What’s new in food: El Patio opens in the RAD

SEEING RED: With the new El Patio de Guajiro at Asheville Cotton Mill Studios, owner Chris Barroso, left, has added indoor, porch and deck seating for diners who order Guajiro's Cuban dishes from chef Joel Morales, right. Photo courtesy of Guajiro

Since opening its windows for service in October 2022, Guajiro food truck — permanently parked at the Asheville Cotton Mill Studios in the River Arts District — has provided outdoor seating. But with the May debut of El Patio de Guajiro, options for diners have significantly expanded. 

Occupying the space inside Cotton Mill that was previously home to Great Wild Nowhere bar and music venue, El Patio includes 45 indoor seats, a full-service bar and outdoor seating on a front deck and back porch. The El Patio bar serves beer, wine, cider and cocktails that diners can sip with their mariquitas, tostones, black bean soup and Cuban sandwiches from the truck’s menu.

Guajiro brands itself as “Cuban Comfort Food,” and owner Chris Barroso, a second-generation Cuban American, drew on memories of dishes cooked by his maternal grandmother, Rosa Morejon, for the concept. Though he grew up in Florida, his family had a second home in Asheville and bought the Cotton Mill 13 years ago. The pandemic inspired him to make the significant professional and personal change from managing his parents’ law firm in Miami to moving to Asheville and opening a food truck.

Barroso’s grandmother shared her recipes with two people — Barroso and his cousin’s husband, Joel Morales, who is Guajiro’s chef. “He had cooking experience before, but Nana’s recipes were very important to me to use. I wanted her legacy in the food,” says Barroso.

Guajiro launched with breakfast and lunch, and as Barroso recalls, the business was bombarded with customers on the first day. “That little kitchen can put out a lot of food,” he says with a laugh. On April 1, Guajiro extended service hours into dinner and is now open until 10 p.m. six days a week (closed Wednesdays). On May 9, El Patio bar poured its first drinks.

“We are still working on the interior,” Barroso says. “We’ve having a new cocktail bar installed, we’re raising the food truck to the level of the patio and getting new chairs and tables inside. Eventually, we’d like to have some music and make it a whole experience.”

Guajiro and El Patio de Guajiro are at Asheville Cotton Mill, 122 Riverside Drive. For more on Guajiro, visit avl.mx/prwu. Details about El Patio de Guajiro are available at avl.mx/dqp.

Chef Etheridge launches pop-up dinners

Chef Sam Etheridge sold his North Asheville restaurant, Ambrozia, in early 2019, but he didn’t stop cooking. He just changed venues.

“My kids were getting into their teens, and I needed to spend more time with my family than owning a restaurant allows,” he explains. “So, I started doing private parties, pop-up dinners with places around town that don’t serve food, like Metro Wines and Bottle Riot, and dinners in people’s homes.”

Asheville event producer Shay Brown attended a few of those and asked Etheridge if he would do a Chef’s Experience Dinner as part of the AVL Food Series. He said yes, so on Thursday, June 13, he’ll fire up the grills at Devil’s Foot Beverage Co. to serve a seated, four-course dinner in The Mule tasting room.

“We’ll pass two small bites when people get there and then four courses with some kind of meat and lighter, seasonal things, a summertime theme,” says Etheridge, noting that all cooking will be done on grills at the event. “It will be a big ol’ cookout.”

Partnering with Etheridge for the dinner are Metro Wines and an under-construction and still-under-wraps wine bar and bistro in Reynolds Village. Details about the new business will be revealed at the event, he says.

Tickets are $97.50 per person, $127.50 with wine pairings. Drinks will also be for sale at The Mule’s bar.

The Chef’s Experience Dinner takes place 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at The Mule, 131 Sweeten Creek Road. For tickets, visit avl.mx/dqk.

Bento box lunch delivery 

As people get to know Khan Kogure‘s new business, Yamaneko Bento, the chef hopes to turn TGIF to TGIB(ento) and Casual Friday to Bento Friday. Kogure’s Instagram-powered orders of fresh-made bento boxes — inspired by the single-portion meal boxes ubiquitous in Japan — are delivered to customers on Fridays, just in time for lunch.

“In Japan, bento boxes are everywhere,” Kogure says. “You can get them in any convenience store or market. I thought it would be a cool way for Asheville people to experience what a Japanese lunch is like.”

Asheville residents who lived here during Gan Shan Station’s tenure on North Charlotte Street may recognize Kogure’s name. When he moved here from San Francisco in 2017, he attracted a following with pop-ups he hosted there with chef/owner Patrick O’Cain. But after more than 20 years in the restaurant industry — he worked with chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett in his acclaimed San Francisco restaurant Izakaya Rintaro — and the challenges posed by COVID-19, Kogure needed a kitchen break and turned back to his other love, bike racing.

When he got the urge to cook again, the stay-at-home dad thought bento boxes would be a good way to ease back into it. “No one here really does it the way it’s done in Japan, and I felt like it was a healthy alternative to lots of other lunch delivery options,” Kogure says.

His stepdaughter suggested the name Yamaneko, which is Japanese for mountain cat. The business launched with a whimsical cat illustration on Instagram in late February, offering two boxes — a protein choice and a vegetarian or pescatarian option. The chef has been expanding from the original menu since to offer 10 rotating items, including gyoza at his wife’s and mother’s suggestion. “It’s my mom’s recipe and so good,” says Kogure. “I ate hundreds of these as a kid.”

Yamaneko accepts orders through noon Thursdays with delivery on Fridays in time for lunch (there’s a four-order minimum for delivery).

To place orders, follow Yamaneko on Instagram at avl.mx/dqr.

Grin and bear it at WNC Nature Center 

Despite the name, beer consumption at the WNC Nature Center’s Brews and Bears events is limited to humans ages 21 and older only. But the monthly, after-hours summer parties allow attendees to watch the center’s resident black bears, Uno and Ursa, engage in popsicle enrichment activities.

Guests will find Highland Brewing beer on tap, plus cider from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, wines from Metro Wines and food from favorite local trucks, including Cecilia’s Kitchen, Gypsy Queen Cuisine and Bigfoot-Longs Hot Dogs. There’s also live music and peeks at new residents, such as baby cougars Noa and Hayla and baby bobcats Tufts and Kohana.

Baby humans ages 2 and younger are admitted free to these family-friendly events. Grown-up tickets are $15 for WNC Nature Center members and $20 for nonmembers.

Brews and Bears events run 5:30-8 p.m., with the next one happening on Friday June 14. Future dates are Friday, July 12, and Friday, Aug. 9. Proceeds from ticket and drink sales go to the Friends of the WNC Nature Center to support park programming and animal enrichment.

WNC Nature Center is at 75 Gashes Creek Road. For more information and tickets, visit avl.mx/9iq.

Gemelli offers unique espresso 

Gemelli Italian eatery has partnered with Coffee Library to create Espresso Italiano, a private-label espresso blend that will be sold by the bag exclusively at Gemelli.

Developed by Gemelli and Strada Italiano owner Anthony Cerrato and Coffee Library founder Drew Hawkins and his team, Espresso Italiano is enriched by the rare Brazil peaberry, which represents only 5% of all coffee beans harvested. The locally roasted blend is used for all Gemelli house espresso drinks.

The Coffee Library is a Woodfin-based coffee roaster startup that specializes in creating private-label blends from its selection of over 25 single-origin coffees. Hawkins also owns Koto Kai coffee shop in West Asheville

Gemelli is at 70 Westgate Parkway. For more about Coffee Library, visit avl.mx/dbs.

Hot enough for ya?

Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse jump-started Memorial Day weekend on May 23 with the seasonal reopening of its outdoor bar and sandwich counter, Hot Box. Self-touted as serving “fresh + smoked handy sandos made by our pet Godzilla, forreala,” the Hot Box menu includes a Reuben, a pulled pork and a sausage with kimchi kraut, plus Japanese sweet potato fries, fried yuzu pickles and more. The drinks lineup features original cocktails, such as Xander’s Xombie Xocktail, as well as classic cocktails, boozy slushies, beer, wine, sake and nonalcoholic beer.

Hot Box is at 121 Biltmore Ave. Hours are 5-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3-9 p.m. Sundays. For updates, follow Hot Box on Instagram at avl.mx/dqo.

Editor’s note: This was updated June 5 to correct the date for the August Brews and Bears dinner. 


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About Kay West
Kay West began her writing career in NYC, then was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, including contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. In 2019 she moved to Asheville and continued writing (minus Red Carpet coverage) with a focus on food, farming and hospitality. She is a die-hard NY Yankees fan.

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