Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: The Junction Restaurant Review - River Arts District - Asheville, NC

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Junction Restaurant Review - River Arts District - Asheville, NC

The Night We Died and Went to Foodie Heaven

When I first thought about writing this review, it was almost ending up as a brother's-sister's cousin's type of place.  You know the kind - a restaurant that you heard about from a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.  But the more I back-tracked how we actually came upon The Junction, the more it came into focus.

One of the full-time non-retired RVers that we follow are Gone with the Wynns.  Nikki and Jason Wynn have been full-time RVing for over three years.  They, like us, were involved in the "rat-race" and "upscale urban life" and simply weren't understanding what the point of the American Dream was - we were instantly hooked.  After following their travels for a few months, they (along with others) inspired Libbys on the Loose and hurled us into the planning stages of how we were going to accomplish this.

Fast-forward a few months to June of this year.  If you've followed our travels, you know that we spent the month of June and the first part of July at Elmore RV Park in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Although a great location (the only RV park within city limits), the park itself offered no amenities.

View from hilltop at Sky Island Retreat and RV Park
Temperatures were soaring, so we had considered moving further from the city (Jeanine's appointments only required two days a week) but after July 4th weekend, we were unable to extend our stay so we moved on to Sky Island Retreat and RV Park.  We chose this place because one of our favorite bands was playing at Pisgah Brewery which was close by (great beers!).  We planned on having some drinks while enjoying the concert, so we wanted to be close enough to grab a taxi.  Turns out, Sky Island has been one of our favorite spots so far!  And as an added bonus: Asheville wasn't far!

Charlotte had a heck of a lot of breweries.  We barely scratched the surface when we did the brewery crawl in NoDa!  But, now we were 20 minutes outside of Asheville, North Carolina - one of the Wynn's favorite stops.  Since neither Jeanine or I had been before, we had to check it out.

The Junction
Dining area and Kitchen

dThe Wynn's post Incredible Foodie Finds in Asheville had us hooked on Asheville right from the get-go.  Of course, Jeanine, had the French Broad Chocolate Lounge (a place the Wynns visited) on her mind right from the point we figured out how close Asheville was to where we were staying.  We happened upon (really, it was accidentally found!) French Broad Chocolate Lounge.  And, as luck would have it, right next to the Green Man Brewery!  Jeanine had chocolate, I had organic craft beer. All was well in our world!  And, the brewery was dog-friendly, so the kids got to join!  While Jeanine indulged in chocolate ecstasy, I quickly made friends with a couple who lived the area.

The bar serves craft beers and hand-crafted cocktails!
Dave Van Tassel and his wife Nicole were residents of Asheville for a number of years.  After our introductions (they had a puppy with them, too), we quickly hit it off and ended up hanging out with them for a few hours.  After a discussion about the food truck on premises, we discovered that Dave was the executive chef at The Junction restaurant located in the River Arts District of Asheville.  Since I'm somewhat of a hobby chef, Dave and I talked shop a bit (as much as I could keep up with!) and discussed Asheville and its unique obsession with food.  I also quickly discovered that Dave had passion for food and cooking - especially the process.   Dave invited us to the restaurant that week for a sample of what his restaurant had to offer.  We were giddy with anticipation!

Upon arrival at the restaurant, we were quickly seated and soaked in all the ambiance.  Pallet-topped bar and rustic wood-lined walls with Edison-type pendant lighting - industrial with a modern twist worked well in the cozy space.  In support of the River Arts District, new artists' work is showcased for a month and on a revolving basis - the decor stays as updated and as fresh as the food!

Our Menu
Summer Ceviche

For starters, we had the Summer Ceviche comprised of Lime Basil Marinade, Tomatillos, Tuna, Scallop, Calamari, Shrimp, and Salsify Ribbons.  Needless to say, it was bright, fresh, and bursting with summer flavors.  It was the perfect start as it cleansed our palates and whet our appetites for more!

Chef Van Tassel and Ramses II - a monster pork rind!

Junction Pork Rinds
Next, we had the Junction Pork Rinds.  I know, pork rinds.  But seriously, these things were absolutely, out-of-this-world crazy good!  Dave made the point to tell us that if you buy pork rinds in the store, you have at least nine different flavors to choose from - and that's just variations of barbecue!  These pork rinds were heavily dusted with a Citrus Dill Ranch powder which, along with the Crystal hot sauce accompaniment, was a perfect appetizer!

Duck Fat Roasted Chanterelles
For our next course, I have to be forthright and admit that I don't usually care for mushrooms.  I've tried different types, sizes, shapes and flavors.  The only ones that I've come to appreciate are oyster mushrooms.  Most of them, I don't care for the consistency.  I've had Chanterelle mushrooms before, but I never realized how delicate they are to cook.  After having a mushroom discussion with Dave at the Green Man, I realized that many times, I overcook mushrooms, which I definitely did the first (and only) time I cooked Chanterelles.  Oh yeah - I also did not cook them in duck fat...shame on me!  Duck Fat Roasted Chanterelles with shallots, thyme, baby heirloom tomatoes, tarragon pickled corn puree and topped with a frond of fennel.  Not only have I been transformed from a sorta-maybe-might-like-mushrooms-if-they're-done-the-right-way mushroom eater to a holy-crap-I-want-those-again mushroom eater! My parents would be proud!

Our Sampler Board
For the "Main Course", the Chef brought us a board with samplings of various items from the menu including:  Foie Gras Corn Dog, Meat & Cheese Board and the Charred Baby Octopus.(Unfortunately, you won't find this particular board on the menu.  Since we were fortunate enough to have made friends with the chef, this was a special preparation for us :) )

Dave told us about the Foie Gras Corn Dog but it wasn't anywhere near what we expected - it was better.  Between the Corn Pop (cereal) dusting and the three fancy sauces to choose from, Truffled Ranch, Saffron Honey Mustard, and Cherry Sauterne Ketchup, it was hard to choose which one was the best.  My choice: Truffled Ranch!

Not everyone is going to be a fan of baby octopus.  Had it not been for our trip (AKA culinary and cultural adventure!) to Japan a few years back, we may not have been as open to trying it, but seeing as we had raw squid and raw chicken (amongst other raw delicacies), we figured charred octopus couldn't be too bad - especially with the Chinese five spiced foie gras "snow" on top!  Oh my, how right we were!  Just the right touch of chew and texture.  Even the okra was crunchy but not to the point of stringy and flaccid - no one likes flaccid okra! Complimenting the charred flavor, the Um Plum Gelee and cool cucumber underneath rounded out each bite.

Third on the board was the Tarentaise cheese and strawberry chia seed preserves.  Placed atop the crunchy crostini bread, the perfect mini-sandwich was made.  Not only was this a delicious cheese and tasty preserve, but the cheese comes from Spring Brook Farms, which brings underprivileged children from city life and introduces them (kids) to farm life thereby educating on how food gets from 'farm-to-table' - what Asheville and its restaurant scene are all about.

Porchetta Di Testa face
Porchetta Di Testa "SO good!"
Last up on the board is a Porchetta Di Testa.  If you don't know what that is, you made be better off skipping below to the 'try it' rant.  Depending on the level of squeamishness you have with food and what you're eating, you may be turned off by this one.  Take our advice:  Try it!  Try it.  Try it!  Essentially, this is the head of a pig, completely deboned and replaced with various stuffings.  I have to admit that I don't recall exactly what this one was stuffed with, but its flavor can only be described as 'wow'.  Traditionally, the head is stuffed with garlic, rosemary, and chili before being tied and very slow-cooked.  After cooking, the meat is sliced thin and served cold.  Again, unless you are a vegetarian, or for some reason can't (or don't) eat meat, please give this one a try!  It is so delicious and so deeply flavorful that you (like us) will wonder why you never tried it before!

Last, but certainly not least, was the burger.  To call it a burger is doing a gross injustice to the Junction Burger.  Dry-aged Apple Brandy Farms beef on a potato bun with "daily accompaniments" which, for us, were housemade dill pickles, heirloom tomato, goat cheese, and caramelized onions.  Oh, and some chopped up smoked pork rib meat :)  Needless to say, this was one of the best burgers we've ever had!  Sadly, we split it, but it was probably for the best.  We already had a lot more than we planned on eating!

Should you go to The Junction?  This is not the question that you should be asking.  The question you should be asking is "How far in advance can I make a reservation?!".  Seriously, make it a point to visit this restaurant the next time you're in Asheville.  Not only are they great people working together for good causes, the food and drink are fresh and delicious.  The atmosphere and decoration are cozy and inviting with a modern-rustic edge.  And now the only sad part about this post - we didn't get to try everything on the menu.  It's bittersweet - we've had some of the best food yet, but next time it will be a different albeit new, fresh menu with Chef David's signature style.  Don't be upset if you don't get these menu items.  Since Chef David only uses the freshest, in-season ingredients, once it's gone, it's gone.  When something comes along every once in awhile (Duck Fat Roasted Chanterelles), it's a special treat, so enjoy it while you can!  We can't wait to see what's next...

- Special thanks to Executive Chef David Van Tassel for taking such great care of us!  We also want to thank the rest of the staff who worked so hard to ensure we enjoyed both our food and the experience.  And, to Charles, the owner, it was a pleasure meeting you.  We will enjoy telling as many people as we can about your place!  Thank you!

Disclaimer: We are not paid writers, neither for our writing or our opinions. We represent our experiences with products, services, etc, with 100% accuracy and give our unbiased feedback.

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