West End Bakery & Cafe, Asheville NC

So we had a cunning plan to finish up our trip to That Town Where We’d Like to Live with a late morning Sunday visit to the extremely popular Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville, followed by a return to Bele Chere to see the Stereofidelics before returning home. Nothing went right. I zonked out Saturday evening to a terrible TV movie on Lifetime – I do so adore terrible TV movies on Lifetime – feeling dehydrated despite my efforts, exhausted, sore and congested. I slept horribly, in little fits and starts all through the night, and seemed to spend more time shuffling through the corridors to the lobby to waste time online than in bed. It was a fine, comfortable hotel, but I was too uncomfortable to be happy anywhere.

We made new plans after sampling the hotel’s free breakfast, which, in my case, was about forty pounds of melons, grapes, bananas and orange juice. We would go out to West Asheville, then return downtown, let Marie and my daughter out to pick up our order of caramels from The Chocolate Fetish, and just head on home. My daughter was disappointed, but it would be some hours and several gallons of water before I felt better again. So we drove over to West Asheville and were stymied by the mob at Sunny Point, which was an even larger mob than the one with whom we waited the previous night at Papa’s & Beer, waiting for tables in a much smaller space.

That’s how we ended up a little further down Haywood at West End Bakery and Cafe, which seems to provide a similar experience to the better-known Sunny Point, only without the fried green tomato sandwich that I was looking forward to trying. Still busy and still requiring a longer wait than my grouchy, dehydrated self wanted to endure, this place was very satisfying and, for a second choice, served us extremely well. The food here is just wonderful and I was so pleased to have my spirits lifted by a lunch so nice.

Marie had a tuna melt, my daughter had a grilled provolone sandwich and I had an excellent chicken salad, just piled on French bread and then buried under incredibly tasty tomatoes and organic lettuce. Despite all the juice, water and fruit that I’d packed in earlier that morning, I could easily have eaten another one of these sandwiches. I did have so much water that I felt I could splurge and enjoy a bottle of the locally-brewed Uncle Scott’s Root Beer.

Like most of the city’s better restaurants, West End has a commitment to all the necessary goals: sustainable agriculture, composting, low water use, locally-sourced foods from area farms and a commitment to treat their employees right and pay them a living wage. This place was pretty packed, with a line from the counter to the door, and some of the guests were getting disagreeably nasty. Some smarmy-looking girl at the table next to us honestly started waving her number sign around after about three whole minutes, looking to catch a server’s eye and say “Hello! D’ya forget about me?” But I saw the same infectious love of the job that you see in the very best restaurants. This isn’t feel-good slogans from advertising, it really feels like the people who work at this restaurant believe in their work and love doing it, and give everybody who visits attention and excellent service.

West End was among the businesses that kickstarted this neighborhood’s resurgence about eleven years ago. It’s a long, single row of old buildings, most of them dating to the 1920s, and many were deteriorating and vacant when it opened. As evidenced by the gas station and quickie mart across from Harvest Records, and its roaring trade in prepaid phone cards, not to mention all the coin laundries, it’s still not the area’s nicest side. But things are improving, and most of the storefronts are in use now. Behind West End, its parking lot packed with license plates from as far away as Vermont and New Hampshire, the restaurant’s own small garden is growing some of the vegetables that they use in their food.

It’s yet another Asheville place we really wish to revisit. Looking over their desserts set us all drooling. Visiting their Facebook page, I see that they occasionally offer homemade Oreo cookies. Oh. I really, really hope that they have those the next time that we can visit.


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