Consider the lobster … corn dog.
Actually, let's back up: Have you even heard of a lobster corn-dog? It may be chef Sam Etheridge's invention, and he's bringing it to Ambrozia Bar and Bistro, which opens this week on Merrimon Avenue (just south of Beaver Lake).
At his new restaurant (which is actually a reincarnation of an eatery he owned in Albuquerque, N.M.), Etheridge offers full-flavor starters, small plates and suppers with playful twists. “I definitely like to have a little sense of humor with it,” he says, explaining the half-joke, experimental origin of the lobster corn-dog — a lobster, scallop and shrimp sausage, battered, deep fried and served with Lusty Monk mustard and wasabi ketchup.
Other menu items are a little less daring but equally twisted. A salad of watermelon, basil and feta cheese also includes pickled jalapeños and vanilla-bean vinaigrette. A dish called “pork & beans” comes from Etheridge's kitchen as ravioli stuffed with braised pork cheek and served with a salad of kale and barbecue-dressed legumes.
While Etheridge is excited about the food, he doesn't want his guests to feel obligated to eat dinner, he explains. The restaurant, in the former Artisan Deli space, should function as both bar and restaurant. “We want to make it really a neighborhood place,” he says. “We're definitely going to be about the food, but we want people to come in and feel like they can just have a drink.”
He lives within walking distance of the restaurant and hopes north Asheville will develop a neighborhood feel separate from downtown as the city grows. He says he's been pulling in visitors to the neighboring businesses to gauge their reactions to the space, which has undergone substantial cosmetic upgrades, most notably a raised ceiling. “Most people that come by are all pretty surprised when they walk in,” he says.“The real struggle is trying to make it seem like you're not in a boxed-in strip mall.”
With its colorful bar of old wine cases and abundant track lighting, the restaurant combines elements of a big-city night club with the charms of a hole-in-the-wall eatery. Etheridge hopes it will be whatever diners want to make of it, he says, but certainly not upscale or special occasion.
The restaurant opens with a full bar and dinner from 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, but weekend brunch is on the horizon. Expect four courses, prix fixe-style, for about $20, Etheridge says.
For more information about Ambrozia, 1020 Merrimon Ave., visit ambrozia-avl.com or search for Ambrozia Bar + Bistro on Facebook.