The Banner Elk Café, a neat little diner in the middle of Banner Elk NC, has been one of my favorite restaurants for breakfast, especially on a cool morning in early May when I’m in the area playing three of my favorite golf courses: Grandfather Golf & Country Club, Elk River Club, and Linville Golf Club.
The eggs over light with country ham, grits and wheat toast (preferred instead of biscuits) are as good as you’ll find. The coffee is basic and just right. The service is local and attentive, and the food is delivered in a timely fashion, especially when a tee time is drawing near. It's THE place for breakfast in Banner Elk.
In Banner Elk recently on that golf trek, the Banner Elk Café was visited twice, but just once for breakfast. The other was a night later and included a delicious dinner. The Café is adjacent to the Lodge, also known as Fresh at the Lodge as well as the Lodge Expresso Bar & Eatery, depending on your Google search. The two restaurants are connected twice: once through ownership who is the same person, and twice by an outdoor deck/patio.
Diners at either may order from the menu of the other or both. Each has its own kitchen and chef. The wait staff runs between the two, serving up interesting dishes, some basic and some not so, some delicious and some mysteriously not so delicious but not bad, just bland. It’s not uncommon for a table of several to select items from the two separate and different menus, each with its own unique look.
Considering my experiences at the Café have been limited to breakfast and remembering that last fall a nice sandwich lunch was served at the Lodge, sitting between the two on that recent visit to the ski-in-the-winter-play-golf-in-the-summer area of North Carolina, it was interesting that the veal chop screamed for attention from its place on the Café menu.
“It’s my favorite,” the wait person volunteered when asked for suggestions. “It’s amazing. The chef does a wonderful veal chop. I think it’s the best thing on the menu.” But then she took a little edge off her suggestion when she said, “But if you want beef, the sirloin is very good.”
So, the veal chop it was, arriving cooked medium rare as requested, seasoned just right and with an interesting sauce sprinkled on and off of half of the chop. Sides of fried asparagus (is that asparagi or asparaguses if there are more than one?) and chunky, seasoned mashed potatoes. A substantial roll, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, hugged the edge of the plate. There was plenty of food for a hungry golfer who had played 36 holes that day.
And, it was delicious, amazingly so. As someone who, primarily for business, has traveled extensively throughout the United States, I have my favorite restaurants for favorite food. For instance, the blackened halibut at Brophy Bros. in Santa Barbara CA is absolutely the best anywhere. The hamburgers at Johnson’s in Siler City are delicious. The bone-in ribeye at The Saloon in Chicago is hard to beat. The ham biscuit at Jimmy’s Barbeque in Lexington NC is the juiciest and most tender you'll ever have, melting in your mouth. And, I’ve always thought of the veal chop at any Capital Grille, a national chain with at least 40 locations but with a local flavor and touch, as the best anywhere.
Until now. I’ll put the Banner Elk Café veal chop, at least the one on my plate the other evening, up against the Capital Grille’s offering any day. And the price was just right. With two Yuenglings, the bill was less than $30 with tax and before tip. And, that included a side of garlic knots served with a yummy marinara sauce for dipping and dunking. “That’s $3 extra,” said the waitress. “I put it on your bill, if that’s okay.”
It was, and the food and service were a lot better than just okay. Next time in Banner Elk for golf (I’m not a skier), another veal chop is to be served.
Less than two miles from the Banner Elk Café is the Banner Elk Winery and Blueberry Villa. Having visited this winery several months ago (that’s the time of the previous eating experience at the Lodge), stopping to make a purchase before heading home was a must.
The Winery and the Villa are in separate facilities and are equally impressive. It was a Sunday afternoon of the last visit, and the tasting was absolutely wonderful. There was music offered on the front porch, and the cool to warm temperatures called for lingering and sipping glasses of the Banner Elk Winery’s Marechal Foch, which is described by the winery as: A single varietal Cabernet Hybrid developed for a Cabernet to grow at high altitudes and withstand cold winters. It is fruity, jammy and considered to be a "grapey" wine. It is very food friendly, but pairs exceptionally well with red-sauced pasta dishes.
And for sitting and nipping on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The grape was developed in France. In the United States, it grows best in cold-weather climates for which the Banner Elk area seems to be ripe. Read more about the Marechel Foch grape at Wikipedia or at Appellation America.
The Banner Elk Winery is another one of North Carolina’s offering at which enjoying all wines is easy. On this time through, I picked up a couple of bottles of each of Banner Elk Red—a blend of Marechal Foch, Petite Syrah and Cabernet Franc, all three very good alone but interesting and tasty as a blend—and Banner Elk White, a blend of un-oaked Seyval Blanc, Viognier and Golden Muscat, another excellent combination.
The Banner Elk Winery was established on a 25-year-old blueberry farm thus the name of the Villa. Both opened in 2006. For more on both, visit their websites, or better yet, take a drive to Banner Elk. Enjoy the summer mountain air, the locally produced wines and, may I suggest, the veal chop at the Banner Elk Café. Call ahead and ask if bringing your own wine—Banner Elk Red, Banner Elk Cabernet Sauvignon or Marechel Foch—is okay. The dining combination and overall experience is highly recommended.