Prolific food writer Morgan Murphy spotlights two Western North Carolina restaurants — Early Girl Eatery in downtown Asheville and Rocky’s Grill and Soda Shop in Brevard — in his forthcoming cookbook On the Road Again, due out on Tuesday, May 5, in association with Southern Living magazine. The traveling food connoisseur racked up some 15,000 miles “and hundreds of thousands of calories” while scouring 60 cities for “unforgettable foods and characters from the South’s back roads and byways.” Here’s what he found locally:
Early Girl Eatery of Asheville
“It was an absolute pleasure working with Morgan and the rest of his team,” says Early Girl Eatery co-founder Julie Stehling. “We have no idea how they came to find us, but we were, of course, superflattered when they contacted us.”
Early Girl’s sweet potato black bean cakes with avocado relish appeared in the book, as well as the restaurant’s spinach potato cakes. Julie’s business partner and husband, John Stehling, says these dishes are well-suited for weekend chefs.
“They actually work out at home,” he says, “which, if you cook out of books, you know isn’t always the case. The ingredients are also commonly accessible and appealing to a variety of people, young and old.”
The sweet potato cakes, John says, were developed by a former kitchen manager. “We needed a vegetarian option as a special using product we already were ordering. Our guests love them, and they ended up landing a full-time spot on the menu. As for the spinach potato cakes, the recipe was developed by my brother.”
Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop of Brevard
Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop — a retro, red-and-white clad diner in Brevard which looks remarkably (and intentionally) similar to the original Varner’s Drug Store, which opened there in 1941 — also made the cut for inclusion with several recipes: Mrs. Varner’s grilled pimiento cheese sandwich (original 1941 recipe), the French Broad River sundae and Rocky’s Chilly Willy.
“It was just a real honor [to be included],” says owner Dee Dee Perkins, noting the limited number of establishments chosen to represent the region. “That certainly says volumes about the experience we create for people when they come to Rocky’s. While our menu is simple, everything here is homemade, and someone certainly sees the value of that.
“Rocky’s is an icon,” she continues, calling the restaurant a “special gem.” “The old drugstores and the lunch counters were found on every corner in America back in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and today, they’re a rarity.”
Perkins says she’s excited about publicizing not only her own restaurant but also Brevard’s downtown community. “We are so proud that we’re a part of that,” she says.