Atop a hill adjacent to the Western North Carolina Farmers Market in Asheville sits The Moose Café. Its menu is a celebration of real, unadorned mountain food.
Like the restaurant, the farmers market is one of the region’s greatest treasures. Located near Interstates 26 and 40, it is open year-round. In the spring, vendors stock mountain-foraged ramps in generous bundles. In the summer, it’s a great source for Greasy Beans, Cherokee Purple tomatoes, eggplant, and Silver Queen corn. Any time of year, you can choose from a large selection of local chow-chow varieties, country ham, honey, sorghum syrup from North Carolina farms, and an amazing array of jams and preserves.
Across the road from the market is Jesse Israel and Sons, a well-stocked, family-run garden center that has been doing business in Asheville for 50 years.
You can easily spend an entire day at these businesses, and we often do. There’s no reason to move the car. The Moose Café serves up three meals a day, seven days a week, and all of them are representative of the mountains that surround the restaurant. The fare is simple, inexpensive and hearty. Thankfully, the cooks make no effort to “reinterpret” Appalachian cuisine.
Sit down for a meal at The Moose Café, and a house-made biscuit of cathead proportions immediately arrives, along with a serving of chunky, spicy apple butter, a legacy of the German immigrants who settled in Appalachia.
For all three daily meals, the restaurant stays consistently full, with diners seeking the true and simple flavors of the mountain table. Much of the food is locally sourced, including center-cut country ham from Landis, North Carolina, and trout from North Carolina mountain waters.
Country fried steak, baked ham, grandmother-worthy meatloaf, and chicken and dumplings are aptly listed under the menu heading “Southern Classics.” My favorite choice is the buttermilk-fried chicken breast. It is boneless but cooked so skillfully that it remains moist, and it is topped with a country-style white gravy with plenty of black pepper. Squash casserole of the farmhouse variety, potato casserole, and sweet potato casserole are often found in the long list of side dishes.
Many of the ingredients used in these classic Southern recipes are purchased just down the hill at the Western North Carolina Farmers Market, including the chow-chow for bowls of onion-topped soup beans. Since its beginning over 25 years ago, The Moose Café has always been farm-to-fork.
High on the wall of the busy restaurant are rows of canned vegetables, jams and preserves. It’s a shrine of sorts, reminding diners of the genius of the Appalachian people in preserving the goodness of the garden.
THE MOOSE CAFÉ
570 Brevard Road
Asheville, North Carolina