Small Bites

Seeds of change: Leslie Armstrong, Jason Sellers and Alan Berger are opening a new vegan restaurant this summer where Beans and Berries used to be on Merrimon Avenue. photos by Jonathan Welch

Planting a different seed

It didn't take long for the building at 165 Merrimon Ave. recently vacated by Beans and Berries to get snatched up. Longtime Laughing Seed chef Jason Sellers is joining former Rosebud Video owners Alan Berger and Leslie Armstrong to open a completely vegan restaurant there that they’ve decided to call "Plant."

Why Plant? "Because 'plant' is food to us," Sellers says. "It's the most rudimentary expression of what food is. It's sustenance and the core of our expression. Everything here will be plant-based."

To the partners, Plant expresses a philosophy of animal-product-free living and a celebration of good food.

"We're thrilled," Armstrong says. "It's so exciting to be able to take all of the things that are important to us and create this new entity. And, to be able to partner up with Jason … how much better could you get?"

Plant, as you may imagine, will focus on all things local and seasonal.

"That's our ethic, and it's great that the entire partnership can be completely on the same wavelength," says Sellers, who adds that he doesn't want Plant to be pegged as a typical vegan restaurant.

"We will serve flavor-sophisticated, multiculturally influenced food, using techniques that we like the best to intensify flavors based on what's available to us at the best time," he says. "The emphasis is food from the ground up. It's exciting for us to be unique among restaurants in Asheville, as well as unique among vegetarian restaurants in Asheville."

If you're having a hard time envisioning what all of that really means, you may not be alone. That's because the chef, trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, tightly intertwines his culinary creations and his life philosophies. Fortunately, Sellers is not all talk.

Plant's menu will be kept small enough to enable great attention to detail, he says, with fresh vegetables in the spotlight.

The restaurant also will have a char-grill. "Smoke and flame is something that's really important to me, especially with vegan food," says Sellers, who expects to include menu items like smoked potatoes and other dishes with "over-the-top" flavors. The chef will nod to his Italian heritage with seitan marsala and polenta dishes. He will also make his coconut-milk ice cream and other desserts, as well as pizzas and baked goods.

"I think we'll just really surprise people with increasing the level of vegan food and offering what they may not have expected," says Armstrong, who admits to a healthy addiction to Sellers’ ice cream.

"The menu is a hit list of all of our favorite flavors," adds Sellers. "Our goal is lots of grilled and sautéed and cook-to-order vegan food."

Weekend brunches will feature pancakes and yeasted Belgian waffles. "We want to take vegan brunch to a whole new level," Sellers says.

Plant will offer a beverage menu of beer, wine and house-made sodas infused with fruit and local herbs. Champagne cocktails will be available, but no liquor will be offered.

The building’s drive-through window will be used for takeout orders, but the business partners emphasize that Plant should not be seen as competition to VegHeads Drive-Thru. On the contrary, the two businesses should complement each other. "It's totally different," says Sellers. "We're going for coursed-meal elevated food that's accessible and done on such a small scale that we can stay connected to it."

Plant likely will open later this summer.

A taste of NYC in AVL

Circle in the Square Pizza and Deli specializes in New York style-pizza — think big, gooey slices that you have to fold in half to eat. Now the pizzeria/deli is opening a second location at 12 Biltmore Ave. in downtown Asheville. The building was left empty when The New French Bar folded earlier this year, remaining vacant ever since. The restaurant’s ownership team signed the lease on May 19.

"I couldn't begin to explain how excited I am," says Peter Estrada, one of the owners of the restaurant, along with his mother, Hilda Dietch, and her husband, Richard.

Estrada says the downtown Circle in the Square location will offer wine and draft beer at the bar that once served French Bar patrons. "We'll also have the courtyard open for outdoor dining," Estrada says. "Inside, we'll have plasma-screen TVs — not too many, but at least one in each main dining room for whatever games are on."

Estrada says that Circle in the Square will stay open late on Fridays and Saturdays — until 2 a.m. or and even later if the demand is there — to serve slices to the wee-hours revelers downtown.

The family is shooting for a mid-summer opening, in time for Bele Chere. "I think that people will hopefully be excited to see us down there. It gives them another option — they won't have to come all the way down Merrimon to have Circle in the Square pizza," says Estrada.

For more information, visit www.circleinthesquarepizza.com.

Mama mia, more restaurants!

Another new restaurant is coming to Biltmore Park Town Square. Brioso Fresh Pasta offers pastas and sauces, all made in-house or by the restaurant's Greenville location. Pastas made in-house include the "short pastas," like penne, gnocchi and gluten-free egg fusilli. The raviolis offered include a black-truffle variety, lobster and a butternut squash. The noodles can be mixed and matched with a number of sauces, including classic Bolognese, Alfredo, or a four-mushroom sauce.

"There are about 290 different ways that you can have your dish," says general manager Don Deubner. "People get overwhelmed, but there's no one way to do it right."

Diners will be able to get a look at the pasta-making process, with a pasta machine cranking out fresh noodles throughout meals. Pasta will then be hand-cut and prepared, also in view of the dining room.

In addition to pastas, pizzas are available, with gluten-free options as well. Salads will be made with organic greens, an offering selected specifically for the Asheville area.

Brioso Fresh Pasta has several South Carolina locations, including Clemson, Greenville and Anderson. Additional restaurants are planned, with the company eyeing downtown Asheville, says Deubner.

Brioso Fresh Pasta is scheduled to open in mid-June at 33 Town Square Blvd., according to the company’s website (briosopasta.com).

— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at food@mountainx.com.

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4 thoughts on “Small Bites

  1. ashevillain7

    Oh the sweet thin crust joy! Circle in the Square I hope you know how happy I am that we’ll finally have late night slices downtown!

  2. paul_randall

    I guess Asheville’s next goal is to be named “Food City USA” as well. C’mon down to the mountains, everyone! And don’t forget to bring your Masters Degree so you can place it on your wall at home while you serve tables for a living! Woo-hoo!

  3. Emily

    Barleys already serves late night slices. Right down the street from where the new Circle in the Square will be. Tough choice.

  4. ashevillain7

    Since when does Barley’s serve slices until 2am or later?

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