David Bauer and Brendan Reusing aren't business men; they're not interior designers; they're not PR people.
In the early days of All Souls Pizza, which opens Friday, July 12, they're making that much clear. “We make food,” Bauer says. “We just wanted it to feel light and convivial.”
Still, Bauer and Reusing have done all the things they don't do with aplomb: The restaurant they co-own feels crafted, and it clearly relays its commitment to simple quality.
That's no surprise, since it's the cousin of Farm & Sparrow, the artisan wholesale bakery Bauer has operated since 2006. That business is known for its focus on heirloom wheat and stone-milled flours.
Grains get the same treatment at All Souls. The pizza flour comes from Farm & Sparrow's mill, and the polenta that provides a base for to the menu's fresh vegetables and smoked proteins is ground in-house (with corn from Stockbridge Farms in Andrews, near the Tennessee border).
The menu focuses on pizzas and creamy polenta bowls with seasonal toppings, as well as pressed sandwiches (on Farm & Sparrow bread, of course), salads, marinated beans and some pasta here and there. “It's pretty simple,” says Reusing, who takes the lead on the vegetables and proteins while Bauer focuses on grains and dough. “The rest of the menu is going to stay pretty limited for now. We're going to get open and do what we do and do it well and kind of elaborate on the things that we have.”
Reusing talks about the restaurant while he breaks down a Boston butt from Foothills Pasture Raised Meats. He's not big on words, he says. He focuses more on action. Until a few months ago, Reusing was the chef at Laurey's Cafe and Catering. Before that, he worked with his sister, Andrea Reusing, at Lantern in Chapel Hill.
He says he's excited about the pepperoni, which comes special order from Foothills. The pigs there are raised on spent grain from Pisgah Brewing. He also looks forward to topping pizzas with clams and local tomatoes and chili peppers.
The vegetable harvest drives the menu, which will change according to produce availability but seasonal use of grain is also part of the concept. “A lot of people wonder about why it's important to mill your grains and your flours,” Bauer says. “Part of that is when you're doing seasonal cooking, the way you make pasta to go with foods in the fall and winter is different than the way you make it during the summer.”
The menu relies on quality of ingredients and thoughtful execution. The atmosphere of the restaurant is much the same. It's a study in natural light, earthy hues, sturdy wooden furniture and rustic pottery. The restaurant's logo, corn and grain in blue and gold, lights out from the wall above the bar, and the wood-fired oven is ensconced in handmade tiles of chalky blue, ochre and green.
Beneath the oven, which is primarily for the pizza, a stack of finely split logs sits at the ready. They're different colors and sizes, and each one serves a particular purpose for a particular time of day: They'll create, maintain and temper the heat. “The way you stack the wood in the oven, that all affects how the dough cooks,” Bauer says.
The oven, which was installed through the wall, is just one of the challenges presented by the building, former home of the Silver Dollar Restaurant (and, more recently, The Asheville Public). The entire structure was moved to the site decades ago. The walls of All Souls are decorated with photographs of the ordeal. Understandably, the building's history has resulted in some eccentricities. Plus, the freezer for the beer kegs is actually an old milk truck, embedded in the wall.
Bauer says working with the city during the building inspection process was challenging, but the restaurant’s history makes the work meaningful to him. An old Silver Dollar menu hangs on the wall, representing the legacy of the family that ran the diner, and that still owns the building. “We've gotten to be good friends with the family,” he says. “They're really excited about this.”
Perhaps because of its reverence for tradition (in regards to both architecture and food), All Souls doesn't feel adolescent in its early days. (At least, not yet.) It's straightforward. “We just want it to be light and subtle, a nice community feel,” Bauer says. “Not stylized or too heavy.”
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