December delivers more new restaurants, an online marketplace for all things MIA and cyber-Monday meat.
Like most chefs, Randy Dunn has long dreamed of opening his own place. Two years ago, he began to home in on a concept, and on Oct. 21, after 28 years working in other people’s kitchens, his dream took flight with the opening of Zen Hen. The Hendersonville eatery serves house-made rotisserie, non-GMO chicken and build-your-own Buddha bowls.
“Health is top of mind for people these days, and there are not many fast-casual, healthy options out there,” says Dunn, explaining why the time felt right for Zen Hen. The menu, he continues, is gluten-free with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Customers can choose from eight bases, adding one of six proteins, four of two dozen add-ins (think spiced chickpeas, tamari almonds and edamame), top it off with one of six sauces and bada-bing, bada-boom: Buddha bowl. Popular items so far have been the chili-roasted cauliflower base and curry-roasted organic tofu — about 60 pounds of it a week.
Dun says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the immediate, enthusiastic response to Zen Hen. “It is gratifying to have an idea, see it come to life and get such positive feedback.”
Zen Hen, 1794 Asheville Highway, Hendersonville, avl.mx/8pm
A couple of years ago, Cheryl Antoncic visited Western North Carolina to hike with her dog and went back home to Connecticut with a proposal for her partner, Jamie “Bear” McDonald: to open the first location of their restaurant, Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, outside the Nutmeg State, where there are four.
“I saw this available spot in the South Slope,” says Antoncic. “There is such a great vibe in Asheville, so supportive of small business and so in tune with how we support community. It felt right.”
In 2018, the couple leased two buildings on Coxe Avenue that were previously owned by Mike Byers Auto & Truck Repair, but they put the project on hold while they opened their largest Bear’s location in New Haven, Conn.
Antoncic returned to Asheville for good in early 2020 with son and pitmaster Collyn McDonald, eventually firing up a COVID-revised plan for the space. Rather than invest in building out a restaurant that could not seat capacity, they instead drove their supersized food truck to Asheville and parked it at 135 Coxe Ave. with a permanent permit from the city. “We will not be moving the truck,” she explains. “It is the restaurant for now.”
One of the buildings on the property serves as a commissary kitchen for their Kansas City-style barbecue (Bear grew up in KC). The menu includes burnt ends, brisket and baby back ribs, as well as specialties like the MOINK ball — beef meatballs wrapped in bacon (moo-oink) — and the Bear Attack, cornbread topped with mac and cheese and choice of meat. “It’s our version of a bowl,” Antoncic says with a laugh.
Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, 135 Coxe Ave., avl.mx/8pn
Pair HomeGrown restaurant with Proving Ground Coffee Bar and behold: Home Ground Coffee Bar & Deli. A partnership between HomeGrown’s Mikki Loomis and Proving Ground’s Kendall Huntley (who also operates WhispersHoller Farms), Home Ground is now open in the former HomeGrown West site on Amboy Road in West Asheville.
“Mikki and I have been in this industry a long time, and we both have a good idea about food and flavor,” Huntley says. “This feels really good to get behind.”
Home Ground serves coffee drinks using Dynamite and Bean Werks beans; breakfast and lunch options are made with local breads (including gluten-free options), cheese, eggs, sausage and produce. Most importantly, the famous HomeGrown buttermilk fried chicken comes two ways at Home Ground: on a biscuit with apple butter for breakfast and with pickled onions, sweet pickles and horseradish honey mustard on a City Bakery bun for lunch.
“I’ve been around long enough to know not to make stupid decisions,” says Huntley. “The fried chicken had to be here.”
Home Ground is open daily with limited indoor as well as outdoor seating; plans are underway to add delivery, grab-and-go salads and sandwiches, and a small market.
Home Ground Coffee Bar & Deli 219 Amboy Road, avl.mx/8po
Thinking inside the box
When she lived in Iceland, Cassie Cosgrove worked for a company that delivered weekly boxes of organic produce imported from Europe. The pandemic brought her back to Western North Carolina, where she and her husband, a chef, had a cabin. Cosgrove also had an idea for her own business.
“I decided to reenvision the Iceland concept for something I thought was really valuable and important — to support local small businesses affected by the pandemic,” she explains.
AVL Box was launched in mid-September with a select number of partners providing products for locally sourced food boxes. Three set weekly boxes — Veggie, Essential and Pioneer — include fresh produce with the opportunity to add other items like honey, chocolates, jams, pickles, relishes, kimchi and hot sauces. There are also specialty boxes, such as the Dynamite for Dynamite Coffee fans, or customers can just think outside the box and create their own.
Current farm partners are Sleight Family Farm, Mighty Gnome Market Garden and newly added Culinary Gardener. “As we grow, we will look to [the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project] to help steer us to other farms we can source from,” says Cosgrove.
Membership is not required. The deadline to place an order is Sunday at noon for Wednesday delivery in and near Asheville or pickup from brick-and-mortar locations in Hendersonville, Black Mountain and Brevard. There’s Thursday pickup available in Waynesville and Mars Hill.
This month, AVL Box will add gift certificates and introduce holiday gift boxes that can be delivered directly to recipients within the Asheville delivery area or to the purchaser to send a taste of Asheville to family and friends, near and far.
Find AVL Box at avl.mx/8pq.
Cyber Monday — it’s not just for electronics, toys and jewelry anymore. Add local, pasture-raised meat to the items available for purchase online and set your alarm for Hickory Nut Gap Farm’s first Give Thanks Sale, taking place Monday, Nov. 30, 12:01 a.m-11:59 p.m. Check Hickory Nut Gap’s social media sites for the link to buy breakfast sausage, ground pork, ground beef, packaged meat cuts and more. Curbside pickup will be available at the farm in Fairview 1-4 p.m. Dec. 10-13.
Hickory Nut Gap Meats, 57 Sugar Hollow Road, Fairview, avl.mx/8pr
Winter Match Challenge
Asheville Strong, a local nonprofit that supports independent businesses with resources and relief programs, recently launched its Winter Match Challenge. Through Friday, Jan. 15, a grant from the Wanda & James M. Moran Jr. Foundation will match up to $100,000 in donations to Asheville Strong. Money raised during the challenge will go toward the nonprofit’s Feed Our City program, which pays local restaurants to make meals for groups assisting families experiencing food insecurity.
To learn more, visit avl.mx/8o6.