Fourteen years ago, the Tupelo Honey Cafe was just an Asheville hippie eatery conveniently located across the street from bohemian Pritchard Park. After a barrage of good reviews, Steve and Jennifer Frabitore expanded the business then expanded the business then expanded the business again. Today, they have new joints in Johnson City, Raleigh, and Atlanta, bringing the total up to nine, and released two cookbooks mapping out the restaurant's most famous dishes. The second, Tupelo Honey Cafe: New Southern Flavors from the Blue Ridge Mountains, is chock full of Southern know how.

Executive Chef Brian Sonoskus, the mastermind behind both the restaurant's menu and the cookbook's recipes, finds inspiration in Appalachia, which translates into dishes that are heavy on corn (both the bread and the moonshine variety), blueberries, mountain trout, sweet potatoes, and apples. The 125 recipes stress what Chef Sean Brock, also a Southern food connoisseur, describes in the forward as "living like a hillbilly no matter where you live." That means that his instructions are meant to be followed, but not too closely.

"I feel about my recipes like the Grateful Dead felt about their music — once I make it, it's yours," Sonoskus says.  

For the Southern-food neophyte, Sonoskus recommends trying one of the many grits dishes, which can be fairly simple or put on airs and give soufflés a run for their money. The only catch: You'll need stoneground grits. If your Yankee store doesn't carry them, try out an online supplier like Anson Mills.

When it comes to making the grits, Sonoskus says the rules are simple: "Give the water a good salting, make sure it's really hot, and stir constantly — don't neglect them for a second." Once you've mastered that, throw in some eggs and make a Cheesy Grits Soufflé. The consistency "stands up a bit, more like mashed potatoes," and gives you an alternative side dish for your meal. When making this soufflé, Sonoskus advises cooks to use whisked eggs whites. "Other than that," he adds, "it's pretty simple."

Cheesy Grits Soufflé

Ingredients (Makes 8 servings)

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup coarse stone-ground grits
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 eggs, separated

Preparation
Combine the water and milk in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the salt and pepper and then gradually stir in the grits. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, until the grits are thick and creamy, about 25 minutes. Lower the heat if necessary to maintain a low simmer. 

Preheat the oven to 375º. Butter a deep 3-quart casserole or soufflé dish and set aside. Remove the cooked grits from the heat and stir in the cheese and butter until melted. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Add about one-quarter of the cooked grits to the yolks, stirring constantly to temper the eggs. Stir the yolk-and-grits mixture back into the pot of grits, mixing well. Let cool slightly.

Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Add one-quarter of the egg whites to the grits and stir gently to blend. Using a rubber spatula, fold together the remaining beaten egg whites and grits mixture.

Scrape the grits into the buttered dish and bake until puffed, browned, and set, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve immediately.