What’s new in food: Indian street food arrives in West Asheville

THE MEAT GUY: Meherwan Irani (blue shirt, center) greets guests at an event celebrating the opening of his newest outpost, Botiwalla. Photo by Andy Hall

Chai Pani Restaurant Group’s newest eatery celebrated its long-awaited grand opening Monday in West Asheville.

Botiwalla, the Indian street food concept from executive chef, founder and “Chief Chaiwalla” Meherwan Irani, brings the feeling and food of a traditional Indian Irani café to the main drag of Haywood Road.

When Irani wanted to create a “more casual, faster version” of downtown’s Chai Pani, which received the James Beard Foundation’s award for Best Restaurant in 2022, he looked to his heritage for inspiration. He explains that Iranians opened cafés like Botiwalla, which translates to “the meat guy,” when they settled in British-occupied India during the late 19th century. His great-grandfather owned one of these cafés in his hometown of Ahmednagar, India. After the British left, Irani cafés survived, adapting their menus to Indian tastes. They became gathering places for Persians from all walks of life to talk, eat and feel at home.

“The Iranis became well known for opening little bakeries and cafés, kind of like how Jewish delis in New York are an iconic landmark,” he says. “Many of these cafés over the centuries have now become landmarks and are associated with a very particular and unique style of food.”

Irani sees the restaurant as “an Indian concept that’s really unique and yet really, really approachable to everybody. Somewhere you don’t have to stand in line for 45 minutes to get in.”

Botiwalla, unlike Chai Pani, offers counter service and menu items that “will seem familiar to folks, even if they’ve never had Indian food before,” he adds. The menu includes lamb sliders, salads, skewered meats and beverages such as a nonalcoholic lime rickey and boozy slushies. Though Botiwalla already has locations in Charlotte and Atlanta, this one will offer an “Asheville twist,” including the introduction of a rice bowl consisting of seasoned biryani masala with fried onions and yogurt, with a choice of grilled lamb, chicken or paneer — topped with blistered tomatoes and herbs.

“We are really excited to have another outpost for our Indian street food in Asheville,” says Irani. “I love West Asheville and I’ve always wanted to be there. And this one’s for the locals.”

Botiwalla, which has indoor and outdoor seating, is open daily 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. and on Sunday until 8:30 p.m.

Botiwalla is at 697 Haywood Road. For more information, visit avl.mx/cxy.

WNC winners

A local pastry chef and an Asheville mixologist earned top honors in the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Chef Showdown on Aug. 14 in Raleigh.

Jill Wasilewski, owner of Ivory Road Café & Kitchen in Arden, won the 2023 People’s Choice Award for best dessert, and Megan King from the South Slope’s Antidote (representing Chemist Spirits) won The Dairy Alliance’s Undeniably Dairy Award for best use of North Carolina cow’s milk in a mocktail or cocktail.

More than 500 attendees at the sold-out grand finale were treated to tasting-sized portions of savory dishes, desserts, cocktails and mocktails from contestants who made it through the monthslong competition. Guests digitally voted for their favorite dishes and drinks to determine the People’s Choice Award winners.

Wasilewski was one of five North Carolina pastry chefs at the grand finale. Her winning dish was a miso caramel peach tart tatin made with local peaches. It consisted of a peach crémeux, roasted blackberry vanilla sauce and a brown-butter-seared pound cake — and featured Miso Master miso from Rutherfordton, as well as dairy from Mills River Creamery. She also sourced local eggs from Marshall’s Dry Ridge Farm and fruit from Marshall’s Root Bottom Farm.

King won the new-to-this-year award with her In Reverie mocktail, made with clarified whole milk, pistachio, Thai basil and a homemade pineapple and banana tepache.

To make it to one of the 25 spots in the final competition, chefs advanced through five preliminary rounds and two semifinal rounds. Competitors were judged based on the presentation and taste of their dishes, as well as the best use and number of local North Carolina ingredients on each plate.

Wasilewski, who has owned Ivory Road Café & Kitchen for seven years and has been a pastry chef for nine years, says she decided to enter this year’s competition on a whim after following it in past years on social media. “Winning felt so validating and deeply rewarding for all that I give to the business,” she says. “I absolutely love being a small-business owner and a sole, independent restaurant owner — but it can be extremely trying … and sometimes a little recognition or a win feels really, really good.”

As part of her win, Wasilewski will also serve as a 2023 Got to Be NC culinary ambassador for the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

“I am just so grateful that this community has enabled me to succeed in a way that allows me to live out my dream,” she says. “In doing so I hope I can support the community in return and bring a bit of culinary credibility to South Asheville.”

Ivory Road Café & Kitchen is at 1854 Brevard Road, Arden. Antidote at Chemist Spirits is at 151 Coxe Ave. For more information on the NCRLA’s Chef Showdown, visit avl.mx/6lc.

How ’bout them apples?

The 77th annual N.C. Apple Festival will celebrate Henderson County’s contribution to the nation’s apple supply Friday, Sept. 1-Monday, Sept. 4. The downtown festivities begin with a street fair at 10 a.m. and will feature an opening ceremony at the historic courthouse at 2:30 p.m.

The free, family-friendly, four-day event will showcase everything apples, arts and crafts vendors, festival food and children’s activities. Live entertainment will feature musical headliners such as the Buddy K Big Band, the Swingin’ Medallions and the Mighty Kicks.

Attendees are encouraged to participate in numerous contests scheduled throughout the festival, such as the apple recipe contest. Hendersonville Main Street merchants are also participating in the apple window display contest.

One of the annual anticipated highlights is the King Apple Parade on Monday, Sept. 4, at 2:30 p.m. The procession includes floats, marching bands and community groups.

Henderson County is the largest producer of apples in the state and one of the top 20 producers in the nation — with 91 active growers contributing an estimated 3 million bushels annually, which is 80% of this state’s apple supply, with an average income of $30 million.

For more information, visit avl.mx/aau.

Grape crush

You don’t have to travel to Italy á la Lucille Ball in the classic 1956 “I Love Lucy” episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” to experience the feeling of grapes squishing between your toes.

Burntshirt Vineyards Tasting Room and Winery will host Grape Stomp 2023 on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 11:30 a.m. The annual event will feature wine tasting, winery tours — and grape stomping. Food will be available for purchase from the winery’s on-site restaurant, Vintner’s Table.

The all-day harvest celebration, which began in 2016, will include live music on the winery terrace from American blues rock and soul duo Roots and Dore, 1-3 p.m., and “island vibes” band Steve Weams and the Caribbean Cowboys, 4-7 p.m.

And as an homage, the popular Lucy Look-Alike contest will return. Attendees are encouraged to dress as the iconic Lucille Ball, specifically as her character in the aforementioned television episode. At 2:30 p.m., contestants will “parade around” in front of a crowd gathered in the seating area near the winery’s restaurant and tasting room. The winner is the one who receives the loudest cheers. “They really get into it,” says winery owner Sandra Oates. “Sometimes people even come as Ethel or Ricky … it is so much fun to see how much they enjoy dressing up and stomping the grapes.”

Burntshirt Vineyards is at 2695 Sugarloaf Road, Hendersonville. For more information, visit avl.mx/cxt.


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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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