A Star Is Born: Marshall NC's Unique Dining Experience
If you drive about 15 minutes North of Asheville, North Carolina there sits a small town named Marshall that overlooks the 3rd oldest river in the world, the French Broad River. Marshall sits in Madison County and is "one street wide and a mile long" town named after the 4th US President James Madison. It has a population of roughy 1K residents. "Proud of our past, excited about our future" is the towns slogan. The town has succeeded in preserving its history and habits of a slower time.
Marshall is just what you'd expect when you think of a small town. You are driving in the middle of nowhere and then BAM - you hit Main Street. Abandoned boarded up buildings, shops and churches line the street along with establishments like Zuma Coffee, Sweet Monkey and Madison County Brewing that opened last Fall. These are hidden gems that I love to visit.
I met with the MadCo Brewery owner Ben Smith for an ice cold local beer and he told me the history of the impressive courthouse that sits in the middle of town. It's quite lovely and hard to miss. It was built in 1907 and designed by Richard Sharp Smith, the head architect for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It cost $30,000 to build and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
At the end of town sits a service station. Long ago the gas ran out and over the years it was slowly transformed into a cozy fine dining experience called The Star Diner. Charlottean and the owner of Belle Acres Country Club (who wishes to remain anonymous) is the brains behind this new unique fine dining experience.
This service station at the end of Main Street was built in 1929/1930 and was a working station into the 70's and 80's. It was purchased in 2006 by the current owner. The service bays where the restaurant is located were added at a later date. As you can see, it was taken down to the concrete floor and cinder block walls during the renovations. I am always amazed when someone can look at this (see picture below) and see a diamond under all that dust.
The walls are now decorated in memorabilia from another time long before I was born. The music playing reminded me of music my grandparents probably jitterbugged to back in the 1930s. Marshall's dining scene is limited. Right now the Star Diner is one of the only places to grab a meal in town. Asheville sees about 5,000,000+ visitors annually and I am hopeful that word of mouth for how amazing the food and atmosphere is will not hold back tourist and locals from driving those 15 miles.
Brian Sonoskus, the former Executive Chef at Tupelo Honey Café has signed on as the head chef. His menu is always changing and he wishes to create a dining destination that is fun and enjoyable for his customers. He uses nothing but the top ingredients and let me tell you, after the meal I had I can see that he takes no shortcuts.
I was lucky enough to be invited up for a meal in January. And when I say lucky, I mean lucky. The restaurant can accommodate roughly 40 guests and reservations fill up fast. It was a packed house when we arrived. We were escorted in and I couldn't help but notice the abundance of antiques. The old board games, the rotary phone, the original freezer from the 40s, the bathroom walls were covered in pictures of pin up girls and men in top hats and tuxs. I instantly felt like I had stepped back in time.
We dined on lobster bisque, jumbo lump crab cakes, beef tenderloin steak, sea bass and finished the meal with a cheese pie topped with Pinot Noir blueberries. It was beyond amazing and very memorable.
As we sat and ate dinner, a train went by. A freight train going about 65 mph! I thought the entire diner would shake or at least our wine glasses, but they didn't. The locals didn't seemed phased at all. I on the other hand couldn't believe how close this HUGE freight train was to the river and more importantly ... to the diner. I insisted we go investigate by the river, in the dark ... on a freezing January night. Typical. I was glad we did; I discovered the backside of the restaurant was a mosaic of a fish!
Soon the weather will warm up and the patio will be open up for guest to dine, enjoy wine and small plates and take in that small town feel. Marshall, North Carolina has a hit with The Star Diner. Next time you are up that way be sure to visit Marshall. It has a past and a wonderful future.