I had a great experience at Mr. Frog's, the new Southern/Creole restaurant on "the Block" in Downtown Asheville, during their "soft opening" at lunch today. Mr. Frog's is the new restaurant venture from Asheville food icon Vijay Shastri, who previously ran the longtime, upscale restaurant Flying Frog. The new place, in a space formerly occupied by a Caribbean restaurant, is nicely decorated with plenty of seating. It's definitely more informal (and cheaper!) than Flying Frog. Silverware and condiments are at a grab-it-yourself station, and you order off a chalkboard menu at the counter. Lots of people were also picking up food to go. It seems like things were running pretty smoothly for a "pre-opening" day, with a minimal amount of chaos and a whole lot of really good food.
My friend and I settled in with the obligatory sweet tea (beer and wine coming soon). The food came relatively fast, and we shared the gumbo with shrimp ($12; $9 w/o shrimp) and the fried green tomatoes special ($8.50). The gumbo was very nice -- well-spiced chicken thighs, andouille sausage, and shrimp in a rich, deep brown stew, served with rice. The fried green tomatoes were perfectly crispy -- the coating was superbly spiced -- and served over "live" grits (not dehydrated; they seemed extra fluffy and had a nice texture) with goat cheese. It was excellent, though perhaps a sauce drizzled over the top of the tomatoes could have kicked it up a notch even more for me (though I'm a bigger fan of sauces than most). We didn't leave a thing on our plates. The portions were generous and the presentation was quite elegant. We split a pecan praline for dessert and it hit the spot. It was a little thinner than I'm used to, but had a perfect caramel flavor.
The menu has many other enticing items. I'm particularly excited to try the oxtail, which some people were enjoying at another table. The fried chicken looked excellent, too. All portions seem generous and many come with 2 sides as well.
Shastri told the Mountain Xpress that he wanted Mr. Frog's to be a destination for locals Hopefully lots of people, residents as well as out-of-towners, will be flocking to this place.
42 S Market St.
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