“Passion, Knowledge, Affection”

Head chef Mary Mujica, left, and Erin Hill teamed with champion barbecue master Starr Teel (not pictured) to curate a hotspot in Flat Rock. Photo by Tim Robison

It’s not necessary to know that Honey and Salt is a work by Carl Sandburg to enjoy Honey and Salt, the namesake breakfast-and-brunch spot in Flat Rock. But it flavors the farm-to-table experience with a certain poetic resonance.

Around the corner, in the gift shop at the National Park Service historic site that was once the writer’s home, you can browse the eponymous anthology that contains the poem, a free-verse ramble about the vagaries of romance from seed to dust. In it, Sandburg tells us that “There are sanctuaries holding honey and salt/ There are those who spill and spend./ There are those who search and save.”

He muses about promises and lies; he worries that love might last no longer than “the oaths between hydrogen and oxygen/ in one cup of spring water.” And, in typical Sandburgian fashion, he also lingers over the more prosaic details of his subject matter:

“Is the key to love in passion, knowledge, affection?
All three — along with moonlight, roses, groceries,
givings and forgivings, gettings and forgettings,
keepsakes and room rent,
pearls of memory along with ham and eggs.”

Head chef Mary Mujica, along with Erin Hill and Starr Teel, co-owners of the popular restaurant, have nailed the ham-and-eggs part. According to Hill, their own labor of love grew out of coffee klatches she and her husband Edward had with Teel, the champion pitmaster behind Hubba-Hubba Smokehouse, a Flat Rock mainstay featuring traditional wood-smoked meat.

“Over the years, we have frequently gotten together for Sunday brunch, and the conversations always turned to, ‘We need more breakfast spots in town,’” says Hill. “After months of these talks, we decided to go ahead and create our own.” Honey and Salt opened in early spring, to considerable excitement, and the crowds are still surging.

Photo by Tim Robison

“Starr and I constantly bounce breakfast ideas off each other,” says Hill. Anchoring the south end of Little Rainbow Row behind a barn-like facade painted kelly green, the restaurant is obliged to appeal to locals, tourists, and the seasonal influx of what she calls “our camp families” — kids and employees from the overnight summer camps comprising a cottage industry in Henderson and Transylvania counties for decades (in some cases up to a century).

Hill calls Honey and Salt the “cousin” of Hubba-Hubba Smokehouse, and accordingly, Teel’s signature pulled pork, brisket, and bacon show up in many breakfast and brunch items. But the restaurateurs are savvy enough to skew their offerings to a wide population.

Smoothies, gluten-free options for French toast and pancakes, and granola-based “power bowls” featuring spirulina and other vitamin-rich blasts are designed to appeal to cosmopolitan tastes, thanks to Mujica, who used to manage the bakery at the Hendersonville Community Co-op.

The interior mood is established with natural light, sunny colors, and light wood; art panels on the ceiling show images of oversized honeycombs, shading any idea of industrial fluorescence.

The promise of a “Well Built Breakfast” is announced on a wooden sign overhanging the entrance. “We want to do our part to support as many of our local farmers and businesses as possible,” says Hill. She mentions local honey on the tables and a menu increasingly focused on regionally sourced food. “We’ll follow the seasonal growth in the area,” she explains.

Photo by Tim Robison

The “well built” brand is already amply supported. Everything tastes of freshness and deep care. Signature dishes include the Eggs Benny: poached eggs on English muffins with a choice of ham or wild-caught smoked salmon, oven-roasted tomatoes and dill, classic Hollandaise sauce, and a lovely herbed goat-cheese spread. (While the heritage goats living at the Sandburg Home aren’t part of an operational dairy anymore, one senses the posthumous approval of matriarch Lilian “Paula” Sandburg, who established the famous herd.)

Brunch is nothing if not an inventive mash of sweet and savory — honey and salt, as it were — and the notion is best represented in a choice of four house skillets. Brought to the table in a small cast-iron pan, the dish starts with a potato hashcake variously layered with veggies, eggs, or meat. Toppings range from the goat-cheese spread to a creamy basil preparation to sweet BBQ sauce courtesy of Hubba-Hubba.

Generosity of spirit is centered on ingredients rather than gluttony; the griddle cakes, for instance, contain a wild amount of blueberries. (You can also get them stuffed with bananas or chocolate chips, served with maple or orange-blossom syrup.)

Bistro style reigns, with bistro-style portions. That means all the side items cost extra: you won’t find a satellite of gratuitous starch surrounding the big dish, as in chain breakfast spots.

Honey and Salt makes its own biscuits and other baked goods, and on Saturday and Sunday, it offers its coveted “monkey bread,” a bundt ring of cinnamon buns that’s nicely priced. Diners were observed sharing pulls of monkey bread among their families — as a kind of dessert after the main affair — or simply taking an order to go, presumably for a weekend treat at home.

“Is there any way of measuring love?” Sandburg frets in his poem. Why, sure — it comes in a square white bakery box, sticky with honey from hometown bees.

Honey and Salt (2730 Greenville Hwy., Flat Rock) is open for breakfast and brunch Thursday and Friday from 7am-noon and Saturday and Sunday from 7am-2pm. For more information, call 828-676-8322 or check out Honey and Salt on social media (Facebook: Honey and Salt; Instagram: honeyandsaltnc).

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