well, i finally broke out of my rut and tried something new (to me) last saturday. another couple, my wife and i went to the stone house market in leicester. while i can't give it the rave it received in the express (see link), i can definitely give it my recommendation.
for starters, you'll need a reservation; the place is that tiny. there are probably no more than 20 seats in the place (plus a six-seater bar), and if they were all full, there'd be no room to move.
second, if you don't know leicester, the place isn't easy to find, especially at night. if coming from the west side of asheville, take leicester hwy (if you stop to ask for directions, it's helpful to know that all the locals pronounce it "lester"). turn right onto mt carmel (there's a large ingles on your right, a sonic on your left). at the 2nd light you come to (there's a bp on the far right corner), turn right (this is old leicester hwy). the stone house is 1.2 miles on the left, just past an intersection with a traffic light and an exxon.
if coming from asheville proper, take riverside drive to old leicester hwy. the stone house will be about a mile on your right (if you pass the exxon, you've gone too far).
the place is run by a husband & wife team, working by themselves during the off-season. the atmosphere is pretty laid back. when we arrived, the wife/hostess/server/sommelier/busser/etc greeted us from behind the bar and indicated out table. the interior is just as the exterior suggests, an old stone & wood cabin. there are 5 somewhat mismatched tables with eclectic seating (we had the sparkly red vinyl booth). there's a chalkboard on the wall which lists the lunch specials on the left (the place is open for lunch on weekdays, and features a list of darn-tasty sounding sandwiches - wish it were close enough to check out for that meal). the right side lists the daily specials, in fact, i think it was titled "blue plates". there are one appetizer and 5-6 entrees listed on any given day, none of which exceeded $18 the night we went. the place also gets shipments of oysters in twice a week. daily wine features are listed as well, the rest of the list is in the wife's head.
we started with the steamed oysters. oysters are served according to the chef's whim, so you get what you get. what we got was a huge pile of oysters, plenty for 4 to get a nice taste and priced at just $8-9, which we opened at the table. they were accompanied by two sauces, one a cocktail sauce, the other some sort of cilantro-soy sauce that tasted more of soy sauce to me than anything else (i'm not even sure it was cilantro), and lemon wedges. the soy-based sauce was a little too one-dimensional for me, but the cocktail sauce was fine. actually, the oysters were so good, they really didn't require anything. the only caveat is that the restaurant either doesn't have, or had used them all (i didn't catch the wife's explanation), oyster knives; so we were forced to pry the stubborn ones open with the available flatware. regardless of that last point, they were perfectly-executed and delicious.
next up were salads, which accompany all entrees. there was nothing special about the salad, but the ingredients were fresh and properly prepared; none of this whole leaves of lettuce and too-thick cut vegetables that i seem to find in many places. dressings are all made in-house. our table opted for the balsamic vinaigrette all round, so other than to note that the balsamic is fine if not outstanding, i can't comment on the other dressings. unfortunately, i forgot about the rave the blue cheese received in the express review, so i missed the chance to try one of my favorites.
for entrees, we managed to sample half the menu. two of us, myself included, had the london broil. served with a cilantro-lime-chipotle glaze, it was quite good, and the amount of sauce was perfect. no swimming pool coagulating on the plate, but enough to get a little with each bite. also on the plate were roasted potatoes, basic but well-executed, and thyme-seasoned carrots and zucchini that were perfectly cooked for me (ie not too soft). the plate was one of the prettiest i've been served that i didn't mind digging into. the potatoes were mounded along the center of the plate, the meat sliced thin and fanned out over them and topped with sauce. the veggies were arranged, too, with the carrots running in the same direction and each piece of zucchini folded over around the edge of the plate; pretty, but not one of these architectural feats that make me not want to touch the food. cost was all of ~$15.
my wife had the chicken and goat cheese manicotti. i wasn't allowed to eat much, but i can confirm that it was good. the chicken was very tender, the rest of the filling was ricotta and goat cheese. topped with a red sauce. i think it cost ~$12. the leftovers hit the spot for breakfast yesterday.
i'm not sure what our fourth companion had. it was a chicken breast, but i don't know how it was prepared. it looked really good and juicy, and she said it was good.
our libation of choice was the featured pillar box red at $19 a bottle.
all of this could have been followed by a chocolate creme brulee, but we were too full and had elsewhere to be, so we skipped it. sounded good, though, and we were all in the mood for chocolate afterwards.
speaking of having to be elsewhere, this was the best paced meal i've had in asheville. there was enough time between courses to leisurely enjoy the food, but we never wondered "when's the next thing going to come out?" just a nice, civilized pace. our reservation was for 7:30, we finished just past 9:30. had i known in advance, i would have made the res a half-hour earlier so we could have tried the dessert.
all told, one app, four entrees, two bottles of wine and tip set us back $120 for a very good evening.
ok, now for the caveat, there's always one, right? although, it's not much of one. as i noted above, the place is pretty laid back, and it's staffed by just two poeple in total. while the meal pacing was fine, and all the major things came together when necessary, with just one person out front, things like water glasses tend to linger a bit before they are refilled. it wasn't an issue for me since i knew the staffing situation going in, but my wife, who is an ex-server and a little more critical of that sort of thing, thought the service was a little lacking. it definitely was not a big enough issue to prevent our return. however, if you're the type who likes to be fawned over, you might reconsider (or go during the summer when i believe they have more help).
the last thing i'll mention was the quirkiest. there is a bathroom, but you have to go outside and around back to use it. no, it's not an outhouse (although i would have cut a half-moon in the door just for the kitsch factor), it's a very nice little bathroom (warm, bright & homey if that sort of thing matters to you). but, you do have to brave the elements, so it might be a little unpleasant in inclement weather.
if you go, enjoy! maybe i'll see you there, because it's on my list of regular places.
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