By Pete Zamplas- Fireside Restaurant and Pancake Inn offers a variety of home-cooked breakfast and lunch meals.
Gary and Lynn Crist’s restaurant is at 295 Sugarloaf Road in Hendersonville. It is on the right side, .3 of a mile down Sugarloaf from U.S. 64 East (Chimney Rock Hwy.), which is exit 49A off of I-26. Sugarloaf is the first right turn off of 64 East, beyond I-26.
The restaurant is just around the leftward bend, beyond the row of hotels. The City of Hendersonville’s new fire station is nearby. The customer base includes residents, tourists, and area workers such as from Manual Woodworkers.
“Where friends meet for great food” is the Crists’ motto. They opened the restaurant 17 years ago, at the same site. Lynn Crist remains a chief chef, and said she “loves cooking.” Gary no longer cooks as much, enjoying serving and business ends. The Crists said their business has steadily climbed, year by year.
Their 25 employees include five cooks, squeezed into a 12-by-20-foot kitchen. On busy weekends, they overstaff enough to turn over tables quicker for customer convenience. Though lunch officially starts at 11 a.m., they can serve it earlier upon request and keep serving breakfast until closing at 2 p.m.
Their 46th wedding anniversary was May 3. They met when he hired her at his pancake restaurant in Tampa, Fla., making her the longest of many long-term employees. They are from the Midwest. He grew up near Akron, Ohio. She is from Wisconsin dairy country, ever the devoted pro football Packer “cheesehead.”
Gary Crist produced maple syrup, in Tampa before opening a restaurant and now for Fireside. They heat the syrup, as an extra treat for pancake meals.
They started Fireside with one small dining room with a cozy fireplace, hardwood floors and skylights. The fireplace caught on, in the business name. A second dining room is a converted greenhouse. Insulation covering ceiling skylights keeps it warm in winter, or when removed lets in much light.
Behind a small water wheel in front is an herb garden, full of oregano and symbolic of the Crists’ quest for home-made and even home-grown meals. “We want the freshest, organically-grown ingredients,” Lynn said. “Almost everything is home-made here.” Even their pancake mix has natural herbal flavoring. Gary said they might grow herbs in larger scale, in an off-site greenhouse.
Customers said they like the tasty menu, old-time environment and friendly staff. A group of retiree friends eats there every Friday morning. “Good food and good company” is how Jerry Warren describes their meals. George Hoskin of Bat Cave drives furthest; the others live nearby. He likes breakfast specials. Bud Thompson said pancakes are light and fluffy, and he likes their flavor and many varieties.
The menu includes French toast, Belgian waffle, biscuits, sweet cornbread, chopped steak and eggs, and country ham and egg and other sandwiches. Omelette variations include Super Meat Lovers (ham, bacon, link sausage). Egg “scrambles” can come with meat, and pancakes or toast. Quiche is served on weekends. Hawaiian French toast with pineapple sauce is a periodic treat.
Specialty pancakes include blueberry, strawberry, apple, nutty and chocolate chip. Pigs in The Blanket wraps four link sausages within a buttermilk “blanket.” There are daily specials, and vegetarian meals.
Meatier breakfasts feature ham, sausage or bacon. Slow-cooked pot roast with eggs, meat loaf or corn beef hash are popular, hearty brunches or lunches. Meat-and-potato shepherd’s pie has gone over so well, it has become a regular menu item, the Crists said. They said they are among few restaurants to serve milky, scalloped potatoes.
The sauce for Italian-style spaghetti has “been served at the Crist household for over 40 years,” Gary Crist noted. Its recipe remains a secret outside of the family. Fireside workers learn various parts of it, not all of it.
Another family touch in the restaurant is that Gary’s late mother, Hilda Purdy, decorated ceramic tiles. Among other artwork, Alicia Powers painted a mural across the greenhouse-room’s long back wall. It depicts the restaurant and such area tourist attractions as the Historic Courthouse in Hendersonville, Biltmore Estate, Jump Off Rock, Lake Lure, and waterfalls.
Crist said the key to “success lies in our many recipes cooked from scratch — including for yeast-risen bread baked on the premises, pancakes and waffle batter, maple syrup, and many others.”Fireside hosts a free health lecture, on the first Friday of the month at 7 p.m. Reservations are encouraged.
Fireside Restaurant and Pancake Inn is open daily, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call 697-1004 or check firesidepancakeinn.com.