Each time I visit Asheville, NC I peer down College Street to see whether there's a line of folks waiting for a table at Tupelo Honey. Naturally it's usually Saturday morning and there's no way, no how, there's a table to be had for hours and hours, anywhere in downtown Asheville at THC or my favorite alternate Early Girl Eatery. So I starve.
Luckily Elizabeth Sim and Chef Brian Sonoskus published the Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook earlier this year for those whom love the cafe but can't get a foot in the door to eat there anymore do to its popularity with tourists. That's not a bad thing at all. Asheville is known for its eclecticism as has been called both the Paris of the South and San Franciso East. Probably been called a lot more things as well. And, it was named a Beer City in 2009 for its ten microbreweries.
I love driving over Sam's Gap for a day trip visit; it's a short hours' drive and the scenery on I-26 boasts some of the finest mountain views east of the Mississippi. I've often said I'm too conservative for my hometown, but not progressive enough for Asheville: I wear leather, eat meat, and shave my legs and pits. Anyway, Asheville is an awesome town boasting a vibrant food scene, film scene, and outdoor's enthusiast cabal. Did I miss anything? New Age. Lots of spiritualism and artsy stuff happening there as well.
But, back to the cookbook. Actually, it's as much as a social and cultural tour of Asheville as it is a cookbook. Elizabeth and Brian give readers a mess of insight into the city's various scenes as well as its literary and architerctural history, which makes Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes From Asheville's New South Kitchen the perfect souvenir for visitors to the city. Its photos capture the essence of the restaurants, the cityscape, the peoplescape, and the verdant Smoky Mountains abutting Asheville.
Its nine chapters follow standard cookbook organization and offer items from the larder, appetizers and soups, sandwiches and salads, fish, poultry, the smokehouse, vegetables, brunch dishes, and desserts. My favorite Elvis-inspired sandwich that I recall from my first-ever visit to THC some ten years ago gets second billing "Fit For the King Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich." But missing are their beet mashed potatoes. Guess those are dated and gauche these days, no reason to include them in a cookbook, even though they tickled my fancy and I'd love another taste of them.
Admittedly, most of my meals at THC are breakfast/brunch, so that's the section that resonated with me most. Don't get me wrong, the other dishes/recipes are divine creations, but I have no context for those. I'm part of the way to making the sweet potato pancakes with peach butter and spiced pecans. I baked my sweet potato the other day and now its in the fridge. Wednesday might be the morning I'll make those.
Their banana pudding rocks though. I took an order away once and their recipe looks easy enough though most of my forays into that area were debacles. Saturday I made the Three-Berry Cream Cheese Pie (page 212) and was pleased by it. I substituted vanilla crisps for vanilla wafers and used organic valley (I'm gearing up for making some of Jeni's ice cream and that's the brand she suggests plus I had it on hand) cream cheese and organic cornstarch as well.
It's rather an easy-peasy twenty minute bake cheesecake and I can get behind that rather than the laborious hours-in-the-oven cheesecake I usually make. Oh, and this pie is assembled in the food processor, which was new for me. I am food processor challenged. It's rare I get all its parts aligned properly, so having the thing work and crunch everything to bits is miraculous.
THC cookbook is both lovely and practical; it's not something you'll be too afraid to smear a drop of honey between its pages. Recipe ingredients aren't inaccessible or difficult to find in most grocery stores. Techniques aren't advanced for the average cook. This is a solid entry in the southern cookbook genre that goes beyond the simple regurgitation of southern standards for Sims and Sonoskus' tweaks and reinterpretations of the New South kitchen delight eaters and cooks and those who just want to look on in awe.