Posted on Feb 25, 2014 | 1 comment
I’ve never been to Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville. I’ve heard about it, walked by it, and stalked the menu, but I’ve never been in its doors or dined at its tables. People RAVE about the place. It’s where everyone who visits Asheville wants to go. I’ve even heard it said that Tupelo Honey Cafe is Asheville, meaning Appalachian, southern, and a smidge hippy (at least from this Yankee outsider’s perspective).
Tupelo Honey opened back in 2000, and over the past few years they’ve expanded to become a seven-store regional restaurant empire, the newest location of which is in Charlotte. Tupelo’s Charlotte location opened in the space previously occupied by Pewter Rose Bistro, which closed last year. Pewter Rose had great ambiance; it was romantic and cozy with the low-strung lights, origami birds, and hanging plants–it felt like a grownup tree house. Tupelo’s renovations on the space retained much of the building’s character — high ceilings, brick walls, and wood detailing everywhere. They reconfigured the seating layout, allowing for many more tables and a large bar area, but at the sacrifice of Pewter Rose’s romance factor.
Tupelo’s focus on local sourcing was a cornerstone of their success in Asheville. Even with the restaurant’s recent expansion, they’re sourcing goods regionally (via a company that aggregates foods from farms in each restaurant’s region), and using those local products to shed new light on many old-time, comfort classics. There are grits made with goat cheese, ribeye served with bordelaise (a French wine sauce), and crab cakes with lemon cherry pepper aioli. At Tupelo Honey Cafe, every meal starts with a complimentary basket of their famous biscuits, served hot with a side of blueberry preserves and honey (surprisingly, I preferred the honey).
Calling Tupelo’s menu offerings “healthy” is a stretch, but I do appreciate their clean approach, which includes hormone-free chicken, fresh mountain trout, fresh, free-range eggs, and hormone-free, grass-fed beef.
Of all the dishes I’ve tried at Tupelo, the Appalachian Egg Rolls are my favorite. They’ve got pulled pork, greens, pickled onions, and carrots stuffed inside a crispy shell, served with the sweet, smoked jalapeno barbecue sauce.
As for entrees, the Chorizo Colossal Sea Scallops with Basil Cream Sauce is a solid choice. I loved the contrast of the salty chorizo and the sweet caramelized onions and roasted red peppers, though I think the asparagus was good enough to be used as more than a garnish. The Zippy-De-Do-Dah Sweet and Spicy Pork is a popular choice, but I preferred the Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca with Country Ham and Mushroom Marsala. (Coming from a girl who’d rather eat straight up potatoes for dinner than fried-chicken-anything, this recommendation should carry some weight!) The chicken is topped with mushroom marsala, melted Havarti cheese, and basil, and served with chunky, cheesy, smashed cauliflower, my favorite of their sides.
For dessert, the Brown Butter Pecan Pie and Banana Pudding can do no wrong.
Tupelo Honey is open for breakfast on the weekends, with a menu that features omelets and legendary sweet potato pancakes, plus a breakfast bowl that’s on my must-try list (it’s got black-eyed peas, goat cheese grits, bacon, eggs, and salsa–yes, please). They’ve also got a substantial cocktail list, including their Moonswine Mary, made with house-infused jalapeno bacon moonshine and pickled okra, a surprisingly large Gluten-Free Menu, and plenty of vegetarian options, including soysage, buffalo tofu wings, salads, and a sourdough veggie melt.