What’s new in food: An Odd kitchen, downtown ciderkins and betting on beer

UFO ALERT: Unbelievable Fried Objects dominate chef Ben Hester's diner-style menu, now available into the wee hours at The Odditorium's new kitchen. Photo by Syd Foto

The Odditorium in West Asheville is known for many things — punk and heavy metal acts, drag shows, trivia and poetry nights, pool tables, pinball machines and a growing collection of freak-show oddities on display.

The venue has not, however, historically been known for its food.

“We have had free, fresh-popped popcorn since day one,” says co-owner Amy Marshall. “We tried out some microwavable frozen corn dogs, but they didn’t fly.”

While The Odd was grounded by COVID-19, Marshall, co-owner Tamy Kuper and veteran Asheville chef Ben Hester did some front-porch pondering. “We gave a lot of thought to how we would evolve,” Kuper recalls. “You have to evolve or perish.”

The partners were also considering how to use their Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program funds and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan responsibly and wisely. “We wanted to do something that made sense for us, sense for staff and sense for the community,” Marshall says. “It made sense to add a kitchen.”

Working with Drom Construction, they tackled the cobbled-together building, carving out an open, diner-style galley kitchen where customers place and pick up their orders. As they exit, customers can tell Hester how awesome their Coach’s Way Burger was.

“We had an ’80s-theme prom here a few years ago, and I came as a coach, so the regulars have called me Coach ever since,” Hester says proudly. “The burger is only one way: Coach’s Way — mayo, lettuce, thin-shaved onion, American cheese, mustard and pickles on a squishy bun.”

The burger is representative of Hester’s culinary ethos, which blends the nostalgic comfort food of his childhood, tasty bar fare of his adulthood and an avowed passion for what many consider lowbrow cuisine. “Something as simple as a slaw dog can be great if you do everything right — nicely toasted bun, hot dog with a good snap, delicious chili with the right texture and slaw with the right moisture,” he explains.

In addition to the burger and dog, expect a holiday-reminiscent cheese ball, tamales from Tortilleria Molina on Patton Avenue, a sloppy joe based on Kuper’s recipe, fried-in-the-shell and seasoned peanuts by the bag and fried hand pies from local mom-and-son operation Towne House. There will also be crispy, salty fries influenced by Mickey D’s, as well as a take on the fast-food giant’s Filet o’ Fish sandwich.

The Odditorium kitchen is cooking Monday-Thursday 5 p.m.- midnight, Friday 5 p.m.–2 a.m., Saturday noon-2 a.m. and Sunday 10 a.m.–2 p.m., with drag brunch the second and fourth Sunday of every month.

The Odditorium, 1045 Haywood Road, avl.mx/9ga

Bottoms up

Amie Fields and Lyndon Smith say it was always a dream of theirs to open an urban location of Botanist & Barrel Cidery and Winery, the business they founded four years ago with Lyndon’s sister Kether Smith and brother-in-law Deric McGuffy in rural Cedar Grove.  Their big-city dream came true May 27 with the opening of Botanist & Barrel Tasting Bar & Bottle Shop in the former location of the beloved Over Easy Café on Broadway in downtown Asheville.

“I feel like I kind of get the stink eye from some locals when I tell them where we’ll be,” Fields confesses. “But [owners] Carson [Lucci] and Eric [Burleson] are friends and knew we were looking for downtown space so told us about it as soon as they decided to close the end of last year.”

Over Easy fans can still sit on the same benches and belly up to the same marble bar. “We want you to come explore,” says Lyndon Smith. “We’ll have flights of cider and wine, ciderkins (weak alcoholic cider) and pet nats (natural sparkling wine). We want you to geek out.”

The owners also want visitors to eat — a small-bites menu showcases products from Cedar Grove neighbors, including Boxcarr Handmade Cheese and Meadowsweet Creamery — and try out a cider cocktail. “We have a fortified license but not a liquor permit,” Fields explains. “We are doing cider with a side of vermouth or sherry, for example, and you can taste the sherry then pour it in your cider.”

B&B has flipped the Over Easy kitchen into a lounge, which brings seating to 24, with additional capacity for about a dozen standing plus barrel tables on the sidewalk that can accommodate about six more. There are 10 cider and wine taps and two for beer. Bottles are available to purchase and take away. The tasting room is open noon-7 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.

Botanist & Barrel Tasting Bar & Bottle Shop, 32 Broadway,  avl.mx/9gf

Popping with Pride

Poppy Hand-Crafted Popcorn invites Western North Carolina residents of all ages to put down the bag of salted caramel popcorn — temporarily, of course — and pick up crayons, graphite, colored pencils, ink, pastel, watercolors or finger paint to create a piece of art for the Poppy Art Contest in celebration of Pride Month 2021.

The grand-prize winner will receive $500 and the opportunity to collaborate with Poppy’s team to design the art for the company’s second artist bag. The first bag, designed by local artist Annie Riker, celebrated the culture of Asheville with whimsical illustrations of bears, bikes and hiking boots.

Two dollars from the sale of each Pride Artist Bag will benefit the Campaign for Southern Equality, specifically the Southern Equality Studios project.

“We are so excited by this project and partnership,” says Poppy’s founder Ginger Frank. “We really wanted to get Asheville and WNC locals involved in celebrating Pride.”

The deadline to enter is Wednesday, June 30. To apply, visit avl.mx/9gg.

Betting on beer

It’s a sure bet that visitors to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee will find a beer to cry into — or celebrate over — since the recent opening of its Wicked Weed Brewpub, a satellite location of the Asheville brewery. Wicked Weed co-founder Ryan Guthy and Eastern Band of Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed popped the cap May 28 on the 237-seat brewpub and walk-up tasting bar. Twenty-four original brews are on tap along with newly released Vidl wines and Wicked Weed’s oak-fermented cider. The food menu includes bison sliders, baked pimento cheese, poutine and Hickory Nut Gap Farm bratwurst with Lusty Monk mustard. Open 4-11 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Wicked Weed is at Harrah’s, 777 Casino Drive, Cherokee. For more information, visit avl.mx/9gj.


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About Kay West
Kay West was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, StyleBlueprint Nashville, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. To kick off 2019 she put Tennessee in her rear view mirror, drove into the mountains of WNC, settled in West Asheville and appreciates that writing offers the opportunity to explore and learn her new home. She looks forward to hiking trails, biking greenways, canoeing rivers, sampling local beer and cheering the Asheville Tourists.

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