Small Bites

Tall order: Gary Brill, the tall Gary for which Tallgary’s is named, stands in front of Tallgary’s Pub, which reopens as Tallgary’s Cantina this week. Photos by Jonathan Welch

From pub to cantina

Haven’t been to College Street Pub in a while? The downtown Asheville bar and restaurant is about to undergo quite a change. Former airline pilot, Gary Brill, took over the pub last year after moving to Asheville from Budapest, where he played in a blues band and ran two pubs. Brill, 6'4" and nicknamed “Tall Gary” by a family friend's toddler, changed the name of the business to Tallgary’s College Street Pub, and immediately got to work on cleaning up its image. And now, Brill’s turning the pub into a Mexican eatery.

At one time, the building at 4 College St. housed a kinder, gentler College Street Pub, a decent hangout for mostly early-20-somethings. In that stage of my life, I remember buying cheap-ish local pints (which only included Highland, at the time) and playing pool on rather nice tables. A DJ would spin reggae on certain nights, and I remember only a fight or two breaking out — no more than any other bar. And certainly excusable given the young crowd.

At some point in the decade-plus since then, the bar gained a bad reputation. Or maybe it always had one, and I grew up. Whatever the case, I wasn't there to witness the slide.

Neither was Brill, and as far as he’s concerned, it doesn't matter. He intends to make sure that Tallgary’s Cantina turns the locale into a nice place to knock back a few pints again.

Brill was renovating the 4 College St. property at press time, painting the walls and ceiling, refreshing the bathroom ("Gutting is more like it," he says). He's also overhauling the menu to fit the new name. By the time you read this, the restaurant should be open.

Tallgary's Cantina will turn out fajitas, fish tacos, quesadillas and a selection of salads. There's also Tex-Mex style chili as well as Chili Colorado on the menu — and everything costs less than $10. Brill seems especially pleased to present his recipe for shrimp and corn fritters on his new menu, something he picked up while he was in Hawaii. "It's a little labor-intensive, but it's very, very good."

There's also a selection of grilled specialties, says Brill, including grilled salmon, tuna and flank steak, flavored with a family recipe marinade. Brill says that he'll also serve fried ice cream.

As Brill describes his Mexican pub-style menu, he waxes nostalgic a bit about his past.

"I'm dying to do a crab enchilada as part of our menu, and people are saying that it's kind of unusual," he says. "But, I was flying for a little airline down in San Diego. For lunch, when I was doing office stuff, I could run down and get a nice big crab enchilada and a cold mug of beer for $5, and ever since then, I've just loved crab enchiladas." He says that those enchiladas were a big hit at one of the bars he operated in Budapest.

Brill is proud of the overhaul he's done to the place, and looks forward to welcoming people back to the newly renovated, sparkly clean Tallgary's Cantina. It's a far cry from the College Street Pub. "It's a whole different atmosphere in here," Brill agrees.

Tallgary's Cantina will be open Wednesday through Sunday until the weather gets warmer, and then will only close on Mondays. Brunch is featured on Saturdays and Sundays, with a Bloody Mary bar and Champagne specials. There's a full liquor bar, as well as beer and wine. Tallgary’s features live music and karaoke Wednesdays. For more information, visit tallgarys.com.

Paula Deen at Harrah’s Cherokee

Cook, restaurateur, Food Network personality, wearer of big hair, user of butter — you know her best as Paula Deen. And she’s opening a new restaurant at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. According to Deen’s website, the Paula Deen Buffet at Harrah’s Cherokee will be a “404-seat restaurant featuring an á la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner, and will be reminiscent of the décor and ambiance of Paula Deen's home and kitchen in Savannah,” with a an 1,800-square-foot Paula Deen retail shop near by. The restaurant opens on Saturday, Jan. 22, with Deen herself leading a cooking demonstration and taking audience questions. 5 p.m., $15-$40. Reservations at 800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com.

West side continues to grow

West Asheville, knock it off. You're about to get yet another awesome restaurant. This one's opening in the River Arts District in the Hatchery building at 1 Roberts St. The Hatchery is being renovated by owner John Bryant and turned into a hive of six artist studios with a gallery/office space and a central courtyard — and a taqueria.

The tiny taco joint will be known as the White Duck Taco Shop. It's being opened by Ben Mixson and his fiancée, Laura Reuss, who will handle kitchen duties.

"It will be nice to provide a casual option over there. We think that concept will work there. And the prices will be cheap," says Mixson. And how. Mixson says that the tacos will cost somewhere in the vicinity of $2.50 to $3.25 each, with fish tacos a bit more expensive.

Just tacos, Xpress asks? "We're working on our green chili cheeseburger recipe right now," says Mixson. "She and I just moved here from Utah, so we like the Southwestern style — we like the chilis, we like the spices, a little bit of heat. Everything will have that twist to it."

Mixson adds that there will be a salsa bar that will challenge most people’s idea of salsas.

Building owner Bryant says that the plans are not yet solid for the Hatchery — he expects that things will continue to evolve as details solidify. Xpress will keep you posted as the story unfolds. Visit hatcherystudios.com for more information.

Middle-East comes to the south side

South Asheville now boasts a Middle Eastern restaurant. Palmyro Bistro opened late last year, serving a selection of Greek, Italian and authentic Mid-East cuisine (mixed with a little American) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Middle Eastern platters of note include fava beans, baba ganoush, shawarma, falafel (which our vegetarian photographer raved about), kibbeh and something called Syrian everyday salad, with tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and lemon.

There’s also a selection of Italian dishes to be had, and straight-up hamburgers for those who don’t want to stray too far from the norm. Breakfast features a rather American spread of hot cakes, egg dishes and biscuits.

Palmyra Bistro is located at 1950 Hendersonville Road, Unit 5, in the Skyland Crest Shopping Center. For more information, visit palmyrobistro.com or call 687-0629.

— Send your food news and story ideas to food@mountainx.com.

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