Growing up in eastern North Carolina, chef Mike Moore learned how to make his own luck.
“There’s an old saying in the South that if you have seven sows and one boar on the new moon, you’ll always have a litter of eight piglets,” he says.
Moore, who is the executive director of the Blind Pig Underground Supper Club, is teaming up with a cast of Asheville culinarians to create Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder. He’s hoping the pig reference will bring him good fortune.
Like the new moon, Moore’s Blind Pig creations have been ephemeral; there’s only about one dinner per month, and tickets sell out just hours after they’re released. Come February, he’ll have a brick-and-mortar presence downtown at 77 Biltmore Avenue in the space recently vacated by the Baja Kitchen, next door to Mamacita’s. (Until then, you can find him in the kitchen at The Admiral, where he’s worked between Blind Pig events for the last couple of years.)
Seven Sows, a collaboration between Moore, Adam Bannasch of Zambra and Jason Caughman of Pisgah Brewing, will serve dinner and weekend brunches that feature local and heirloom products and Southern foods. The bar will focus on bourbon. Moore likes to drink his straight, and it’s a habit he’s hoping to popularize.
“Bourbon is something that is created here in the South in Kentucky and West Virginia in distilleries around the South,” he says. “We want to focus on it and have a great selection.” He recommends Willett Bourbon, a small-batch product from a family-operated distillery in Bardstown, Ky.
Bannasch hopes the bar will be a gathering spot for downtown concert-goers. “I’m hoping it can be a place where people can come in and get a drink before a show at the Orange Peel and be comfortable with that, with not having to order a whole meal,” he says. “They don’t have to be into food to feel like they can go in there.”
Moore’s family has been in farming for generations, and that legacy will inspire the menu. He hopes to grow much of the produce at Just Ripe Farm in Weaverville. He will work with owners Chad Briar and Rachel Kinard to produce hard-to-find heirloom crops, such as Carolina cabbage collards and red-speckled butter beans. “Some of these things have been lost in time, and I’d love to bring them back and spotlight them,” he says. “The South is indicative of a very agrarian lifestyle, and everything about Southern food and Southern people is that.”
As chef and owner of Zambra, Bannasch has been working with area farmers for several years, and he’s glad to bring the “tight-knit” relationships he’s developed with them to Seven Sows.
Moore has already started sourcing regional products. He makes regular trips to Knoxville for buttermilk from Cruze Farm, a small herbicide- and pesticide-free dairy that’s recently received national press attention. He’s also convinced distributors to carry Stump Sound oysters from the North Carolina coast.
Seven Sows won’t be “New Southern” or “upscale,” Moore says. He plans to offer a variety of plate sizes so diners can customize their experience depending on the occasion. “I don’t want to cast our net just to reach the foodies, just to reach the people that have the huge purses,” he says. “I want to cast my net to folks that want to enjoy great food or something from Renaissance South.”
Bannasch also wants to keep the place accessible. ”I think we’re going for the average-Joe crowd who wants to come in and get some good food and some good drinks,” he says. “We’re not trying to redefine anything.”
Moore hopes to offer bar snacks, such as popcorn with bacon and french fries with ham puree, in addition to small plates and entree portions. “You can’t have a white tablecloth,” he says.
The three partners hope to open Seven Sows in February 2013. Moore says now is a good time to open a Southern food restaurant, but adds that it’s always been a good time to eat Southern food. “We’ve always been very connected to the earth and growing things and raising things,” he says. “That’s the reason why the food is so damn good.”