Photo: Chris M. Rogers
When John Fleer opened Rhubarb in downtown Asheville last fall, the Southern food cognoscenti gave a collective cheer for the long-awaited restaurant.
John, former executive chef of Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, has made wood fire the commanding force of the restaurant’s open kitchen. “I was looking for a way to be more elemental in my style of cooking,” he explains. “That meant cooking great ingredients with the most basic of methods.”
The menu is anything but simple, however. A stunning dish of lamb ribs is first smoked and then braised to a forgiving tenderness and dressed in a Mongolian-inspired sauce. The plate evokes barbecue but also transcends it. John’s tightrope walk between refined and rustic defines even the salads: In a playful Lyonnaise, fire-scorched romaine buoys a fried egg, fingerling potatoes, and cured trout bellies that have been crisped on the plancha.
Here, more than in the past, John’s canvas is painted with a more global color scheme: chermoula, chapata bread, and preserved lemon figure just as prominently.
Ashley Capps’ desserts combine church-picnic classics with kid-glove elegance. Using the rubric of a chocolate icebox tart, she adds savory components—a house-made saltine cracker crust and a brooding coffee gastrique—giving the dessert an alluring edginess.
The Hot Plate: As a father, John knows how to tread the line between crowd-pleasing nostalgia and sophistication. Try the corn dogs stuffed with pristine lobster meat and served alongside a dish of zesty comeback sauce.
The Buzz: “…a truly creative take on Southern food, the likes of which Asheville has not seen….a great addition to the city’s blossoming food scene.” —Jason Sandford, founder and editor, ashvegas.com
The Essentials: Reservations: Recommended (closed on Tuesdays). Cost: Small plates, $4-$14; entrées, $17-$28. Address: 7 SW. Pack Square; rhubarbasheville.com