What’s new in food: Queens on the stage, chefs on the move and cider meets cheese

WILD THING: Divine the Bearded Lady works the crowd at an Asheville Drag Brunch performance in 2020. Photo courtesy of ADB

The girls are back in town. On Sunday, June 27, for the first time in well over a year, Alexis, Calcutta, Manhattan and Ida Carolina will take the floor for the return of Asheville Drag Brunch at the Banks Ave Bar at 32 Banks Ave. Or, as creator and producer Gordon Hensley more colorfully describes it, “The queens will shoot out of the gate like bulls in a rodeo!”

When Hensley moved to Asheville in 2018, he noted a lack of daytime drag shows. “I saw the drag brunch model work so well in so many places. It’s a great way to make this form of entertainment that normally takes place at midnight or later accessible to people who aren’t out that late,” he explains.

“I also have a heart for philanthropy, so I decided to combine the two and see what happened,” Hensley continues. From its March 2019 launch until it began a COVID-19 hiatus in early 2020, Asheville Drag Brunch raised over $6,000 for eight local nonprofits.

During the pandemic downtime, Hensley says, the troupe was busy making glittery gowns and stocking up on hairspray and eyelashes, all of which will be needed for the Drag Brunch relaunch. There are 18 shows planned for the 2021 season. “Depending on how long our host, Divine the Bearded Lady, runs her mouth, the shows run about an hour,” Hensley says. “Each queen does two numbers, we have a representative of the nonprofit talk about the work they do, and we do a little audience participation game.”

The hearty brunch menu is sparkle-free — eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, gravy and pancakes — members of the audience (must be 21 or older) can rev it up with cash-bar mimosas and bloody marys.

Showtimes are at noon and 2 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and must be purchased in advance. Proceeds benefit BeLoved Asheville. For a show schedule and to buy tickets, visit  avl.mx/9hm.

In session

When chef Christine McLeod visited Session Café & Bar on the first floor of the Citizen Vinyl building in late fall 2020 with her boyfriend, chef Andrew McLeod of Avenue M, she said to herself, “I am going to be spending a lot of time in here.” She was thinking as a customer, but after she moved to Asheville to marry McLeod in late February, she took on the role of the café’s chef de cuisine. “[Session chef] Graham House was looking for a new kitchen manager, Andrew threw my name in, I did a couple small stages and was hired,” she explains.

When Christine started at Session in March, it was open for lunch and dinner with a menu of sandwiches, sides and salads, with some croissants and pastries from café partner OWL Bakery.  “The space is such a great place to work,” Christine observes. “It just made sense to open at 9 instead of 11 and add breakfast.”

Currently, breakfast items are primarily grab and go — quiche, chia cups, quinoa bowls and a Black Forest ham and cheese croissant, but there are plans to add breakfast sandwiches soon. All breads and some pastries, like the hummingbird sticky bun, are from OWL, but Christine is making pies, tarts and cakes in house.

Session Café is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. 14 O. Henry Ave. avl.mx/9hy

Brain food

Since Steve Goff closed his downtown restaurant, AUX Bar, in September, the highly regarded Asheville chef has lost 60 pounds while thinking constantly about food. “My brain has been filling up with dishes that I need to get out of my head,” he says.

Jargon diners will benefit from Goff’s brainstorming as he takes on a new role as executive chef of the West Asheville restaurant owned by Shelly and Sean Piper.

“I knew I’d be back in a kitchen at some point. I just didn’t think it would be now,” says Goff, who had stepped into the Jargon kitchen earlier this year to help the Pipers on a temporary basis when they experienced staffing issues. “I like the ambiance of the restaurant, and it’s fun to dig into a lot of ingredients. I’ve always put myself in kind of a Southern box, so it’s fun to stretch and do things I never would have done at AUX.”

Many of those things are already on the Jargon menu, and Goff expects the rollout will be complete by mid-June.

Jargon is at 715 Haywood Road. avl.mx/9hw

Barn raising

On Wednesday, June 23, at 6 p.m. Barn Door Ciderworks, which opened in Fletcher in November, will partner with the WNC Cheese Trail to host its first event, a cider and cheese pairing. A cooperative effort and organization established to promote artisan cheese makers of WNC.

Katie Moore, co-owner of Barn Door, is also manager of Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery and executive director of the WNC Cheese Trail, which works to promote the area’s artisan cheesemakers. “I’ve been conducting pairings for a number of years and always loved doing cheese and cider together,” says Moore. “I like to think local, so what you’re pairing most closely represents the region and goes well together.”

Tickets are $18 and are available at avl.mx/9i1Barn Door Ciderworks, 23 Lytle Road, Fletcher

Fired up

It’s grilling season in Western North Carolina, and Hickory Nut Gap Farm has collaborated with Wicked Weed Brewing and Spicewalla to create a trio of dinner sausages to throw on the barbie: a jerk style made with Wicked Weed fresh-pressed wheat ale and jerk seasoning; bratwurst with Wicked Weed Pernicious India Pale Ale; and Appalachian style with Appalachia Session IPA, sassafras and sumac. A portion of sales from the Appalachian sausage will be donated to Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

“This collaboration is a result of friendships between the three companies,” explains Jamie Ager, HNG founder, farmer and CEO. “As Asheville brands, we all recognize the need to leverage each other’s strengths to communicate a common vision around high-quality food grown with passion and care.”

Hickory Nut Gap Farm, 57 Sugar Hollow Road, Fairview. To purchase sausage, visit  avl.mx/9i9.


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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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