Campfire food, while delicious in theory, never quite works in real life. S’mores fall apart. Hot dogs come off their sticks raw or incinerated, but never just right. No one remembers the milk for the bitter coffee.
But there’s safety in numbers at the newly opened Campfire Grill in Flat Rock — that is, in the number of restaurants that owner Starr Teel, who also founded the enduring barbecue spot Hubba Hubba Smokehouse and trendy breakfast joint Honey and Salt, has launched or co-launched on Little Rainbow Row. Add to that the longevity of the area’s residential summer camps, a multi-generation industry that inspired the restaurant’s theme.
Co-ed Camp Pinnacle in Flat Rock, which has no qualms calling itself “North Carolina’s best camp,” turned 92 this year. Keystone Camp for Girls in Brevard is the grand dame at 100+. Camp Ton-a-Wandah in Hendersonville has been “transforming campers into Women of Substance” since 1933. Camp Judaea, also in Hendersonville, promises “a little bit of Israel in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” The intent of Green River Preserve in Cedar Mountain is to shape environmental stewards in a noncompetitive atmosphere. Falling Creek Camp in Tuxedo was once featured on the cover of Time magazine, in an article about the importance of boys having time outside. Camp Greystone in Zirconia runs by the motto “girls are worth more than the world tells them.”
And that’s not even the full list of scenic sleepaway camps in Henderson and Transylvania counties.
Except that, this year, many residential camps were curtailed or canceled in the wake of COVID-19. Campfire Grill opened in March under GM Thomas Haas and chef Mimi Alexander, and was less than a week old when the shutdown was declared.
“Our ‘normal’ really hadn’t been established at that point,” says Haas. Bold Life had a chance to visit during the narrow early opening and enjoyed a fresh pasta dish (not on the current menu) complemented by fresh-faced service, plus the best apple cobbler in recent memory, served skillet style. The restaurant is trimmed out in vintage camp photos and the decor is rustic in the modern mode, earthy but spare. It nails the camp motif without overdoing it (not a whiff of kitsch to be found).
Haas and Alexander regrouped after only two weeks and began offering an efficient takeout menu, dinners for two that they “served cold [to give] our guests the reassurance that they were reheating the dishes and providing another layer of security from any Covid concerns,” explains Haas. He also lists glove and mask use and “constant surface sanitization” among the restaurant’s safety priorities, and points out that “as a new restaurant, we were already hyper-vigilant to maintain our space in a clean and safe condition.”
Having Hubba-Hubba as a sister restaurant has helped, too. Campfire Grill has been offering the smokehouse’s pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and other favorites in bulk. Starting in Phase II of Gov. Roy Cooper’s reopening schedule, Haas and Alexander also incorporated signature Angus hamburgers and hot dogs, cooked over a live-fire Santa Maria grill, for takeout and limited patio and indoor dining. House specialties include a pimento-cheese dog and the “Hwy. 225 Burger” with pulled pork, Swiss cheese, “Carolina Sweet” BBQ sauce, and fried onions on a brioche bun.
“We hope to be open fully when appropriate,” says Haas. When that happens, the restaurant will also expand its bar service, adding liquor drinks to the current beer-and-wine list.
“Even before the world changed, our primary goal was to be known for our grilled vegetables and the best burger in the county,” Haas notes. “We haven’t been able to restart the vegetable [dishes] yet, but our burgers are very popular … we’d put them up against any in the area.”
Campfire Grill NC, 2770 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock. The restaurant is offering cold “Meals for Two” and bulk BBQ, as well as hot food, 11am-7pm Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call 828-595-9849 or see campfiregrillnc.com (also on Facebook and Instagram: @campfiregrillnc).