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Spreading the Love of Chameleon DJ

November 10, 2009


Let me preface this review by saying, I’m really glad chef John Joyner has opened his flagship soul food restaurant, Chameleon DJ.  He’s got a great story, and he’ll share it readily.  Actually, if you want to know his story you can watch this highly informative Youtube video.

Chef Joyner is a sweet man who clearly puts all the love in his heart into his food.  He feels soul food should have soul, and I can get with that.  The woman behind the counter greeted me warmly, as if we had known each other for years.  She welcomed my questions and gave me the run-down.  Their buffet-style menu items are bare bones soul, from the collard greens to the fried chicken to the mac n’ cheese.  I did notice a substantial vegan option: stewed tofu with tomatoes, onions and eggplant.  I wouldn’t spend money on that, but who knows what those vegans will eat?  At least Joyner knows his market and he’s making an effort to connect with it.

They boast a bend towards localism, particularly in their side veggies (but not so much the meat and fish options).  Indeed, the corn tasted fresh, bright and sweet, with buttery overtones and a pleasant snap.  This corn has never seen the inside of an aluminum can or freezer.

I loved my white rice with gravy.  I’m a newcomer to the rice and gravy phenomenon you Southerners seem to enjoy, trying to make it an equal substitute for mashed potatoes.  Normally, I fight the urge to push it aside and ask for the other white starch, but at Chameleon I found the rice to be the perfect texture and the gravy complimented so successfully that I didn’t miss my mashed potato mountain.  Their kale greens never slid into soggy brown cud territory, instead they maintained their bright green color and actually passed for health food.  I even had to add salt!  (which I always prefer to overly salted greens).  But he crown jewel of this meal was Chameleon’s fried chicken.  I was smitten with this crispy,  juicy tidal wave of succulence and tenderness.  I declare Chameleon’s fried chicken a phenomenon worth your time and money.

Which brings me to my one major beef with Chameleon’s brave venture:  The price.  A soul food vegetable lunch platter for $9?  A fried chicken lunch with 2 sides for about $9?  I found the prices to be a little uncomfortably steep for my soul, especially when the all-you-can-eat gourmet lunch buffet at Mela costs about the same, but with a much better value.  My recommendation is they should create a different lunch menu and try to keep it under $8 or so, and charge less for the all-veggie platter.  Then again, if their commitment to local produce keeps their prices a little over the norm, I could get behind that.

Their cornbread muffins were far too dry and crumbly, and oddly packed with cinnamon.   While I nearly confused my muffin mid-bite for a mouth full of sugary sand, I would try it again another day before making a final judgment call.  Overall, I think Chameleon is making a great tasting, heartfelt endeavor to bring one man’s dream of traditional home cooking to Asheville.   He simply wants us to feel good,  full and happy, and that’s just what I felt.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. thedj permalink
    November 20, 2009 3:24 pm

    A co-worker of mine ate there recently and loved the four sides plate, particularly the collards. Good country cookin’. I’m due for a visit.

  2. Kandra permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:34 am

    That video is very inspiring – what a smart thing for a new joint to do.

  3. Hope permalink
    December 7, 2009 9:52 pm

    Nice review. I can’t believe you added salt to the collards! In my two visits (and I chose the greens twice 🙂 I thought: this is the most judicious use of salt I’ve possibly ever experienced and anything more would be superfulous (Tillman, 2007).
    Completely agree about the cornbread muffin- unless you sop it up with something really good like the smothered chicken.
    The woman who served you was most likely Madame, John’s mother- it is a mother/son venture.
    I thoroughly enjoyed both my visits- one ordering the smothered chicken, greens, sweet potato and the next the fried chicken, greens, and sweet potato. I found myself thinking this is one of the, if not the best fried goodness per capita on a piece of chicken. On a perhaps unnecessary and inappropriate note, to top a good meal off, I told my baby, ‘You are going to looooove mama’s milk in a few hours after this meal :)’. Salty and sweet.

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