Itty Bitty Bites
Tupelo Honey, one of our area's most successful independent restaurants, has set a precedent for giving back to kids in the community. Readers of the Xpress dining section may recall, for example, a recent report on the nouveau Southern restaurant's efforts to clean up and maintain the YWCA kids' garden. That garden has been successfully tidied and planted, and Tupelo has a chef on standby, ready to transform what is grown there into healthy meals for the YWCA's kids.
It's no surprise that Tupelo Honey's staff takes such an active interest in promoting a healthy lifestyle for children. After all, owner Steve Frabitore has four growing boys, and chef Brian Sonoskus has a son who's not yet two.
Frabitore reports that Tupelo Honey has recently begun even further efforts toward healthier kids with their newly revamped children's menu. A prevalence of items on the menu that kids love to eat, but that aren't necessarily great for growing bodies, caused the restaurant staff to take a long, hard look at what they were offering children. Chicken fingers, they determined, were simply no longer in step with the restaurant's efforts. "Tupelo's philosophy is to promote healthy eating," says Frabitore. "Our executive chef (Sonoskus) has a farm, so we've tried to follow it all the way back to the ground, if you will, and bring nature's bounty to the table."
"We wanted to recognize that there's a growing childhood obesity program in our society and that we need to help kids understand where healthy foods come from," says Frabitore. "Natural foods can be prepared in a healthy manner that still tastes fantastic to kids."
Tupelo's team of chefs, led by Sonoskus, have banded together to create a healthier — but still delicious — kids' menu. The chicken fingers have been replaced with whole grains, lean proteins and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Think veggie sliders, grilled mahi, free-range chicken and farm-fresh vegetable sides for personalized veggie plates.
The kids' health-first philosophy goes hand in hand with the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association's partnership with Earth Fare. Six area restaurants, including Tupelo, the Corner Kitchen, Bouchon, Green Sage, the Blue Ridge Dining Room at The Grove Park Inn and the Laughing Seed Café are participating in the “Food Field Trip” program. Earth Fare and the participating restaurants offer area schools lesson plans that highlight the importance of healthy food choices. The kids in the program then have the chance to visit one of the participating restaurants for a hands-on experience.
"It's going to be awesome," says Frabitore. "These six restaurants are going to get a monthly visit from three different age groups of kids, and we're going to work with these kids over a six-month period. We'll be able to show them how to handle natural and organic foods, how to prepare them and how to put together some recipes that they can do at home."
Frabitore adds, "Hopefully, that will have an impact on the kids, and also have a trickle-down effect with their friends — perhaps even a trickle-up effect with their parents."
Tupelo Honey has two locations, one at 1829 Hendersonville Road in south Asheville, and the other at 12 College St. in downtown Asheville.
Chef Zeb Mcdermott has the unusual task of running two kitchens. Luckily for him, they're located almost right next door to each other — especially since both restaurants will soon be serving Sunday brunch.
While Sazerac started serving a continental-style brunch in mid-August, Tingles Cafe will begin their New Orleans-flavored Sunday brunch service in early September.
Sazerac was McDermott's first executive chef gig, a job he acquired about one year before the owners of the bar, Jack and Lesley Groetsch, decided to open Tingles Cafe. Tingles has much more of a traditional restaurant feel than the upscale cocktail lounge style of Sazerac. Tingles is styled after a beloved and long-closed diner of the same name, and features a gourmet southern comfort menu with items like barbecued local pork belly and fried catfish salad.
Xpress recently managed to catch up with the ever-busy McDermott in a rare still moment, as he was taking a break to work on the new Sazerac menu, which he says is changing for the first time since the restaurant opened. What will be different?
"I'm just getting ready to focus on fall menu items," says McDermott. "We're going to keep a lot of the best sellers — most of the sandwiches and appetizers are going to stay the same."
Tingles offers a much larger kitchen than Sazerac. With more room to work, McDermott says that both menus now feature more house-crafted items. The restaurants are serving house-made breads and pastries, for example, as well as some creative sausages. “Tingles has really opened a lot of doors as far as what we can do on our own," he says, citing a recently created habeñero-peach sausage as an example.
What is it like running two kitchens? "It's definitely a challenge," says McDermott. "The fact that they're right next to each other makes it a lot easier. I've also been lucky to hire some really great people that have definitely taken some responsibility off of my hands and are passionate about food and their jobs. I wouldn't be able to do it otherwise."
For now, the brunch spread at Sazerac remains rather simple, with a spread of baked goods and a make-your-own Bloody bar. Expect house-made danishes with fruit purées, muffins, quiches, fresh fruit and savory crêpes. "It fits well with the ambiance of Sazerac — just something for people to nibble on out on the deck with a Bloody Mary. I won't be doing a full spread of bacon, eggs and sausage."
Looking for more than a nibble? Soon, says McDermott, Tingles will serve a full brunch. The restaurant will serve a selection of New Orleans-style breakfast items and several different versions of eggs Benedict.
For more information about Tingles, visit tinglescafe.com.
For more information about Sazerac, visit ashevillesazerac.com.
— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at email@example.com