The New Orleans-to-Asheville connection is well established — an ex-pat parade route sprinkled with the powdered sugar of beignets. Some Cajun-themed restaurants (e.g. Mayfel’s) are in their second decade, new NOLA-esque eateries — most notably Michel Baudouin’s much-anticipated Lafayette — sprout up regularly, and Asheville Mardi Gras in February is a multi-pronged celebration, complete with its own king and queen.
With all the pomp and music, the cook-offs and the costumes, it’s a lot of uproarious, kitschy fun. But at Jaime’s Creole Brasserie in Brevard, the Louisiana link has been carefully polished.
Award-winning chef Jaime Hernandez, who’s been honored by “Best Chefs America,” brought his family and his laurels to Brevard late last year. In August, in a Q&A on the “I Love Brevard” blog, he stated: “I stay in competition with myself [not other eateries]. I am happy to work alongside the restaurants of Brevard and Asheville. I want to work hard to help better the culinary recognition of my community.”
In its original context, the French term “brasserie” denotes a casual gathering place. But this place gleams. There are bouquet-sprays of filaments inside teardrop pendant lighting, a trussed high ceiling of heart-pine beams, local-wood tabletops artily mixed with burnished surfaces.
In other words, it’s high design: architectural and upscale, including many “wow” bits salvaged from renovated historical buildings. And yet intimacy reigns, thanks to the open kitchen integrated seamlessly into the heart of the space.
Yes, it’s a place for foodies. The Creole/Southern-fusion fare is sophisticated, inspired, and on-trend, with meat and seasonal produce sourced from local farms.
But the staff is solidly friendly and warm, and, along with private tables, the restaurant (interestingly and riskily) offers European-style communal ones. Though of modern design, the bar chairs are unusually plush.
Foregoing Jaime’s frankly epic wine and beer list, we selected two of the restaurant’s fancy, robust cocktails: the Sazerac, a drink born and made famous in New Orleans, and the cranberry margarita. One particularly inspired drink is the “White Squirrel.” Named after Brevard’s signature rodents, the cocktail has already made regional best-of lists.
Speaking of animals, Jaime’s fearless charcuterie makes its debut on the appetizer menu, where the meat choices include fashionable bone marrow (brined in honey bourbon) and classic frog legs, treated in the expected buerre blanc — butter sauce — and then fried in Tabasco.
Not all of the starters are saved for adventurous carnivores. The “Endive & Apple” salad, in addition to the title ingredients, includes “crumbled blue cheese, dried cranberries, snipped chives, and a creamy pecan vinaigrette.”
Creole/Cajun/Deep South is a bold amalgamation, though, and pork announces its presence in many of the restaurant’s personal touches, including house-made pork rinds offered as a gratis starter, and pork-flavored butter served with the table bread.
However, Louisiana crawfish takes the alpha role throughout the menu. The tails of the famed crustacean appear in a downright ambrosial take on mac-and-cheese, done in a sherry-spiked Creole mornay sauce.
A standout entrée was andouille-cornbread-stuffed boneless chicken topped with crawfish étouffée and served with sautéed haricots vert (baby string beans). We also tried one of the night’s specials, Amberjack fish in a classic béarnaise sauce.
The lobster risotto had sold out quickly on this Friday night, even though it was early in the evening. It was a disappointment, but it doubled as a tease, begging for a prompt return to try to snag the clearly popular dish.
Naturally, Jaime’s offers beignets — in essence, French doughnuts — and naturally, they’re amazing. But it’s another form of dough that merits a special mention here: These days, if waffles don’t appear somewhere on the menu, a restaurant can’t really be called Southern fusion. On Jaime’s brunch menu, a pecan waffle pairs up with its most common culinary sidekick, fried chicken. It’s also added as a twist to the iconic New Orleans dessert Bananas Foster, providing the supporting bottom layer.
Together with the expected liqueur-and-rum sauce and vanilla ice cream, the buttery waffle proved a deliciously obvious addition to this traditional treat. Like a Mardi Gras parade in the mountains, you’d never think it didn’t have a right to be there.
Jaime’s Creole Brasserie, 44 E. Main St., Brevard, 828-883-3388, jaimescreole.com
Lunch, Tuesday – Friday; Dinner, Tuesday – Saturday; Brunch, Saturday and Sunday