Imagine the kind of restaurant that serves caviar: It has crystal and thick carpet, people in evening clothes, banquet-style seating.
“It seems really expensive, but we’re not really making much money off it,” says Matt Dawes, chef and co-owner. “If I told you, you’d think it was silly. We just want to have it.”
So what kind of place is it? The Bull & Beggar offers an Old World wine list and large-format dining that would satiate the Greatest Generation (pick any literary figure you like), along with contemporary snacks and small plates.
Yet to get there, you have to traverse the gravel of Payne’s Way and climb onto the loading dock behind the Wedge building. It’s luxury you can’t help but appreciate, such is the contrast between the railroad tracks outside and the food within.
Inside, the restaurant has the high ceilings and mirrors you might expect of dining with a capital ‘D,’ but everything else is warm-colored wood, brick and plaster. The round tables on the ground floor (there are also a couple of tables in a lofted area) look like they came from your best friend’s mom’s kitchen.
There aren’t many tricks here, just really classic dishes in an atmosphere that’s easy to understand.
“I never really felt like I was too much of a Young Turk,” Dawes says. “I don’t make up new things. I feel more like a craftsperson than an inventor.”
In that spirit, he’s bringing back the filet mignon, which has fallen out of favor in recent years because of its low fat (and therefore, flavor) content.
But what’s more, he’s improving it. “We’re serving it with a 2-inch pipe marrow bone with a spoon in it and Madeira sauce made from lots and lots of veal bones that also has marrow mounted into it as well,” he says. “So all the flavor that you’re missing in the filet mignon that you might find in a rib-eye, we’re putting back on the plate.”
If the filet still doesn’t seem redeemable, try a bowl of periwinkles. Yes, those are the tiny snails you find on the beach, and they’re mighty fun to eat. “You get a little pile of periwinkles, and they’ve been blanched,” he says. “Then, you get a wine cork with pushpins stuck in the cork. …You take the pin and you just sort of fish them out of their shell, dip them in mayonnaise and eat them off the pin. They’re just one bite.”
The menu is large for a new restaurant, but Dawes and his business partner, Drew Wallace, who also co-owns The Admiral, have been working on the concept for about two years.
The menu is bold and simple yet unapologetically luxuriant. Prices fall between $3 and $100. Is that range allowed? Dawes and Wallace believe they can pull it off.
“I think we have gleaned valuable information about what Asheville diners are expectant of, tolerant of, looking for, excited about, both tourists and locals,” he says. “I think a restaurant can’t have a real personality unless the owners decide to actually draw some lines in the sand.”