival to the cabin. In my rush to devour the food, I carried too much and dropped my camera. I took this photo while physically holding my lens onto the camera. All were incredible (though, admittedly, a little confusing to sort out) and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, even though I was lamenting the loss of my camera lens.
Early Girl Eatery’s fame had already penetrated the Columbus market about six months prior to my visit to Asheville. After eating at the restaurant on vacation, my roommate came back an Early Girl Evangelist. As her landlord and roommate, I was contractually obligated to try and love the food from this farm-to-table joint.
Luckily, she did not lead us astray. Baseball Boy ordered the brunch special, an artistic display of a wide variety of breakfast textures and flavors of the south. I remember him telling me to write down the title, but my note-taking skills are lacking. Instead, I’ll show you the dish. (Enjoy the first picture of food shot with my new (used) camera lens.)
I chose their version of eggs benedict, with grit cakes replacing the english muffin and a tomato gravy taking the place of the hollandaise sauce. I loved every bite, and took particular pleasure in enjoying it with a local brew.
A vegetarian restaurant that came highly recommended by carnivores and herbivores alike, Laughing Seed Cafe offered fare for specialty diets ranging from vegan to gluten-free. My nut allergies and aversion to fake meats (when vegetables taste so good on their own, why bother with tofu and tempeh?), left me with a few lunch options. I did sneak in a bite or two of Baseball Boy’s shitake corn cakes (even though they contained the dreaded cashew), and found myself wishing there was a nut-free option.
For my own entree, I chose roasted root vegetables served on focaccia with fresh pesto and a side salad. The dish was supposed to be topped with a cashew bearnaise sauce, but I replaced it with a house-made apple horseradish dressing. I can safely say that their pesto (made with sunflower seeds and spinach) is the best I’ve ever had. In December, nonetheless. Bravo, Laughing Seed!
A newcomer to the dining scene, The Southern Kitchen and Bar was a restaurant we literally stumbled upon on our way to Lexington Avenue Brewery. A quick look at their menu unveiled the two words that enable me to move mountains: pork and belly. A decision was made. We had excellent service at the bar (and a visit from the chef) and I remember leaving the place feeling glad not to have missed it. Baseball Boy and I swapped roles once our dishes came out. While he was the one enamored with the pork belly on steamed buns (not so beautifully captured here, I’m afraid), I couldn’t stop eating a different dish.
Ever since my visit last winter to Buttermilk Channel in Brooklyn, I’ve been craving another chicken and waffles experience. The Southern Kitchen had the answer to that craving, but in a way I’d never imagined.
Behold: chicken confit, gravy and a tangy pile of lightly dressed greens to balance the dish. I promise that this image does not do this dish justice. (The lack of a better image almost got The Southern kicked out of the Friday Five, but that would have been dishonest reporting.)
Bonus Restaurant: The Lobster Trap
I would be in big trouble if I did not mention Baseball Boy’s favorite restaurant experience in Asheville: a trip to The Lobster Trap. It wasn’t the variety of fresh oysters that earned his praise (they were lost on him, but not me). Nor was it the locally-sourced smoked trout dip. (Delicious.)
Instead, our beloved Baseball Boy fell head over heels for a smoky pile of creamy grits spiked with bacon and shrimp. This dish will be the end of me, as I will never be able to replicate it (I’ve tried), and therefore will eventually lose his love and affection.
I suppose, though, if things really start to go south, then perhaps we’ll be forced to head back to North Carolina and revisit all of these restaurants. Just, you know, to make my assessments a tiny bit more scientific.
Tupelo Honey Cafe
12 College Street
22 Battery Park Avenue
Early Girl Eatery
8 Wall Street
Laughing Seed Cafe
40 Wall Street
Southern Kitchen and Bar
41 N. Lexington Avenue
The Lobster Trap
35 Patton Avenue