Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Chameleon DJ Spreads the Love

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 the crown jewel of this meal was Chameleon's fried chicken. I'm 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 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 exactly how I felt.



Gourmet Grrl said...

Hey Admins,

I could't get the spaces between my paragraphs to translate. Help?

Thanks, GG

Jennifer Saylor said...

Gourmet, I think I got you fixed. In the future, compose in Notepad and not Word (anything where you can avoid formatting) and you should be fine!

Great review, thanks!

benette said...

Thanks Jen, and feel free to comment if you're impressions of Chameleon were different from mine!

monicajane said...

Then again, if their commitment to local produce keeps their prices a little over the norm, I could get behind that.

their prices sound reasonable for local veggies. local food costs more and supports our community and the environment.

Jennifer Saylor said...

Seconding the delicious buttered corn -- tasted really fresh and juicy, not overcooked. Honest-to-goodness like homestyle at grandma's.

Unknown said...

It seems that this restaurant may have once been good and consistent with their food selections, but they have gone downhill. My husband, daughter, and I went in earlier this evening to dine there for the first time. I had a coupon/certificate with me that was clearly for their restaurant and planned to use it at check out. I checked comments on a couple of websites before going to the restaurant and, because of the mixed reviews, felt that it might not be a completely enjoyable experience, but decided to go anyway and use the coupon. I was not impressed with the presentation and selection of the food. Two to three of the items listed on their own website where not even mentioned or available as far as I could see (their "big fluffy biscuits" should defintely be a staple on their menu). They had plenty of beer, it seemed to be rather abundant, but not plenty of food. When I went to the register with most of our food (was waiting on the fried chicken), and presented my coupon, I was promptly told that they no longer honored the coupon (the coupon happened to come from a very popular restaurant coupon website--I have used the coupons for other restaurants), and that I should have produced it at the time of ordering (understandable). I asked about what kind of difference it would have made (would they have gone to the trash can to get my food if they knew about my coupon?) and the cashier said that it didn't matter because they no longer honor the coupon. I quickly made the decision to leave based on the coupon, of course, and the fact that the servings that sat before me on the trays were small (including the meat entree serving) and I did not (would not) want to pay the high price for those serving sizes. I felt that the discount would have softened the blow financially, and if I didn't have a coupon I probably would have turned around and left after seeing their normal prices. The staff was pleasant, during the WHOLE experience, however we will not be returning to this establishment.

Unknown said...

I really loved this place on my first visit. The food was pretty tasty and inexpensive. The owners were very friendly. The overall atmosphere wasn't great, but it was okay. I wanted to support the business because it is a new, locally, family owned business. I started telling everyone I know to go there, people I don't know to go there.
Then one afternoon I stopped in just to get a snack. As you order your food and carry it to a table, it seemed take-out was a good enough option. However when I only ordered two pieces of chicken to go along with my endless groceries, the owners made very nasty comments to one another, were very rude, and then ignored me as I was leaving. I emailed them once I got home and have had no response.
The way they treated me and my friend was hurtful and it was rude. I have never been treated so poorly. I will never go back.