Culinary pleasures with dash of poetry, recipes that rock and roll, and lots of food blogging
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The Local Joint
Intriguing Eggplant and the Best Reuben Sandwich in the Mountains
blackness of an eggplant with its white flesh, somewhat bitter taste,
and meaty texture seems like a regular veggie enticement—yet it is
not to most, unless you're into French cuisine, for example
ratatouille, a traditional provencal stewed vegetable viand, or
Balkan dishes, notably moussaka. Eggplants take kindly to gentle
pairings, particularly starchy ones (pasta, potatoes and rice), which
tame its rich, complex flavor and add enough bulk to turn a vegetable
into a meal.
eggplant recipes advise salting, rinsing and draining of the sliced
fruit, to soften it and to reduce the amount of fat absorbed during
cooking, but mainly to remove the bitterness of the earlier
cultivars. Too much effort, isn't it—although back home in the
Philippines, we simplify eggplant preparation like southern folks
de-complicate cooking of taters here in the Appalachian mountains.
Whatever the case, eggplant is considered an un-ordinary albeit
exotic little vegetable with a strange shape in most American dinner
plates. Hence, when I was served Eggplant Fries (!) as an appetizer
at The Local Joint, a roadside restaurant in Fairview, a tiny North
Carolina mountain town about ten miles east of downtown Asheville—I
was intrigued enough to ponder it no end before I took a nonchalant
golden and served with fresh tomato chutney, Eggplant Fries is one of
TLJ's most popular “starters,” offers owner Chris Sizemore who
sat down with us over four dishes on their loaded menu of “comfort
food with a kick.” French toast, pancakes, eggs benedict, biscuits
and gravy, huevos rancheros, Reuben sandwich, Cuban delights, chicken
Philly, burgers, housemade potato chips and pickles, shrimps and
grits, Cajun fried chicken, BBQ salmon, and beers, wine and Mimosas.
A relatively small restaurant with—quite literally—a full plate!
fascinating about Sizemore's “truck stop for the discriminating
tastebud” restaurant is his fancy variations or culinary interfaces
of flavors. “I traveled a lot with my wife all over the country,
thus—we've been exposed to so many styles of food preparation...
Italian, French, Asian to suit each everyone's preferences,” says
Sizemore, originally from Knoxville TN. “My restaurant right off
the highway is where lawyers share seating with truck drivers.” His
wife Stephanie, who takes care of the creative look of TLJ, as well
as, throws in ideas in the kitchen—hails from Georgia.
Angel Hair Pasta—seemed like your casual pasta meal of fresh
tomatoes, basil, garlic and virgin olive oil on pasta (with choice of
chicken or shrimp)--but it's not. Chris's improvisation of the dish's
basic elements pleases a Southeast Asian's mouth as well an
Italian's. As for me, I brought home some to mix with my obligatory
boiled Basmati rice, and that'd be a sumptuous dinner later.
I have to articulate my utmost love for the Classic Reuben sandwich.
I am not a big bread or sandwich eater, so it takes a lot of cajoling
for me to finish up one, more so—start a course. But this one with
its house-made corned beef, kraut, Swiss cheese and Russian
dressing—simply converted me. It's not too greasy, the beef's rich
sweetness reminds me of grandma's “secret” recipes, and it's
earthy flavor makes for a satisfying full meal.
Local Joint also prides itself with its homemade potato chips with vinaigrette dip. This is a kind of chips that cracks on each bite but melts on
your tongue, with the suppleness of cheese and crispiness of
old-fashioned fried potatoes.
about moving closer to a more populous location, which is Asheville,
Sizemore—who managed two downtown restaurants few years ago—before
setting up The Local Joint, reasons that he intends to serve a
smaller community that fits well with his vision. He says, “This is
community. People come here like neighbors...”
Sizemores—husband, wife and children—are also active in local
charitable programs via activities like “bake sales.” With Chris'
characteristic baseball cap and work shirt, we know that he meant
what he professes. He doesn't need to intrigue me with eggplant
fries. The Classic Reuben sandwich had me at hello, and I haven't
even tried a serving of Shrimp and Grits or the Barbecue Spiced
Local Joint is located at Old Charlotte Hwy., Fairview, NC 28730. Tel
# (828) 338-0469. Check them out on Facebook.
PHOTOs (by Marta Osborne): (1) Chicken Enchilada with apple salsa; (2) Chris Sizemore, chef and co-owner of The Local Joint.