GRAPHIC BY MARK LYNN FERGUSON.
With everything from bacon-topped donuts to carrot pancakes, this path of a.m. eateries is like that other Appalachian Trail, only tastier.
My daddy doesn’t remember eating cornflakes. His family was too poor for that. Instead, he would douse stale cornbread in tangy buttermilk and a glug of sourwood honey. My meemaw called the dish “crumble-in” and fed it to all twelve children they raised in a lonely North Carolina holler.
Fifty years later, breakfast in Appalachia is a far cry from soggy cornbread. Nowadays, epicureans are whipping up fire garlic grits with tomato gravy and almond-kissed Bostock with blackberry compote. Breakfast has gotten so boujee that I had to look up definitions for some dishes as I scoured Appalachia for great early mornin’ vittles. Though none of these joints serve crumble-in, I still think my meemaw would approve.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RIVER BIRCH CAFE.
PRODUCE AND PUNS AT RIVER BIRCH CAFE
48 Donley Street, Morgantown, West Virginia
Calling all health-conscious lovers of wordplay: The River Birch Cafe is open for business. Tucked in the college hamlet of Morgantown, this laidback eatery is known for a creative menu that’s heavy on fruits, veggies, and double entendres.
Feta Safe Than Sorry, for instance, is a hearty slice of wheat berry bread loaded with homemade hummus, crumbled feta, and microgreens. For good measure, the entire thing is drizzled with citrusy olive oil and, at your request, can be served with a refreshing cucumber salad.
If you’re craving juicier jests, check out the cafe’s smoothie menu. Featuring fresh greens and O.J., A Lil’ Wouldn’t Kale Ya is a hangover-busting elixir, popular with university students. Throw in some dandelion root, mineral drops, and maca, and you’ve got yourself a superfood smoothie that’s as delicious as it is healthy.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PICKLE AND ASH.
BOOZY BREAKFAST AT PICKLE & ASH
21559 Jeb Stuart Highway, Stuart, Virginia
Okay. This is the one spot Meemaw, a God-fearing lady, might have skipped. “Liquid breakfast” probably would have sent her into a tizzy, but you’re a grown-assed person. If you want a 12-year scotch with your buttermilk pancakes, Pickle & Ash is happy to pour it.
In fact, breakfast sippin’ is encouraged all day at this Patrick County establishment. With a long list of wines, beers, liquors, and craft cocktails, anything goes. To soak up your spirits, the menu is loaded with toothsome treats like hickory smoked pork tacos and French toast sticks.
A favorite among regulars is the chicken and waffles. It’s little wonder why. The fermented cornmeal waffle offers a nutty, nuanced bite that’s balanced by bourbon honey and buttermilk-fried chicken. All in all, the meal is sumptuous and satisfying.
SPEAKING OF BOOZE
PHOTO COURTESY OF The French Market Crêperie.
Une Bonne Crêpe at The French Market Crêperie
412 Clinch Avenue and 161 Brooklawn Street, Knoxville, Tennessee
As the crow flies, Paris is over 4,000 miles from Tennessee. Fortunately, Volunteer State residents need not travel that far for French cuisine. That’s all thanks to Allen and Susan Tate.
In 2008, the couple opened The French Market Crêperie in downtown Knoxville. Once word got out, folks flocked from hills and hollers to taste the couple’s pièce de résistance: their crêpe. Made with flour imported from France, this eggy delicacy can be stuffed with your choice of savory or sweet fillings.
My favorite—salted caramel on a buckwheat crêpe. Crispy and nutty, the buckwheat steadies the sugary punch of the French caramel. Finished with fluffy whipped cream and a sprinkle of sea salt, it’ll make your Appalachian meemaw say “oh là là.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF OWL BAKERY.
European-Inspired Flavors at OWL Bakery
295 Haywood Road & 197 Charlotte Street, Asheville, North Carolina
Anchoring the end of Asheville’s bustling Haywood Road, this tiny, goldenrod-yellow building is unassuming. If it weren’t for the long line of hungry patrons, you might drive right by. But I’m here to tell you to slow down, park, and get in.
You see, the secret’s out—OWL Bakery is one of few places in Western North Carolina where you can score traditional European pastries. Owned by 2022 James Beard-nominated baker Susannah Gebhart, this eatery serves sumptuous sweets like morning buns (a twist of flaky croissant dough dredged in sugar and spices) as well as savory indulgences like danishes topped with beets and chèvre. Gebhart offers naturally leavened breads too.
If it’s your first time at OWL, buy an almond rose croissant and eat it immediately. Once satiated, order a loaf of heritage grit bread for the road. Rich and buttery, it’s best toasted and topped with caper-studded cream cheese.
SPICE UP BREAKFAST
PHOTO COURTESY OF Topsoil restaurant.
Farm-To-Table Fare at Topsoil Restaurant
13 South Main Street, Travelers Rest, South Carolina
My meemaw passed before I ever got the chance to sit at her dinner table. But I reckon brunch at Topsoil Restaurant in Travelers Rest is pretty darned close.
Led by 2020 James Beard semifinalist Adam Cooke, this South Carolina mainstay elevates southern fare with farm-fresh ingredients, culinary mastery, and international flavors. Simple yet well-executed, the menu features everything from fish and grits with a creamy creole sauce to corned beef brisket with eggs and crispy potatoes.
If you’re craving a sweeter start to your day, I suggest noshing on the whole-grain carrot pancakes. Carrots in flapjacks? Weird, but it works. The root veggies add an earthiness that mellows out the saccharine splash of maple syrup.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FARM HOUSE DONUTS.
A Glazy Morning at Farm House Donuts
90 North Main Street, Clayton, Georgia
Some may say donuts and pulled pork go together about as well as Johnse Hatfield and Roseanna McCoy — a truly ill-fated union. But in the hands of Farm House Donuts, the combo is transformative. Just one bite of salty pork atop maple-sweetened dough, and you could end just about any feud.
Of course, if you really want to make your doughnuts Appalachian, ask to slather yours in sausage gravy. Heck, you can even order cheese and eggs stuffed between two piping hot dough chunks with gravy overtop all that. While your arteries might not thank you, your taste buds sure will.