A century ago, French suburbanites favored spending lazy weekend days relaxing at outdoor drinking establishments called guinguettes. Captured on canvas by such painters as Renoir and Van Gogh, these merry gathering spots also served food and offered live music and dancing. Now, veteran Asheville restaurateurs Cecilia Marchesini and Stephane Diaz are reinventing this concept for the Western North Carolina crowd with La Guinguette, their new venture in Black Mountain.
“It sounds like baguette, but you add an ‘N’ and it becomes guinguette, and that’s how people can relate to it,” says Marchesini, who also operates Cecilia’s Kitchen on Merrimon Avenue along with the well-traveled Ceci’s Culinary Tour food truck.
Although Marchesini, originally from Argentina, was already plenty busy with her other two businesses, she found herself tempted when a customer urged her to consider opening a new eatery in a building he owned in Black Mountain. “Finally, I talked to my ex-husband and told him that if he would help, I’d do it,” she explains. The pair opened La Guingette in late November but are just now starting to focus on bringing the dining outside.
While still married, Diaz and Marchesini ran Café Soleil on Lexington Avenue, which closed in 2005. Now, a decade and a divorce later, they’re business partners in the Black Mountain undertaking. The arrangement isn’t much of a stretch, says Marchesini, as she and Diaz are friends and are co-parenting their 13-year-old son.
Diaz, who also does tile work, handled the renovation and décor of the wooden cottage on Richardson Boulevard. Although Marchesini says the rustic building seemed too dark to her at first, it now exudes warmth and charm with cheerful yellow paint accenting the dusky wood. A cozy wood, stone and stucco interior has also been brightened with splashes of yellow, and the back deck glows with turquoise and red.
Marchesini, meanwhile, does the food. The menu — mainly crêpes, empanadas and tamales — reflects both her own heritage and her long partnership with Diaz, who’s from France. She uses her mother’s empanada recipe, which hails from Argentina’s Mendoza region (each area of Argentina claims a different variation, ranging from sweet to savory). The crepes use a gluten-free, buckwheat recipe that’s traditional in Brittany. “For me, empanadas are like pizza: a regular everyday item,” says Marchesini. “I could eat it every day and never get tired of them.”
She even sometimes brings in dishes she learned from her late father — her family’s primary cook during her childhood — such as locro, a classic Argentine stew that’s similar to pozole.
Having regularly parked her food truck at the North Asheville Tailgate Market, Marchesini has formed relationships with numerous local farmers and now features many of their products on her menu, including produce from Ivy Creek Family Farm, eggs from East Fork Farm, Farside Farms sausage and pork from Beulah Farm. She says she wants to increase her partnerships with local businesses — especially in Black Mountain — and is seeking to expand her selection of local beers. She even mentions hopes of working with Pisgah Brewing Co. to create a special La Guinguette brew.
With the onset of spring imminent, Marchesini plans to fully embrace the restaurant’s name by moving outdoors. Landscaping is underway, with an eye toward featuring live bands and dancing in the evenings on the property’s spacious fenced backyard and deck. “That’s where the real guinguette will take place,” she says. She also aims to bring the party to the street by adding umbrella-sheltered café tables on the lawn out front. The open-air spaces should be ready to go by the beginning of April, weather permitting.
La Guinguette is at 105 Richardson Blvd., Black Mountain. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays. View the menu at laguinguettenc.com.