Debating which dishes to get on my four-item, no-meat plate, I ask the waitress if she recommends macaroni & cheese. A cloud darkens her brow as she slowly shakes her head indicating no. “Different girls make it different days,” she confides. “Today’s is not what you want.” Meanwhile, at a nearby table, a couple are deciding between broiled and fried chicken. “Broiled,” declares their waitress. “Sometimes, they do the fried in advance. Broiled is always to-order.” So, kudos to the truly helpful waitstaff at Moose Cafe, whose candor is a helpful interpretation of the menu in general: some hits, some misses.
Among the hits are skillet-cooked cornbread with crisp edges and steamy insides; radiant collard greens; warm blackberry cobbler that is a perfect mix of fruit and pastry, so well abetted by a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting into the sweet slurry. Less felicitous are watery, pale-flavored cheese grits, a sweet potato souffle undone by an overload of coconut shreds, and a frighteningly stark baked apple.
Moose Cafe boasts of being “the ultimate farm to table restaurant,” its menu reflecting traditional rustic values that are as much all-around country as they are specifically southern. Entrees include the likes of “grandma’s meatloaf,” fried chicken, smoked pork chops, chicken ‘n’ dumplings, and mountain trout. The place and its menu are a formula, no doubt about that — expressed currently in three Moose Cafes in the area and, I suspect, more on the way. As formulas go, it’s a nice one — like Cracker Barrel but not so corporate.
Located just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Moose Cafe attracts many travelers as well as residents, and the helpful staff is accustomed to explaining that the squeeze bottle of molasses on the table is good on biscuits. The restaurant also features an inventory of country-crafty souvenirs, including local honey and preserves, oven mitts, pottery, and kitchen nick-nacks.
Note: The two other Moose Cafes currently operating are in Hendersonville and Greensboro.