Small Bites

The lovely space at the corner of Lexington and Walnut, with its stone courtyard and prime location, will soon be home to a new restaurant and bar. Rankin Vault cocktail lounge owner Joel Hartzler, along with Vault partner Chad Smoker and builder Gerald Beal, are opening The Southern in the former Old Europe location.

Southern Boys: Joel Hartzler (left) and Gerald Beal (right) are opening a restaurant on the corner of Laexington and Walnut in downtown Asheville. Photo by Jake Frankel

Why the Southern? Hartzler says that the building was constructed for the Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph Company. “Over two of the doors it says ‘Southern Bell Tel. and Tel. Co.’ We sort of like embracing the history of the building, not unlike [the Vault],” says Hartzler. His existing cocktail lounge on Rankin is housed in an old bank building — and makes use of the actual bank vault for a lounge area. Of naming his new restaurant after a telephone company building, Hartzler unintentionally puns, “It has a nice ring to it.”

The main dining room, featuring a 20-foot bar, will hold about 50 seats. The patio in front of the building has additional seating capacity for about as many people. “It depends on how friendly you want to get,” says Hartzler.

“We will be more of a restaurant than the Vault,” Hartzler says, though he admits that there are some challenges to overcome. The Southern’s kitchen is equipped with a hood system that doesn’t allow for grilling or frying — or any sort of open flame. 

To come up with creative ways to meet these challenges, the team hired Terri Roberts, a chef whose resume includes stints in Chicago’s Avec and North Pond restaurants, as well as Asheville’s Table. Roberts reports that she will employ slow-cooking methods like sous vide and braising to turn out menu items like a braised pork crostini with radish-carrot slaw, or a sous vide pork tenderloin with lady peas and collards.

Though those dishes carry a definite southeastern American slant, the menu will not necessarily stick to that theme. Think pan-southern: southern Italian, south Asian — and perhaps even the Faulkland Islands, the team jokes. “We don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing,” says Hartzler.

He also reports that the bar will serve signature drinks with all fresh juices, much like the Vault. In addition, there will be eight beers on tap, most of them locally brewed, “and a much more extensive wine list than the Vault has,” Hartzler adds. Full-table service will be available, as well. The price point, he maintains, will remain fairly low, or at least “significantly less” than many restaurants around town.

A back room, already equipped with a bar, can be used as an event space and potential music venue.

The Big House: Laurey Masterton points to where she was standing outside of the White House when she met Michelle Obama. Watch staff reporter Jake Frankel’s video of Masterton’s recap of her trip to D.C. on mountainx.com/dinin

Hartzler describes the Southern’s atmosphere as “comfortable.” Although he reports that the restaurant could hold more heads, he wants there to be a feeling of space in the dining room, so he won’t be installing as many tables as the room could potentially hold. “We want there to be elbow room,” Hartzler says.

Hartzler hopes that The Southern will be open before Bele Chere, the last weekend in July.

New plans for Old Europe

One of the former owners of the space that Hartzler is renovating, Melinda Vetro, is re-opening Old Europe — in a more streamlined fashion, and sans now-ex-husband Zoltan Vetro — a few blocks over at 13 Broadway. The space she is taking over was formerly occupied by the Sisters McMullen and briefly by Sugar Momma’s Cookies, next door to Suwana’s Thai Orchid.

“I’m going back to basics,” Melinda says. “I’ll have all of the desserts that we used to have at Old Europe when we used to be in the Flat Iron Building.”

She plans a more streamlined approach, referencing the former couple’s failed attempts to greatly expand Old Europe into a restaurant/club. The bakery and coffee-house moved from a cozy spot on Battery Park Avenue in 2006 into the building on the corner of Walnut and Lexington, and Melinda admits that the changes were overly ambitious. “We ended up buying high,” she says. “Construction (costs were) more than we had planned, and we had 40-something employees to start with. That was a big jump from five part-time girls. To manage 40 people and pay them, it was just more than we could handle.”

Meanwhile, Zoltan is “pursuing other interests,” says Melinda, who adds that the couple is amicably split. “We’re happily divorced after 18 years,” she says. “It took a toll on us, working together.” Zoltan has given all of the equipment, as well as the Old Europe name, over to Melinda so that she may restore the business to its original focus: a humble and comfortable coffee shop and bakery.

Chefs move to schools

In June, Laurey Masterton, restaurateur, cancer survivor and all-around powerhouse of a woman, was invited to the White House to join a coalition of chefs in a dialogue about Michelle Obama’s “Chefs Move to Schools” program. To spread the word about what the program means to her, Masterton held one of her monthly market dinners — intimate events where she serves food bought straight from the farmers across the street at the Wednesday French Broad Food Co-op Tailgate Market.

At this particular dinner, Masterton served roasted local chicken, a Thai-influenced cucumber salad, bread from Farm and Sparrow and a side dish of zephyr squash and young green beans.

Masterton talked briefly about the importance of visiting farmers markets, detailing a conversation that she had with a young farmer.

“I said to one of the farmers that we buy from regularly, ‘What do you want me to tell people? What’s important?’” said Masterton. “One of the women said, ‘Tell people to buy their weekly groceries at the Wednesday afternoon (French Broad) tailgate market.’”

Masterton also detailed her trip to the White House, discussing the “Chefs Move to Schools” program and her role in heading the local effort, as well as the ways in which local politicians are helping to support the movement. Xpress will be following the story as it develops.

Watch Masterton talk about her efforts in a video at mountainx.com/dining.

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

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