As the manager of the West Asheville Tailgate Market for a number of years, Jim Gordon is familiar with the difficulties farmers face. "To get your produce to market and try to make a living doing it, well, it's tough,” he says.
So when Gordon caught wind of an online tailgate market out in Eugene, Ore., it got his wheels turning.
"I contacted them and got pretty excited by the idea of having a year-round tailgate market," says Gordon. "I licensed the software from them, and we're getting this market started."
The market, Asheville Local Foods Online, Inc., includes nearly 50 local farmers and food producers, including Buchi kombucha, Lusty Monk mustard, Smiling Hara Tempeh, Pies in Disguise, Spinning Spider Creamery and more. Essentially, nearly everything that a person needs to sustain themselves comfortably — vegetables, proteins, condiments … and pie! — is available for online order. What's more, this particular market is open year-round.
Here's how it works: Customers visit the website (localfoodmarketplace.com) and select from the available food categories, which include preserves, fruits, breads, pastas, mushrooms, meats, eggs and seafood. Shop, select, check out and pay online. Items are then packed by the ALFO crew and available for pickup at the Downtown Market at 45 S. French Broad on Wednesdays.
"There are still more people joining up every day, so it's starting to grow. We have a lot of product, but what I'm trying to do is create awareness and develop more customers."
Indeed, it's a great service for both the farmer and the consumer. On cold or rainy days, shoppers can select a full pantry of local items from the comfort of their laptop. Since pickup is staged at the Amazing Savings, pantry items not necessarily available through Asheville Local Foods Online (say, toilet paper) can be obtained at one stop.
"With our distribution place being the Amazing Savings (at the Downtown Market), it's a really nice synergy," says Gordon. "For example, the Pies in Disguise people, they just dropped their order off to me. Now Eliza (Sydney of Pies in Disguise) is out there shopping at Amazing Savings. She's combining the online shopping with the physical shopping at Amazing Savings. It's a nice combination for vendors as well as shoppers."
The advantages to the online program don’t stop there, says Gordon. "There's no cost to sign up, and there's no commitment to the customer. What I really see is this becoming a customizable CSA where you can order whatever you want, instead of committing in advance for the whole season for a box of 'whatever' each week that you may not be able to use when the time comes. Buy what you want online, and if you don't want to buy something, or you're going to be out of town, just don't buy anything that week."
Not a bad deal. Visit localfoodmarketplace.com/asheville for more information.
Cake on the go
Jodi Rhoden of Short Street Cakes has a solution for the absent-minded among us. Through 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Short Street Cakes will offer four flavors of cake to grab-and-go without an advance order. Flavors will include Mexican Chocolate, Italian cream cake, Georgia hummingbird and classic coconut. Regular menu items will still available with two days' advance notice. Short Street Cakes is located at 225 Haywood Road in West Asheville. For more information, visit shortstreetcakes.com.
The Blue Ridge Food Ventures Red Box, a package of local goods and gourmet items, is back by popular demand and ready for gift-giving this holiday season.
The prepackaged gift box comes in two sizes (priced at $35 and $49) and include items like Bamboo Ladies Bamboo Pickles (recipient of the 2010 Cooking Light Magazine national taste-test award in the artisanal foods category), Blessed Botanicals organic herbal teas and culinary blends, Chef Ricardo’s award-winning tomato sauce, Fire on the Mountain salsa and hot sauce, Imladris Farms berry jams and apple butter, UliMana organic chocolates, Lusty Monk mustard and other products from the kitchens of BRFV.
Boxes are customizable, and can be purchased by emailing Chris Reedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 348-0130. For more information about the products available from Blue Ridge Food Ventures, visit advantagewest.com.
Fire on the (Black) Mountain
Hidden in Black Mountain, right off of South Ridgeway Avenue, is some pretty special pizza. Fresh Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta opened on the tail end of this summer season, serving thin-crust pizzas made with fresh — and often homegrown — ingredients, pastas and wood-fired artisan breads.
Owner Mark Tomczak is no stranger to the intricacies of wood-fired ovens. The Penland School of Arts alumnus is also a potter — his work can be seen on display at the restaurant. Baker E.C. Clarey also seems to know his way around an oven. Clarey’s previous restaurant experience includes a stint at the renowned Moosewood Kitchen in Ithaca, New York. The owners of Fresh are impressed by Clarey’s experience and the attention to detail that ensures the kitchen turns out some fine dough.
From that wood-fired oven, Clarey bakes classic baguettes that the restaurant uses for the crostinis, creative loaves like garlic-herb-goat cheese as well as sourdough that the restaurant grills and tops with fresh tomatoes and basil for bruschetta.
Everything used in the restaurant is fresh and made from scratch, says Tomczak. "We're just trying to do things with fresh ingredients,” he says. “Nothing sitting in cans, no canned mushrooms or anything like that. We're making all of our sauces in-house.”
The commitment to quality ingredients is obvious in the food. Pizzas include the truly good Chica Bella, a pesto-based pie with ricotta and mozzarella that’s finished with still-crisp and peppery arugula and walnuts. There's also a chevre pizza made with Looking Glass Creamery goat cheese that includes sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and basil leaves. For the meat-eaters, look toward the cheekily named Scarface, a creation with Italian sausage, pepperoni and spicy salami with mozzerella and crushed tomato sauce.
What makes the pizza so good, beside the freshness of the ingredients, is that crust — credit given again to Clarey. It's a thin, Neapolitan-style base, neither too crisp nor too doughy, that the well-traveled older gentleman beside us raved over. Beside the quality of the crust, our dining neighbor was also very enthusiastic about the fact that could get the restaurant chefs to top his pie with anchovies.
Tomczak's wife, co-owner Courtney Smith, says that part of the allure of the crust lies in Clarey's habit of being quite particular about the type of flour that he uses in his dough. He uses locally milled as well as King Arthur flours exclusively, she says. "It fits very nicely into the philosophy of Fresh," she says, adding that, until the frost hit, they were picking basil from the 400 plants in their garden to make fresh pesto every day. "We plan to do that again next year," she says. In addition to using homegrown produce, the restaurant is committed to using local ingredients as much as possible. "Our ideal situation is that we're only trucking in from about 150 miles max." Even Sysco has recognized the push for local, she says, and now offers a series of products culled from the community.
Smith also credits the high temperature of the wood-fired ovens for that great crust. "When you're putting dough into an 850 degree oven, the crust picks up a certain smokiness that enhances the flavors and adds to the taste of the pizza." Another benefit to having a pizza oven that rages like a fiery inferno? "The pizza comes out in about four-and-a-half minutes," she says.
Fresh also offers gluten-free pizzas, pasta and beer, says Smith. "It allows for people who have celiac issues and gluten intolerance to enjoy items they can't always get," she says. She adds that her daughter is gluten-intolerant, which has influenced the way that the couple cooks. Gluten-free options, she says, are hard to come by with typical children's menus, so she's excited to be able to provide such choices in her own establishment.
For more information about Fresh, visit freshwoodfiredpizza.com
Farewell to Stephanie’s Roadhouse Bistro
Stephanie’s Roadhouse Bistro is closing.
Stephanie’s Roadhouse Bistro opened last July off of Hwy 70 in Swannanoa. Customers of the restaurant enjoyed down-home cooking in a relaxed environment that owner Stephanie Coleman hoped would be reminiscent of home and the more simple times in life.
The bistro served standard breakfast fare: pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast. Lunch and dinner items included Southern favorites such as fried green tomatoes and chicken and waffles.
After four months in business, Coleman held a benefit party for her bistro at the Eye Scream Ice Cream Parlor directly across the road from her. Still, Coleman had to close her restaurant this November. The culprit: electric bills that the bistro couldn’t afford, she says.
Standing amid tables, chairs and boxes full of ornaments that had adorned the restaurant, Coleman voiced her faith that God would open up another doorway for her. This restaurant had been her dream, she said.
Loyal patrons will miss the Roadhouse Bistro’s comfy atmosphere and no-frills southern goodness.
—Warren Wilson student Melody Grace Miller contributed to this report.
— Send your food news and story ideas to email@example.com.