Small Plate Crawl showcases cuisine at independent area restaurants

Alexander McCall

Editor’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Foodies of Boone got a taste of High Country cuisine last week during Boone Independent Restaurants’ second annual Small Plate Crawl. 

The crawl showcased small dishes, priced $3 to $8, from each of the 15 participating restaurants from Sept. 3 to 5. Crawlers received passports, which were then entered into a raffle. The winners received gift cards and merchandise from the participating restaurants. 

“Normally the restaurants that tend to be the busiest are the ones that are thought of as more expensive,” said John Pepper, the creator and operator of BIR. “It’s a good way for ASU students to get out and try new restaurants. We’ve got a really good thing here and we’re trying to preserve it.” 



Pepper said BIR is completely funded by donations and membership dues. Small Plate Crawl was not a fundraising event for the group. Instead, all of the money made stayed in the individual restaurants. 

“We’re a nonprofit group that exists to strengthen the restaurant industry around here,” Pepper said.  

Boone Independent Restaurants is a collective of 23 restaurants in the Boone area.  Fifteen participated in last week’s crawl, including typically high-priced spots like Vidalia, Joy Bistro and Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock. 


Thursday night I had the opportunity to try the crawl myself. I opted out of getting a passport – I knew it was unlikely I would have time to hit all the restaurants I wanted to. Instead I settled on one place for my small plate dinner: Pepper’s. 

Nestled in the Shops at Shadowline, dominated for the most part by Harris Teeter shoppers, Pepper’s has been serving Appalachian State University students and locals since 1975. 

At Pepper’s I chose the Kaprese Kabob.  It turned out to be one of the smallest of the small plates I had seen, with two tiny toothpick kabobs. What was lost in size was more than made up for in flavor, however. The basil and mozzarella were clearly fresh, and the presentation was adorable.  Everything on my plate was grown in the High Country. The basil was even from the restaurant’s own garden. 

Brett Gemberling, a chef and manager at Red Onion Café, said there was a rule this year requiring that at least one plate at each restaurant be made entirely out of locally grown ingredients.

“It puts me and the owners closer to the sources,” Gemberling said. “The network is totally necessary. I look forward to what this will become after 10 years.”  

At Pepper’s, my date ordered the pulled pork tacos with Korean slaw. The Sriracha-infused barbecue sauce was the best part of the dish. I’m a huge fan of restaurants that have jumped on the Sriracha bandwagon and incorporated the hot, Thai chili sauce into their dishes.

A couple of new restaurants were added to the crawl this year, including Yosefa AntiquiTEA on Howard Street. For their crawl debut, the tea room offered items that were not on their regular menu, including locally made French truffles and a wine and cheese plate. 

Assistant Manager Heather Leso said AntiquiTEA saw some crawlers, but overall, business was as usual for the tearoom.  

“Pepper’s had such a rush from previous years,” Leso said. “It’s different when you have an entire [full service] restaurant.” 

Veteran BIR participant Boone Bagelry offered its signature Bagelicious at a discounted price and used their lunch rush for their crawl hours. Boone Bagelry chose to close the Small Plate Crawl menu to regular customers, only allowing passport-holders to receive the discounts. 

Boone Bagelry manager Natalie Nicastro said more people this year participated in the crawl and knew what to do when they entered the restaurant compared to last year. 

My only complaint with the Small Plate Crawl is that it didn’t extend into the weekend.  Bistro Roca in Blowing Rock and 1861 Farmhouse in Valle Crucis were too far off to swing on a school night, and the hours that local staples Boone Bagelry and Yosefa AntiquiTEA had chosen to participate were during class times. 

For such a small town that can sometimes seems swamped by chain restaurants, Boone has a lot of wonderful local restaurants that are run by people who really understand and love the art of food.