Dinner in the Blue Ridge Mountains at Joy Bistro, Boone, NC

When you’re road tripping through the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, you might not expect to pull up in a town of roughly 19,000 people and find an opportunity for top-class dining. You’d be wrong. Because in the college town of Boone, right in the middle of a strip mall, you can find the cozy Joy Bistro. Despite their shopping center location, owners Gary & Melissa Joy have created an inviting and comfortable bistro-style atmosphere for their farm-to-table menu. And the food is superb.

Location: Joy Bistro is located in the strip mall shopping center at 115 New Market Centre, Boone, North Carolina.

Menu:  Melissa—chef name Melissa Claude—reigns in the kitchen of Joy Bistro; Gary runs the front of the house and creates the unique cocktails that should start your meal. And since he’s also a professional jazz musician, he sometimes provides live music. Melissa earned her chef’s hat at the California Culinary Academy/Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. She uses that expertise with confidence and flair to turn out meals that are unpretentious but creative, in typical bistro style.

The menu is inspired by the flavors and techniques of France, blended with Melissa and Gary’s American roots (they are both from Kentucky). It’s based on fresh, seasonal, locally available products and changes with the seasons. One of the most popular starters is the Firecracker Shrimp, sautéed with garlic, shallots and chili flakes with parmesan cream sauce. Another stunner is the Ahi tuna tartare tossed in champagne vinaigrette, shallots, garlic, fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts on a bed of crème fraîche. Other starters include gnocchi with whatever is currently fresh, PEI mussels with chorizo, Alaskan king crab gratin, beef carpaccio and Joy’s wontons.

Salads are fresh and inventive. I really enjoyed my Bartlett pear salad with Cashel blue cheese, roasted bacon and candied pecans and a shallot vinaigrette. The roasted beet salad one of my companions ordered, a house favorite, came with a goat cheese fondant in a sherry vinaigrette.

Entrees include filet mignon that got raves from everyone in our group who tried it, calling it “perfectly cooked.” Just as good was the pine nut and panko herb-crusted salmon with fingerling potatoes. I ordered the Maine diver scallops and they were wonderful, served over fingerling potato pancetta corn hash and finished with romesco sauce. Other main dishes include cornmeal dusted North Carolina trout, a pan-seared local farm pork chop, veal meatloaf, rack of lamb, natural pan-seared chicken breast, a bistro burger, and three-cheese ravioli. Finally, one of their most popular dishes is the pistachio pesto pasta, a sauté of shrimp, roasted artichokes, crispy bacon, mushrooms and shallots finished with angel hair pasta and sun-dried tomato pistachio pesto topped with a diver scallop. This dish, sampled from a companion’s plate, was an undeniable success.

Desserts are just light enough to not overwhelm and include a perfectly caramelized crème brûlée and my favorite, affogato. Friends who had the key lime pie were impressed as well.

Price Range: Prices are on the high side for the area but fair, I think, for the quality of the cooking and the freshness of the ingredients. Appetizers run $10-15. Salads are $9-10. Main dishes start at $16 for the bistro burger or $20 for the ravioli, with a $26 price point for the salmon and local trout, and top out at $36 for the filet mignon. There is a nice by-the-glass wine list priced at $7-12 per glass, and a quite broad bottle list, ranging from a Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc at $23 all the way up to $177 for the Cain Spring Mountain District Five red varietal.

Thoughts: Because Gary Joy is known for his cocktail creations, we started there. I had a basil gimlet that I loved, made from gin, muddled basil, fresh lime juice and simple syrup. The basil came through strong, enhanced by the lime. A friend had the strawberry shrub swizzle and it tasted like summer in a glass—gin, house-made strawberry shrub, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, bitters, and house-made ginger beer. It was an Oh My! moment.

I was dining with a large group with a lot of cross-tasting and passing of dishes up and down the table, so I had a chance to taste a variety of dishes. My diver scallops were lustrously fresh and perfectly seared, and the hash like nothing I’d ever had. I also really liked the three-cheese ravioli, very rich from the cheeses and cream. The pasta is made fresh by a local farm family and it shows. I would have preferred a touch less salt, but that is not unusual for me. And yes, my one bite of that filet mignon was perfect.

The décor is cozy bistro style. There’s a pleasant outdoor seating area. Despite the fact that you’re essentially sitting in a strip mall parking lot, it’s cleverly designed with fencing, shrubbery, and a wood-frame roof to give a sense of privacy and coziness. Service was professional, friendly and well-informed. All-in-all, dinner at Joy Bistro in Boone, North Carolina, was a delightful evening in every way.

If you want to stay in the area, you’ll find reviews and recommendations here.

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Dinner high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at Joy Bistro in Boone, NC

Disclosure: I was hosted for my meal by ExploreBoone NC, part of Watauga County Tourism.  This post contains affiliate links. Clicking through for additional information or to make a purchase may result in a small commission being paid, at no additional expense to you. By doing so, you help support this site and its authors, and we thank you.

Donna Meyer

Donna Meyer is a freelance travel writer and the creator of Nomad Women, a blog to inspire older women travelers to get out and see more of the world. When she is not traveling the world--and eating everything in sight--she lives in San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico.

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