Editor’s note: In this two-part series, correspondent Micah Wilkins checks in with some of the many restaurants that opened in Asheville last year. Look for the second installment next week.
More than a dozen new restaurants opened throughout Asheville in 2013, adding even more to the city’s lively restaurant scene. With the beginning of the new year, XPress checked in with some of the restaurants’ owners and chefs to see how things are going after their first few months in business. (photos by Alicia Funderburk)
The real deal: Pizza Pura co-owner Laura Reuss, pictured, and her husband, Ben Mixson, are committed to serving authentic Neapolitan-style pizza. (Alicia Funderburk/ Mountain Xpress)
Pizza Pura is serious about pizza. White Duck Taco owners Laura and Ben Mixson opened their new restaurant in April with the intent to honor the Neapolitan style of pizza-making, which requires high-quality ingredients and a specific, consistent technique for making dough, cheese and sauce. “Once you’ve had a serious, legitimate Neapolitan pizza, it’s a fantastic thing,” says Ben Mixson.
Pizza Pura has become a popular spot in the River Arts District and is growing daily. But as with any new restaurant, Ben says, “it’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of stress. It has been difficult for us.” As things slow down in winter, the Mixsons hope to get some rest, take a step back and look at the big picture of where Pizza Pura is going as a restaurant.
It is likely that the Mixsons will open yet another restaurant in Asheville in the near future, but for now, the couple are focusing on developing Pizza Pura, Ben says, “to make sure it’s a good piece of the River Arts fabric.”
342 Depot St. pizzapura.com
Food of the gods: Ambrozia Bar and Bistro owner Sam Etheridge named his restaurant with a nod to his native state. The “zia” in the name refers to New Mexico’s zia sun symbol. (Alicia Funderburk/ Mountain Xpress)
Ambrozia Bar and Bistro
In small ways, Chef Sam Etheridge has managed to bring some New Mexico flair to his new restaurant in North Asheville. Ambrozia Bar and Bistro not only boasts some Southwestern dishes like the vegetarian enchilada with molé sauce, but it also carries a piece of New Mexico in its name. In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia is the word for the food of the Greek gods, but Etheridge’s version carries within it the word “zia,” which refers to the zia sun, the symbol for New Mexico.
Before Etheridge and his wife moved to Asheville from Albuquerque 2 1/2 years ago, they owned two restaurants, one of which was also called Ambrozia. But Etheridge says that other than the name, there are not many similarities between their old restaurant and the new location. The menu changes constantly and largely depends on what is in season. Some Southern specialties are also featured at Ambrozia, including the beef short ribs braised in Cheerwine.
Since opening in June, Ambrozia has seen a lot of success and growth, and has already gained some regulars from North Asheville. According to Etheridge: “We wanted to provide the downtown restaurant experience, but in this neighborhood.”
1020 Merrimon Ave. Beaver Lake Shopping Center. ambrozia-avl.com
Veggie friendly: Cuban corn is among the many vegetarian menu items at the Local Taco. (Alicia Funderburk/ Mountain Xpress)
The Local Taco
For the past two months, the Local Taco on Lexington Avenue, has been trying to recover from the “rocky start” it had when it opened in June, says Lisa McCarthy, the current general manager. Changes in the executive chef and management positions at the Local Taco just four months after the restaurant opened made for a turbulent beginning, but with new Executive Chef Justin Wesley, the food is “800 times better and more consistent,” she says.
This “Tex-Mex fusion” restaurant, as McCarthy calls it, buys as many local (within 100 miles) ingredients as possible, and everything is made in-house. Twelve different taco choices are available, three of which, like the avocado taco, are vegetarian. The menu’s vegetarian and vegan options will continue to expand, says Wesley, who has lived in Asheville long enough to know that meat eaters are not as prominent here as they are in a place like Nashville, where the first Local Taco restaurant opened. “[When we first opened in Asheville] we had pork belly and duck tacos, but I took those off the menu,” says Wesley. “I try to cater more to vegetarians and vegans. … We know Asheville really well. We’re trying to bring in the crowd that is Asheville.”
68 N Lexington Ave. thelocaltaco.com
Early Success: Isa’s Bistro Executive Chef Duane Fernandes acknowledges that although Isa’s got off to a great start, the first year is always “a bit crazy” for restaurants. (Alicia Funderburk/ Mountain Xpress)
People-watching is exceptionally enjoyable in Asheville, and patrons of Isa’s Bistro, on warmer days, are able to bask in this enjoyment on the new restaurant’s outdoor patio, on “one of Asheville’s most interesting intersections,” says Isa’s general manager, Jason Cancilla. While eating the “new American” cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients, “people spend hours out [on the patio] taking in the street musicians and everything that makes Asheville Asheville.”
When the restaurant opened in May, it experienced early success, in part due to its event space, which can accommodate up to 80 people. But Duane Fernandes, the executive chef, admits that “the restaurant business is always a bit crazy — especially the first year — and we are no exception.”
Cancilla, who has helped open six different restaurants in the past, says, “We have come up to speed well ahead of what is usually expected.” He adds that Isa’s tall ceilings, original architecture, large space, outdoor patio and free valet parking all make the restaurant unique.
1 Battery Park Ave. sasbistro.com
Meating spot: Farm Burger puts its emphasis on serving high-quality, all-natural beef, pork and chicken. (Alicia Funderburk/ Mountain Xpress)
Farm Burger, a not-your-typical-farm-to-table burger joint, opened in downtown Asheville in April, just in time for a “slamming summer,” says Executive Chef Chad Campbell. “You can’t beat the location.”
Farm Burger is independently owned and has three other locations in Atlanta. “The food scene in Asheville is a good match for Farm Burger,” says Campbell. The main focus of the restaurant is its meat: The beef is 100 percent grass-fed, and free of hormones and antibiotics; the pork is pasture-raised; the chicken is all-natural. All of the meat comes from Athens, Ga., and from Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview. The restaurant’s menu also boasts local vegetables and fruits in its salads and soups, and has some meatless options, too, like a vegan burger.
Attracting tourists and locals alike this past summer, business has slowed down a bit in the colder months, but the smaller crowds and shorter lines offer more of an opportunity for Asheville residents to get their dose of all-natural meat.
10 Patton Ave. farmburger.net/asheville/