Small bites: Chai Pani reopens with a fresh look

DANCING TIGERS: Co-owners Meherwan and Molly Irani stand before one of Chai Pani's new murals, painted by Asheville artist Luna Nunez. The updated eatery now features a full bar, a larger footprint in the dining room and access to its downstairs sister cocktail lounge, MG Road. Photo by Thomas Calder

When Chai Pani first opened downtown in 2009, executive chef and owner Meherwan Irani had just enough money to “slap on some paint, print some menus and call it a day,” he says. At the time, the former salesman-turned-restaurateur was entering unknown territory. He figured the five-year lease would likely bookend the start and end date of his new venture. “Now I’m seeing we’ve been here eight years, and we’ll probably be here for another 20,” he says.

Chai Pani closed in February for its first renovations. Before the makeover, the restaurant’s layout and appliances had not changed since the 1950s, when a pizzeria operated out of the space. And an extremely limited footprint posed problems for both staff and guests. “Also, of course, all of our other restaurants were built more recently than this one,” Irani says. “They look very intentional and beautifully curated. … This one felt out of sync with that.”

With the future in mind, Irani says it was time to “do it right.” In a matter of 30 days, walls and false ceilings came down, new plumbing and electric wiring were put in, a second restroom was installed, fresh murals and bright paint were added, and a passageway down the stairs to sister cocktail bar MG Road was created, allowing guests free access between the two spots. On Friday, March 2, the restaurant unveiled its refreshed look.

Along with the structural changes, the menu has also been updated, with additions including the Mumbai club sandwich, an Indian-themed, vegetarian take on the classic, and the pav bhaji, a vegetable curry that’s a ubiquitous street food in India.

The restaurant has also brought back its popular sloppy jai. And, in addition to food, the venue now offers full bar service as well.

“It’s really important to me that everything has a story,” says Irani. From the murals to the table décor, from the menu selection to the bathroom’s staff sanitation sign, all items relate to India in some fashion. Certain connections are obvious, others more subtle. “We don’t beat people over the head with it,” Irani explains. “But every now and then, someone goes, ‘Wait a minute — what’s up with that?’”

Chai Pani is at 22 Battery Park Ave. For hours and other details, visit chaipaniasheville.com.

Asheville Food Truck Showdown returns

At the fifth annual Food Truck Showdown on Saturday, March 24, two dozen vendors will compete for Best Overall, People’s Choice and VIP Tasters’ Choice awards. The final category will be decided by VIP ticket holders, while judges Mark Rounds, Stu Helm and Felix Meana will decide the Best Overall Food Truck. The event will feature live music, a kids zone, an artisan expo and a performance by the Ultimate Air Dogs. Attendees can donate cans of Ingles Laura Lynn products to a MANNA FoodBank food drive in exchange for tickets to a drawing for a $100 grocery gift certificate. One raffle ticket will be entered for every five cans of Laura Lynn products donated per person.

The 2018 Asheville Food Truck Showdown runs 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at the WNC Agricultural Center Expo Building, 761 Boylston Highway, Fletcher. Entry is free. VIP tickets are $35. For details, visit ashevillefoodtruckshowdown.com.

Basic fermentation workshop

Lars Peterson, co-founder of the Marshall-based business Fermenti, will host a vegetable fermentation workshop at Villagers on Sunday, March 25. According to Villagers’ website, the class will cover basic “tools, techniques and general recipes for fermenting fruits and vegetables at home.” Samples will be served, and participants will also leave the workshop with a quart of kraut and a brine chart.

The workshop runs 5:30-7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at Villagers, 278 Haywood Road. For more information, visit avl.mx/4rz.

Women Vintners Wine Dinner

In honor of Women’s History Month, MetroWines Asheville School of Wine partners with Juniper Cooper of Mutual Distributing Co. for a wine dinner at Golden Fleece Slow Earth Kitchen that highlights women vintners from around the globe. The four-course meal will feature beef carpaccio, ahi tuna salad, pork belly and pears and vanilla custard.

The dinner is at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, at Golden Fleece, 111 Grovewood Road. Tickets are $65, not including tax or gratuity. Call Golden Fleece at 828-424-7655 to make reservations. For details, visit avl.mx/4re.

Wednesday with A.J.

Mojo Kitchen & Lounge will host the next installment of its Wednesday with A.J. dinner series March 28. The event, presented by Mojo Kitchen’s award-winning chef, A.J. Gregson, features a five-course meal, including a spring salad, foie gras and country ham, stuffed leg of lamb and wild greens, bloomy rind cheese and matcha mille cake. Seating is limited to 24. Cocktails, wine and beer are available separately.

Wednesday with A.J. runs 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, at Mojo Kitchen & Lounge, 55 College St. Tickets are $45, not including tax or gratuity. To RSVP, contact mojotacolounge@gmail.com. For details, visit avl.mx/4sa

Clyde’s Burger Stop now open

Clyde’s Burger Stop recently opened off Old Leicester Highway at the former Eddie’s Dog House location. According to its Facebook page, the restaurant offers hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue and chicken sandwiches.

Clyde’s Burger Stop is at 408 Old County Home Road. Store hours are 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday. For details, visit avl.mx/4ry.

Farewell to Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.’s lunch buffet

On Friday, March 30, Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. will serve its final lunch buffet at its Merrimon Avenue location. “The buffet was the easiest way for us to feed large groups of folks in a fast and fun way,” says owner Mike Rangel in an email. “But as we’ve become more environmentally concerned and self-aware of our impact on this earth, we couldn’t get over the amount of food we were required to throw away at the end of every lunch shift.” A new lunch menu will be added, which Rangel describes as “affordable, tasty and quick,” including wraps, rice bowls and jumbo slices. These options will also be available at the Coxe Avenue location starting in the summer.

Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. is at 675 Merrimon Ave. and 77 Coxe. Ave.  

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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