Flea markets, Pho and ful medames

Foodies, take note. The Downtown Market continues in its effort to offer an ever-widening selection of culinary treats. From Asheville's first Vietnamese bistro, to the Mediterranean flavors of Ali Baba, to piping-hot empanadas, the market's Culinary Campus food court is starting to make a splash on Asheville's already varied restaurant scene.

Full flavor: Downtown Market owners Bobby Potts (left) and Josiah Hyatt (right) await the new food vendors at the Culinary Canvas food court. Photos by Jonathan Welch

Not familiar with the Downtown Market? It's worth a look. Located at 45 South French Broad Avenue, it houses the discount grocery Amazing Savings, the Hi-fi Coffee Bar with its selection of coffees, teas and paninis, a flea market and local vendors selling everything from shaved ice to handmade soap — and soon, Pho.

The announcement of the arrival of Vietnamese food is exciting — imagine tucking into a sinus-searing noodle bowl post-bender, a la Anthony Bourdain.

The new venture, Pho Fusion, is set to open mid-August. The culinary mind behind the restaurant, chef Tru Phan, is new to Asheville, but boasts 30 years of experience in exclusive high-end resorts throughout the world, says Pepper Parris, marketing director of the Downtown Market.

A silent partner also involved in the venture has extensive experience in the field of restaurant design and event planning, including major resorts and theme parks around the world.

Aside from his skill in the kitchen, chef Tru Phan can apparently boast dexterity with power tools; in his spare time, this chef is a chain saw-wielding ice carver. He plans to show off his skills at the grand opening of the restaurant, and eventually may offer carving lessons at the Downtown Market, according to Parris.

Tru Phan and his partner appear to be blessed with business savvy as well; according to Parris, the duo intends to keep their brand of culturally true Vietnamese at an affordable price in response to a still-staggering economy. Identifying Asheville's need for more cost-effective, varied and authentic ethnic food, the team plans to open similar venues in the Asheville area in the future.

For now, however, the focus is on serving Vietnamese favorites like traditional Pho, spring and summer rolls, Vietnamese hoagies, vermicelli and Vietnamese-style fried rice. Pho Fusion will also feature traditional French-Vietnamese desserts.

Pho Fusion will be open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. If the venture is popular, says Parris, it will be open seven days a week until at least 7 p.m.

The good news doesn't end there. Remember Ali Baba, the Mediterranean food-by-the-pound restaurant formerly located in the Grove Arcade? In June of 2005, the Xpress food section featured the eatery, a buffet-style establishment opened by the Ali’s, a family from Alexandria, Egypt.

Many, like myself, were a bit distraught when the buffet-style restaurant closed a few years back — Ali Baba turned out fresh and very affordable made-from-scratch classics like hummus, baba ganouj and chicken kabobs, as well as Egyptian street-food favorites like the fava stew, ful medames.

We can take heart, however, because Ali Baba is coming back, this time to be located in the much more affordable (in terms of rent) Downtown Market. It’s easy to imagine that the extra breathing room will be of some comfort to the culinary family as well; during the Grove Arcade days, Ali Baba was wedged into an impossibly small space — you try serving the masses out of a 250-square-foot room without at least some anxiety.

Ali Baba will be open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Hungry now? Take heart. The Downtown Market already has food seven days a week; the Hi-fi Cafe, with its quick, light fare, is open daily, from 10 a.m. through 7 p.m., "So there is always good food at the Downtown Market," says Parris.

For more information about the Downtown Market, visit downtownmarketasheville.com.

Send your food news to food@mountainx.com.

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