Veteran Blackberry Farm Executive Chef John Fleer has described his current restaurant at Lonesome Valley in Cashiers, North Carolina, as “a big barn with doors thrown open, that has really good food, good beverages and a place where you can enjoy the essence of the area, a cool breeze and a beautiful sunset.”1
Though the upscale-rustic shops and artisan studios frequented by Cashiers visitors are woven into their own natural settings for peaceful meanderings, the almost primitive landscape at Lonesome Valley—just a couple of miles east on Highway 64—takes them even further from anything that could be construed as a modern distraction. It’s a trip back to the very simplest of times, a place where even the most entrenched city dweller can’t deny some visceral connection to the land and the inherent nourishment that it yields beyond just food.
When you arrive at the entrance to Lonesome Valley, you know you’re somewhere different.
Two stone pillars flank a private paved drive, the only thing along that stretch of road that isn’t lush green meadow and trees. A modest wood sign in green lawn a few feet away features the words Lonesome Valley with a childlike rendering of a cow—a logo inspired by the 4,100-foot Cow Rock Mountain, one of two granite mountain faces that rise out of the valley.
A privacy gate a few hundred feet up the drive remains open for restaurant visitors to pass through, a second one farther up the hill closed to everyone except owners of land and the few homes that have been erected on generous expanses of the clean, lush forestry along the lower part of the mountain.
This tranquil valley might seem like a loner during a few months of winter. But it keeps a good deal of company May through October when Fleer’s rustic restaurant, Canyon Kitchen, welcomes dinner guests—and on summer Sunday mornings when church goers begin filling the pea-stone parking lot around 9:35 to hear live bluegrass and gospel music, preceded by a very brief reading of The Word.
A house of worship seems a fitting alternative use of the building that houses John Fleer’s restaurant, a highly awarded James Beard chef who began his academic career studying religion before paying heed to his true calling, which was coming from the culinary world.
When Canyon Kitchen emerges from hibernation in spring to offer up the land’s bounty, it opens Wednesday through Sunday evenings—very special evenings to locals and tourists along the summer recreation destination of the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. The walls at Canyon Kitchen retract to reveal the surrounding lands, lending the feeling of gathering for mealtime under a tin-roof in an open field with a granite mountain face as a backdrop. It’s almost as if you should arrive carrying a covered dish.
Evenings at Canyon Kitchen evoke dining on bounty from fields that were worked that very day and then brought in, thrown on a big farmhouse table, and prepared as a feast in return for the day’s efforts.
Even the small bar, situated on the cusp of indoors and out, could have been set up at someone’s home that same day, in preparation for the gathering of friends and neighbors that would come for supper that evening.
Dinner is prix-fixe, offering a couple of choices for each course.
Ingredients for soups, salad and other victuals grow in a garden a few feet from your table.
The restaurant has also been known to open for family-style brunch on summer-holiday Sundays, another traditional day of feasting with neighbors in appreciation of the land’s offerings.
For the past couple of years, even crisp mountain winters have seen guests gathering for special Saturday Suppers that are served family style twice a month at Canyon Kitchen. After chatting with fellow diners during cocktail hour, everyone takes a seat, where the prix-fixe menu card is waiting. Guests consult the cards frequently as tables begin to fill with steaming, aromatic dishes of colorful vegetables, savory entrees and sweet endings. The din of camaraderie mingles easily with notes of live guitar and vocals, as the fireglow and table candles illuminate faces of friends, neighbors and visitors, passing dishes and sharing stories. While outside a colorful winter dusk settles over the Lonesome-Valley landscape, slipping gradually into another starlit winter’s night on the Highlands-Cashiers plateau of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.