Had all gone according to plan, Anthony Cerrato would have opened Gemelli, his second Asheville restaurant, in March — around the time his first, Strada Italiano, marked its 10th anniversary. But, as he acknowledges, “Sometimes, I think the universe has its ways of saying, ‘Hey, you’re not really ready yet.’”
But on Sept. 12, with a nod from the universe, executive chef Cerrato, his wife, Jennie, and his son and chef de cuisine Gabriel Cerrato finally opened the all-day Italian eatery with multiple dining experiences and menus, none of which duplicate items available at Strada downtown. The space in the Westgate Regional Shopping Center, formerly occupied by Green Sage, was fully gutted and given a chic, contemporary makeover; just over 100 diners can be accommodated at the bar, on banquettes and round, marble-topped tables.
Cerrato says he discovered some silver linings in the restaurant’s delay, including finding and partnering with new purveyors, picking up specialty items that were unavailable in the beginning of 2022 and not rushing to hire and train staff.
His son, who was living in Denver, where he had been chef de cuisine at Il Posto, came to Asheville in June to help out when the opening once again seemed imminent. The repeated postponements gave him time to settle into Asheville and the restaurant.
“Gabe and I were able to work together to really tweak and fine-tune the menu from what it was going to be then to what it is now,” Anthony Cerrato says. “He is getting to showcase a lot of his northern Italian cooking experience at Il Posto. I am super impressed with what he has come up with, and I really want to showcase him and his skills.”
Gemelli’s service model has been slightly tweaked from original plans but will operate daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m. with to-go, counter and sit-down full service. The restaurant will segue through the menus from breakfast/brunch to antipasti, fresh pasta and Sicilian pizza (the thick-crust, square iteration) beginning at noon for lunch and dinner. Scratch-made Italian pastries like bombolini (Italian doughnuts), maritozzi (mascarpone-filled sweet buns), cannoli and a generational family recipe for tiramisu will be available all day. An elevated espresso program with equipment shipped from Italy and two vegetarian risottos on the pasta menu are among the more recent additions to the evolving menu.
Remarking on the process of making limoncello from lemons, Cerrato says, “With restaurants, you have to be able to roll with the punches and learn from the experience. It was all worth it.”
Gemelli is at 70 Westgate Parkway. For more information, visit avl.mx/bzw.
Less than a year after Wicked Weed Brewing opened Cultura in 2019, the restaurant and brainchild of Wicked Weed founder Walt Dickinson and chef Eric Morris was named a James Beard semifinalist for Best New Restaurant.
One month later, the pandemic shut it down but did not stop Morris from finding purpose in the Cultura kitchen. He led several initiatives to cook thousands of prepared meals weekly for the food-insecure and created the Cultivated Community Dinner Series — a monthly dinner series with local chefs, including J Chong, Ashleigh Shanti, Luis Martinez, Cleophus Hethington, Silver Cousler Iocovazzi and Jonathan Pridgen.
Morris also spent countless hours in research and development of fermentation, culturing and preservation practices and techniques. More recently, he received approval for his Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points plan, which allows him to ferment meat, vegetables and all the things he can coax into his proximity.
And now … drum roll please … Cultura will reopen Thursday, Sept. 29, serving four nights per week with multiple menu concepts.
Thursday nights will be an a la carte menu of 10-12 items, primarily savory with a couple of sweets. “We wanted to have a night where anyone can walk in and order some small plates and try a few things,” says Candice Dvoran, general manager of Funkatorium and Cultura. “We will still reserve one Thursday night a month for Cultivated Community dinners.”
On Friday and Saturday nights, Morris will present a seven-course tasting menu employing the techniques and practices culled from his two years of experimentation. That experience will run $125 per person, and each diner will receive a gift to take away, such as a small jar of fish sauce made by Morris. Dvoran strongly urges reservations and allocating at least two hours to the meal.
Sunday nights will introduce a series called Cease and Desist, the result of a conversation between Morris and Dvoran about favorite national restaurant chains people grew up with. The four- to five-course dinners will reinterpret iconic dishes with local ingredients, be served from platters family-style and change monthly. The experience will run $60 per person.
Cultura is at 147 Coxe Ave. Reservations are now open and can be made at avl.mx/xmasjbf.
Barks & Brews
It’s a dog’s night out on Thursday, Sept. 22, 5-7 p.m., when Pack Square Collective hosts Pups & Pints atop the Pack Square parking garage. Organizers promise a paw-some event for the canine crew with pup massages from Recline & Unwind Social Spa, portraits by Joseph Dix Photography, frozen pupsicles from Sam’s Pop Shop and other treats. Humans can partake of local beer from five breweries while enjoying live music from Knob Creek Incident. Proceeds from vendor fees will benefit the Asheville Humane Society.
Pack Square parking garage is at 26 Biltmore Ave. For more information, visit avl.mx/bzp.
Brussels spouts at The Whale
Lambic beer lovers: Get to West Asheville on Saturday, Sept. 24, when The Whale will host Asheville’s first Yacht Rock Zwanze Day beginning at 11 a.m., featuring Cantillon Brewery, the last operating lambic brewery in Brussels.
In the Flemish dialect, zwanze means “to joke or kid.” While the celebration may be lighthearted, The Whale co-founder Andrew Ross is very serious when he says, “It’s a huge deal to be selected to host. Cantillon’s Zwanze series of beers and events began in 2008, and since 2011, Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy has used his Zwanze series and the celebration days to bring lambic enthusiasts together around the world. We’re thrilled to participate from Asheville.”
Yacht Rock Zwanze Day at The Whale (with DJ Kipper) is open to the public, but attendees intending to drink any of the six different kegs of Cantillon must purchase a commemorative glass for $15; pours of the lambics are a la carte. The Zwanze brew is limited to 110 pours, and a ticket to guarantee one must be purchased in advance for the simultaneous worldwide toast (3 p.m. Eastern time).
The Whale is at 507 Haywood Road. For more information, visit avl.mx/bzu.
UNC Asheville invites students and the general public to take a seat at the table for the Office of Sustainability’s annual Farm to Table Dinner on the Quad, taking place Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 5:30 p.m. The fall harvest ritual began in 2015 to celebrate the efforts of student gardeners, faculty, staff partners and community collaborators to advance a sustainable local food system.
The theme of the 2022 dinner is “Nourishing Connections.” Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor emeritus and author of several books specializing in Southern foodways and Southern Jewish experiences (Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South, among them) will deliver remarks intended to inspire informal discussion about culinary cultures.
The meal — light appetizers, dinner buffet and dessert — is sourced locally, grown sustainably and features ingredients grown on campus. It is prepared by UNCA dining services and supplemented by challah bread from Geraldine’s Bakery and tea from Asheville Tea. All attendees will be seated at one long table outdoors on the quad; in case of rain, it will be held in the Highsmith Student Union.
Educational outreach tables from Asheville Buncombe Food Policy Council, Bountiful Cities and History-at-Hand will be on-site, as well as live klezmer music. Attendance will be capped at 250.
UNC Asheville Main Quad is at 1 University Heights. Tickets ($10 for students, $25 general admission) can be purchased at avl.mx/bzr.
In an effort to either stave off hunger pangs for aspiring diners waiting for a table at Chai Pani or whet appetites for the restaurant’s full menu, the Spicewalla pop-up shop around the corner has added a weekend snack for browsers and walk-ins. Pani puri, a quintessential Indian street food snack, is crispy, fresh-cooked puri stuffed with a masala ragda/potato mix, then dunked in pani (flavored water). Pani puri will be available Fridays and Saturdays, 5-9 p.m.
Spicewalla is at 1 Page Ave. Suite 147. For more information, visit avl.mx/bzy.
Farm Burger offers multiple proteins to put on a bun — beef, pig, chicken and a vegan patty. The late summer bounty of the company’s regional farm partners goes into two new seasonal bowls – the Farm Salad with lettuce, arugula, dilled summer beans, cucumber and Vidalia onion, and Superfood Salad with kale, summer squash and blueberries. The Asheville Farm Burger harvests locally from Ten Mile Farm and R Farm, and these salads will be available through midfall.
Farm Burger is at 10 Patton Ave. For more information, visit avl.mx/bzq.