Photo by Jonathan Ammons.
Restaurants have been popping up all over West Asheville this spring with a pace and vigor reminiscent of popcorn kernels heating up in a kettle. Now Early Girl Eatery owners Julie and John Stehling have thrown their kernels into the pot with the opening of their new venture, King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffle.
The owners have stretched their unannounced soft opening (they opened on April 5) into a kind of restaurant warm-up lap. They haven’t even put up their sign yet, but they are serving customers.
“I’m really glad that the first week wasn’t crazy, because we all needed to get our sea legs,” Julie says. “Everything’s going good. It’s really starting to feel like we’re meant to be here. The first week is always a little scary, but it’s starting to feel more comfortable.”
The dining room looks like a Wes Anderson interpretation of a 1950s casual eatery: a modern retro color scheme of blues and metals with reclaimed wood and tin-tiled ceilings. Custom-designed bright blue booths line the walls along with handmade wooden chairs and stools for the bar — a great aesthetic fit for this quickly developing area of West Asheville.
“Early Girl was originally supposed to be in West Asheville,” explains Stehling, “but that space fell through, so we opened downtown. But this feels full circle and thats really good.”
Despite being a chicken-and-waffle joint, the a la carte menu does have plenty of other offerings to choose from, such as seasoned pork cracklins, poutine and wings for fans of the fryer, and lighter fare including a duck-endive salad and a beet burger for the more healthfully minded.
There are also fried pies. “John has always cooked fried pies,” says Stehling. “When we first opened Early Girl, he and his brother did something for Southern Foodways at his brother’s restaurant in Charleston [Hominy Grill] that was a fried pie-off where Robert did fried peach pies and John did fried apple pie, and he’s always wanted to put it on a menu.”
And he didn’t hold back on the menu at King Daddy’s. The menu features fried apple pie with carmelita sauce from Looking Glass Creamery, as well as some savory pies including one with poached egg, brie and country ham and another with lamb, onions and goat cheese. “The one with the poached egg is particularly good,” says Stehling. “That is probably my favorite.”
The chicken and waffle options themselves are quite something to behold, with six different options available. Why just have your chicken fried when you can also have it finished off in a cast-iron skillet with their “heirloom” option? Want something spicy? Try the habanero sweet potato batter. They even have a gluten-free option.
When I asked Stehling which one was her favorite, she was quick to answer, “Right now, I’d say the Korean chicken. It’s got some spice to it.” Think chicken drumlets twice deep-fried in a wet batter and tossed with ginger soy sauce.
To top it off, the chicken is regionally sourced. “The chicken comes from Joyce Farms, which is a regional group of farms,” says Stehling. “We talked for a long time with Casey McKissik at the NC Cooperative and it seemed like this was the best choice we could make. We source local with cheese and ham and all of that.”
The waffle options are just as vast: Choose from the classic Belgian, pumpkin, cracklin or vegan and gluten-free varieties. And about that Belgian waffle, it’s not some froufrou West Asheville riff on a Belgian waffle. It is the classic kind, the way you remember it as a kid.
“We have a window and we’re hoping to keep that open late once we get going, so that people can just walk up and order food from there for the after-bar crowd,” she says. The walk up window will include a full bar as well, she says, for the late-night crowd.
“I’m hoping it will be a neighborhood joint,” Stehling says. “Even our own employees are saying ‘I can walk here.’”
King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffle is at 444 Haywood Road. Click here for details.