Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rebels And Yankees Unite Over Grits And The Man In Black

Tupelo Honey Café
12 College St.
Asheville, North Carolina

Beer selection: Great selection of local microbrews.

Food: Southern cuisine served with Yankee flare.

To understand Asheville, North Carolina, you must understand that in the minds of certain Yankees, Southern culture is cool. And hip.

In contrast, I have yet to meet a Southerner who finds anything about Yankee culture the least bit interesting (except maybe The Sopranos).

This fascination with everything Southern is quite understandable. The South has better weather, politics, music, women…and, most importantly, food. It’s just that most Yankees have never lifted their head up out of their brown, crusty snow pile long enough to notice.

So if you think I’m about to launch into some rant out carpet bagging Yankee posers coming down to God’s country to pretend they fit in, well…I’ll save that post for the Buckhead bars in Atlanta.

Not today.

That’s because the Yankee celebration of Southern culture that goes on in Asheville is a good thing.

Here in Asheville you don’t have that most annoying bread of Yankees who look down on a South they’ve never visited and know nothing about.

No. Yankees come to Asheville because they actually LIKE biscuits, grits and Johnny Cash.

All three of which were on full display at lunchtime at the Tupelo Honey Café in downtown Asheville.

Johnny Cash provides the perfect sound track to lunch. Even Yankees who think they don’t like country music, like The Man in Black.

Even Yankees who think they don’t like grits, will love them here.

Tupelo Honey Café’s motto is “Asheville’s New South Kitchen”.

Translation: traditional Southern cooking exotically spruced up in the hands of a creative chef from New Jersey who fell in love with the South.

The result is one of the South’s premier meeting places for open-minded North Carolina natives and adventurous Northern tourists and transplants. Like what Willie Nelson did for the rednecks and the hippies in Austin, the Tupelo Honey Café does for hungry Rebels and Yankees here in Asheville.

I say open-minded natives because the Southern cooking coming out of the kitchen here bares little resemblance to the biscuits and grits at your local town square meat-and-three.

No ordinary Southern restaurant would serve warm biscuits with organic home-made jam rather than a traditional pat of butter. Or gild their grits with goat cheese or red pepper (or, anything in the least bit spicy). Or, heaven forbid, serve it all along with a flight of locally produced microbrews.

But that’s exactly what you get here -- to the delight of an eclectic mix of locals, transplants and tourists alike.

Yeah, it may not be like grandma fixed it, but these folks appreciate good food when they taste it.

Like the shrimp and grits, one of my all time favorite dishes.

What I love about shrimp and grits is that like the snow flakes falling outside on the College St. sidewalk on this frigid afternoon, no two versions are ever the same.

In the small Southern town I live in, you can go to over a dozen eateries to try different versions of the classic Low Country dish – some with cheese, some without; some with gravy, some without; some with ham, some with sausage, some with bacon, some without; some with creamy grits, some with fried grits. And you know what? Every last one of them is delicious.

Shrimp and grits rewards creativity. A perfect choice at a place like the Tupelo Honey Café.

Fresh shrimp layered on a creamy bed of goat cheese grits, generously enhanced by discs of andouille sausage and smothered in a spicy red pepper gravy, this has to be one of the best shrimp and grits dishes of all time.

The big surprise was the major taste-bud-kicking spice in these shrimp and grits.

Fortunately, the Tupelo Honey Café, like most eateries here in “Beer City USA”, had just what my taste buds needed – a nice selection of local microbrews on tap.

Ah, but here’s the dilemma. Which local microbrew?

So many beers, so little time.

Just when I thought my lunch couldn’t get any better, my enthusiastic friendly waitress solved my problem by suggesting a flight of beer – the indecisive beer drinker’s salvation.

Sure enough, within seconds, she brought out four 5 oz. servings of locally brewed beer and helpfully identified and described each one, which is very important for determining favorites for future beer drinking adventures.

Johnny Cash, shrimp and grits – AND an education.

Who ever said drinking beer kills brain cells anyway?

Well, to be honest, I’ve already forgotten the name of the pilsner. But that’s okay. Skunky like a Eurotrash import, it wasn’t going to make my top ten list anyway.

The Pisgah Porter would be perfect evidence for my “don’t judge a beer by its color” mantra. The darkest beer on this flight by far, was the most tasteless. Thin, bland and watery, this porter just didn’t do it for me.

The second darkest beer, Highland Gaelic Ale, was much tastier – a nice balance between sweet malt and hoppy spice.

By far the best of the flight was the Pisgah Pale Ale, a locally brewed organic beer that had a nice strong hoppy taste and a crisp, clean finish.

We have a winner!

My waitress, curious about my scientific conclusion, concurred with my decision.

“That’s my favorite too,” she said. “It’s delicious!”

As the last strains of “Folsom Prison Blues” played on the sound system and I pulled on my overcoat to venture back into the icy mountain air, I contemplated what a quirky unique place this is.

Carolina and New York accents peacefully comingling.

Out-of-this-world Southern cooking by a chef from New Jersey.

Mouth-tinglingly spicy shrimp and grits.

And chicks who dig hoppy microbrewed beers.

Like the food served up at the Tupelo Honey Café, Asheville is one of a kind.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!
Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. that's probably the most spot-on description of Asheville I've ever seen.