There’s a conspiracy going on in Asheville … to make the food scene in every other U.S. city dull in comparison. It probably isn’t intentional but it makes my own city, known for its BBQ, nothing more than a big yawn. We sampled the delicacies of this fair city in January when we could no longer take the subzero tundra of Siberia … er the Midwest. Yes, it was a bit too chilly in Asheville to ski but it was warm enough to walk the downtown, putting ourselves into a food coma.
The interesting thing about Asheville, NC isn’t just the restaurants themselves but the food ethos of the town. This was one of the first cities to hop on the farm-to-table bandwagon. It traces its roots back to the 1800s when the community served as the regional drovers’ stopover where farmers brought livestock and produce to sell. Today, the unique restaurants have teamed up with local farmers to bring the freshest produce and free-range meat to their customers.
Here are our four favorite eateries and the thinking behind their menus:
Laughing Seed Cafe: Who knew that meals minus the meat could be so amazing? Our palates traveled the world tasting Tico Burritos, the Indian Thali Plate and the Carribean Empanadas. The restaurant began 20 years ago as a juice bar. Some of the produce and herbs used in the recipes are grown on the farm owned by chef Jason Sellers and his partner Laura. At ExploreAsheville.com, Jason explained the concept behind the restaurant: “It’s necessary to grow food, both as a means of assuring quality and to protect our right to do so. Local products feeding local people and the pursuit of civil rights — that’s our concept.”
Early Girl Eatery: Located on a quaint curving street of shops, this place does breakfast right. Think pumpkin ginger bread and the Sausage/Sweet Potato Scramble. Yum! Owner Julie Stehling is religious in her support of food grown on small local farms. She notes:
- Food grown locally is tastier since it doesn’t travel far and is therefore fresher.
- Locally grown food doesn’t cause as much pollution since it doesn’t travel far.
- Spending money locally keeps the community thriving.
- Using local foods makes the flavors more authentic.
- Small, local farmers tend to use fewer chemicals.
Tupelo Honey Cafe serves new southern cooking including shrimp and grits, buttermilk pork chops, mashed sweet potatoes and fried green tomatoes. Chef Brian Sonoskus brings eco-cuisine to the restaurant table by growing much of his produce on a neglected farm he is bringing back to life with the help of local volunteers. He keeps his restaurant supplied in winter with a large greenhouse. He also composts the restaurant’s eggshells, coffee grounds and other scraps on the farm. The restaurant stocks local microbrews, rather than beer by the bottle, to support local businesses and avoid the need to recycle the bottles.
Sunny Point Cafe also excels in all things breakfast related. The homemade granola with yogurt and breakfast biscotti was a hit at my table. The restaurant is known for its orange cornmeal hotcakes with blackberry butter. When owners Belinda Raab and April Moon Harper opened the restaurant in 2003, they envisioned a sleepy neighborhood place. Instead, the waiting time usually stretches well beyond an hour.
“What makes Asheville restaurants unique is that they support local producers of food products,” Belinda said. “At Sunny Point Cafe, we aspire to have a neighborhood eatery that is affordable and fresh, with a local focus. We like to have fun with our menu, always remembering that it’s just a great meal, not life or death. Our restaurant is also involved with the slow food movement and we have hosted some slow food events.”
In addition Asheville’s Foodtopia Society offers forest-to-table harvesting and cooking adventures, cooking classes and will soon offer culinary vacation packages.
Serious dieters, don’t even stop in Asheville. Keep driving fast and furious down the highway!
Fellow foodies: What is your favorite city for its restaurants and food culture?