The perfect storm
There are a few recent restaurant openings of note. Storm Rhum Bar was watched with interest as it neared completion early this year, mostly due to the credentials of the business partners involved in the venture.
The restaurant is a collaboration between Tom Israel, David LeBoutillier and silent partner Jerry Scheer, all of whom have a considerable amount of restaurant experience under their belts. Israel, for example, is co-owner of Pack’s Tavern. LeBoutillier was a founding partner in several restaurants, including Charleston’s 39 Rue de Jean, McCrady’s and Poe’s Tavern. His consulting company, LeBoutillier Associates, was responsible for the creation and development of the Peninsula Grill, Hank’s Seafood, Canoe and others throughout the Southeast.
So, when Xpress talked to the group back in the winter with the heat not yet turned on in the frigid building, the ghosts of Vigne still lurking in the shadows, it was easy to be hopeful.
And Storm, open just in time for the spring season, does not disappoint.
Yes, the restaurant carries a nautical theme — but don't expect pirate garb, parrots or anything that remotely hints at island schmaltz. The tone is more of a suggestion. For example, the light fixtures, in jute netting and salvaged wire baskets, hint at crab traps and fishnets, but are classy enough to grace any modern home without being mistaken for something that belongs on a fishing rig.
The cocktail menu is breezy and inspired. Drinks like the Devil's Oasis, with rum, cayenne-infused honey and passionfruit, hold their own among some of the best drinks in town. And the East Indian Cocktail, a jalapeño- and serrano-spiked cucumber vodka drink with Bitter Truth bitters, cane syrup and cilantro is almost as good.
The menu is fun, solid and has some affordable options. Prices range from $4 for a small dish of mac and cheese with jalapeños and bacon to $17 for a local leg of lamb with couscous. There are natural-beef burgers for less than $10 and a cheese and charcuterie board showcasing a Three Graces tomme alongside a Wisconsin blue. The plate also features housemade patés, rillettes and more.
The menu also holds PEI mussels with chorizo, a hanger steak with chimichurri and a few variations of ceviche — simple fare with a hint of world influence. A three-dish section on the menu of "food in a jar" is plenty of fun — kimchee that's unique and crazy strong, a jar of bread-and-butter pickled shrimp, another of pimento cheese with sesame crackers.
And also this: You can now procure a plate of huevos rancheros — with house-made chorizo — in the wee hours in Asheville. The bar serves the dish until 1 a.m. on a late-night menu that kicks in at 10 p.m. That menu includes burgers, fish tacos, chef’s choice ceviche and ribs.
And out on the patio of Storm, there's seating for plenty with yellow picnic tables, reclaimed from a German beer garden, and a gas fireplace. For a very limited time, you can sip a Green Man-brewed Storm stout, an exclusive made for the restaurant in rum barrels. When it's gone, folks, it's gone.
Storm Rhum Bar is located at 125 S. Lexington Ave. For more information, visit stormasheville.com.
A bar with heart
Out in Weaverville, there's a new bar on the block. Jack of Hearts, owned by Joe Eckert who founded Jack of the Wood, opened up its doors late last month in an old firehouse Main Street.
The new pub serves a wide selection of beers on draft, local, regional and from far-flung regions — like Kalamazoo (where the fantastic Bell's beers are brewed). There's a full bar, too and a decent selection reasonably priced wines. I was happy to note that there's a $15 bottle of Aveleda Vinho Verde, for example. In fact, there are 9 bottles available priced at $21 or less.
The interior of the place is lofty but cozy and business seems brisk. (It is one of the few places open that late at night in the immediate area.)
The menu focuses on classic pub fare with a few twists. There are nachos with chili con queso, house made and grilled chicken wings and a fish sandwich. There's a plate of fish and chips that we didn't try because of the price — $15. There's a Rueben on rye, a Caesar wedge with grilled ciabatta, Prices range from about $4 for a bowl of soup to $23 for a rib-eye with mashed potatoes.
The Fire Starter is worth a shot if you like spicy. I balked when my friend wanted to order it. The bartender billed it as a "deconstructed flat bread pizza" which sounds a bit silly, but the dish works more than you would expect. The plate comes with a scoop of herbed goat cheese, grilled whole habañeros, lime wedges and a pile of Hawaiian pink sea salt. Sounds like an element's missing, right? As long as you can stand the heat of habeñeros, it's a very good flavor combination.
Storm and Jack of Hearts aren’t the only newcomers to the dining scene.
The Gourmet Chip Company has opened on 95 Broadway St., across from the Mellow Mushroom. The shop sells chips of all sorts — plantain, kettle-cooked potato, apple, etc. — piled in paper cones and topped with your choice of oozy goodies. Think creme frâiche, aiolis, fondue and caramel. For more information, visit gourmetchipcompany.com.
Vinsite also recently opened on Broadway St. in downtown Asheville. The wine shop, opened by Kathy Taylor and Les Doss, who used to own the Usual Suspects, focuses on natural wines. Check out the Vinsite website for information about the types of wines the shop carries — it’s fun to play with and provides plenty of interesting material for the curious oenophile. (vinsiteasheville.com)
And Beans and Berries at 165 Merrimon Ave., has closed. Owners Paige and Dan Scully also own Scully’s Signature Dine and Drink on Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Scully’s will remain open.
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