Small Bites

Kava bar is coming

A family-owned kava import company has decided to open a kava bar in downtown Asheville, in Lexington Station on South Lexington Avenue. The Vanuatu Kava Bar will open in May, and will feature kava tea, a South Pacific favorite made from the powdered root of the kava plant. The word kava translates to "intoxicating pepper" in Latin, and the plant is known for its relaxing, anti-anxiety properties. In addition to kava elixirs, Vanuatu Kava Bar will serve light, island-themed food. The South Pacific-inspired menu will stay light, as kava is an appetite suppressant. It will feature kabobs, yams and other simple, native-style foods available to snack or to "mouthwash" after drinking a bowl of the earthy-tasting kava. 

Raising the bar: bartender Mark Porter mixes up libations at the Phi Bar, a cocktail bar with some good eats tucked into the back of the Hotel Indigo lobby. Photos by Jonathan Welch

The "Community Kava Museum" will be located within the bar, and will host "kava-squeezing classes" that focus on how to make the drink from the plant's powdered root. Vanuatu Kava Bar will also carry various South Pacific fair-trade cultural artifacts, native music, information and books on kava.

One of only a handful of authentic "nakamal" kava bars in the country (where kava is the featured drink, and no alcohol is served), Vanuatu Kava Bar benefits from the advantage of having a direct connection to ample supplies of fresh kava through their associated import business. The owners of the bar have a wholesale connection to Tanna Kava, purported to be the world's strongest variety.

The bar owners plan to serve food from 11 a.m. until about 7:30 p.m., when the menu will shift to drinks only until midnight — though fruit "chasers" will be available. The owners of Vanuatu Kava Bar feel like there need to be more activities for late-night teetotalers. "I've got nothing against booze; I love the stuff," says owner Andrew Procyk. "Sometimes I want to stay out late and do something relaxing and peaceful and not drink liquor; you try that in a bar — the only places open late —and you might look silly. You do that here, and it is where you belong."
For more information, contact Andrew Procyk at

Stamp out hunger

Do you have cans of corn and peas collecting dust in the pantry? Did you accidentally purchase crunchy peanut butter when the family prefers creamy? Here's a chance to spring-clean your pantry while benefitting your community. Saturday, May 8, marks the 18th year of of the nation's largest single-day food drive, Stamp Out Hunger, presented by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Though thousands of local post offices will be participating in the program, some are unable to. To find out for sure whether your letter carrier is participating, search the USPS Web site ( for the contact information for your local post office. If the post office in your community is participating, sometime in the near future you will receive a postcard reminder in the mail, as well as a bag for donations. You may also choose to sign up to receive email reminders by visiting On May 8, fill the provided bag with nonperishable food donations and leave it by your mailbox for your mail carrier to pick up. According to the MANNA FoodBank newsletter, "The demand for emergency-food assistance continues to outpace MANNA'S ability to meet the need, making food drive donations more vital than ever." Volunteers are also needed to help with this year's drive.

Banking on it: Manna FoodBank volunteers help to process donated food. On Saturday, May 8, area postal workers will collect food for the organization.

Since the drive's inception in 1993, mail carriers have collected more than 909 million pounds of food from postal customers. The NALC wishes to remind participants to donate items like canned meats, fish, soup, juice and vegetables,  pasta, cereal and rice. Expired items and donations in glass containers will not be collected.

To offer assistance or for more information, call 288-3663. Visit for more information.

Phi Bar springs forward

Been to the Phi Bar at Hotel Indigo yet? It might be worth a visit. It's a neat little space, tucked into the back of the hotel lobby with a white Silestone bar top and slick, modern lines. There's a nice outside seating area as well. Sure, the lighting is a little harsh in the bar and lobby area, but the food is surprisingly good.

"Our cuisine is best characterized as New American/French-fusion with a focus on small plates portions and elegant, modern presentations," says food-and-beverage manager Gabe Fore. "We continually strive to find the balance between gourmet, high-end fare and affordable pricing." To that end, Phi Bar just recently released a new spring menu peppered with small-portion items like a fried green tomato napoleon layered with fresh basil and mozzarella, or sage-and-prosciutto-wrapped shrimp served with scallion aioli. The menu also features plenty of locally sourced items, including Sunburst Trout and Hickory Nut Gap pork.

That trout finds its way into a fennel-and-cucumber ceviche dish that is served over a simple arugula salad with crostini. That pork is slow-cooked, pulled and piled on flat bread with caramelized onions, smoked Cheddar and espresso barbeque sauce to make an intriguing, rustic pizza.

On my visit to the bar, I tried a chef's special of sautéed local trout with roasted potatoes and ramp butter served with a salad of mesclun greens coated with a citrus vinaigrette — definitely good. Also on the must-try list, at least for dessert lovers, is a house-made key lime pie with a gingery crust.

Bartender Mark Porter says that the Phi Bar hopes to see more and more locals stopping through to grab a drink after work, or a quick snack on the way to the nearby Civic Center. Local traffic, however, has been increasing little by little, he says."We want Asheville folks to come through, and the response has been really good," says Porter. "Drink specials have definitely helped to get local folks in." The Phi Bar is located on the first floor of Hotel Indigo at 151 Haywood St. in downtown Asheville.

For more information, visit or call 239-0239.


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