Chef Mike Moore, founder and executive director of the charitable catering collective Blind Pig Supper Club and head of the former Seven Sows Bourbon and Larder in Asheville, is set to debut a casual eatery, the Old Etowah Smokehouse. He’s joined in his endeavor by Peter Raths, food-and-beverage manager of Etowah Valley Golf Resort — and he also joins the ranks of those dedicated to reviving wood-fired, whole-hog barbecue, an Eastern Carolina tradition, in the mountains. (Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue jump-started the local trend.)
The Henderson County building started life as a barbecue restaurant back in 1981, and its old wood smoke pit is vintage to the space. About opening a third venue with a porcine theme, Moore says, “it is indeed safe to say that the pig seems to follow me — or I follow it.”
For his friend Moss, the whole-hog barbecue revival “goes way back to where he’s from, to some of his most formidable memories of food — and for me, it’s the exact same damn thing,” says Moore. “Our families had the same traditions, and we have a lot of the same barbecue, fried-chicken, Duke’s mayonnaise and white-bread memories — I just grew up a couple of hours northeast of him via I-95 in Eastern NC. He never lets me forget that, either.”
Fried chicken will join pork on the new restaurant’s menu, as well as shrimp boil, fresh coastal flounder, an ample kids’ menu, and a wide array of traditional country sides, with an emphasis on seasonal vegetables.
“I think people are passionate about barbecue because they associate it with their culture,” says Moore. And where the purist meets the regionalist, strong preferences emerge. The chopped pork at Old Etowah Smokehouse will be laced in tangy vinegar sauce — the same kind Moore’s family used. “I did not grow up in tomato-based barbecue-sauce country,” he says. “It’s just not what I’m accustomed to or what I prefer.”
Vinegar, he says, “is meant to brighten and moisten the meat but not drown it. Most importantly, we’ll be cooking good [heritage-bred and pasture-raised] pigs as much as we can, so that meat flavor will be distinct in itself. We’ll also make a couple of other homemade sauces, including a tomato-based [one], but we won’t season our pork with it — we’ll leave that to the guest.”
Going whole hog is a deep commitment that reaps succulent rewards. “Roasting skin, bone and meat, smoking it together slowly, creates a flavor that is deep and rich,” says Moore. “One of the most prolific memories of my childhood is eating vinegar-soaked chopped barbecue with crunchy skin straight off the smoker. You have smoke, sour, spicy, salt, and fat flavors, crunchy and soft textures all together — by most culinary standards, in terms of flavor profile, that’s a winner every time.”
The Old Etowah Smokehouse (6557 Brevard Road) opens Sunday, June 5, with a whole-hog buffet. Call (828) 891-7022 or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page for more information.