Minute details and medium plates: Chestnut opens downtown

Second course: Corner Kitchen owners Joe Scully (left) and Kevin Westmoreland (right) collaborate again with Chestnut.

Joe Scully swears his goal is simplicity. This week, he opens Chestnut, his second Asheville restaurant with partner Kevin Westmoreland. “We're really going to keep it simple and do it as well as we possibly can,” he says.

But his work on the space has focused on details. His deep affection for his new venture and the people it will feed might be a simple feeling, but it's no trivial sentiment.

“It falls into all the things that I believe as a person,” he says. “It's not what you do, but how you do it. It's about integrity; it's about honesty, all those things. And we bring that.”

As he moves about the new Biltmore Avenue space that opens Thursday, Sept. 27, he explains each detail, from the door handles to the oak and chestnut tables and panels to the bathrooms, with the pride and attentiveness of a father. “If you notice, right now, our voices aren't echoing because all along the top of this thing, we've installed acoustical panels, but they're very subtle, and you'd never notice them unless I pointed them out,” he says.

It's the small touches, the unnoticeable additions to Chestnut that make Scully grin. “It's a beautiful restaurant, and I want it to be accessible to a large demographic,” he says. The outcome of his efforts will be an accessible, affordable restaurant and bar: “The only dress code is: 'Please wear some clothing,'” he says.

Chestnut is Scully's second Asheville venture with Westmoreland. The pair also owns Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village. But the Biltmore Avenue building is really two projects in one. The street level, and former location of Ed Boudreaux's, houses the 130-seat restaurant and a full bar. The lower level, the one-time Highland Brewery space, is the new home of Corner Kitchen's catering outfit. It's a massive commercial kitchen with innumerable walk-in coolers and sinks and ice-cream makers. Scully laughs when asked about the amount of catering business that will be required to keep the kitchen busy.

In Chestnut's kitchen, Chef Matt Tracy, formerly of Colleton River Plantation Club in Blufton, S.C., dishes out what Scully calls “medium plates,” small, affordable portions with protein weights ranging from 1 to 3 ounces. “When you're finished eating, say, a medium plate and a dessert or a salad and a medium plate, you'll be out cheaper, but you won't feel as heavy,” he says. “If you go by the guidelines set forth by a nutritionist, your protein portion will be much lower than what Americans normally eat.”

Scully says a medium plate and a salad will cost less than $20, although the menu also includes larger entrees.

Scully styles the food as “eclectic American.” Seasonal medium plates include “Eggplant 'Spanikopita,'” ratatouille, tomato broth, skordalia, olive tapenade and basil chiffonade. There's also the “Lump Crab Filled Vietnamese Summer Roll” with peanut sauce and green papaya salad. For entrees, the dinner menu boasts “Roast Beef Tenderloin with Oxtail Strudel” and parsnip chestnut puree, glazed carrots and Swiss chard in addition to “Apple Glazed Sunburst Trout” with arugula and asparagus.

Brasstown Beef, Hickory Nut Gap farm meats and Lusty Monk Mustard represent regional food producers on the menu, although Scully says that local food should be a norm, not a selling point. “We'll use local stuff, but we're not going to say it a lot,” he says. “We're not going to call it a farm-to-table restaurant because that's an overused term, and I believe that if you're not farm-to-table in this city, you're not really in the game. So why tell people about it?”

Chestnut opens on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 48 Biltmore Ave. The restaurant will serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. It offers a full bar with 14 beers on tap. Monday through Saturday, Chestnut opens at 11 a.m. On Sunday, brunch begins at 9 a.m. The kitchen closes in the evening around 10 or 11 p.m., depending on the volume of customers.

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