Consider grits with goat cheese. Contemplate fried okra. Those dishes illustrate what the Tupelo Honey Café in Asheville, N.C., is all about. Innovation on an old Southern theme on the one hand, coupled with the realization that the affinity between okra and cornmeal is eternal.
Come to the table at Tupelo and a hot biscuit soon follows, along with a squeeze bottle of the precious north Florida honey for which the place is named.
The Tupelo Honey Café is a bustling bastion of traditional and emerging Southern food, in a city with a wealth of locally owned eateries.
Of Tupelo’s Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca with Country Ham and Mushroom Marsala, Chef Brian Sonoskus says, “I’ve always loved the Italian classic Saltimbocca, and I wanted to put my own Southern-inspired twist on it by frying the chicken and using North Carolina country ham instead of prosciutto. The classic version features sage. I switched it up further by using basil.”
Additional proof of Tupelo’s all-encompassing approach to Southern food and drink is a cocktail, Ode to Muddy Pond. It’s a four-state salute to Southern ingredients: sorghum produced by the Guenther family in Tennessee, Maker’s Mark bourbon from Kentucky, and spicy Blenheim ginger ale from South Carolina, blended in a North Carolina bar.
Tupelo Honey Café
12 College Street
Piggy’s and Harry’s in Hendersonville, N.C., represents the high watermark of Southern mountain kitsch. The ice cream half of the business, Piggy’s, opened in 1980. Piggy is owner Sallie Thompson’s nickname. Once the ice cream business caught on, Sallie’s husband Harry talked her into building an adjoining restaurant, but Harry died before the construction was completed. Sallie and her three sons, Jeff, Todd and Michael, named the place in memory of Harry when it opened in 1993, on his birthday.
A Deluxe Burger at Harry’s is dressed with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise; an All-the-Way with mustard, chili and onion; and an Everything with all of the above. The chili is house-made, with the same grade of ground chuck used for hamburgers.
“We’re from South Carolina, so we always had chili on hamburgers,” says Sallie’s oldest son Todd.
The line of summer campers and Boy Scouts clamoring for hamburgers, footlong hot dogs, barbecue and other short-order delights circles past statues of Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald and underneath a suspended Mt. Olive pickle. A pawn-shop-salvaged Spiderman grips the ceiling above the ice cream counter. Yogi Bear and Boo Boo stand guard outside, rescued from the old Hungry Bear Restaurant in Lake Lure. On top of the Thompsons’ antique shop next door lurks a pink elephant that once marked a Charlotte strip club.
The Thompsons’ neon pig used to light the way into “a barbecue place between Gastonia and Charlotte,” Todd remembers. The Esso tiger from an old gasoline promotion was purchased from Clemson University. The Hooterville Jail was once an attraction at Silver Dollar City. In short, the Thompsons have raided every source imaginable to decorate the interior and exterior of Piggy’s and Harry’s. They’re quick to point out, though, that the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign was not stolen off the road but rather purchased at an auction.