Waynesville has a new restaurant with a “yesteryear” feel.
Brichwood Hall Southern Kitchen has stepped back in time as far as the way food is purchased and prepared.
“The concept is we are preparing you things from scratch,” said owner Nicholas Peek.
The pickles served are homemade, as are the pepper crackers. The homemade chicken broth uses the left over vegetables and bones removed from whole chickens that become chicken salad and the chicken is brined in a sweet tea concoction that includes not only the traditional sugar and salt, but citrus and herbs. Both the bacon and the duck ham are cured in-house.
“We don’t start with the bacon. We start with the pork bellies,” said owner Nicholas Peek, noting the side of meat is covered with salt, seasonings and molasses before it is wrapped for the seven-day curing process. The smoking process follows.
Most products used at Birchwood Hall are purchased from local farms known for their natural practices that avoid chemicals, hormones or other practices of large, agribusiness operations.
“Everything is crafted in-house,” Peek explained. “We will keep the menu seasonal to keep it as regional as possible. We want the public to feel as if they have been invited in our home for great Southern food prepared as it was years ago.”
Peek, 29, brings a wealth of experience to Waynesville’s newest restaurant, including his fellow chef Bruce Lafone, who also has an extensive resume at Asheville restaurants, and bar manager Daniel Slater, whose specialty is prohibition-style cocktails crafted with ingredients that were common during that era.
Birchwood Hall opened last weekend at 111 N. Main Street, the former site of both Papageorgios and Nick & Nate’s through the years.
Diners will find unique menu items such as a pimento cheese appetizer, which includes crispy chicken skin, black-pepper crackers and an assortment of house pickles, or fried green ‘maters with a goat-cheese mousse, sweet pepper chow-chow and a comeback sauce.
The mousse adds cream cheese and cream to the somewhat sharp goat cheese, which tends to make for a lighter taste, Peek explained.
The Fried Yard Bird is chicken soaked for at least 12 hours in a sweet tea brine that not only adds flavor, but changes the texture of the chicken. An added benefit is that it is a good way to use left-over sweet tea.
The Yard Bird is served with benne beans flavored with salt, garlic and roasted sesame seeds, buttermilk mashed potatoes and gingersnap gravy.
The gingersnap gravy is a twist on a traditional gravy and is made by substituting the flour generally used for thickening with finely ground gingersnaps, Peek said.
Items that have been popular so far include the smoked duck, and the steaks for which line cook Darrin Jefferies takes full credit.
"Anything that has to do with the perfect steak, that's me," he said proudly. "I'm the steak guy."
A cooking experience offered to diners is the kebab of the day where the meat is brought to the table on a block of Himalayan salt just half cooked. The salt blocks are able to hold heat, which allows the diners to finish cooking it. The salt block is about the diameter of a dinner plate and 2 inches thick.
"The blocks hold high heat and adds a bit of a salty flavor, so it is a good cooking vessel," Peek said. "We want the experience to be interactive so people can come out, have a good time and finish cooking."
The prohibition-era craft cocktails are designed to complement the efforts in the kitchen — again using natural and local ingredients and not relying on products unavailable at that time, such as soda.
Look for a Tangerine Old-Fashioned, a Bourbon Smash with citris fruit and mint, a Jalapaloma, which is spicy tequila with a cool grapefruit base or a French 75, which is gin mixed with fresh lemon and topped with champagne. For those who can’t get enough of that Southern sweet tea, there’s the Carolina Peach Tea cocktail.
After-dinner drinks include a Birchwood Hall Toddy with aged rum, honey, lemon and citrus notes or a Berries and Cream dessert cocktail with fresh blueberries, hazelnut and cream.
Peek has been cooking for the past 15 years, but became interested in food long before that.
His Asheville family always raised chickens and had a small garden, but when to his grandfather's South Carolina farm on weekends to get larger quantities of food to preserve.
"We didn't eat out much," he said.
At age 14, Peek apprenticed with a French master chef for five years during a time he was being home-schooled. He became a member of the American Culinary Federation and began cooking at restaurants in Asheville, including The Venue, which was named the best in the state by "Knot" magazine; Nona Mia, the Chef and Apron, Crown Plaza Resort and Bocelli's in Waynesville, where the owners have been long-time friends and mentors.
While working in Asheville, he met Lafone, who he calls his right hand in the kitchen and and chef de cuisine. Lafrone trained in England the traveled abroad cooking across Europe.
Even though both chefs have been trained in European techniques, it was the southern influence that kept tugging at them. The next logical step for Peek was to open is own restaurant. When an ideal spot opened up in Waynesville, it seemed like the ideal location.
The restaurant name is derived from a home that was once located on Main Street by the same name and owned by a Civil War captain.
"We wanted to pick a name that would give back to the town," Peek said. "We're trying to make Birchwood Hall Southern Kitchen cooking done the right way — crafted in-house."
The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays.