Where Youssef 242 in downtown Hickory once stood, you will find Café Rule & Wine Bar, which has a new and improved location, menu, aesthetic, and even a new name. The restaurant has added live music on the weekends, Sunday brunch, and a full bar. But what’s most important hasn’t changed: fresh and local ingredients, delicious food, and friendly service. Café Rule is just breathing new life into its old practices — and doing it with style. “Our whole business model is about breaking the rules, so there are a lot of plays on the name,” says Meghan Stout, Café Rule’s marketing manager. “For example, we don’t believe in pairing a onsecific wine with a specific food.” Another instance of rule-breaking? Dessert is listed first on the menu.
Café Rule approaches familiar foods in innovative ways. For evidence, look to the House Bacon Stack appetizer, which boasts pepper bacon, fried green tomato, goat cheese, and chipotle mayonnaise. Save room for the Bloody Mary Shrimp & Grits with pickled okra and a fried egg. Even the collard greens have a twist; they are braised in an IPA from Charlotte’s Unknown Brewing Company. Keeping things local is crucial to sous chef Rick Dorherr, who makes weekly trips to Hickory’s farmers market, usually with his four children in tow, where he’ll stock up on fresh produce for the ever-changing menu. “Everyone in the farmers market knows him, and he has a great relationships with the local farmers,” says Stout. “Each fall they’ll go through seed catalogs to decide what they want to grow for the following season.”
A view of the Chef’s Table, and Fried Broccoli Baffle with lemon zest, sea salt, and vegan aioli. photograph by Café Rule & Wine Bar
In addition to renovations and new décor, Café Rule has introduced two new spaces for private entertaining: the chef’s table and its accompanying outdoor patio complete with plush seating and a fireplace. The table offers diners an exclusive, behind-the-scenes experience, including a large TV screen with a live stream of the kitchen in action. Throughout the meal, the chef will interact with guests and explain the cooking process and ingredient sources. It is certainly a unique experience, perfect for special occasions.
The Blackbird Restaurant is a family-owned farm-to-table establishment in the heart of downtown Asheville. Husband-and-wife duo Jesson and Cristina Gil own the restaurant and live in neighboring Fairview. They believe there is a synergy between the community and their business. “Farm-to-table is our first choice,” says Jesson. “My wife and I just started attending Farm Beginnings, an organic farming school, to better understand the food we use and how it is grown.”
The Blackbird’s cuisine can best be described as modern Southern with a nod to tradition, and this fall and winter the restaurant will be featuring acorn squash, Brussels sprouts, braised short ribs, and roasted pheasant. The menu changes four times a year with the seasons but varies slightly week to week to include the freshest local offerings. The Gils buy micro-greens from Moonsprouts, a local company that grows and delivers its greens in trays of sterile soil, which give chefs the freshest greens possible while reducing waste. The Blackbird also works with Beulah Farms in Leicester, Rayburn Farm in Barnardsville, and several local mushroom foragers.
Fresh shrimp and scallop appetizers. photograph by The Blackbird Restaurant
Not only does The Blackbird provide an outlet for local farmers, it also gives back to the surrounding community by regularly donating to local schools and charities. “We know that it is the right thing to support the community that supports our family,” Jesson says. When it comes to helping their Blackbird family — the restaurant staff — the Gils are striving to get living wage certified and increased their hourly wage by almost $2 in the fall of 2016.
For 12 years, The Corner Kitchen has thrived in a historic building in Biltmore Village that was built on the estate more than a century ago. Co-owners Kevin Westmoreland and Chef Joe Scully, along with Executive Chef Josh Weeks, strive to stay true to the property’s rustic feel, creating well-presented, farm-to-table cuisine in a comfortable setting that makes The Corner Kitchen well worth venturing beyond the downtown Asheville restaurant scene.
The Corner Kitchen is housed in a historic building in Biltmore Village that was built more than a century ago. photograph by The Corner Kitchen
Westmoreland is an Asheville native and spent much of his childhood exploring the sites where his future restaurant would later stand, so he has a deep-rooted love for the community surrounding The Corner Kitchen. Westmoreland and Scully base the restaurant’s menu off of seasonal ingredients from local farmers, butchers, and food crafters in order to continue a tradition of thoughtful, handmade dishes and sensible preparations. Their local partners include Annie’s Bakery in Asheville, Smiling Hara Tempeh in Asheville for vegetarian and vegan offerings, Brasstown Beef on Ridgefield Farm in Brasstown, and Imladris Farm in Fairview.
The Corner Kitchen is open seven days a week and offers Saturday and Sunday brunch. The menu is constantly updated with western North Carolina’s freshest local produce, even in the wintertime. The extensive dinner menu currently features entrées such as seared scallops over cranberry quinoa, wilted kale, pickled shallots, and butternut squash bisque. Don’t miss the pecan-crusted mountain trout, which is sourced from Sunburst Trout Farms in Waynesville, over sweet potatoes with green bean salad and bourbon sauce.
Frogs Leap Public House in Waynesville focuses on providing guests with upscale Southern food featuring only the freshest ingredients — all at an affordable price. “We prepare everything from scratch and use local products in our bar and kitchen every day of the year to produce innovative but simple interpretations of traditional Appalachian dishes,” says Kaign Raymond, owner and executive chef.
When Raymond opened Frogs Leap in 2011, he had a feeling it would be the start of something big in the small mountain community. Raymond chose Waynesville because he knew the town was at a turning point. He feels that Frogs Leap has paved the way in supporting local growers, but is adamant about the community’s role in this success. “[We] have only been successful because we have such a great farming community and a clientele who value and understand the importance of building connections in our small corner or western North Carolina,” Raymond says.
Kaign Raymond, owner and executive chef, only uses the freshest ingredients on his menu. photograph by Frogs Leap Public House
Frogs Leap regularly works with a number of local farms, including Willow Springs Farm in Weaverville for greens, herbs, and produce; Sunburst Trout Farms in Waynesville; and Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview for beef and pork. Chef Raymond’s menu changes weekly and always depends on what is seasonally available. As the weather cools down, he looks forward to incorporating candy roaster squash, collard greens, sweet potatoes, and goat cheese into the menu.
More Farm-to-Table Restaurants in Western North Carolina
Vidalia Restaurant & Wine Bar • Boone
Sam and Alyce Ratchford love to show off the town they love through the food they prepare at Vidalia. While the dishes Sam creates are gourmet, they’re intrinsically comforting and very much Southern. Learn more.
HomeGrown • Asheville
At HomeGrown, you don’t simply eat your food. You experience it. HomeGrown revolves around the “Slow Food movement” with the hope of encouraging people to take more care with what they eat, even in a fast-paced environment. Learn more.
Rhubarb • Asheville
Unique to Rhubarb is the restaurant’s Sunday Supper, during which guests sit down for a three-course meal served family-style and break bread with strangers-turned-friends. Learn more.
The Mast Farm Inn’s Simplicity • Valle Crucis
Chef Andrew Long loves to get his produce straight from the source. Not only do the majority of his fruits and vegetables come from the inn’s greenhouse and garden, but his wife also happens to be the one picking them as the inn’s gardener. Learn more.
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One of the last old-school fish houses in Onslow County stands sentry on the White Oak River. Clyde Phillips Seafood Market has served up seafood and stories since 1954 — an icon of the coast, persevering in pink.