I’ve been wishing something cool would open up in the little stretch of commercial buildings where Belmont Street ends on top of Mt. Tabor since I moved into my current neighborhood 2 years ago. I just really like the idea of a little cafe’ on top of a mountain — even if this particular “mountain” is really just a 500-foot-tall hill.
I have this fantasy of sitting up there in the evening, reading a book by candlelight, and it’s starting to snow outside, and I’m all safe and warm inside this quiet, tiny cafe’ on top of a mountain. My obsession with the entire city of Asheville, North Carolina is founded upon this fantasy.
Heading up Mount Tabor
So I was excited when I happened to be walking up there last month and noticed that a new restaurant had just opened. I was back up there for lunch the very next day.
Atmosphere: It already had a base grade of B+ before I’d even set foot inside the place. It could have been decorated like a TGI Friday’s on the inside, and it still would have received a higher grade than I did in Advanced Taxation. That’s what being on top of a mountain does for you.
But the owners decided to surpass the guaranteed above-average mark with a comfortably modern design.
I especially like the full bar on display. It’d almost be too cute without that nice sharp edge. Atmosphere gets an A.
Service: On the website, it says that happy hour is from 3 pm – 5 pm. On the door, it says that the restaurant is closed between 3 and 4. I was a little annoyed to find this when I arrived at 2:45. But the server apologized profusely, explained that they’d just adopted new hours and that even she didn’t know they’d be closing at 3 until she got to work that morning, and assured me that I was welcome to stay there while there were closed so long as I didn’t mind them vacuuming. My server was quick and polite for the duration of the meal (which was very short, on account of my not wanting to listen to them vacuum).
So a C for the confusing hours and an A for the friendly and apologetic server averages out to a solid B.
Food: They only had a couple of vegetarian/vegan things on the menu that weren’t salads, which was a bummer, but, you know, they’re on top of a mountain, so I’ll take what I can get. I ordered the portobello mushroom sandwich with french fries (they also let you sub sweet potato fries for no extra charge).
I appreciated that the mushroom was well-cooked, a rare occurrence at restaurants that cater to omnivores. It was soft and chewy and not a bit slimy. It had a predictable but pleasant balsamic marinade, and was topped with predictable but pleasant arugula and red peppers. The bun was warm and soft, but sturdy enough to stay firm with all of the mushroom marinade soaking into it. Now matter how predictable, I always really appreciate a well-executed sandwich.
They made a big fuss on the menu about how the fries were made with Yukon Gold potatoes. Even the server referred to them as “Yukon Golds” when she was repeating my order back to me. Clearly, I was meant to appreciate that these were special french fries.
Here’s the thing, though: the potato flavor is much less important than the texture when it comes to a french fry. Crispness is what counts, and these fries were disappointingly flaccid. But they were plentiful, piping hot, and well-seasoned, so still somewhat enjoyable.
On balance, food gets a B.
I also had two cocktails (yes, at 2:45 PM on a weekday. I was having a bad day, so shut up). I know even less about alcohol than I do about music, though, so I’ll refrain from a full review, and instead simply say that my Slow Cherry Sours were quite sweet and made me quite tipsy: exactly the qualities I look for in an alcoholic beverage. They also have a new drink for fall that features lemon-marinated beets, which I am definitely going to try on my next visit.
Cost: The sandwich and fries were $9, not at all unreasonable for a sit-down restaurant. The drinks were $10 apiece, which would have been unreasonable if they weren’t so large. B.
Final Thoughts: This place should definitely suffice for my snowy evening fantasy, so long as I can actually get a table on a snowy evening. The last few of times I’ve walked past it at night, it’s been completely packed. Even on a Mondays. I’m clearly not the only person who was hoping a nice eatery would open up on Mount Tabor.
It would be nice if they would play it a little less safe with the food once they’ve established themselves, though. I know they’re the only restaurant in that neighborhood, but the menu looks like so many other Portland casual dining spots I’ve been to that it’s almost generic. Clearly the cooks can do well with the basics; why not try to challenge them a little bit, and give the restaurant more of a reputation than just “that place on Mount Tabor”?