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May 29, 2007 11:47 AM

Early Girl (Asheville) - A Review

In search of good morning eats, we hit the streets of Downtown Asheville. Since it was a holiday weekend, there were lines everywhere. We chose to wait it out at Early Girl Eatery.

ATMOSPHERE: Good, but a little loud. When you walk in, you pass the open kitchen. Though they were extremely busy, the cooks looked like they were having a good time and the place was clean. We were seated at a two-top that was a little too close to the neighboring table. The dining room was big, open and bright. Every table was full and there were lots of children. It was very noisy.


Local Sausage and Sweet Potato Scramble: This was my SO's dish, but I managed to get a few bites before he wolfed it down. The locally-made sausage was so delicious I ordered an additional side for myself. The sweet potatoes were cooked just right and not mushy. Along with shitake mushrooms, the potatoes gave the dish a nice earthiness that was complimented by fresh green onions and a little bacon. The eggs were scrambled and were fluffy and light.

Biscuits with Vegetarian Herb Cream Gravy: These biscuits were obviously homemade. They were buttery and flaky. The gravy was creamy and the brightness of the fresh herbs contrasted well.. I loved it.

SERVICE: The hostess managed to make us not mind the 35 minute wait. She was pretty funny, actually. We waited outside since it was a nice day, and she smiled at us each time she peeked out the door. Once seated, someone immediately brought us water and asked if we wanted any other drinks. This must have been her duty for the day, because every time anyone in the dining room needed more water, she was there. The place was packed, but our server managed to get to us quickly and take our order. She was nice, if a little perfunctory. The food arrived rather quickly.

OVERALL: I would love to eat here again on a weekday and try their shrimp and grits (they don't serve it on weekends). The food was really good. I think I'll avoid it on holidays, though. Way too crazy.

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  1. While lunch and dinner at Early Girl can be hit or miss, I think they do a consistently good job with breakfast, if you're not seeking anything too ethnic or fancy.

    Unfortunately, LOTS of Ashevillians seem to agree. Last time I went for Sunday brunch, the wait was almost an hour!

    16 Replies
    1. re: Jeff C.

      I agree Early Girl was really good for breakfast. My only gripe was that I ordered orange juice before I saw the menu... little did I know it was their fresh-squeezed specialty and cost $4 for a small rocks glass! I realize it's fresh squeezed and all but for that price I'd rather have a Mimosa. :)

      1. re: scarrie

        My other gripe is their biscuits, which are dry, dense, hard little hocky pucks. Fortunately they provide butter, honey, and preserves to doctor them with. True, they are made in house, but not by anyone with a real "biscuit hand." Otherwise, the breakfast is a step above the usual Waffle House fare.

        1. re: JepJonson

          Funny. The biscuits I had were fluffy. Maybe they vary greatly depending on who makes them.

          1. re: mojoeater

            I agree that the orange juice is overpriced (I usually take a pass), but I have never had a bad biscuit there. Did you eat breakfast late in the day by chance?

            1. re: Jeff C.

              I suspect this is boiling down to a difference in what we consider a good biscuit. EG's biscuits do have the virtue of consistency -- I last ate there the end of March, early in the morning, and the biscuits were as they always are. I still think my earlier description is accurate -- it's not so much that they taste bad, but that the texture doesn't resemble anything I've experienced from the hands of a long line of family biscuit makers. I have made biscuits myself that resembled EG's, but that was when I was a mere sprat of a baker, and even then I recognized that they were what they were -- mistakes. I do prefer a biscuit that tastes good to one that looks pretty; the Doughboy's biscuits in a tube, for example, promise to be paragons of aery delicacy and nothing this side of puff pastry beats them for the number of layers, but they taste like a mouthful of chemicals. EG's, I grant you, don't do that. And it's not that I've ever sent one back as inedible. But if I -- or, for that matter, any biscuit maker in my family -- made biscuits of that texture, we'd probably save them for stuffing the Sunday chicken.

              I hesitate even to write this -- and hereby aplogize for not yielding to my hesitancy -- Lord knows there is already enough high dudgeon to go around about the sanctity of Southern foodways, and only BBQ is guaranteed to squeeze out indignation by the bucket more than momma's biscuits. So it certainly is not not my intention to fan the conflagration, or to diminish the enjoyment others get out of EGs breakfasts. But sometimes I wonder if Ashevilleans haven't gotten too used to some of the compromises perpetrated in the name of healthy / organic / macrobiotic / vegan foods (or here substitute an adjective of your choice). EGs biscuits remind me of the vegan biscuits at Earth Fare -- not bad for vegan, but not very close to the Platonic ideal of a biscuit.
              Now, pardon me while I cower behind my computer screen and wait to be pelted with biscuits -- but please not with Early Girl biscuits, they're just too damned hard.

              1. re: JepJonson

                I feel your pain, Jep. And my late maternal grandmother, or "Mamaw" as the folks back home in east Tennessee still call her, would surely agree with you if she could taste an EG biscuit.

                I would only add that a diet of lard and bacon grease--while admittedly delicious--put way too many of my kin in the ground before their time, and so I'm willing to forgo a bit of that good old southern biscuit fluffiness in the desire to stick around until I'm old and ugly.

                1. re: JepJonson

                  As a native Ashevilleian (yes there are one or two of us that live here,believe it or not) I TOTALLY agree, the "downtown" crowd has gotten used to the sacrifices that these cooking styles present.

                  1. re: JepJonson

                    How 'bout Sunny Point? I really like that place, and the sausage patties (very retro to me) are great, but the biscuits are just freakin' weird. I'll eat them, because like cake and pizza, a bad biscuit is better than no biscuit.

                    By the time I can remember my grandparents (early 1970's), they were using skim milk and I never saw any pork products go into vegetables. I never saw any lard. My grandfather died at 96 and my grandmother is still around at 99. So maybe there IS something to the whole healthy eating thing. (btw, there was a lot of country ham, so I guess we're safe there...or maybe all that salt just preserved them.)

                    1. re: danna

                      Sunny Point is a whole different story...their biscuits really ARE hard. But, as you say, NOT inedible.

                      1. re: danna

                        Congratulations to your grandmother, and -- as they say down here -- Bless her heart. I haven't tried Sunny Point, but have been tempted to based on yours and other posts. Although lard is unbeatable for a flaky, tasty biscuit, I think the problems with Asheville biscuits (having learned that even Sunny Point can't make a good biscuit, I'll generalize that Asheville is not biscuit country) is one of technique rather than ingredients. Butter makes a fine biscuit. When I was a kid, most everyone made biscuits out of Crisco (back then, shortening and margarine were considered healthier than butter) -- the buttermilk carried the flavor, and they were flaky, tender, and light. I think even a vegan biscuit should be light and tender -- Spectrum non-hydrogenated shortening or Eath Balance margarine, soy or rice milk with a little vinegar -- the basics are still the same as long as you cut the fat in right, get the moisture content right, and work the dough just enough but not too much.

                        Oh... you're probably right about the healthy living, but if I have to give up good biscuits and side meat or ham hocks in my greens and beans, I just don't know that I really want to live that long.

                        1. re: JepJonson

                          Could the altitude make a difference?

                          1. re: blewgo

                            We aren't Denver high (except for some of the hippies on Lexington!), but it's an interesting question. Unfortunately, I'm no baker, so I have no idea.

                            Thoughts anyone?

                            1. re: blewgo

                              the only way altitude would factor in is if you were accustomed to making biscuits at a very different altitude, then came here and attempted to make them the same way; you might see a difference. it wouldn't take long to tweak the recipe to maximize local results.

                              the biggest problem with biscuits and restaurants is that biscuits are a quick bread meant to be consumed shortly after they're baked. they do not benefit at all from being baked en masse then left to sit around. as soon as the steam in them begins to liquefy, they start becoming leaden and gummy; toughness soon follows.

                              1. re: mark

                                Generally they say it has to be over 4000ft for it to make a difference.

                                1. re: mark

                                  I think you have something there, mark. And as modifications are made to make the biscuits hold longer, they loose something. Like apples and tomatoes that have been modified to survive many months and many miles, they loose much of their beauty.

                                  Plus, I think there are so many ways to make biscuits, and we all think the ones our grandmothers made are the proper way. Some want tall and layered, some want smaller, "shorter" biscuits, some want them to be very light and fine-grained, almost like a roll. (Obviously, my grandmother's were perfect- not high-rising but instead pale, light, steamy, tender, etherial layers. I can't remember ever having any in a restaurant that even approached her version.)

                                  As such, those of us with perfect biscuits in our history may forever be critical of restaurant biscuits...and not just in Asheville. BTW, Stone Soup in Landrum makes a tolerable biscuit and seves it to my downfall w/ a butter/strawberry jam blend. My caterer is making ham biscuits for the anniversary party, I'll let you guys know how they are.

                                  1. re: danna

                                    Ok, screw the biscuits ... but what I can't find in town are fried grits, except masquerading as croutons at EG which are expensive but wonderful.

              2. Another great breakfast/brunch item at EG that's a must try is the garlic & potato cake dish with tomato gravy. DELISH. I was there this past weekend, and they had a variation, the spinach potato cakes, which were just as good. I think the tomato gravy is a very similar if not the same recipe that is used at Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC, which is owned by the brother of EG's owner.