By Jesse Wood
On a weekday in early August, Melissa Reaves was sitting on the back patio of The Cardinal enjoying the Bisbee Roll, an appetizer that happened to be named in honor of the musician. (Reaves is a seasonal resident of Bisbee, Ariz.)
“It’s awesome food and an awesome spot,” Reaves said, unprompted as we chatted for a minute.
Reaves said that the owners – Seth Sullivan (of Naked Gods fame), Chris Varipapa and Scott Williford – “rock.” And she would know, of course, being a rock star herself.
At The Cardinal Food and Spirits, a restaurant and bar located in a log cabin on N.C. 105 in Boone, ‘fun and respectful’ is the name of the game.
Sullivan, Varipapa and Williford have been friends now for about a decade and all worked together at the Boone Saloon “many moons ago,” Sullivan said.
Over the years, the trio talked off-and-on about opening an establishment together until everything seemed to fall into place last fall as the space on N.C. 105 – the former home of the Geno’s sports tavern – became available.
The renovations were extensive. Pretty much the entire interior was gutted. After working 18-hour days for two-months straight, The Cardinal quietly held soft openings with friends and family in late January and worked out the kinks. Today, the establishment is off and running.
After being open for only several months, The Cardinal already has a reputation for having the best burgers – and perhaps cocktails – in town. Some of the burgers include The Cardinal Burger (only $4.50), Farm Burger, Turkey Burger, Wild Game Burger, The Gringo Burger with Carolina bison and, lastly, a Beet Burger for the grazers.
The Wild Game Burger features rotational game and fixings, and this item on the menu is derived from some of the owners working and eating at The Gamekeeper near Blowing Rock.
Appetizers include spicy-slow braised chicken; marinated tempeh tenders, chicken wings, corn dogs and a pile of fries and jalapeno cheddar hushpuppies. The sides are of a Southern realm: black eyed pea salad, chipotle sweet potatoes, slaw, fried okra and more.
To listen to the owners talk, the menu is somewhat old school with some flair.
Williford noted that The Cardinal is a mix between the classic and the familiar, the varied and the fun. “We wanted people to come in and see a menu that is almost reminiscent of the burger joint you ate in as a kid,” Williford said.
Varipapa added, “The food is a throwback to the ‘50s – all hand dipped, made to order. Except the okra, we couldn’t make it any better than it already is.”
Varipapa mentioned that the menu is also a nod to an older generation, a “throwback to our grandparents and the places where they grew up,” where support existed for local farming and produce.
That’s why The Cardinal has formed relationships with several local producers, including Against the Grain in Zionville, Heritage Homestead in Crumpler, Shipley Farm in Vilas, Octopus Garden Farm in Valle Crucis and more.
“If you can buy it locally, we try to buy it locally,” Varipapa said.
With all three owners having a strong background in bartending, the drinks are another main segment of The Cardinal, which has a variety of specialty cocktails and shooters, floats (virgin or otherwise), wine by the glass and bottle and beers, can and bottled, from Old Milwaukee to Appalachian Mountain Brewery (AMB).
The 12 taps of draft beer feature regional brews on rotation. The Cardinal hosts “tap takeovers,” where a local or regional brewery or distillery will dominate the taps once every six weeks or so, bringing in beers and spirits you can’t find on the shelf or in the store.
“The goal is [for customers] to come and feel comfortable for one drink or spend six hours here,” Sullivan said, adding that you can order a beer and a shot of whiskey for “$5 dollars all day, every day.”
Other deals include $6 house cocktails and the “3,4,5 Thursdays” which means $3 drafts, $4 AMB ciders and $5 specialty shooters.
Inside, there’s also a jukebox, a pinball machine and an ice ball game – and some toys for the youngsters. The vibe is laidback. The table service is great, the owners say, but you’ll seat yourself.
So in keeping with the atmosphere of The Cardinal, be nice and have some fun.
The hours at The Cardinal are as follows:
Monday – Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Thursday – Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Sunday: 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.