Many years ago, and I’m not telling how many, I was a blushing young bride from Minnesota trying to navigate my way in the South. (OK, maybe more young than blushing.) I remember being in a Hardee’s early one morning and watching a tableful of old men bent over plates of mysterious glop. That’s how I saw it. My husband smiled indulgently and said, “That’s biscuits and gravy, honey.” I replied: “That’s disgusting.”
But when I finally tried it, my first words were: “Sign me up!” In my own kitchen, I discovered that what I’d viewed as glop was surprisingly hard to pull off. It’s a lot easier to make bad biscuits and gravy than a world-class batch. Luckily, the best local version exists at Lee Sedon’s Horse Shoe Café.
Armed with all the rights in the world to call himself a chef, Lee instead prefers the decidedly modest “Lead Cook.” In a cultural climate where most chefs bear an ego the exact size of Rhode Island, this is an extremely refreshing sign. “I’m kind of the anti-chef,” Lee offers. “I think too many chefs try so hard to do something unique that they lose sight of the basics.”
Open for breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch, the café focuses on simple, pleasantly varied scratch-made fare. After years in fine dining, Lee wanted to get back to the core of what his grandmother taught him: straightforward comfort food.
The restaurant is small but charming, with an open kitchen and lots of good light for tired eyes — no straining to read the chalkboard menu. Over the years, says Lee, he’s been asked to do a “chef’s table,” where you literally sit in the kitchen and experience the dinner service unfolding as you eat. “Now every seat here is a ‘cook’s table,'” he remarks with a smile.
On my first visit, I chose an omelet with home fries; my friend ordered eggs over easy, apple-wood-smoked bacon, grits and a biscuit. I ate all of mine and most of hers (this was not by her choice – it’s what I do when the food is this good). As a Midwesterner, I grew up with Cream of Wheat (trust me, you haven’t missed much), so grits are not part of my DNA. I’ve always found that I had to really doctor grits up – to me they’re so often bland, watery and dull. Not Lee’s grits. Stone-ground white grits from a mill in Columbia, S.C., these were thick but creamy and expertly seasoned with the classic balance of butter, salt and pepper.
The bacon was crisp but not too crisp (you know what I mean), and the biscuits … oh, honey, the biscuits. Tender and flaky, they melt in your mouth with or without the warm berry compote that’s already become the café’s signature jam. For dessert, I enjoyed a house-baked apple-cinnamon muffin that could have won a state-fair ribbon.
On my second visit, a plate of biscuits and gravy with over-easy eggs on the side was set before me in proportions suitable for a sumo wrestler. I demolished it, and as I cleaned my plate, Lee and I yammered a bit about eggs. In culinary school, we spent an entire class on this one tiny subject. My brilliant (and occasionally demonic) instructor told us that breakfast is the most difficult meal of all to do well. A good breakfast is truly “a la minute,” and people have extremely picky likes and dislikes at that hour of the day. Lee’s standards include “no lace” — those crispy edges that sprout around eggs cooked too quickly.
Here’s the bottom line. Less than 15 minutes from any point in Hendersonville (I’ve clocked it), you can get a delicious, big ol’ plateful for a tiny little price ($3-$6). And you can be from anywhere in the world and enjoy it.