Rolling into November, we see new cafes, reopened dining rooms, gingerbread houses and Kitchen Mischief.
Cousins Cuban Café
Betty Sperry built a local following through her Farm to Fork food cart, parked weekends for four years at the Silver Fork Vineyard & Winery in Morganton. The menu was seasonal, though the popular Cubano sandwich — an homage to her Cuban heritage — was a year-round constant.
When her cousins, owners of the Dancing Dragonfly gift shop in Black Mountain, purchased the building next door, she seized the opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “We wanted to introduce the community to Cuban food, but we also just missed the Cuban food in Miami where we’re all from,” she says. “My husband says it would have been a lot cheaper if we had each just bought a personal panini press.”
Sperry and her cousin Liane Martinez started demo on the space pre-pandemic and soldiered on through the shutdown, confident the business’s small physical footprint (there is seating for 12 inside and additional outdoor seating behind the Dragonfly) and reliance on takeout was a winning formula in these times.
Cousins Cuban Café opened Oct. 19, and Sperry reports, “It was crazy! I did not expect so many people, and we actually ran out of food a couple of times, but everything is made from scratch and fresh to order, so when it’s done, it’s done.”
Cousins serves breakfast daily until 11 a.m., then switches to pressed sandwiches, empanadas, Cubano bowls, sides and desserts. Cuban coffee specialties like the cortadito are made all day. Cousins Cuban Café, 108 Broadway Ave., Black Mountain, avl.mx/8n8
Oct. 21 was a red-letter day for two downtown dining staples as both John Fleer’s Rhubarb on Pack Square and Brian Canipelli’s Cucina 24 on Wall Street reopened their indoor dining rooms just ahead of the end of daylight saving time and seasonal temperature dips.
Rhubarb had been doing takeout and covered patio dining until Sept. 5, when a small kitchen fire shut down all kitchen operations, adding to the COVID-19 woes. Getting through repairs and inspections took much longer than expected, says Fleer.
He has pared down the menu and wine list by about one-third for dinner service from 4-9 p.m. every day but Monday, and brunch weekends from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. With reduced capacity — seven tables outside, 13 inside and no bar seating — Rhubarb recommends reservations and asks that diners limit their visits to 90 minutes. Rhubarb, 7 S.W. Pack Square, avl.mx/8na
If the idling cars on Wall Street were any indication, Cucina 24 had been doing a steady takeout business since spring, and in June, it took advantage of the city’s Shared Spaces program to add street and sidewalk seating. The dining room recently reopened with seven tables seating no more than six per table (no bar or chef bar seats). To assure the best dining experience, Cucina is serving only the four-course, family-style meal, with a choice of main for each guest from the daily changing menu. Takeout service will continue. Cucina serves dinner 4-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations are required. Cucina 24, 24 Wall St., avl.mx/8n9
Baking the best of it
The Omni Grove Park Inn’s 28th annual National Gingerbread House Competition is, like countless other events and celebrations, going virtual this year. But in an effort to sweeten the disappointment, encourage holiday baking and bring a bit of celebrity razzle-dazzle to your home kitchen, the organizers have created Baking Spirits Bright, a three-part pre-taped series of cooking classes kicking off with “Gingerbread Basics” taught by Carla Hall of “Top Chef” and “The Chew.” The entire package costs $29 (plus tax) and can be viewed at any time. For more information, visit avl.mx/8nb.
Hollie West reopened her full-service Sweet Monkey Bakery & Café in Marshall in early September as a scratch-made convenience store with prepared items to go, including take-and-bake pizzas, cheese spreads, dressings, hummus, soups and salads. “Keeping up with the chicken salad is a full-time job,” she says with a laugh.
Though she no longer offers any indoor seating, she says she is actually able to feed more people than before, thanks in part to the introduction of weekly (Wednesday through Sunday), themed a la carte dinner menus of appetizers, salad, sides, mains, breads and dessert. So far, West has covered Greek Week, Sliders, Day of the Dead Mexican and from Nov. 4-8, her spin on Chinese takeout.
She has also debuted a very entertaining video blog called “Kitchen Mischief” shot on location in the Sweet Monkey kitchen with instruction for assembling and finishing the themed dinners and other tips for the home chef. Sweet Monkey, 133 S. Main St., Marshall, avl.mx/8ne