Everyone’s comfort food is different. For some people it’s a big salad filled with farmers market veggies. For others it’s a bowl of chicken and dumplings or a peach pie that reminds you of summer afternoons with family.
“You kind of taste with your memory,” says Chef Dan Silo. “It’s more of an emotional experience that tugs at your heartstrings a little bit.”
Chef Dan Silo will make his version of comfort food at Sawhorse, a neighborhood restaurant inspired by his childhood in the Adirondack mountains of New York state. He expects the restaurant will open in the coming weeks and he’s happy to give a tour of the space.
We’re standing in the former location of Leicester Family Restaurant, which was a neighborhood hub starting in 1973. Every day, locals ordered the usual, meals like biscuits and gravy and country fried steak. When the owners decided to sell the restaurant, Asheville chef Dan Silo realized it was exactly what he was looking for. After working at the upscale restaurant The Admiral and slinging barbeque at Buxton Hall, this is the place he pictured for his first solo restaurant.
“The food we’re going to do here just needed to be in a neighborhood somewhere,” he says. “The first time I walked in and saw the place, I just got a feeling for it. I think that goes back to what it had been since the Tasios family opened the place—lots of regulars and a really strong community of local people.”
But Dan’s food will differ from the Southern fare once served at the Leicester Family Restaurant. It will reflect memories of his family’s cabin in the Adirondack mountains of New York state, and his family’s history of cooking at lumber camps in the early 1900s.
“I’ve been calling it Northern country mountain food,” he explains. “It’s really country grandma food, just sort of a Northern perspective as opposed to a Southern perspective. There’s a lot of parallels there, but it’s really just kind of rustic and hardy.”
The restaurant will serve French-Canadian dishes like poutine—a mound of fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. It will also serve buckwheat pancakes, which bring back sweet memories for Dan.
“One of my favorite things in the world does have a lot of family history,” he says. His great-grandmother and great-great-grandmothers were both lumber camp cooks in the Adirondacks and always made buckwheat pancakes. “I actually have the ceramic vessel that my great-great-grandmother used to make buckwheat pancake batter,” he says.
He’ll be pouring plenty of maple syrup on top of those pancakes. He has a maple syrup collection in the kitchen. The jugs hail from New York, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Vermont, and other points North. Just across the kitchen from the maple syrup tower is the table where Jeremiah DeBrie of Intentional Swine will butcher whole animals for dishes like tourtiere, a French-Canadian meat pie. Partnering with Jeremiah is an example of Dan’s efforts to source locally and minimize food waste.
He plans to source all of the restaurant’s proteins from local farms, “and as much of our produce as we possibly can from personal farmer connections nearby,” he adds.
“I think we found a rabbit farmer that we’re really excited about,” he says. “There are several pig farmers nearby that we’re gonna be using, and some local cattle in Leicester and Sandy Mush down the road from here.”
He plans to pay produce farmers in advance so they can have guaranteed sales when the crops are ready. He wants these relationships to be sustainable for the restaurant and also the farmers, many of whom grow food just a few miles from the restaurant. “That’s one of the reasons why I even wanted to open a restaurant was to kind of create those relationships with local farmers,” he says.
The restaurant is also working with Eliada, a non-profit agency that serves children and families in Western North Carolina. It is reviving a farming program on its 320-acre campus near the restaurant. Dan helped them build a geodesic dome that will house lettuce and tomatoes. He also plans to host fish fry fundraisers where the restaurant serves the fish grown in Eliada’s aquaponic system.
“They do a lot of good for a lot of people that need a little bit of help,” Dan says. “The fact that they’re getting back into their farm program just aligns really, really beautifully.”
Chef Dan Silo expects to open Sawhorse in the coming weeks. He wants the restaurant to welcome locals, both the downtown food crowd and people who have been eating comfort food in this building for decades.
“The food we’re going to be doing here is really going to be reminiscent of what’s been going on in this building for a long time,” Dan says with pride.
Learn about more restaurants that source local ingredients in ASAP’s Local Food Guide: www.appalachiangrown.org
Aired: April 1, 2019