Asheville, N.C., surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, is a quirky, artsy, musical town considered by some to be the black sheep of the state. To townies, though, this is something to be celebrated. In fact, I’m willing to bet that they have their own slogan akin to those which encompass the personality of towns the way “Keep Austin Weird” or “Don’t Phoenix Flagstaff” bumper stickers do. Although they are far from casting off their southern traditions, Asheville does indeed pride itself on being a little outside the box. This attitude of mixing the old with the new applies to Tupelo Honey Cafe’s cuisine as much as it does to the location itself. As their website proclaims, “welcome to our Ashe-thentic table.”
While this blue mountain treasure draws tourists from afar with their much lauded farm-to-table fare and recently released cookbook, Tupelo Honey Cafe is certainly a regional destination which locals are honored to call their very own. At the flagship location in charming downtown Asheville, don’t be deterred by the crowd which might be congregating outside as you approach the door – the wait on a busy weekend night is well worth it. And more likely than not, one amongst Asheville’s cadre of street musicians will be nearby to entertain you in the meantime.
The cafe fosters an environment of warm conviviality and friendly service that brings a whole new meaning to the term “southern hospitality.” With lots of joyful and boisterous conversation abounding in the dining room, it’s almost as though you have just stepped into one big family reunion – well, one where the family members actually like each other, I should say.
Start off your evening by experiencing the fusion of the old and new south through an appetizer such as the Appalachian Egg Rolls: pulled pork in a smoked jalapeño BBQ sauce enveloped by braised greens, pickled onions, shredded carrots and a rich Dijon “dippin'” sauce.
Have no question, the main course of choice if you dig on meat is the Not Your Mama’s Meatloaf: Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s hormone-free mountain-raised beef topped with an unforgettable rosemary tomato shallot gravy. The meatloaf is perfectly matched up with a side of scratch-made mac ’n cheese and crisp green beans or other seasonal vegetables.
Tupelo Honey’s Fried Chicken BLT
Those who prefer vegetarian and vegan fare or have food allergies, you are in the right town. Tupelo adheres to Asheville’s unusually heightened awareness of and catering to alternative diets. Not only is there a separate gluten free menu but plenty of stand-alone veggie items, Tupelo Tofu Wings and fried okra (or what they deem “southern popcorn”) being prime examples, that will surely make your tastebuds smile.
Going green is one matter they’ve taken to heart here, making concerted sustainability efforts that have earned their place as a two star Certified Green Restaurant. Some practices include installing a Therma-Stor Heat Recovery System, composting food waste, buying from over 25 local farms, banning the use of water bottles and using to-go ware made of recyclable material.
Director of Operations Allan Wolf explains, “We want to cut down on the emissions – any time you can reduce energy usage – and that’s a big part of it. Trucks have to drive less, it’s just a nice way to keep it local. So the shorter it has to travel on a truck, the more ripe it is, the easier it is to build a great food out of it.”
This farm-to-table fever they are nurturing in the south seems to be spreading like wildfire. So naturally, seeing that folks just can’t seem to get enough Tupelo, the business plans to open up another highly anticipated sister location this summer in Knoxville, Tenn.’s historic Oliver Hotel on Market Square.
If you’ve had the pleasure of dining at Tupelo’s and are still going through withdrawals, one substitute could be to try your hand at cooking their menu yourself using the “Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook: Spirited Recipes from Asheville’s New South Kitchen” by food writer Elizabeth Sims and Chef Brian Sononskus.
Or simply take a virtual trip to their online store, which offers all kinds of delectable pickled goods, baking mixes, barbeque rubs, dressings, relishes, jams, preserves and – not so shockingly – their own fine, certified Tupelo honey (harvested exclusively from the White Tupelo Gum Trees in the wild river basins of the Florida panhandle).
12 College St.
Asheville, N.C. 28801
1829 Hendersonville Road #10
South Asheville, N.C. 28803
- (828) 505-7676
1 Market Square
Knoxville, Tenn. 37902
outdoor photo courtesy of Restaurant Management Magazine
indoor photos courtesy of Tupelo Honey Cafe