Chef John Fleer might have his hands full as the executive chef of Canyon Kitchen (in Sapphire, NC) and now chef/owner of Rhubarb in Asheville. But at the end of the day, he’s a dad. The idea that dinner is a way to bring family together has a permanent spot in his heart.
Strangers soon become friends at Rhubarb's Sunday Supper — Photo courtesy of Kristen Manieri
With an aim to cultivate community around the age-old tradition of breaking bread together, Fleer recently launched Sunday Supper, a weekly fete inviting 24 or so diners to gather around three communal tables ready to be filled with wholesome food and nourishing conversation.
Guests begin to trickle in around 6:30 p.m., the official start to Sunday Supper, and introductions, while awkward at first, soon flow into easy banter bolstered by Rhubarb’s wine, beer and cider pairings.
It’s a broad collection of people–parents with young kids eating shoulder-to-shoulder with young urban hipsters and grayed retirees–but it’s not unlike a true Sunday supper probably taking place at the same time all around this cozy mountain town. Just as Fleer hoped, that feeling of relatedness and connection begins to rise with the jovial din of happy conversation and laughter.
While the week's menu is posted on the restaurant’s website, many diners opt for the chef’s-table-like feel of the dinner, which affords an element of surprise as each platter appears from the kitchen and is gleefully passed family-style around the table.
Irish Rhubarb Cake served at a recent Sunday Supper — Photo courtesy of Kristen Manieri
The feast, which involves a selection of 10 or so comfort foods with bold wanderings from traditional ingredients, begins with four or so appetizers. Recent dishes include pimento cheese hushpuppies, local lettuce and roasted beets and berber pie, made with prosciutto and rhubarb preserves.
For the main course, a meaty entrée, such as a pork roast, is accompanied by several veggie sides that showcase Fleer’s Southern leanings and his favorite seasonal finds. Just like with Rhubarb's lunch, dinner and Saturday/Sunday brunch menus, the food stems from fare gathered at farms within 100 miles of Asheville, which translates into colorful plates and fresh, bold flavors.
But what's perhaps most delicious is the making of new friends. While little kids, made restless by the meal’s 90-minute timetable, doodle on the nearby chalkboard, the adults swap tips about their favorite nearby hikes, share suggestions for beloved local beers and amiably argue over which are Asheville’s best restaurants.
Dessert soon arrives and even sooner disappears, coffee is poured and checks are delivered. With full stomachs and new pals to show for the evening, guests end their Sunday Supper experience with a flurry of hugs and goodbyes.
Rhubarb's Sunday Supper event takes place every Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $26 for adults and $13 for children. Reservations are required.