From the Usual to Avenue M
As some of you know, Kathy Taylor and Les Doss sold the beloved Usual Suspects to another couple earlier this year. Taylor and Doss passed on the popular Merrimon Avenue bar and eatery by choice. It was time to step out of the business, they said, to perhaps do a little traveling.
Of course, some in Asheville found the transaction disconcerting, or more accurately acted as though a favorite old friend had passed away. Xpress recently caught up with the new owners, Teri and Greg Siegel, to find out if any of this hand-wringing is necessary.
The Siegals are adamant on this point: No. "We have no intention of changing the vibe," says Teri. "It's a good vibe. That's what we were attracted to with this space. It had that urban feel. We love what Les and Kathy did to the place. Why mess with a good thing?"
Teri does acknowledge that she and her husband want to "put their own stamp” on the restaurant. To that end, they've re-covered all of the cushions and re-painted all of the booths and some of the walls. The lightly glittered gold-ish wall behind the bar is now covered with a large chalk board that clearly identifies the draught list and the bottled beers. Also, perhaps the biggest change of all, the Usual Suspects will soon be known as “Avenue M,” for the road on which it’s located.
Greg explains the changes — or lack thereof — thusly: "We're not really changing what they did; we're adding a restaurant,” he says. “Their place was perceived as a bar, and that's fine. We bought a bar in a great location with high visibility. We're expanding on their idea, not changing it. Our emphasis is adding a restaurant."
Well, what does that mean? Greg himself points out that the Usual already had a pub menu that was considered to be good for its genre. "We haven't taken that away, and we won't,” he assures Xpress. “But we're adding more conventional dinner items, vegetarian food, fresh fish … things you'd expect to see and be able to get in a restaurant."
"If there's a message to the world that knows the Usual Suspects,” he adds, “it’s that it's still here. Some paint colors have changed and the game room is gone."
That's right folks, the game room is gone. That marks a bit of an end of an era for those who used to crack out on Golden Tee and get tipsy into the wee hours while embedding dart points into the paint (wasn't me, I swear …). The wall that used to separate the game area from the dining area has been outfitted with a large window, which opens up the space nicely. The restaurant now offers Wi-fi as well.
The idea is to create a lounge atmosphere "with more comfortable seating," says Greg. He adds that few people were using the room for gaming, at any rate. As the Siegals put it, time and time again, they wouldn’t mess with a winning formula. "I didn't just fall off of a produce truck," says Greg.
Avenue M is open Monday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. The kitchen is open until "1:30-ish." Soon, the restaurant will be open on Sundays for lunch and dinner. Trivia night has been added Tuesdays from 7:30 until 9:15 p.m. Live music is coming soon, starting Dec. 4 with Carolina Rex.
For more information about Avenue M visit avenuemavl.com or call 350-8181.
A taste of India, just south of Asheville
Is Asheville turning into a new Indian food hotspot? Well, not exactly, but we are expanding on that front. We've got India Garden, Chai Pani, Mela and now, Cinnamon Kitchen. The new Indian eatery, which opened in Gerber Village in South Asheville Halloween day, is owned by the same group that owns India Garden.
Xpress recently visited for lunch, finding the place to be about one-quarter-full. Though the service was initially attentive, it became quite difficult to flag someone down once the food arrived. The salad that accompanied both meals at the table arrived sans dressing, and stayed that way until we were able to request some — near the end of the meal.
The food at Cinnamon, though, is a great lunch value, given that most of the dishes are under $10. Many of the platters are served with pakoras, rice, salad and roti, making for decent leftovers, especially for someone who tends to eat a light lunch. There's plenty to choose from — seafood, tandoori dishes, biryani with both vegetarian and vegan options. The wine list displays vegan-friendly wine selections as well.
Save a rather forgettable bland chutney that tasted, according to my dining partner, a bit like Smuckers, everything we sampled was flavorful and fresh. The chicken bhuna was deeply flavored, though my dining partner said he wished for a bit more heat. The very rich sabji korma, a vegetarian dish of mixed vegetables in a cashew cream sauce, was about as hearty a meatless meal as they come. The roti served with both meals was buttery and flaky, the pakoras were good and the salad composed of actual spring mix and not a pallid afterthought.
The verdict? South Asheville definitely needs more ethnic food — and Americanized Mexican and sushi’s been done to death. Cinnamon Kitchen provides solid, serviceable Indian food and fills a niche in its neighborhood.
Cinnamon Kitchen is located at 1838 Hendersonville Road in Gerber Village. For more information, visit ckcuisine.com or call 575-2100.
Sunny Side up
The co-owner of Sunny Point Café, April Moon, has somehow managed to pen two cookbooks in her spare time — time that we’re frankly amazed she has. The author of The Flying Biscuit Cookbook just released her second cookbook, Breakfast and Beyond: Comfort Food From Dawn to Dark. The new book offers recipes from Sunny Point that are “geared towards simplicity of execution and a maximum of flavor.”
The book is available at Sunny Point Café and Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville. Moon will host a book signing event at Sunny Point on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 2 to 5 p.m. Cookies and warm cider will be provided.
The Sunny Point Café is located at 626 Haywood Road in West Asheville. For more information, call 252-0055.
— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at email@example.com.