Fried catfish and hush puppies, butter beans and souse meat: These are the foods that stick in Mike Moore's mind from his childhood in eastern North Carolina. With Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder, which opens on Tuesday, March 19, he’ll bring these standbys to Asheville.
“We're working hard to preserve that old food of where we grew up and some of the older foods of the South,” he says. “The menu is sort of created from the memories that we have of childhood.”
In a word, the concept is pan-Southern. Moore will open the restaurant with Adam Bannasch, the chef at Zambra, and Jason Caughman, formerly of Pisgah Brewing. They bring similarly strong gustatory memories to the menu. Bannasch grew up in Florida and lived in New Orleans, and Caughman hails from South Carolina. It's the kind of cooperation that leads to a brunch menu of shrimp and benne cakes, chicken liver-topped cathead biscuits and fried catfish over hash.
As a term, though, pan-Southern is too general; it includes both weathered mom-and-pops with blue plate specials and trendy “new Southern” restaurants serving small plates. Seven Sows falls somewhere in between the two, but toward the trendier end of the spectrum. “We're going to preserve the old but also be creative with how we plate it and our technique in cooking it,” Moore says. “It may not look like a dish that you've seen on your grandmother's table, but it will sure taste like it.”
The Southern dishes benefit from Moore's particular brand of culinary zeal. He's the executive director and chef behind Blind Pig Supper Club, a project that will continue even as he opens Seven Sows, he says.
Blind Pig is an impromptu dinner series hosted by a passionate group of local cooks, barkeeps and event planners. The menus at those events are playful; the group doesn't hesitate to serve snapping turtle, whole-roasted pig or green-hued biscuits if the theme of the dinner demands it.
Moore's unabashed style carries over to the Seven Sows menu, which emphasizes Appalachian food. A dish of braised goat and Brunswick stew takes inspiration from Foxfire, a series of books published in the 1970s by a group of north Georgia high school students. They recorded the area's folklore, customs and cooking techniques. Moore owns several of the original publications, which were passed down to him from a great aunt.
By bringing rustic foods to the fore, Moore endeavors to help Asheville get in touch with its Appalachian roots. “I'm trying to go up into the hollers and pull the food from the cookbooks of the hollers,” he says “That's an important part of Asheville culture that's not necessarily front on the stage.”
Like the menu, the design of the restaurant draws on the South's agrarian past. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood and tin from 110-year-old barns, and a neon sign hangs over the bar, a replica of the one at Sun Records in Memphis, where Elvis at Johnny Cash cut their early tracks. “Reminders of hard work, reminders of dirt, reminders of an age-old culture of resourcefulness,” Moore says. “That's exactly what we're trying to achieve with the décor and with the menu.”
An array of price points appeals to the sensibilities of both foodies and old-school Southern penny-pinchers. Diners can opt for decadent large plates, like a $29 dry-aged rib-eye, or a more humble serving of pig head meatloaf at $9.
The bar offerings, an idiosyncratic lineup of fried chicken livers, hush puppies, truffled eggs and waffle fries, run about $5 apiece. And in addition to a selection of more than 30 small-batch bourbons, the bar also will serve what Moore calls “comfort beers,” including Miller High Life. “I want it to be comfortable, and I want it to have a little bit of a honky-tonk element,” he says.
Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder, 77 Biltmore Ave., will open daily for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, the bar stays open until 2 a.m. with light food offerings. On Saturday and Sunday, brunch runs 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit sevensows.com or check out the restaurant's Facebook page.