Doc Brown’s all over the place, as usual.
Doc jumps from one topic to another, rapid-fire, as his thoughts race. In an hour-long conversation at his new 1320 Smoky Park Highway restaurant, Doc Brown’s BBQ, he muses on everything from contact theory to Candler’s gradual gentrification. He references the influence of Kitty O’Kelly, “the queen of Hominy Valley,” and ticks off the flavors included in the slaw flights he plans to offer. Why doesn’t any restaurant worth its salt in town offer apple stack cake, an Appalachian staple? What’s it really mean to cook “authentic” baked beans?
Doc, after all, is the first to tell you he’s not a cook or a chef. He’s just a guy with a history Ph.D who started dealing delicious barbecue out of a truck after leaving behind a career as a Charleston bartender and a trivia master.
“I opened the truck because I didn’t have enough money for a restaurant, and found people who believed in me,” Doc says, adding that he also made some darn good mac-and-cheese along the way.
Three years on, Doc has opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, following in the footsteps of some of Asheville’s most well-known, and well-loved, cooks. Suzy Phillips led the way by lobbying city officials to allow food trucks in the central business district. Her Gypsy Queen Cuisine restaurant opened last year on Patton Avenue. Earlier this year, Rick Corcoran and his wife Took Charemwong opened a new version of their Little Bee Thai eatery on South French Broad Avenue. The couple had started out in a spot next to a Fairview gas station before downsizing to a food truck and eventually closing. Also this year, Jeremiah Jackson graduated from food truck to Sweeten Creek restaurant with Farm to Fender.
But Doc is quick to note that, while earning a following along the hip West Asheville corridor of Haywood Road, he’s firmly planted further out in both spirit and reality.
“We’re not part of the foodie scene,” Doc says, adding that he’s just trying to do a solid meat-and-three. “This is 28715, and I want it to stay that way.”
Still, Doc is a savvy collector of family recipes. His creative twists on coleslaw, baked beans and mac-and-cheese, as well as his melt-in-your-mouth barbecue, has him on the foodie map whether he likes it or not. He can talk at length about how one offering is Fred Brown’s cherished formula, while another is Aunt Pat’s heirloom dish.
What else is of note at Doc’s place? There’s his fancy wood pellet smoker, which he describes as “the Corvette” of smokers. He’ll be doing counter service, serving up flights of cole slaw (mustard, vinegar, Asian and jicama) and apple stack cake. There will be Dr. Enuf on tap (straight from Johnson City) and house-made hot dogs, too.
Finally Doc pauses and gets a little teary wondering aloud “Why am I here” and what he’s leaving to his two sons, ages 7 and 11.
“This is it,” he said, looking around. “I’m putting everything I’ve into this.”