Long, long ago (in the 1960’s) Western North Carolina was not known for its culinary landscape. The Jarrett House in Dillsboro and the The NuWray Inn in Burnsville were about as close as one could find “fancy food”. And truly, their country hams and family style meals were wonderful. Even the big city of Asheville was not the foodie’s dream it has become. The Paradise—Chinese-American—Restaurant located at 19 Broadway was as well-known for Southern Fried Chicken as Egg Fu Yung and egg rolls.
Much to my surprise one afternoon, I ran across a postcard of Geisha Gardens in Maggie Valley. Geisha Gardens in Maggie Valley? My fingers flew across the keyboard to enter my bid. Several days later the card arrived in the mail. And a search was on.
A quick search led to an address—985 Fie Top Road—and a link to an article in The Miami News by Herb Rau, published on August 22, 1965. One of my favorite lines in the article is “North Carolina is as far apart from Japan as Candy is from Mother Goose.” (Terry Southern’s erotic spoof had appeared on the NY Times bestseller list in 1963 and was a common cultural reference for several years thereafter.)
Mr. Rau writes that the owner Hal Jenkins “took his bankroll and came to Maggie Valley” to open Geisha Gardens. In his directions, Mr. Rau explained that the road to Geisha Gardens was at the entrance to Ghost Town, a tourist draw built in 1961. Hal Jenkins’ enterprise included a teahouse, restaurant, gift shop, and garden.
In the evening hours, a “Japanese feast was served by kimono-clad Oriental girls”. Mr. Rau’s writes that the menu included teriyaki and sukiyaki. When he visited he was served “seaweed soup with a slice of raw squash and raw carrot and a ‘snippin’ of cucumber rind. He noted that the dish was decorated with a sprig of pine. And that there was “plenty of tea all through dinner.” For dessert there were fortune cookies as well as “chilled Mandarin orange wedges topped by a green cherry. “ Authentic?
For a few more contemporary views of Geisha Gardens (from 1975) visit the JC Raulston Arboretum website at http://jcra.ncsu.edu/resources/photographs/list-results.php?query=City&search=Maggie+Valley
Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room board member