What’s new in food: Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian sets to open in South Asheville

SECOND TIME AROUND: Chef Eric Scheffer, owner of the original Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian on Merrimon Avenue, poses in front of the restaurant’s new second location on Hendersonville Road. Photo by Wilder Shaw

Before closing Dec. 31, 2019, Iannucci’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant served the South Asheville community for over 40 years. The bulk of that service took place at 1981 Hendersonville Road. So, when Eric Scheffer, owner of Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian on Merrimon Avenue and Jettie Rae’s Oyster House on Charlotte Street, purchased the building and began the extensive renovation in January 2020, he says he wouldn’t have been surprised to find tomato sauce running through the pipes.

“It was an institution,” Scheffer says of Iannucci’s. “It’s not easy to take on something that’s been part of the community for so long. But what we have going for us [is] we are also an Italian restaurant with a great reputation.”
Scheffer plans to open Vinnie’s second location at the site in the final week of September. He and his wife, Heidi, designed the space to evoke old-school New York and Brooklyn Italian restaurants, with lots of deep reds, dark wood, elaborate chandeliers, wall sconces, a semiopen kitchen and a 16-stool bar.

“Everything is brand new but looks old,” Scheffer says.

The menu is the same as the restaurant’s Merrimon location, and some employee faces may also be familiar to Vinnie’s regulars. “We had staff who live closer to this location and wanted to move,” Scheffer explains. “And we were able to offer people who have been with us awhile new opportunities to move up. That’s a big benefit for our whole team in opening a second location.”

Additional Vinnie’s are a strong possibility, Scheffer adds, as long as the location is right. “It’s all about the neighborhood.”

Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian is at 1981 Hendersonville Road. For hours and menu, visit avl.mx/aeg.

Harvest Pizza eyes October opening

When Kelly and Jon Leu first visited Asheville from their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, in 2007, they were so enamored with the city that they looked at residential real estate. With every subsequent visit, they expanded their search to include commercial properties.

In late 2018, the couple spied the ghost of a century-old brick industrial building on the South Slope — a roofless structure adorned with a Wonder Woman mural by local artist Dustin Spagnola. Unfazed by the inherent structural challenges, the couple decided to love it back to life as a restaurant. Harvest Pizzeria — with a total capacity of 258 seats spread over the main, mezzanine and rooftop level — is scheduled to open in October at 39 Banks Ave.

“Where other people saw problems, we saw potential,” Kelly Leu says. “It has been a true labor of love for all of us — every contractor, metalworker and craftsperson.”

After such a heavy lift, the menu design seemed simple in comparison. Restaurateur Chris Crader, a close friend of 20 years, launched the original Harvest Pizzeria in Columbus in 2011. Since that time three more stores have opened in Ohio. The Asheville location, independently owned by the Leus, is the only eatery operating outside the Buckeye State.

Among the signature wood-fired pizzas is the Spicy Yuma with chipotle-spiked tomato sauce, chorizo, jalapeño, corn, roasted red pepper and cilantro. Another staple, the Almond Pesto, combines spinach, fresh mozzarella and artichokes. The restaurant also offers gluten-free and vegan options, as well as sandwiches, salads and seasonal bruschetta. Wine choices will lean small-batch and Italian, and local beers will be on tap. Meanwhile, the eatery’s new roof is equipped for live music.

Diners, Leu says, can expect to find her, Jon and their kids on-site. “It’s definitely a family affair,” she says. “It’s been a long project, and we are excited to see the building vital again and bring our vision to fruition.”

Harvest Pizzeria, 39 Banks Ave., will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Hours and menu items can be found at avl.mx/aee.

Chow down

With just three events remaining before the Summer of Chow Chow 2021 says ciao for now, the nonprofit’s board president, Jess Reiser, applauds the team effort — led by Executive Director Rebecca Lynch and festival director Shay Brown — to smoothly execute the multiple parts. After canceling last year’s weekend gathering due to COVID-19, the nonprofit transformed its former model into a series of programs stretched across three months. While food and drink were at the heart of all events, featured topics also addressed racial justice, food justice and climate change.

“The intention that informed planning for 2021 really came through in so many beautiful, engaging, impactful and long-term ways,” Reiser reflects. “We saw community members, chefs, nonprofits, organizers, speakers, farmers and makers connect. We created a ‘both/and’ model: you can have fun, indulge in delicious food and drink and be engaged, intentional, honest and brave in those spaces.”

She notes that after a long and arduous 18 months in the hospitality industry, the different events provided platforms for workers in their individual bubbles to reconnect and be together. She believes the new model that provided more intimacy and immediacy left presenters and attendees with experiences that will linger. “In 2019, we wondered if people were walking away from the events changed or inspired,” Reiser recalls. “I can confidently say in 2021 guests and participants did.”

For more information and to purchase tickets for remaining events, visit avl.mx/6gm.

Clucked up

Chef Meherwan Irani believes in giving the people what they want and not hanging on to what they don’t. So, in early summer, noting that Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken was selling the piri-piri spiced chickens 5-to-1 over the herbes de Provence option, he went all in on the former.

In September, he doubled down on the piri-piri, adding menu items that expanded ways for people to spread their love for the deep red spice. New menu items include Nani’s chicken burger, which combines ground Joyce Farms chicken mixed with Spicewalla piri-piri spice, served on a toasted brioche bun with Duke’s mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onion.

“It’s a sleeper hit,” Irani says. “We had no idea it would take off so quickly.”

Another new flavor bomb on the new menu is the chicken salad melt with havarti cheese and applewood bacon.

Seating is now available both indoors and out. The Chai Pani Restaurant Group will be opening a second location of Nani’s in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market this fall.

Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken is at 1 Page Ave. No. 147. To learn more, visit  avl.mx/prv4 .

Grey area 

The Grey — co-founded by chef Mashama Bailey and entrepreneur John O. Morisano — is one of Savannah’s most acclaimed restaurants. Bailey, a Black woman originally from Queens, N.Y., and Morisano, a white businessman originally from Staten Island, N.Y., also co-authored the bestselling dual memoir Black, White and The Grey, exploring their unexpected friendship. On Thursday, Oct. 7, they will discuss all of it over a prix fixe tasting menu inspired by the book and prepared by the Cúrate culinary team at Cúrate, 13 Biltmore Ave. Tickets are $110 and include dinner and a signed copy of the book, with cocktails from The Grey and wine pairings available for additional purchase. To reserve a seat, call 828-239-2946 or by email at reservations@curatetapas.com

Cúrate at Home

Speaking of Cúrate, on Sept. 1, owners Katie Button and Felix Meana launched a new website, Cúrate at Home. The site offers a selection of prepared foods, Spanish specialty items, imported ingredients, cooking equipment and serving dishes. To shop Cúrate at Home, visit avl.mx/ada.


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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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