In a restaurant-rich city like Asheville, there’s one thing you can pretty much count on late at night: lots of hungry restaurant workers. According to Amelia Lindsey, the general manager at Ben’s Tune Up, the decision to do late-night dining was sparked specifically by this often-overlooked segment of Asheville’s population. “It’s an industry city,” she says. “Everyone works till 11 or 12, and we deserve to be fed.”
Even though the menu’s genesis was in satisfying the rumbling tummies of restaurant folks, Lindsey says that it has fit well with Ben’s other late-night offerings, like the dance parties on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Part of the ethos behind the late-night menu at Ben’s is consistency, she says, mentioning that sometimes restaurants try out a late-night dining option but then just close if no one shows up. Ben’s is committed to staying open till 2 a.m. every night, no matter what. “We just decided if we’re going to do late night, we’re going to make it something that’s worth people’s time and really stick to it, be consistent and have people count on us,” she says. “We want to be there for the customer.”
In a recent visit to the restaurant (now under the new guidance of Chef Jake Whitman), Ben’s food was definitely there for us. In the arugula salad, you could taste not only the fresh nuttiness of the greens, but it seemed that you could get hints of the earth out of which they grew, thanks to an umami-maple-sesame dressing. The fire of the house-made green sriricha that dressed the wings was perfectly cooled by the nori-buttermilk dressing that came on the side.
We also ventured off the late-night menu and tried out two things that we are hoping will make a move to the after-10 offerings: crispy tofu that was light and perfect for dipping into a bright carrot dashi; and big, succulent Chinese spareribs (not those anemic red-colored ones you grew up eating). The tingle of five-spice seeped through a sweet and finger-licking sticky glaze.
The late-night menu also offers a full complement of desserts, like the flourless green-tea cake, which arrived as a series of thin slabs on a long plate adorned with dried cherries, candied walnuts and matcha powder. The confection tasted like a Willie Wonka flavor yet to be named. Another must-try dessert is the sorghum-soy-sauce ice cream made by The Hop exclusively for Ben’s. My dining companion mentioned that it tasted like Cracker Jacks turned into creamy, cold dessert heaven — and really, what could be better than that to satisfy the late-night munchies?