Slipped into an aging business center, across from a hospital on the edge of downtown Asheville, N.C., sits an unassuming breakfast place called Biscuit Head.
Unassuming is probably overstating it. This isn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot. This is a don’t-blink-and-you’re-still-liable-to-miss-it joint.
We were in Asheville in early December to listen to Joe Biden — former vice president of the U.S. and former senator from the Great State of Delaware, the First State, the State that Started the Union — on his book tour. That was great, by the way. He was great. He talked for a while, told some stories, made a lot of sense. I wish he were president.
I know you know. Never mind Joe for a second. Back to Biscuit Head.
Look at the photo of that breakfast on the top of this post. That right there may be the best breakfast I have ever had. It was probably my last great meal of 2017.
The centerpiece of that masterpiece is at the top of the plate, just north of the potatoes. It is a biscuit. A perfectly done, massively caloried, flaky but weighty biscuit the size of a cat’s head. It’s called a cat’s-head biscuit. Because it’s that size.
(Quick aside: As a youngster, I saw one of my brothers actually put a cat’s head into his mouth once. Like a live cat. The cat came out a little confused and slightly moist, but none the worse for the experience. The brother — for the life of me, I can’t remember which one it was, though I’m thinking it was Bob, who was always game for weird things — was fine, too. Well, in a manner of speaking. I grew up in a strange family.)
Maybe no food is more Southern than the simple biscuit. If Atlanta’s politicians had been just a tiny bit forward-thinking back in the late 1800s — which, of course, they weren’t, which explains a lot about the modern South — they’d have never put those ol’ rebs on the side of Stone Mountain. They’d have gone for a good buttermilk biscuit. That certainly would’ve been better than Stonewall Jackson and his redneck friends. Or a side of grits.
Down here you have grits and collard greens — love collards, by the way, and Luke makes a mean batch — and fried chicken and barbecue (doesn’t every place have barbecue now?) and boiled peanuts and fried green tomatoes (isn’t everything fried now?) and a bunch of other things. But few things say the South, food-wise, better than the biscuit.
The biscuit is revered down here. There’s even a minor league team in Montgomery, Ala., called the Biscuits. Served by itself, with a little butter or jam or (this, I think, is uniquely Southern) thick sausage gravy, or on the side as part of a magnificent meal to start the day, a good biscuit is one of the better things about living in a place so often looked down upon by people who think a slice of toast belongs on a breakfast plate.
Biscuit Head’s t-shirt tagline: Put Some South in Your Mouth.
The three of us walked into Biscuit Head on that chilly December morning, ordered at the counter, squeezed past the jam bar with all its homemade butters and jellies and gravies, sat ourselves at the end of a community table — this is not a fancy restaurant, as you might expect from a place with a signature food named after a cat’s noggin — and waited, not knowing exactly what was coming.
Luke had a biscuit sandwich with a fried green tomato, some gooey egg and red-eye gravy dripping off of it. Mary Jo had a plain biscuit, if you can call a cat’s-head biscuit plain.
And there’s my baby (^^^), including (counterclockwise from 9 o’clock): some pungently perfect cheese on a heap of fried potatoes, two nicely done but admittedly over-peppered (that’s on me) over-easy eggs, a generously cut trio of slightly tangy, faintly spicy fried green tomatoes (oh … man) and the biscuit.
The biscuit. Warm, buttery, a beauty in and of itself. I tried some banana foster jam on it and some apple butter and a couple other things. But the biscuit was so velvety, so wonderfully smooth au naturel that I scarfed down most of it without adornment. I would have eaten more, too, but Mary Jo ate all of hers. Luke’s never had a chance.
The three of us eat out plenty — too much, Mary Jo insists — and, too often, the meals are just fine. They might be even good, from those places we frequent. But if you frequent them, they become just fine.
Every once in a while, though, and it’s usually unexpectedly, you sit down at a place that surprises you, that shows you how food can be, how it should be. I was practically giggling at Biscuit Head, it was so out-of-nowhere. (Though, yes, we must’ve read about it in a travel guide somewhere. I just didn’t expect ^^^^^!)
We had a couple other good meals in our first trip to Asheville. I ate a wonderful fried green tomato BLT at the Tupelo Honey Cafe downtown.But the cat-head’s biscuit absolutely made the trip. Made me want to go back (probably when it’s a bit warmer). And made me want to look for more places like it in 2018.
Maybe we’ll find one on our Next Stop Tour. Maybe on vacation. (Damn, that’s right. I still have to do the vacation post for ’17! Here’s a preview.) Maybe on a trip to Cincinnati. Maybe …
That’s one of the great things about eating out, isn’t it? And about new years, too. The possibilities.