Happiness, it turns out, is a slice of grilled pound cake. Put pound cake on a grill and it comes off looking like a dainty steak and smelling just like a toasted marshmallow. Top it with ice cream made from organic local strawberries and you have a nice neat pile of eco-friendly foodie bliss. In fact, such bliss comes in all shapes and sizes at Knife & Fork, an out-of-the-way upscale farm-to-table eatery in tiny Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Chef Nathan Allen, who studied at Johnson & Wales and received his cooking comeuppance in L.A., opened the restaurant last July with his wife, Wendy Gardner. While residents of nearby Asheville, N.C., have a dozen or so fine farm-to-table restaurants to choose from, this one is well worth the hour’s drive across the mountains.
A friend and I were heading north from Asheville through the Blue Ridge Mountains, winding our way up to Boone, a college town named for Daniel Boone. Even when you live in the mountains like I do, Boone feels lofty. At 3,300 feet, it’s simply higher than all the towns around it. In fact, it’s higher than any town east of the Mississippi. From many points on the campus of Appalachian State University, you can survey the Blue Ridge high country and its layer upon layer of smoky blue slopes.
If you’re lucky enough to land in this scenic corner of North Carolina, take U.S. Route 221 through the Pisgah National Forest and stop off at roadside farm stands. In spring and summer, they sell local veggies and flowers, plus quirky southern items like boiled peanuts, sourwood honey and wild, onion-like ramps. A smattering of ramps stole the show in my Knife & Fork entrée, a flatbread dish with bacon and two sunny-side-up eggs, laid that morning by the chef’s own chickens.
In rural Appalachia, gourmet eateries are few and far between. (And environmentally-minded restaurateurs are even farther between.) But digging into my plate at a diamond-in-the-rough green restaurant like Knife & Fork, I found the food to be as good or better than any I’d had at white-tablecloth restaurants in big coastal cities. And the scenery on the drive to get there, was hard to beat.