My husband and I have a small bookcase in our apartment that holds all of our food and wine books. That's right: Just one petite bookcase. (And I've been a food editor and he's been in the wine business for over a decade each.) That means, for a book to make the cut, it has to be something we really love and will choose to return to again and again. Ashley Christensen's book Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner, is a shiny member of the tribe.
Christensen is the chef of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, a former diner she first stepped into at age 18 and later converted into a craft cocktail bar and laid-back yet sophisticated Southern restaurant. Though I’ve still never been to Poole’s (and Christensen has since opened at least 6 other restaurants—whoops), the beauty of the book is that it makes you feel as if you were on a swiveling stool at one of the dining room’s two U-shaped counters, listening to the dessert specials and stirring your gin and tonic. Christensen says herself that the distance between her restaurant food and the book’s home-cook-friendly versions is remarkably short.
The recipes are warm and comforting, but aspirational—equally as enticing to flip through as they are to cook. This is not the case in every cookbook. This is also not the dense, artery-clogging food that some might think of as southern, despite the occasional short rib pot pie or spicy fried chicken dish. Christensen's focus is largely on vegetables, her version of salads (like a raw lamb carpaccio with crispy artichokes and a yogurt vinaigrette), and "counter snacks", which the book describes as "things that people stand around and eat." While I personally don't require a recipe for deviled eggs (I improvise, sometimes well, other times not) or an heirloom tomato salad (I have a thing about that), I'll certainly take one for fried soft-shell crabs with buttermilk and a malted vinegar slaw, or turnip green fritters with whipped tahini. Our staff immediately flagged the now-famous recipe for her Sweet Potato Hummingbird Cake, which Christensen calls—and the photo of moist layers and bright white frosting confirms—"occasion-worthy".
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Some of the editors on staff weren’t yet familiar with Poole’s, which surprised me because the book made such a splash in the industry when it came to market in Fall of 2016. But I am happy to share this book with still more people, instead of just flashing it in front of friends as one of my favorites at home. In the introduction to her book, Christensen recalls the moment she walked in to Poole’s after learning the legendary space was finally available for lease and says, “I had no idea what shape my menu would take or exactly how the room would look. I just knew how I wanted to make people feel.” We feel good about this choice of book for the Saveur Cookbook Club.