Flavor: Southern staples
Ambiance: No-frills diner
Service: Courteous and efficient
Living, working and playing in downtown Asheville, sometimes it seems to me that I’m surrounded almost entirely by transplants from elsewhere. I’m one too, and it could be easy to forget that this is first and foremost a Southern town, were it not for the generally congenial attitudes you encounter here – the kind that might elicit questions about one’s pharmacological habits in many Northern cities. But one need only travel to the Five Points Restaurant on Broadway Street, less than a mile from the center of downtown, to be reminded of Asheville’s real roots.
When I recently entered Five Points, at least 2,000 pounds of hard-working man was spread out along the counter, with key rings the size of toy poodles dangling from belt loops over the equally hard-working barstools. My Picky Companion and I made our way through the constant motion of the waitresses to the solitary open booth in the corner, where we watched the frenetic actions of the cook.
The walls were literally covered in specials, all true-blood Southern staples, with a dash of Greek thrown in – a nod to Five Points owners Fulla and Tommy Triantafillou’s native country. A waitress promptly appeared, oozing down-home charm and addressing me and my companion as “sweetie” and “hon,” respectively. We ordered some drinks to buy us a little time to take it all in.
The lunch menu was enormous and pleasantly anachronistic, offering $2 hot dogs, cups of Sanka, and half of a chicken, fried, for $5.75. Steak was offered in many and varied forms: country-fried, chuckwagon, chopped, hamburger-style, and as marinated tips over rice – all for under $6.
Noting that the marquee boasted the “best gyro in town,” Picky Companion decided to test the claim. I selected catfish and, with some difficulty, picked out three sides from a long list of old-school country favorites like pinto beans, turnip greens and macaroni. An almost impossibly short time later, the food arrived, steaming on platters the size of hubcaps.
For around $5, I had purchased essentially an entire catfish with tartar sauce, three dishes of side vegetables, a corn muffin, a biscuit and a vague sense of incompetence in the face of this roll-up-your-sleeves-and-loosen-your-belt kind of meal. My partner in indulgence received a gyro the size of his head, a Greek salad that was even larger and a platter of french fries that consumed the remainder of the space on the table, also for about five bucks.
The catfish was perfectly cooked, hot and billowy on the inside, crisp and salty on the outside, and so fresh that it tasted like the water from which it came. The biscuits were flaky and buttery, and the macaroni was rich and satisfying. As my companion consumed his gyro anaconda-style, the only complaint he managed was that the tzatziki sauce tasted as though it was made from sour cream, not yogurt.
I was able to finish maybe half of my meal, and felt embarrassed asking for a to-go box among all of the veteran eaters, who were elbows deep in mounds of spaghetti and chicken livers. The waitress suggested we come back for breakfast, an offer we couldn’t refuse.
The next morning, the same staff were bustling around the joint, though there were fewer diners than during the busy lunch hour the day before. We ordered coffee, which at Five Points was “mellow enough to not burn a hole through your colon,” Picky Companion observed.
As we waited for our food – a Western omelet for me, a standard country breakfast with choice of pork product for him – I couldn’t help but overhear some colloquialisms that I thought were near the brink of extinction: “Oh, bless your heart!” and “Well, I’ll be!” I felt like I was at my grandmother’s table.
When the food arrived, I was again astounded by the size of the portions, given the bottom-dollar prices.
Taking his first bite, my companion sighed, “Ahh, warm predictability!” I had to agree; aside from the sheer size of the meals, there were no surprises. At Five Points, Southern fare is cooked just how you would expect it to be. That consistency, along with the friendly service, reminded us that we were in a warm and hospitable country diner. As I ate my grits and watched the rain fall outside, the low buzz of Southern drawls and busy-restaurant sounds wrapped around me like a blanket. I decided that – Asheville native or no – this restaurant’s feels as genuine as its food.