The fickle finger food of fate
Andy Badgett trades special occasion for sandwiches with the Fickle Pickle "Why did you decide to close Asher?"
Andy Badgett regards the woman who posed this question with a warm and politely weary smile. I get the sense, as I stand at the counter waiting to place my order, that he is asked this question many, many times a day.
"We just weren't doing the numbers we needed to during the week," he responds evenly.
"Well, I love what you've done," says the woman brightly. "I'm in here at least once a week. My daughter loves it too." Her young, curly-haired daughter silently displays a grin on cue, and the two wander away to snag a window table steeped in sunlight.
That restaurants come and go without much warning is a given in this industry. It was particularly jarring to the city's avid diners, though, when Badgett announced earlier this year that Asher, Roswell's most luxurious eatery, was shutting its doors.
But weeks later, Badgett had a bigger surprise for the foodie community: He reopened his doors as the Fickle Pickle, a modest sandwich shop that serves breakfast pastries and lunch. Talk about a 180 ...
Often nicknamed the "Bacchanalia of the 'Burbs," Asher was housed in a proper, grandmotherly Victorian that was the antithesis of the modernist minimalism employed by the bulk of upscale intown restaurants. A nightly changing, as-the-market-dictates prix fixe menu was offered. Badgett was known for his imaginative risk-taking in the kitchen, a style that was applauded by critics from the time Asher opened in early 2000.
"Economics was the number one reason," Badgett says of Asher's closing. "The location was tricky, and at the beginning we thought we could make it work. But the last two years have been tough. It just wasn't working.
"The other important consideration is that I have a young family. I wanted to be home at night. It's been great to walk through the door and have my two boys excited to see me. And to have date nights with my wife."
Visiting the Fickle Pickle is literally a night and day experience from my last meal at Asher. I'd never seen the place in daylight before. Where a valet once stood guard to take your car at the foot of the driveway, you now drive up the gravel lot and park yourself. There's a prime table on the front porch where two lucky customers can linger over coffee.
Inside, the place looks as sedate as ever. Wood paneling flanks mustard and mauve colored walls. Floorboards squeak appealingly. The white tablecloths, however, have been replaced with pink floral patterns, giving the place an old-timey air. It looks the part of what it's become: a lunchroom largely for Southern ladies.
And right about at the spot where I sat at a table enjoying my last dinner at Asher, there is now a deli case and a counter. A big hole has been cut in the wall so the kitchen, full of cooks in perpetual motion, is in plain view. Buttery wafts of baking croissants often drift through the room.
The menu is succinct. There are six sandwiches, two salads and a soup. You place your order, take a number and find a table. As I gathered plastic knives and forks, I couldn't help but feel nostalgic for the attentive, gracious service I'd received here just six months earlier.
It's hard not to feel the same way about the food. It isn't bad at all, but it is, after all, just lunch stuff. Sandwiches are mostly careful takes on standards. There's a superb chicken salad packed into one of those toasty croissants. The salad is chock-full of fun things like hazelnuts, dried cherries and tarragon that zigzag around your taste buds. A tuna melt with pickle relish on sourdough is classy, I-wish-my-Mom-cooked-like-your-Mom fare. My only true sandwich disappointment is a droopy roast beef number whose horseradish mayo doesn't deliver any zip.
Soups were always one of the highlights at Asher, and the black bean soup with andouille sausage, a special during one visit, is velvety and complex. It marries brilliantly to a zingy glass of red Sangria that I was surprised to see offered. Teetotalers have their choice of unsweetened regular or sugary peach.
Myriam Zaleski, the pastry chef at Asher, has turned her attention to homey, seasonal offerings. A silky pumpkin pie is subtly spiced, which allows the rich flavors of its hazelnut meringue topping to be fully appreciated. Rustic apple pie has a nubbly crumble topping that isn't too sweet. Chocolate and cinnamon sable cookies dissolve on the tongue upon contact. It's hard to walk out the door without sampling at least one of her goodies.
It's been a pleasure to drop by the Fickle Pickle and see the parking lot jammed when lunch is in full swing. The neighborhood has certainly embraced the new concept. But what about the patrons who miss Asher's creative, fine dining edge? "We'll have Asher nights occasionally," Badgett reports, including New Year's Eve and possibly Valentine's Day.
Mostly, though, Badgett is peaceful about his change in direction and is focused on making his new venture fly. "Some people have come in, wondering if I'm all right with this," he notes. "But food is food. Whether you serve special occasion, prix fixe meals or sandwiches, if you put your heart into it you can find satisfaction doing either.
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