Flavor: Breakfast favorites from local sources
Ambiance: Diner in organic clothing
Where: 640 Merrimon Ave. (Merrimon Square)
Contact: 254-4122 or www.risenshinecafe.com
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon-Sat; 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun
Know where your food comes from. Such is the rallying cry that unites locavores and the restaurants that hope to serve them.
At Rise ‘n Shine Café, diners may also be glad to know where their cooks come from. They’re as homegrown as the veggies in Rise ‘n Shine’s signature omelets—as here-and-now as the eatery’s delightfully fresh sausage, purchased from Farside Farms a scant mile down the road.
Between them, “business and life partners” Peggy Pinter and Dave Williams bring more than 25 years of Asheville food-service experience to the proverbial table (or handful of tables) at their new breakfast-and-lunch spot in north Asheville. That’s unusual in a tourist town where small-business dreamers pass through as often as moving vans. Williams arrived in Asheville in 1992 and managed the kitchen at Frank’s Roman Pizza and at La Caterina before becoming one of the original four owners of Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company. Pinter’s been here for a decade and logged years as a server and manager at Melanie’s Food Fantasy (now Over Easy Café), among numerous other eateries.
Nursing an American Spirit cigarette—outside and after hours, of course—Pinter says: “We know a lot of people.” That small-town intimacy shows up on the menu’s list of smoothies, which are named after various kids of the couple’s acquaintance, including Williams’ daughter Rosemary. “We know the area,” she continues. “We know what the tastes are and what people’s wants are.”
And that would be local, organic food. “They want it to be affordable,” Pinter adds, knowingly enough.
Not amazing, but happily reasonable, Rise ‘n Shine’s prices run a dollar or two less than similar menu items at similar brunch-y joints in town. Entrees top out at $7.75 for the 3-Way Eggs Benedict, served with homemade hollandaise sauce and a trio of edibles for every taste: The “local” comes with bacon or sausage, the “green” with spinach or tomato and the “bean” with soysage (i.e. vegetarian sausage) or tempeh.
“I’m proud that we can make tempeh taste good,” says Pinter with a rumbly little laugh. And the zesty Avocado Melt with tempeh supports the boast. She talks about her “secret sauce” for this sandwich, but says that most of the restaurant’s recipes are collaborative efforts. Other lunch items include Free Range Chicken Salad made with green apples and walnuts, and the Kit ‘n Kaboodle Salad, an avalanche of local veggies served over organic spring mix.
Pressed further, Pinter also expresses pride in Rise ‘n Shine’s smoothies, which are clearly fashioned for purists. “There’s no ice, water or frozen fruit in them,” she declares. The Sweet Ginger smoothie, a blend of the title ingredient with strawberries, bananas and apple juice, was so intensely good my head buzzed from the unexpected nutrient rush.
Pinter and Williams also choose not to go the fancy-coffee-drink route, selling only a hot cup of Joe. But their house brew issues from a special Nicaraguan bean “that’s as straight off the bush as you can get,” according to Pinter. “Asheville Coffee Roasters gave us exclusivity to this coffee—we’re the only restaurant in the city that has it.”
Still, the café‘s locavore/organic menu is sophisticated enough to make the absence of espresso drinks seem like a bit of a misstep. Pinter and Williams may at least want to consider offering some sort of cold-brewed toddy coffee, along the lines of what Vincent’s Ear used to serve. (They’ll remember.)
Despite my weak-minded longing for a latte, I very much enjoyed the restaurant’s hearty, artful breakfast. My friend and I had our stacks of flapjacks plain, although they also come gussied up as “Funky Monkey” (bananas and walnuts) and “Celestial Fruit” (seasonal fruit, organic yogurt and honey). Pinter and Williams execute a stout, fluffy pancake made with whole-wheat flour—a true feat. The toast was a tad dry, but the potatoes were perfect; we tried both the hash browns and the roasted red-and-gold cubes. My Smooth Herb omelet had a delicate flavor that was almost too mild. However, my friend’s Disco’s Omelet—with organic baby spinach, garlic and two cheeses—was splendid.
We kept our server hopping with frequent requests for additional butter and syrup. They were cheerfully supplied, although more generous servings of both would have been nice. When the condiments are this delicious, getting just dabs feels like a tease.
And speaking of service, the café‘s owners and staff most definitely deserve the “Shine” in their title. One example: I first visited the restaurant with extended family in tow, but had to leave quickly when our little boy fell on the sidewalk a ways down from the restaurant and cut his lip. Williams caught sight of the debacle, and the next time I came in, he made sure to ask me how our son was doing—not knowing yet that I was there to review the place.
Our boy is fine, and the next time we’re there he will surely enjoy Rise ‘n Shine’s Toad in a Hole entrée, a fried egg centered in a hollowed-out slice of bread. Reflecting the restaurant’s vibe of low-key integrity, Pinter remarks simply: “The portions are small because baby bellies are smaller than ours.”
Like the items on their kids’ menu, the couple’s ambitions, too, are sized just so. When she talks about her and Williams’ criteria for choosing the local art adorning the restaurant’s walls, Pinter could just as easily be describing the feel of their lazily aristocratic menu. “We’re not elitist about it. If we like it, we use it.”
[Melanie McGee Bianchi is a stay-at-home mom and freelance journalist.]