It’s not like me to be interested in doing restaurant reviews. You see, I normally draw the line at taking pictures of the chocolate I eat, and the desserts I make. I feel that most else should be enjoyed sans camera, for the benefit of those in my company at the time. I choose to savor my meals with my eyes and stomach, knowing that at a later date I may not recall any details of what I’ve eaten, since the camera is frequently relegated to remain silent in the metaphorical corner.
But. I was on vacation in the South. And when on vacation in the South – – anything goes. Indeed, I knew something would be different the moment I crossed over the threshold into the vibrant, flashy, and hipster-filled Tupelo Honey Cafe, in Asheville, North Carolina.
With my previously-local-pal as my trusty guide to the greater Asheville region, I was able to see a lot in the two days that I was there, without actually spending much time in the city proper. Drinks at the well-liked Pisgah Brewing? Sure thing [I see now that they have bacon stout – I hope that wasn’t around when I stopped in. If it was, I have some regrets]. A wonderfully lengthy visit to the North Carolina Arboretum, where I worked hard to learn all of the southern tree species I’m unfamiliar with? Of course! While I can’t proclaim the pro status that my previously-local-pal is privilege to, I am now a bit more familiar with sourwood, blackgum, Virginia pine, and the seemingly 62,000 species of oak that are found in the region. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to learn about the shrub that goes by the name of farkleberry.
What you see in the image directly above is my arch-nemesis. That which has caused me loads of pain. That which is abundant in the South, and which grows on trees vine-like (or ninja-like, let’s be honest). That which I successfully didn’t succumb to while voyaging, despite walking through clumps of it with bare legs. That which is poison ivy. Steer clear of it, folks.
With that less-than-cheery warning of the dangers the South has in store out of the way, let’s move on to something more positive. More appetizing. More delicious. Let’s move on to the Tupelo Honey Cafe!
We started off the meal with two pints of Green Man IPA, which was crafted down the road at the Green Man Brewery, and has been open for brews-ness since 1997. I’m a big fan of a good IPA (I haven’t yet mentioned that one of the best parts of this vacation was finding a few bottles of my favorite, Two Hearted Ale), and I thought this was pretty good. We were warned of “hints of juniper and a mild pear finish;” I’m no beer expert, so let’s leave it at that.
Our waitress started our meal off with some complimentary biscuits, presented with berry jam and a bottle of tupelo honey jarred for the restaurant. I should point out now that while I mentioned learning about the blackgum tree, I could have easily written the black tupelo tree, as they are one and the same. Tupelo honey is made from Nyssa (tupelo) flower pollination action, which has a high fructose content. Yum, we’ve gone full circle.
We tried an array of southern goodness, with each of us ordering two sides in addition to a sandwich. Everything was amazing. Focusing first on the food that I did not order (to get the jealousy out of the way), Tupelo Honey offered up a fantastic Roast Beef Po’Boy, complete with lettuce, cherry pepper aioli, and oh. my. gosh., do you see it? …slices of fried green tomato, all packaged up on soft-yet-crispy sandwich bread.
My partner in delicious-eating crime (although I insist, it is not a crime to order way more food than you need) also ordered the Goat Cheese Grits, which were creamy and smooth and contained all the benefits of goat cheese without going overboard, and the Fried Okra. The okra was delectable: each piece was substantial while on the plate, but fell apart in my mouth. We had a few pieces of okra that somehow snuck into the to-go box, and they were just as good the next time around. While the goat cheese grits didn’t make it into a photo due to my inability to capture, emotionally and artfully, the sassy side of a creamy, white, lumpy dish of food, imagine them to be as gorgeous (in your mouth) as the fried okra was. Moving on to my side of the table!
On a bacon kick that began in 2008 and has yet to end, I ordered the Southern Fried Chicken BLT. This sweet li’l sandwich, found underneath an “artisanal bun,” contained maple peppered bacon, dijonnaise, lettuce and tomato, not to mention the (free-range) fried chicken breast. I rounded out the meal with Fried Parmesan Corn on the Cob, and Candied Ginger Cornbread with Whipped Peach Butter. The Parmesan was perfectly encrusted on the still-juicy corn cob, while the cornbread was soft, delicate (to the point of being crumbly) and flavorful – as was the whipped peach butter. All three of my meal choices, despite their pleasantries, were a bit of a head scratcher for me: I dislike chicken, ginger and (usually) butter, and eating corn while cobbed is on my jaw doctor’s list of no-no’s. No, I don’t really have a jaw doctor. …But I used to.
Regardless of what I usually like or dislike at mealtime, I was floored by my choices. I was pleased. Thrilled. Satiated. And a bit gaga over my wonderful luck that found me sitting along a sidewalk, eating some of the best food of my life, while all sorts of strange and silly Buncombe County residents meandered by.
The food and atmosphere found at Tupelo Honey Cafe were about as heavenly as it gets. And did you know – I bet you didn’t – that the restaurant recently put out a cookbook? That means you can bring the heavenly food home with you! Keep in mind that recreating the atmosphere will be entirely on your shoulders, though.
If you find yourself in Asheville, eat here. And then do dessert at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, just like I did. If you want to do things just like I did, your “dessert” will be enough to last you at least five weeks.
12 College St
Asheville, NC 28801
Dinner menu available from 16h30
There is a second location, if downtown is, to you, frowntown:
1829 Hendersonville Rd
Asheville, NC 28803
Read more about Tupelo Honey Cafe here.