Over-Easy Does It

Photo by Matt Rose

Photo by Matt Rose

Unlike the lines you’ll find at brunch spots in trendier WNC districts, the wait on a late Sunday morning at The Local Joint in Fairview is noticeable but not obnoxious. It affords a good opportunity for people watching, anyway.

When we went, in late October, we saw an intriguing blend of young families, hung-over hipsters — Moogfest’s finale was the night before — and last-gasp leaf peepers, who seemed restless to get out of town before Superstorm Sandy dropped her tease of mountain snow.

One young woman excused herself from the stylish vintage wooden pew she was sitting on, noting that the old seat’s cracked center was leaving a dent in her bottom. “You should ‘drop trou’ and show ’em your scar!” quipped a lady sitting nearby, who looked to be in her late 70s or early 80s. The other waiting guests dissolved in laughter.

Camaraderie comes easy at the Local Joint. The diner is the latest incarnation of the once-Huddle House that turned into the popular Sugar Beet Café. That restaurant’s closing remains largely unexplained, but the Local Joint’s founders, Chris and Stephanie Sizemore, both veterans of the food-service industry, lost no time in carrying on the Sugar Beet’s hallmark of using farm-to-table meat, bread, and produce.

How local is their local? A blackboard lists more than two-dozen area farms, creameries, and roasters from which the Sizemores source their ingredients. Many of their suppliers are from Fairview itself. As scenic an area as its name demands, it’s a transitional community where clusters of upscale condos compete with a vibe that remains determinedly rural. The Local Joint is in a nondescript strip center. It’s connected to a convenience store that carries chicken feed and horse treats along with the necessary beer, gas, and five-hour energy drinks.

So naturally, the elitism factor is way lower than what you’ll find in the foodie ghettoes of chicer Asheville neighborhoods. The waitstaff here, including a star of the local entertainment scene, are genuinely warm. They don’t serve up a more-epicurean-than-thou attitude — just really good food. Staples include huevos rancheros, creatively topped burgers, a tempeh melt, and a much-applauded Reuben. (One online reviewer ventured, almost fearfully, that the Local Joint’s Reuben was better than the version offered in two downtown brunch institutions.)

The Joint’s griddle gets most gourmet for the weekend brunch special, in this case andouille-sausage grits topped with blackened pork, grilled shrimp, and a fried egg finished with Cajun hollandaise sauce and goat cheese (plus a touch of cilantro). It was a delight — the pork stayed remarkably tender despite all of its ambitious companions; none of the strong flavors were at all interested in competing.

The menu includes a robust corned-beef hash that will please Northern visitors and “half-backs,” biscuits-and-gravy for Southern-cuisine connoisseurs, lovely inventive omelets, and breakfast sandwiches as low as $2.75. The prices here are as fair as — gotta say it — Fairview itself. Thank you, Local Joint, for not insulting us with the $9 and $10 burgers typical these days of some bistros and even the fancier chain dives.

On the sweet side, the pancakes were sunny little masterpieces, at once thick and light. For kids, there are “bacon cakes,” a smoky strip cooked inside a pancake. It’s a fun concept, but the pancake was much drier served this way (presumably because it had to be cooked longer). Real maple syrup and a fresh-fruit option added back points.

The French toast, one of the house specialties, was also disappointingly dry. No one could argue with the rich dollop of sundried-cherry-and-pecan mascarpone served on top, but the entrée itself is made out of challah, perhaps not the best choice for what French toast is supposed to be: moist and decadent. Using fancy bread for this breakfast classic is a foodie trend whose day in the sun should be fading. Plain old white bread makes the best French toast — promise. (Most artisan bakeries offer a white loaf by now.)

We went back for the Monday-night dinner special, a chunk of sauced meatloaf the approximate size and shape of Montana. It was moist, expertly seasoned, and plain fantastic, draped in delicate ribbons of fried onions and sautéed portabellas and coupled with a giant helping of cheesy mashed potatoes — more than enough to satisfy and provide a meatloaf sandwich the next day.

Dessert was a soft, sloppy wedge of red-velvet cake in similar proportions. Can’t help but riff on the Sizemores’ deliciously apt surname here. These smart folks are 86-ing small-plate pretentiousness without sacrificing an ounce of taste.

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