What’s new in food: Mehfil serves northern Indian cuisine to downtown diners

BRIGHT AND SHINY: Multiple hues of green, blue, purple and saffron dazzled diners at the recently opened Mehfil in downtown Asheville. Featured is the restaurant’s manager, Misty Hensley. Photo by Jennifer Castillo

So radical is the transformation of the storefront building at 5 Biltmore Ave. — revealed on April 7 as Mehfil — that even people who frequently traverse downtown’s main artery may need a reminder of what was there.

“It was Hana Japanese Hibachi and Sushi,” says Al Singh, owner of the new Indian restaurant with partner Raj Manaise. “It had tinted windows, black walls and was very dark.”

After signing the lease in February, the pair turned the project around in just over 40 days. Working with Claire Wiese of Rhythm Interiors & Installation, Singh says the new layout is lighter and cheerier with “some big funky colors.”

Some of that cheer came with replacing the three expansive plate glass windows facing Biltmore. “I wanted people walking by to be able to see inside, because that will draw them in, even if that wasn’t their intent,” Singh says.

Meanwhile, the Mehfil citron-colored sign jutting out from the building forecasts the interior color scheme — multiple hues of green, blue, purple and saffron repeated in the unfurled umbrellas hung upside down from the ceiling. Mounted on the walls in the main dining room are 19th-century hand-painted residential doors imported from India and a lounge area is furnished with cushy chairs, a sofa and plush pillows.

The cuisine is primarily northern Indian (Singh is a native of Punjab), with some South Indian dishes as well. At lunch, a $9.99 buffet is available daily from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. “The price is affordable for downtown businesspeople,” Singh says. “There is a lot of variety, so visitors who are not familiar with Indian food can come in and try several things, and it’s not intimidating.” The lunch bunch can order from the menu if they prefer; dinner is full service.

Indian cuisine is very vegetarian friendly, and Mehfil’s menu follows suit. There is a broad selection of breads, tandoori dishes and five types of biryani, including the house specialty, chicken dum biryani.

“People are curious what ‘dum’ biryani means,” Singh says with a laugh. “The literal translation of dum is ‘pressure,’ so it is a pressure-cooked dish with rice. Dum, not dumb.”

The literal translation of mehfil is “gathering.” The restaurant’s other branding also includes the words yaaron ki or “of friends”  and apno ki or “loved ones.”

“We intend the restaurant to be a gathering place of friends and loved ones,” Singh says.

Mehfil is at 5 Biltmore Ave., Suite 5B. For more information, visit avl.mx/bhv.

New friends

Traveling from downtown to West Asheville — and from Indian cuisine to Italian — Amicizia (which means “friendship” in Italian) opened April 22 at 1341 Patton Ave. The location was previously home to Byrish Haus & Pub, preceded by longtime neighborhood favorite Barbecue Inn.

Co-owner Ben Logan relocated from his longtime home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Asheville in mid-2020. He loved the area but missed the family-type Italian restaurants that were ubiquitous to the city and its boroughs. “It seemed like there was one on every corner,” he recalls. “I missed that style of restaurant here and, as a single father, wanted a restaurant where I could take my son that wasn’t a chain.”

Driving by the long-vacated building on Patton, he pulled into the parking lot and peered into the windows. In June 2021, he signed the lease and tackled what turned out to be a considerable amount of work. “Because it had been empty since 2017, we had to start from scratch as far as zoning and regulations for access, parking, frontage and landscaping,” he says. “We had to overhaul the kitchen to suit our needs and definitely redo the décor.”

Serendipity intervened with an introduction to Loraine Altomare, now Amicizia’s executive chef, who learned to cook from her Italian immigrant grandparents while growing up on the New Jersey shore.

Running the front of house is Logan’s co-founder, Susan Riposta; her domain is currently 75 seats but will eventually expand to 180 when they fully open indoor dining and add outdoor seating by late spring.

Amicizia is at 1341 Patton Ave. Open Wednesday-Monday for lunch and dinner, the restaurant also offers delivery and takeout. For more information, visit avl.mx/bhw.

Trial run

The Utopian Seed Project, a hands-in-the-earth nonprofit founded by James Beard Award-winning author Chris Smith, is devoted to exploring and celebrating diversity in food and farming through multiple projects and platforms, including Experimental Farm sites, Crop Stories and The People’s Seed.

On Saturday, May 14, 1-4 p.m., at the Masonic Temple, 80 Broadway, the Utopian Seed Project hosts Trial to Table: Spring Celebration. The event features chefs Michelle Bailey (Smoky Park Supper Club), Cleophus Hethington (Benne on Eagle) and Erin Hughes (The Admiral/Leo’s House of Thirst), who will prepare a selection of small plates showcasing crops from the nonprofit’s seed trials. Additionally, farmer-chef Jamie Swofford (Old North Farm) will conduct a purple sweet potato tasting of five different varieties.

Tickets for Trial to Table are $35; beer and cider will be available to purchase. For more information, visit avl.mx/bhx.

Bottoms up

For all of May, Ginger’s Revenge will be supporting the nonprofit Babies Need Bottoms through various donation drives and fundraisers. On Saturday, May 28, at 2:30 p.m., 100% of a $10 ticket for a 30-minute brewery tour and full pour of ginger beer will be donated to BNB.

Ginger’s Revenge is at 829 Riverside Drive. To purchase tickets, visit avl.mx/bi3.

MOMosa time

Forget breakfast in bed, Mama wants to get out of the house for her special day. Why choose between French toast and an omelet when she can — and should — have it all at an extravagant Mother’s Day Brunch buffet?

Free range moms (and their families) can graze on everything from fresh fruit to poached shrimp, caprese salad to roasted prime rib, omelets to dulce de leche bread pudding at Renaissance Asheville on Sunday, May 8, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Renaissance Asheville is at 31 Woodfin St. Reservations can be made at avl.mx/bi2.

Bonjour Mère

Speaking of Mother’s Day ideas, Bouchon recently added Sunday brunch to its weekly service. Menu highlights include gratinée à l’oignon; cheeseboard with orange marmalade, fig chutney and whipped goat cheese spread; pâté en croute; quiche du jour; crêpe du jour; and steak et oeufs.

Bouchon is at 62 N. Lexington Ave. serving Sunday brunch 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. 

Twice as nice

In other brunch news! Aficionados have long argued against limiting the meal to Sundays. Well, two downtown restaurants have heard the call with weekend service of the breakfast-lunch mashup.

  • Bold Rock Hard Cider, 39 N. Lexington Ave., has kicked off its Bluegrass Brunch series on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., in the taproom. Diners can enjoy live pickin’ and brunch fixin’s like cornmeal apple pancakes, fried chicken and gravy biscuit with pickled jalapeno gravy, French toast casserole and Appalachian taters.
  • Get off the beaten buttermilk biscuit path at Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse. Chef Michael Lewis is serving a variety of unique brunch dining options, including shishito pepper-cheddar biscuit with Japanese sausage gravy and eggs; karaage chicken and waffles with salted butter; and matcha or breakfast ramen with broth, maple shichimi bacon and a sunny side egg. Ukiah’s brunch is served every Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., indoors and on the patio at 121 Biltmore Ave.

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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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