Wicked Weed Brewing debuts two floors of food and fermentation (Part 1, Upstairs)

“I'm not taking the best beer in town and serving hot wings”: Chef Jason Saunders, formerly of Table, will update classic bar food with culinary touches. Photo by Max Cooper

Wicked Weed restaurant and brewhouse is a super-sized, stacked-up and spread-out empire of beer and pub eats.

The space includes a restaurant, tasting room, courtyard beer garden and street-side patio. With a seating capacity of about 400 people (inside and outside), it's one of the biggest outfits in downtown Asheville.

“It's going to be just as much a restaurant as it is a brewery,” says head chef Jason Saunders. Upstairs holds a full bar with 28 taps, a high-end liquor selection, indoor seating for more than 100 people and an expansive, glassed-in kitchen, designed to serve “enlightened pub food,” as Saunders brands it.

The roll-up, dining-room windows take up most of the front wall and overlook the Biltmore Avenue patio, which is still under development. It’s clear, however, that the wide, sunny plot has a lot of potential. “That is going to be the spot,” Saunders says. “We're taking [a] silo, we're going to have a bike rack around there. We're going to have fire pits. We're going to have outdoor seating, lots of landscaping, trees.” In case you’re wondering, the three-legged silo was originally designed for grain storage; now, it’s been re-purposed as a decoration, bearing the Wicked Weed logo. The gas-powered fire pit should be operational within a month.

The building, which used to be an auto-repair shop and, later, Asheville Hardware, has undergone a complete transformation inside. While the large, glass garage doors remain, the interior feels both industrial and luxurious with its reclaimed, polished wood, exposed brick and Edison bulbs with their glowing-orange filaments. The bars on both floors are made out of a 200-year-old piece of Black Gum that was sourced from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Two musket balls, likely from the Civil War, are still embedded in the upstairs bar top. “We're really trying to create a full sensory experience here,” says Luke Dickinson, one of the venture's five owners.

Dickinson and his brother, Walt, co-own the restaurant with family friends Rick and Denise Guthy and their son, Ryan. Walt’s father went to college in Pasadena, Calif., with Rick. Later, both families moved to Asheville. Ryan, Walt and Luke went to high school here.

The Dickinson brothers are longtime home brewers (Walt also owns Higher Ground Rainwater Systems). Luke’s interest in the craft even landed him an internship at Dogfish Head in Gaithersburg, Md.

Rick says he never imagined he would open a brewery until the Dickinsons persuaded him (he owns a marketing company). “The boys make such great beer, and they just convinced me,” he says. “Once I started tasting their beers, I knew they were on to something.”

Food was a natural extension of the brewing operation, and soon, the group hooked up with Saunders, who went to high school with Walt, to develop a menu. “It's bar food,” he says. “It's got to be comfortable; that's what we have to go for. That being said, there's got to be a little bit of balance. We're not just trying to put out burgers and fries.”

With that balance in mind, the menu features a kale-ribbon salad with merguez sausage, northern beans, halloumi cheese and warm vinaigrette dressing. On the decadent end of the burger spectrum, it offers a beef patty topped with braised short ribs and caramelized onions. “It's almost an opulent burger,” Saunders says.

For a more conservative option, there's the affordably priced, classic burger. “I've always wanted a place where you could go and get a $6 burger and a beer for $10,” he says. “We're not trying to exclude anybody. It needs to be a place where people feel instantly comfortable to go and not be put out by the price.”

Since Wicked Weed is both a brewery and a restaurant, Saunders' kitchen creations could wind up both on plates and in glasses. Luke and Walt are working on a saison brewed with sweet potatoes, grits and local honey. Saunders will cook up the Southern staples for use in the brewery downstairs.

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