Sure, there are sad stories in the WNC restaurant scene; casualties of the past year include Southside Café, Nova and longtime Asheville favorite, Picnics. However, plenty of the hopeful are throwing themselves headlong (and bravely) into restaurant ownership. The overriding theme of most of these budding business? Most new restaurants seem to be geared toward affordability.
Green Light is a go
The Green Light Café recently opened in downtown Asheville on Lexington Avenue boasting a highly affordable menu with an average price point of approximately $7.50. The all-vegetarian and vegan cafe shares a common room with BoBo Gallery and wine bar, allowing for access to great food for bar goers (plus a late-night menu for the night owls), and drinks for the restaurant patrons when the bar is open.
Dishes offered include bean enchiladas with molé sauce, sweet potato patties over rice with peanut sauce and a pesto foccacia melt. A variety of smoothies can also be add, with additions like spirulina, alfalfa and barley grass. The entire menu is somewhat reminiscent of Max and Rosie's, a now-closed Lexington restaurant that for years served as a favorite haunt for vegetarians, now occupied by a gem-and-mineral store.
The Green Light Cafe is located at 18 N. Lexington. For more information, visit greenlightcafe.com, or call 250-3800.
The Simma Down Caribbean Café just recently opened on Market Street downtown, in the area formerly occupied by One Love. The restaurant is also surprisingly affordable, offering lunch plates laden with jerk chicken or pork and heaps of coconut rice and peas, greens and plantains — for the rock-bottom price of only $7. Chef/owner Sam Briggs says that the prices might go up eventually, but for now his aim is to draw customers through the front doors. The menu offers other traditional island dishes like salt-fish fritters, cassava fries and Jamaican patties — think Caribbean-style empanadas. Also offered are American classics ("for the less adventurous," chides the menu) like hamburgers and chicken strips.
Briggs says the aim of Simma Down is "to bring the real Caribbean-Jamaican style to Asheville — with the music, with the paint, with the architecture, with the food. We're trying to give people good food at a good price, and still make a little bit of money."
Briggs feels like he has his jerk recipe down pat — and indeed, it is quite good. "I grew up between Jamaica and North Carolina," says Briggs in a distinct patois. "Growing up, living in the ghetto of Jamaica, (that's where) I learned all this."
Briggs says that the chicken takes about four to five hours to cook, the pork somewhere between eight and 10. "I'm slow-cooking it in a smoker," he explains. A jerk snapper is cooked to order.
An Ital menu is also offered — a selection of vegetarian food that changes daily — described on the menu as "flavored by the coconut and blessed by Jah." Briggs says that the Ital menu is prepared using as many local and organic ingredients as possible. Briggs visits local farmers, he says, and spends time at the farmers markets buying vegetables for the restaurant. Outside of the Ital menu, Briggs says that he uses some Hickory Nut Gap meats as well.
"The food is cheap, it's really good — we're just trying to bring the style and the vibe here, and we hope that the people love it. We've got something for everybody here," he says.
Simma Down is located at 42 Market Street in downtown Asheville. For more information, call 252-8169.
It's hard to believe that we ever lamented the dearth of sandwiches in Asheville and the surrounding areas. With downtown newcomers like Roman's and Jackson Underground Café, as well as Frank's New York Deli in Arden joining favorites like Two Guys Hoagies, we have sandwiches aplenty. When nothing but a sandwich will do, we have these three new options in the Asheville area:
Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop has opened in downtown Asheville. Yes, it is a chain, but it's locally owned and offers delivery for their subs and sandwiches at pretty decent prices — a recent lunch for two, with tip included, cost just slightly over $10. Jimmy John's is located at 5 Biltmore Avenue. For more information, visit jimmyjohns.com, or call 505-8020.
Further in local sandwich news, 444 Gallery Cafe just opened in the old Ace Hardware building in West Asheville, right next to the I-240 entrance and exit ramps. The building has been renovated to provide retail options for food-related businesses like Short Street Cakes and the West Asheville Bakery, as well as a slew of local artists, jewelry-makers, potters and others in the creative community.
What of the food? Deli-style fare is available, with a selection of basic sandwich meats and cheeses, as well as simple salads. The specialty sandwiches are particularly eye-catching — what pork-lover doesn't like a good Italian grinder? This particular version has provolone, salami, pepperoni, hot capicola, ham, banana peppers and a spicy pepper spread.
444 Gallery Cafe is located at 444 Haywood Road, suite 102. For more information, visit 444gallerycafe.com. To talk to the owners about displaying arts and crafts, call 251-1510 to make an appointment.
Yet another sandwich shop recently opened in South Asheville. Gianni Panini is the work of Joe Scully and Kevin Westmoreland, who have teamed up with a third partner to form the new restaurant.
Gianni features fresh-made soups, gelato, salads, coffees and — yes — sandwiches of both the hot and cold variety.
Gianni Panini is located at 1 Boston Way in the Biltmore Village. As of press time, the restaurant did not have a web site, but can be followed on Twitter (@giannipanini) or Facebook. Call 505-1624 for more information.
New restaurant alert!
Via @frenchstfoodavl on Twitter: "Bouchon Street Food coming to Lexington Avenue soon. Get ready for crepes, frites, chien chaud, and quiche! Delicious!"
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