Odette is Destination Dining in Florence

For nearly five years, Odette owner Celeste Pillow and executive chef Josh Quick and their team have helped downtown Florence, Alabama flourish–one delicious dish at a time. The casual, upscale restaurant is one of a growing number of locally owned, small businesses drawing people back to this exciting town’s downtown.

Read more about Odette here in my Alabama NewsCenter story.

Here are a few things you should know:

Odette serves elevated American fare in a comfortable, inviting setting (decades ago the space housed Kaye’s shoe store).

The food, Southern in nature with international influences, is made with locally and sustainably sourced ingredients.

Cocktails here range from traditional favorites like an old-fashioned to more modern concoctions (a watermelon mule), and sometimes things that are both (the “George & Tonic” gin-and-tonic slushy).

And Odette has one of the largest (if not the largest) bourbon collections in our state. Monday through Thursday, most of these bourbons are half price during happy hour.

44 Hours (approximately) in Asheville, NC

I love sharing Birmingham with friends. I love just as much when friends share their own special places with me–opening my eyes to something I don’t see every day.

My husband, Rick, and I recently spent about 44 hours in Asheville, North Carolina, with our friends April and Sid and Bob and Tondee. April was the resident expert, and she curated a trip that was food-focused, art-centered and absolutely awesome. April clearly delighted in doing this, and she’s incredibly good at it! We left town after our long weekend having seen and done (and tasted) so much. I am grateful beyond measure, and I’d like to share some of April’s favorite things. You’re going to want to take a road trip.

FRIDAY NIGHT

We arrived at Sid and April’s home, stopped briefly to unload our bags and enjoy a glass of rose and then headed to Gan Shan Station for dinner. Patrick O’Cain (he’s the tall one you’ll see behind the chef’s counter) was born and raised in North Asheville. He spent time in the kitchens of Asheville’s Curate and McCrady’s restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. He left McCrady’s and opened Charleston’s Xiao Bao Biscuit as sous-chef. Then he returned home to his own dreams and opened a restaurant in the neighborhood where he grew up. Gan Shan Station is in an old gas station in North Asheville. The open, airy place is named for Sunset Mountain where Patrick spent his childhood.

April arranged for the chef’s table tasting menu, and it was a stunning mix of Southern foods and Asian flavors–and clever drink pairings from around the world. Sichuan salt and pepper tofu (a table favorite even with people who don’t like tofu) was paired with a cocktail made of mezcal; whole flounder, sprinkled with fresh flowers and herbs and served over crispy Laotian rice, came with a Tuscan white. A miso-glazed pork chop with pickled blackberries and buttermilk dressing was paired with a French merlot. Six people fell in love with Sichuan pepper that night.

Gan Shan Station

143 Charlotte Street

Asheville, NC  28801

828-774-5280
info@ganshanstation.com

Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed on Sunday

SATURDAY

We started our day at Hole Doughnuts with cooked-to-order, served-hot-y’all doughnuts and great coffee roasted at the nearby PennyCup Coffee Co. At Hole, the yeasty dough is rolled out by hand, right in front of you. The doughnut varieties change all the time, but expect them to be glazed, dipped or sprinkled as you watch. Our doughnuts were crisp on the outside, wonderfully fluffy inside with vanilla glaze; a seasonal topping of hand-crushed wineberries; a dusting of cinnamon and sugar; and a crunchy, slightly savory topping of almonds, toasted sesame seeds and cinnamon.

Hole Doughnuts

168 Haywood Road

Asheville, NC 28806

(828) 774-5667

7:30 am – 2:00pm, Closed Tuesday

We spent the rest of the morning walking through the River Arts District where converted warehouses and industrial buildings along the French Broad River house studios for all kinds of artists. We looked at Cheyenne Trunnel‘s dreamy acrylic, pencil and watercolor landscapes and talked with Cindy Walton about her contemporary oil and cold wax paintings.

We were delighted with what we found at Splurge. Artist Robert Nicholas is collecting eclectic antiques and vintage objects and creating awesome things for his gift shop. What we loved: pendant lights made of huge commercial mixing-bowl attachments (whisks, paddles), mirrors surrounded by industrial floor-polishing brushes (I have a wall waiting for one of those, and you can see them here), chandeliers made of wire and wood.

Next stop:  Lexington Glassworks, where we saw a demonstration and bought a few colorful things.

For lunch, April guided us to Chai Pani with its Indian street food by two-time James Beard Foundation nominee for Best Chef Southeast Meherwan Irani. The self-taught Irani also owns a Chai Pani in Decatur, GA, as well as Botiwalla, a traditional tea and kabab place.  He teamed up with Chef Elliott Moss (another James Beard Best Chef Southeast nominee) to open Buxton Hall BBQ  in Asheville’s South Slope area. Buxton Hall features wood-smoked, whole-hog barbecue, Low-Country dishes, Southern favorites, seasonal pies and a daily slushy. Irani also owns MG ROAD Bar & Lounge and a Spicewalla spice store, both located near Asheville’s Chai Pani. Spicewalla spices are sourced, selected and blended by Irani. Some of these spices are available (along with cool t-shirts) at Chai Pani.

During our lunch, we enjoyed butter chicken thali with marinated Joyce Farms chicken; uttapam (savory crepes made of rice and lentil batter) with corn, peas, onion, cilantro, curry leaf, ginger and hot peppers; and (our surprise favorite) crispy masala fish roll with cumin, lime, chili powder, ginger and garlic in hot-buttered naan.

Chai Pani

22 Battery Park Avenue

Asheville, NC 28801

828-254-4003

info@chaipani.net

Monday to Thursday 11:30–3:30 / 5:00-9:30
Friday and Saturday 11:30–3:30 / 5:30-10:00
Sunday 12:00–3:30 / 5:00-9:30

 

We shopped at Nest Organics for vintage-feeling, Asheville-themed dish towels made of flour sacks, and we ducked into Asheville’s own East Fork Pottery because we had so admired the beautiful stoneware on our table at Gan Shan Station the night before.

 

SATURDAY NIGHT
For dinner, we headed to Nightbell for some shared small plates and (individual!) craft cocktails. Executive chef and owner Katie Button serves dishes made with local Appalachian ingredients in the intriguing setting of a former nightclub (you’ll notice the colorful disco lights here and there). Katie was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef award in 2012 and 2013 and a nominee in 2014, semi-finalist for Best Chefs in America in 2015 and a nominee for the JBF Best Chef Southeast award in 2018. She was one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2015, and she hosted an international television series, The Best Chefs in the World.
Katie and company source ingredients mostly from small, local farms, and a nose-to-tail butchery program, in partnership with her Cúrate, has them serving sustainable (often lesser-known) cuts. Nightbell gets its name from the days when guests rang the “nightbell” for entrance after 5.
What we loved:  the “deviled eggs,” which are an airy mix of corn sabayon, sunburst smoked trout gravlax and pimenton in an egg cup (certainly like no other deviled egg we’ve ever had); brown butter skillet cornbread with chicken butter and seasonal jams; grilled baby beets with bresaola, puffed Carolina gold rice and béarnaise yogurt; seared scallops with roasted sweet potato, sour corn and dashi; and house-made French fries with rocket sauce.
Nightbell
32 South Lexington Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801
828-575-0375
Open at 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
Closed Mondays
SUNDAY
Before heading home, we went to Limones for brunch. This cozy, downtown restaurant specializes in Mexican and California cuisine.
We shared a plate of lobster nachos with crema, guacamole and Serrano peppers to start. Other favorite dishes highlighted the inventiveness of this kitchen and included roasted fennel and organic snap pea slaw enchiladas with mole Amarillo, chipotle rice, crema, guacamole, queso fresco and pickled onion; huevos divorciados with chipotle rice, bacon, refried beans, queso fresco and avocado; and smoked chipotle chilaquiles with two eggs, epazote, refried beans, crema, queso, pico de gallo and Southern farm bacon.
If you go, begin with the awesome bloody Mary or the Basil Refrescante (Oronoco rum, muddled basil, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup) or a peach-chipotle margarita (Patron Reposado, Patron Citronge, fresh lime juice and house-made peach-chipotle puree).
And you must end the meal with a cup of anise-scented hot chocolate served with the best churros ever!

Limones

13 Eagle Street

Asheville, NC 28801

828-252-2327

Monday through Sunday 5 to 10 p.m.

Sunday brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

 

We made one more stop before we left–a quick trip into Mast General Store for some last-minute souvenirs:  postcards, local honey and a black bear-shaped cookie cutter. Perfect! That cookie cutter is going to my dear friend Maria who lives in Germany and makes amazing sweets. The postcards already have arrived, she told me.

April, thank you for a wonderful weekend … and for helping me share the love and your special place!

Come to the Table

When women help other women succeed, good things happen. Tasty things do, too.

This year, $10,000 in scholarships and awards from a group of women leaders in our food community will help four college students pursue their food-science studies, three high schools better serve their culinary-arts students, Jones Valley Teaching Farm connect with more kids, and entrepreneur Nancey Legg grow her business and make more kombucha.

The Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), a philanthropic organization of women leaders in food, beverage and hospitality, awarded its $3,000 2018 New Entrepreneur Award to Legg, who owns better kombucha. Jones Valley Teaching Farm received the $2,000 Non-Profit Organization Award.  The Birmingham chapter gave four $1,000 college scholarships this year; recipients were Rebecca Klang from Jefferson State Community College; Hope Etheridge and Sydney Smith, both of whom are majoring in dietetics at Samford University; and Ally Cound, an Auburn University nutrition major. And three high school teachers—Lauren Bolding, Albertville High School; Melissa Allphin, Moody High School; and Diann Pilgrim, Wenonah High School, Birmingham City Schools—shared a $1,000 teachers’ grant.

Read the entire story here on Alabama NewsCenter.

Then join in. Southern Soiree is the main vehicle for the Les Dames philanthropy.  It’s an al fresco, sunset dinner with wine and cocktails in the gardens of Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

Consider yourself invited.

This year the event will be October 7 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., and scholarship and grant recipients will be recognized there.

You can get tickets here.

Fox 6 Books: July

Here are the books I brought to WBRC Fox 6 on July 2. There’s a long look at To Kill a Mockingbird, a World War II novel by one of the best writers of our time, a highly personal novel by Southern writer Silas House and a creepy thriller that is beach-perfect. 

Why To Kill a Mockingbird Matters (St. Martin’s Press) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, opens on Broadway this fall, so now seems like a great time to take another look at this classic work of American literature. The book and the film from 1962 both are part of the country’s vernacular (no matter where in American you are), and they show the fight for civil rights like few other works have ever done. In Why To Kill A Mockingbird Matters, Tom Santopietro looks at the Mockingbird phenomenon, showing readers why the beloved classic matters more today than ever. He traces the writing of the book and its ongoing appeal, including perspective and comments from current writers such as Adriana Trigiani and Wally Lamb. He also reveals the complete behind-the-scenes story of the film, from the earliest casting sessions to the choice of director and the three Oscars it won to the 50th-anniversary screening at the White House.  He investigates claims that the book is actually racist and considers the controversy of Go Set a WatchmanHe also explores what makes this work—whether book, movie or play—so captivating and how Atticus Finch continues to represent essential, common decency for so many people. There might be no better time in America to look at the significance of Harper Lee’s book and all that came after it.

Warlight (Knopf) From the author of The English Patient, this is a mesmerizing new novel by Michael Ondaatje that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are shaped by their unwitting involvement. Ondaatje’s writing is always luminous. We read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey–through facts, recollection, and imagination–that he narrates this story.

Southernmost (Algonquin Books) This is a courageous and deeply personal new novel from award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Silas House. The inspiration: the award-winning author’s own life. After a fundamentalist upbringing that caused him to come out later in life, House was alternately rejected and embraced by his Southern community. That (often painful) experience led him to craft a candid, compassionate novel that explores our ability to escape the confines of intolerance and hate and move toward dignity, understanding, and grace. At the same time, this is a nuanced portrait of the culture of the contemporary South, in all its complexity. Asher Sharp is an evangelical preacher in Tennessee whose belief was tested after his brother, Luke, came out to him. When he offers shelter to two gay men after a flood washes away most of his small town, his actions cause chaos in his congregation and in his marriage. Losing custody of his young son, Justin, he flees with the boy to Key West—the southernmost point in the country—to find Luke. His also discovers a new way of thinking about love, faith, parenthood and life.

The Captives (Ecco) Debra Jo Immergut has crafted a twisty, creepy novel that begs to be read at the beach. Frank is working as a psychologist at a women’s prison when his high school crush walks into his office. She remembers nothing about him; he remembers everything about her. The woman, Miranda, is in for murder. Frank is there after a misstep in his career. (“I’d been in a cushy practice in Manhattan in fact,” he says vaguely, “and was tossed out amid some kind of litigation mess.”) Frank has an interesting history beyond that:  His father is the inventor of the famous “Lundquist Curve,” a predictive test that foretold marvelous things for Frank, its “Baby Zero,” once upon a time. This book is an intimate and gripping meditation on freedom and risk, male and female power, and the urges toward both corruption and redemption. It’s about how weakness can turn into obsession and how a single misstep can send a life careening off course.

I link to Amazon to show you exactly what book I’m talking about, but I love to shop locally at Church Street Coffee and Books, The Alabama Booksmith, Little Professor Book Center or visit my local library.