Wednesday, June 5, 2013

FOOD REVIEW: The Local Joint

An Intriguing Eggplant and the Best Reuben Sandwich in the Mountains

by Pasckie Pascua

THE glossy blackness of an eggplant with its white flesh, somewhat bitter taste, and meaty texture seems like a regular veggie enticement—yet it is not to most, unless you're into French cuisine, for example ratatouille, a traditional provencal stewed vegetable viand serving, or Balkan dishes, notably moussaka. Eggplants take kindly to gentle pairings, particularly starchy ones (pasta, potatoes and rice), which tame its rich, complex flavor and add enough bulk to turn a vegetable into a meal.
     Many eggplant recipes advise salting, rinsing and draining of the sliced fruit, to soften it and to reduce the amount of fat absorbed during cooking, but mainly to remove the bitterness of the earlier cultivars. Too much effort, isn't it—although back home in the Philippines, we simplify eggplant preparation like southern folks de-complicate cooking of taters here in the Appalachian mountains. Whatever the case, eggplant is considered an un-ordinary albeit exotic little vegetable with a strange shape in most American dinner plates. Hence, when I was served Eggplant Fries (!) as an appetizer at The Local Joint, a roadside restaurant in Fairview, a tiny North Carolina mountain town about ten miles east of downtown Asheville—I was intrigued enough to ponder it no end before I took a nonchalant bite.
     Fried golden and served with fresh tomato chutney, Eggplant Fries is one of TLJ's most popular “starters,” offers owner Chris Sizemore who sat down with us over four dishes on their loaded menu of “comfort food with a kick.” French toast, pancakes, eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, huevos rancheros, Reuben sandwich, Cuban delights, chicken Philly, burgers, housemade potato chips and pickles, shrimps and grits, Cajun fried chicken, BBQ salmon, and beers, wine and Mimosas. A relatively small restaurant with—quite literally—a full plate!

WHAT's fascinating about Sizemore's “truck stop for the discriminating tastebud” restaurant is his fancy variations or culinary interfaces of flavors. “I traveled a lot with my wife all over the country, thus—we've been exposed to so many styles of food preparation... Italian, French, Asian to suit each everyone's preferences,” says Sizemore, originally from Knoxville TN. “My restaurant right off the highway is where lawyers share seating with truck drivers.” His wife Stephanie, who takes care of the creative look of TLJ, as well as, throws in ideas in the kitchen—hails from Georgia.

     TLJ's Angel Hair Pasta—seemed like your casual pasta meal of fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and virgin olive oil on pasta (with choice of chicken or shrimp)--but it's not. Chris's improvisation of the dish's basic elements pleases a Southeast Asian's mouth as well an Italian's. As for me, I brought home some to mix with my obligatory boiled Basmati rice, and that'd be a sumptuous dinner later.
     Meanwhile, I have to articulate my utmost love for the Classic Reuben sandwich. I am not a big bread or sandwich eater, so it takes a lot of cajoling for me to finish up one, more so—start a course. But this one with its house-made corned beef, kraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing—simply converted me. It's not too greasy, the beef's rich sweetness reminds me of grandma's “secret” recipes, and it's earthy flavor makes for a satisfying full meal.
     The Local Joint also prides itself with its homemade potato chips with vinaigrette dip. This is a kind of chips that cracks on each bite but melts on your tongue, with the suppleness of cheese and crispiness of old-fashioned fried potatoes.

ASKED about moving closer to a more populous location, which is Asheville, Sizemore—who managed two downtown restaurants few years ago—before setting up The Local Joint, reasons that he intends to serve a smaller community that fits well with his vision. He says, “This is community. People come here like neighbors...”
     The Sizemores—husband, wife and children—are also active in local charitable programs via activities like “bake sales.” With Chris' characteristic baseball cap and work shirt, we know that he meant what he professes. He doesn't need to intrigue me with eggplant fries. The Classic Reuben sandwich had me at hello, and I haven't even tried a serving of Shrimp and Grits or the Barbecue Spiced Salmon.

The Local Joint is located at Old Charlotte Hwy., Fairview, NC 28730. Tel # (828) 338-0469. Check them out on Facebook.

PHOTOs (by Marta Osborne): (1) Pan roasted haddock over a bed of sauteed spinach with roasted red potatoes topped with pickled onions. (2) Tom Sizemore, chef and co-owner of The Local Joint.

1 comment:

  1. I have had the pleasure of eating at The Local Joint twice so far, once with my friend Jennifer Zenobia for breakfast and the other time was the editor of the magazine "The Indie" Pasckie Pascua for a food review during dinner time.
    When I first went with Jenn it was the first I had ever heard of the place and was surprised of the quality and quantity of food you get for your money here. But what really attracted my attention to the place and made want to go back was the feel you got from the moment you walk in the door. Right away you are greeting with smiling faces and made to feel like they are actually happy to see you. Of course the design of the joint made me feel like I was watching an episode of "Happy Days" and I somehow ended up on the set, but I loved it.
    However, never fear for those of you who are not into the ambiance of a place but more into the value and taste of the food for I assure you they have a mixture of flavors that will send your taste buds into overdrive :). My breakfast was large portions and for the price it was more than enough food, much more than I would get at most places for a good old fashioned breakfast. Although, I must say that I was not really happy with the flavor of the gravy biscuit. I am a southern girl and was raised on gravy and biscuits so I suppose I am accustomed to that one traditional flavor and expect it. But not to say the herbs they added to the mixture wouldn't be appealing to some who have not been eating it for a thousand or so years..hehe..for it did add a little surprise to the dish.
    Now for the food during dinner time at this homey establishment. I had the pleasure of sampling large portions of many items they have on the menu and I must say they were all wonderful, but I had my few favorites. The most of all being the Reuben Sandwich; it was to die for. I have had a few others but I have to say this was the top of the line. The flavors from the corn beef, sauerkraut, cheese and the dressing was a perfect blend of flavors that made these tastebuds take notice and left me wanting to come back for more.
    As I enjoyed all the dishes that were brought out there was one that really surprised me however. I had not ate much egg plant before and the few times I did eat it was in some sort of stew that was prepared by my friend and co-worker Pasckie. I was not a big fan of the bitter flavor and was surprised that I didn't taste it when I tried the French Fried Egg Plant appetizer. Somehow they managed to take the bitterness out of it and make it a taste that was pleasant to the tongue. However, although the flavor of the dish was improved and surprising it was actually the tomato chutney that brought the flavors together and made it a dish you will enjoy and want to try again.
    To sum it all up, I will go back again and invite people I know to go there for a meal, whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner. The food is great, but the feel of the place and the friendliness of the staff and owners is something that is hard to find any more.