Monday, March 28, 2011

Tupelo Honey Cafe: Big-City Flavor Meets Small-Town Charm

It was lunchtime in Asheville as Sister Foodie and I combed the downtown streets for some chow.  We hadn't done any research, so we based our decision on gut instinct and crowd size.  Not a bad way to select a restaurant sometimes.  At least we lucked out this day as we joined the line at Tupelo Honey Cafe.

As I write, Van Morrison's tune plays on a loop in my head.

The folks at Tupelo Honey Cafe, located off a main drag in artsy Asheville, told us we'd have a bit of a wait and gave us a buzzer.  Within 10 minutes, we were seated at a table contemplating which Southern diet killer we would savor.  Thank goodness I didn't select a sandwich on a biscuit because biscuits are delivered hot to every table as a matter of course.  Giant biscuits with homemade jam.  A place after my own heart.

And you know what that means...time for the biscuit bash:  These had some heft to them, achieving that "wow" factor when presented, but they were bread-y.  They lacked the light texture of my all-time favorite at Mrs. Wilkes' in Savannah.  That biscuit is the gold standard by which all other biscuits will be judged, including my own inconsistent specimens.   This one was tasty, though, and I appreciated the fresh berry jam that accompanied it. 

In a feeble attempt to save calories, Sister Foodie ate the crunchy top and bottom and left the bread-y middle.  That's how I remember that these had a crunchy exterior, which she proclaimed was her favorite part. 

It's probably good that she left room for what was to come - a Southern Fried Chicken BLT. 

Fried chicken complemented by fried sweet potatoes.  I love the South!

Maple peppered bacon, lettuce and tomato topped a crispy free-range chicken breast.  A shmear of dijonnaise and a puffy bun rounded out the sandwich.  Sister was pleased.  Really, can lunch get much better than a combo of crunchy fried chicken and high-quality bacon on artisanal bread? 

My plate wasn't too shabby, either.  I had a Fried Egg BLT. 

Say hello to goat cheese grits in all their creamy goodness.

Two fried eggs cooked over hard were accentuated by the same maple peppered bacon, lettuce and tomato, and served on delicious, toasted sourdough bread smeared with smoked jalapeno aioli.   A side of creamy goat cheese grits put it over the top.  Smoked jalapeno aioli isn't a dressing I'd use on a fried egg sandwich but it worked, and it wasn't at all spicy.  The grits were strong on goat cheese, which I might avoid at breakfast, but I was up for it midday.  This sandwich isn't for the faint of heart - each half consisted of an entire fried egg.  Oh, all right....I admit I ate the whole thing. 

I like this restaurant's creative take on Southern cooking.  It puts imaginative twists on old favorites, which seems appropriate in a town teeming with artists and cultural appreciation.

Apparently, others share my view.  Every table was taken inside, as well as outside on the streetside patio.  Seating is also available at a long kitchen bar, where patrons can consume such creations as hot pimento cheese and tortilla chips, fried green tomatoes, catfish tacos, meatloaf with bacon gravy, and cheesy grit cakes.  Stool jockeys can't help but relish the fact that they are not locked in the frenetic dance of the line cooks visible on the other side of the counter.

The only thing sweeter than Tupelo honey was the price:  $9.95 for the chicken sandwich and $7.95 for the egg BLT.   How else could they snag a segment on Rachel Ray's "$40 a Day"!  With its now-famous dish of jumbo sweet potato pancake topped with peach butter and spiced pecans, this place did just that.  I know.  I read it in the restaurant.

Tupelo Honey Cafe has two locations and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Restaurant Info:
Tupelo Honey Cafe
12 College Street
Asheville, NC

Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

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