First things first – if you choose to dine at The Orchard during this “off” season, make reservations!
My sweetie and I sauntered in at 7:00 P.M. on a Friday. It was a Friday in November, we were vaguely worried that we’d be the only diners in this rambling 100-year-old building.
The first clue we had that our lonely conversations wouldn’t bounce around the walls like a pinball was the clot of people milling around on the porch, sharing a drink and a bit of laughter.
We bobbed and weaved our way through the throng in the foyer to the front station where, to his credit, co-owner Travis Boswell did not roll his eyes when I hesitantly (I’d left my “Big Man in a Little Town in November” confidence on that front porch) said, “Table for two, please.”
Chad helpfully gave us a reservation for 8:30, so we galumphed around Cashiers for an hour and a half, which is about as awkward as it sounds.
But here’s the thing – a meal at The Orchard is worth a 90-minute wait. First of all, the restaurant is loaded with charm – this restored farmhouse embraces its storied heritage, adoring its walls with all sorts of ephemera wandering from the 1880s all the way through the 1940s. The resulting effect is cozy country casual, as welcoming as Cashiers has always been to its guests.
The dining areas (there’s no central dining room, another nod to its downhome heritage) are perfectly suited for easy chat. Every time we’ve dined at The Orchard, every time, there’s been a raucous party of diners who aren’t shy about sharing their laughter and boisterous conversations. In our experience, this adds to the freewheeling charm of the place and it’s still possible to enjoy whispered intimacies with a loved one.
But none of this relentlessly upbeat atmosphere would matter if The Orchard didn’t deliver on its menu.
No doubt influenced by the rustic feel of the place, Tricia started with Fried Green Tomatoes – a down-home selection served at a thousand diners across the South since the 1920s. A delicately seasoned breading and absolutely irresistible bacon-horseradish dipping sauce elevated this venerable chestnut into something magical.
Remembering The Orchard’s well-deserved reputation for seafood (yes, I know, we’re about a million miles from the coast) I went with the Cullasaja Ahi Tuna Crisps – a heavenly blend of soy/sesame marinated Ahi served on crispy wontons nested with a seaweed salad. Tiny pearls of wasabi played arpeggios on my taste buds with every bite. Take your time to get your money’s worth out of this sensually satisfying dish. It’s meant to be savored.
We dove into our entrees – Dark Cove Chicken Ravioli for her; Hawkins Venison Filet for me.
I have an undying prejudice against Ravioli that all too clearly reveals my solid middle class upbringing – an inimitable orange-white abomination was listlessly plopped onto my tray every Wednesday from kindergarten through eighth grade. What a tragic waste of the human spirit.
But when Tricia shared her dish with me, it was an immediate love – this stuff was transcendent. A happy confluence of fresh (The Orchard was early in its commitment to locally-grown/raised ingredients) herb-roasted chicken, housemade spinach and goat cheese ravioli, and autumn harvest vegetables, tossed in a white wine grape tomato sauce. It drove a stake through the heart of Chef Boyardee and I was redeemed.
Still, I made the right choice with my dish. I’ve had a mixed record with venison – sometimes the inherent gaminess is truly overwhelming. It was a carefully constructed dish of Applewood smoked bacon-wrapped venison loin filet that’s been rosemary seared and topped with brie cheese, caramelized apples, and a port wine reduction. I can’t imagination a more brilliant anatomization of the flavors of an autumnal-winter country dish. Each bite was a celebration.
Well, once again I’ve run out space. Let me throw this in just before I’m cut off – Flourless Chocolate Torte and Pumpkin-Pecan Pie. Trust me!
The Orchard is located at 905 Highway 107 South in Cashiers. Reservations are a must, unless you want to look like a blooming idiot like me – (828) 743-7614.