What’s new in food: A cafe, with cats

HERE, KIT-TEA: Downtown Asheville's first cat cafe — where patrons can enjoy sips, small bites and snuggles — opens this weekend. Photo by Andy Hall

Feline fans can interact with cats while enjoying food and beverage in a new downtown cafe.

Cats at Play Café brought in its first batch of adoptable cats May 15, after experiencing a few delays. The cafe will officially open its doors to customers on Saturday, May 27.

Owners Clare Owensby and Lisa Fox say the main objective of the cafe is to serve as a support for local partners Brother Wolf Animal Rescue and Heart of the Foothills Animal Rescue, as all cats will be available for adoption. But the space will also allow cat lovers without cats of their own to enjoy some feline time. These interactions will socialize the cats and help humans as well — research shows that spending time with cats can reduce stress and anxiety levels and even lower blood pressure, says Owensby.

The cafe space is completely separate from the cat lounge, but you can bring food and drink purchased from the cafe into the cat lounge.

“While the main attraction is, of course, the cats, we’re really proud of our menu offerings as well,” says Owensby.

MerTails, a line of elixirs made from minerals, electrolytes, plants and herbs created by local herbalist Jillian Ashley, will be served. Other offerings include Meowtain Mylk, Pawt Chocolate and a selection of local goods such as matcha from Matcha Nude, coffee from Dynamite Roasting Co., tea from Asheville Tea Co., gelato from Sugar and Snow Gelato and prepackaged baked goods from West End Bakery. There will also be a fully stocked grab-and-go refrigerator with wine, local beer and nonalcoholic beverages such as hemp seltzers.

“Even if you’re not the biggest feline fan, we think our options in the cafe, both food and beverage, as well as local art and jewelry, are worthy of a visit,” says Owensby. “None of the food served at the cafe is prepared on-site, so while you’re welcome to enjoy it in the cat lounge, if you’d rather keep your tasty treat time and your cat time separate, feel free to enjoy them before or after your visit to the cat lounge.”

The owners plan to hold special events, such as cat yoga and movie nights with cats, and will be available for private parties as well.

The cafe is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Saturday — and is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. The minimum age for guests is 10 and older, but those with children under 10 can inquire about booking a private event.

Cats at Play Cafe is at 12 Eagle St. For more information, visit avl.mx/cp5.

Pizza and poutine

Although Jasper Ieronimo, co-owner of North Asheville’s newest pizza place, says taco pizza might be his favorite, it’s the poutine pizza that was influenced by his heritage.

Ieronimo, who opened The Local Pizza Joint with his husband and Asheville native Chris Ieronimo in late April, was born in Montreal. “As a French Canadian, poutine is a staple,” he says. “We decided to marry our love of pizza and poutine and create what we feel is pretty special. With a gravy base, freshly fried French fries and gooey cheese, this pie is different!”

Ieronimo says the couple owned a pizza restaurant in the past, but the pandemic hit right after they opened and forced them to shut down. “It was bad timing,” he says. “I’ve been in senior-level leadership for national brands for many years but never lost my desire to have a pizza joint again. We found the space by complete accident, and everything fell into place.

“We are asked every day if it is a franchise, and it is not,” Jasper continues. “We don’t plan to open additional locations, as we want this one to be special. We are happy to be a part of the amazing food community here.”

The New York-style pizzeria, which does primarily delivery and takeout, has seating for 28 and is open Monday through Thursday 3-11 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 3 p.m.-midnight.

The Local Pizza Joint is at 707 Merrimon Ave. For more information, visit avl.mx/cp3.

Hot dogs in Maggie Valley? Totally.

Valley Dog, Maggie Valley’s ’80s-themed hot dog spot, opened at the beginning of 2022 but moved last month into a new custom building, the hot dog shop of their dreams.

“I kid about how we broke [the old location] with all of the bunches of hot dog fans coming through,” jokes owner Mike Juliano. But the reality was that the shop needed to be in a brand-new space built from scratch.

He takes pride in creating the hot dogs and has 186 of them in rotation on the menu. “They are all my babies,” he says. “I have painstakingly created them one bite … at a time. I go into the lab often.”

Juliano, who grew up in New Jersey but moved to Western North Carolina in 1997, has a background in opening and running luxury boutique hotels but always wanted to own a hot dog business.

“I grew up around them, visiting them on days I would spend with my grandfather — carts and little mom and pop ‘divey’ places that have been in business forever,” he says.

Juliano says he went with an ’80s theme because they were some of his “fondest years.” “When my wife and I were deciding to do a shop here in Maggie Valley, we decided on the name Valley Dog, then thought of the Valley Girls of the ’80s — then the theme made sense. The restaurant gave me a chance to re-create my childhood bedroom, pretty much.”

“I eat hot dogs almost every day,” he says. “I had been looking for these hot dogs around here right up until we opened the shop. Now I know where to find them — these are the hot dogs I had been looking for.”

Valley Dog is at 2779 Soco Road, Maggie Valley. For more information, visit avl.mx/cp4.

Homesteading how-tos

On Wednesday, May 24, homesteader Ashley English will teach her first class in a five-part homemade health and wellness series: “Jam, Sauce, Frozen, Vinegar and Quick Pickled Strawberries.”

The free classes, which will take place at 6 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month throughout the summer at the Enka-Candler Library, will be a combination of lecture and demonstration.

Classes offered are:

  •  June 28 — Perfect Picnics
  • July 26 — Home Canning 101: Materials & Equipment, Methods, Safety, Storage, Favorite Seasonal Recipe
  • Aug. 23 — Preserving Apples
  • Sept. 27 — Natural Health: Bugs Away Insect Repellent, Boo Boo Goo, Sunburn Soother, Electrolyte Replenisher, Sleep Salve

English, who has lived in a forested cove in Candler since 2007, learned homesteading ways from her maternal grandmother. “Nanny owned and operated a u-pick blueberry farm,” she says. “She also had a large vegetable garden and kept chickens. It was from her that I learned to can and developed an enthusiasm and appreciation for gardening.”

“I love teaching in general and, specifically, teaching practical skills that offer the potential to enhance a person’s knowledge of and relationship with their homesteads and the natural world,” English adds. “The snafus I’ve had over my years of homesteading with bears in my beehives, unexpected deaths in my flock of laying hens, canning jars that failed to seal and limp, watery yogurt have served as their own teachers, enriching and furthering my understanding of the topics, which I’m then able to pass on to folks I teach.”

The Enka-Candler Library is at 1404 Sandhill Road, Candler. For more information, visit avl.mx/cp7.


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About Andy Hall
Andy Hall graduated from The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. After working at the United States Capitol for ten years, she has returned to her native state to enjoy the mountains — and finally become a writer.

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