Quick dish: A Q+A with Jeff and Palette Butler of Veranda Café

Palette and Jeff Butler, owners of the Veranda Cafe in Black Mountain.
Palette and Jeff Butler, owners of the Veranda Cafe in Black Mountain. Photo by Liisa Andreassen

The Veranda Cafe has been family-owned and operated since 1996, but the building  has been around since 1909, when it originally housed a feed-and-seed and shoe repair shop. Today, the café in Black Mountain that mixes its Southern roots with international flair.

Mountain Xpress: Tell me a little about how you found your way to Asheville.
Jeff Butler: I grew up in Charleston, but spent my summers in Montreat. I moved to Oregon, but returned to the area to be closer to family. I was looking to buy a local business, and the Veranda was for sale. Palette was working here. That’s how we met.
Palette Butler: I’m from the Mississippi Delta and grew up in Louisiana — very Southern culture. I’ve been at the Veranda for nearly 19 years now.

Do you have any formal culinary training?
Jeff: Palette has a gift. I’ve always been in the food service business — since I was 17.
Palette: I come from a long line of cooks. I never follow a recipe. We like to eat.

Being hands-on owners, do you get to take much time off?
Jeff: Every February we close for two weeks. We go somewhere warm — the Caribbean or South America. I think being hands-on has been the key to our success.
Palette: We were getting in a rut for a while — we kept going back to St. Lucia. We always bring back new culinary knowledge and ingredients. For example, from St. Lucia we get certain bay leaves and thyme. I got my idea for a special soup we run once in a while — Caribbean callaloo soup — from there. Our customers would like us to put together a cookbook. It’s one of those things we’ve been wanting to do for a while, but we work six days a week. It’s on the list.

I love the setting in here. It’s so cozy. Tell me a little about it.
Palette: The chairs are actually from Turkey, I think. We got them from another restaurant in town — the Cellar Door, formerly the Ale House. The umbrellas hanging on the wall are for sale, but they also help with the noise — not that anyone comes here for a quiet lunch. It’s a place where people come to cut up, catch up and have fun.
Jeff: The woman I bought the business from had it set up more as a gift shop. She did 70 percent gift items and the rest was food — things like muffins and a few sandwiches, etc. We’ve gotten away from the gift shop part more — we still have a few little things like the umbrellas, hot sauce and tea towels.

So, you’re just open for lunch? Do you have plans to open for dinner?
Palette: No. We have a small kitchen with no hood. I’m in the kitchen, and Jeff focuses more on management. We tried doing dinner for a while, but it was just too much. It was like working four doubles in a row. We don’t have the space or the capacity.

The kitchen is pretty small. How do you make it all work?
Palette: It’s pretty amazing what comes out of this kitchen. We’ve been interviewed by people who went to culinary school, and they say they just can’t wrap their head around it. Our portable burners help. We have panini grills, a flat-top grill, convection oven, steam table and Alto Sham. We make it all work.
Jeff: We also have multiple coolers — I think nine altogether.

What are some of your favorite specials?
Palette: We have six homemade soups every day. We always have two of the same — a Hungarian, cream-based soup with mushrooms and paprika, and a potato soup that is gluten-free. We also do a lot of blue plate specials — roast beef, brisket, etc. Crawfish enchiladas are one of my favorites when I can get crawfish. I also like to deconstruct things: for example, making a reuben soup or a blue-cheese wing stew.
Jeff: The she-crab soup. It’s to die for. We’ve had so many people come in — people who have had it in Charleston — and they say ours is better. It’s authentic.

What makes your place special?
Jeff: Our customers. We’re such a local place. We have a back deck, and people love to sit out there. In the chilly weather we even provide pillows and blankets. It’s dog-friendly, too. To give you an idea about our local following, one day we were short-handed, and one of our regulars started clearing tables. That’s what we’re all about.

The Veranda Café is at 119 Cherry St., Black Mountain. Hours are 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

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