What’s new in food: Zella’s Deli brings NY-style sandwiches to WNC

MANGIA! Zella's Deli co-owners Ivey Lamos and Mike Reppert, fourth and fifth from left, and staff celebrate opening day. Photo by co-owner John Tressler

On its first day of business, April 6, Zella’s Deli ran out of meatballs.

“We had lines out the door,” says John Tressler, co-owner with Ivey Lamos and Mike Reppert. “Everybody wanted a meatball sub.”

Or, as titled on the menu, Mikey’s Meatball Sub.

Tressler’s claim to sandwich fame is Johnny’s Italian, a sub he feels particularly strong about. “I am really picky,” he says. “I get very upset when places put mayo on them.”

No risk of that at Zella’s. Its sub rolls — shipped in from New York — are layered with pepperoni, salami, provolone, capicola ham, lettuce and tomato, sprinkled with olive oil and vinegar (as well as hot pepper relish by request).

For years, Tressler says, he and Reppert (who also co-own Blackbird restaurant), have mulled over the concept for Zella’s. In October 2021, the pair purchased El Gallo on College Street, ultimately closing it in February. Within two months, they flipped the former Mexican restaurant into the retro subway tile look that deli-hungry diners see today.

“Mike grew up in New York, and I grew up outside of Pittsburgh,” says Tressler. “We missed those ethnic neighborhood delis. The place where you can get a great sandwich at an affordable price. Both our backgrounds are Italian, but we want the Jewish deli basics, too.”

So, in addition to meatballs subs and chicken cutlet sandwiches, deli aficionados will find bagels (made in-house) and lox, whitefish salad, pastrami on rye and corned beef, with matzoh ball soup offered once a week. Sides include potato salad, coleslaw, pickled eggs and whole sour pickles. House-made desserts are baklava and cheesecake.

Zella’s, a name derived from Reppert’s mother, Andreanna Maruzella-Reppert, is also proud to bring a family tradition to its downtown business. Sunday suppers will be served 5-8:30 p.m., with spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread, as well as cheese lasagna.

“Family-style, no options. Just like home,” Tressler says with a laugh.

Zella’s Deli, 48 College St., is open 7 days a week. Hours vary. For more information, visit avl.mx/bge.

Upstairs, downstairs

Six hours before Katie Button and Felix Meana opened the second floor of La Bodega by Cúrate for a trial run of operations, Meana was helping unload the 80 chairs and barstools from the transport truck that had just pulled in from Texas.

“It’s the story of the world we’re living in now and the way it’s been since COVID,” he says, referring to ongoing supply and shipping issues and the two-year scramble to repeatedly pivot in response to changing health and safety guidelines.

To date, these pivots have included permanently closing Button & Co. Bagels and turning its South Lexington Avenue storefront into a bodega, with the second level then operating as a commissary kitchen. Amid the pandemic, the husband-and-wife team also launched Cúrate at Home and Cúrate Spanish Wine Club retail marketplaces — all while gradually reopening Cúrate on Biltmore Avenue in stages.

On April 9, two days after the trial run, La Bodega by Cúrate emerged as the fully realized vision of an all-day café, bakery, market and wine store on the first floor and the warm and stylish wine and pintxo bar on the second floor. Key to the new restaurant are chef de cuisine Matt Brown, who traveled to Spain with Meana shortly before opening to immerse himself in the culture and cuisine before finishing the menu, and Jessica Salyer, Cúrate’s wine program manager.

The first-floor café features an all-day menu of Spanish baked goods, sandwiches and salads to takeaway or enjoy at an outdoor window counter. The long-and-narrow, high-ceilinged second floor is full service at tables or the zinc bar, offering a variety of items: conservas (tinned fish); Spanish hams and cheeses; pinxtos (finger foods); small plates like steak tartare and pork belly; daily large plates; and desserts. Spanish wines are available by draft, glass or bottle, as well as cocktails, vermouth and beer.

Both floors operate Wednesday-Sunday. The upstairs pintxo and wine war will serve brunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., then reset to open for dinner at 4:30-10 p.m. The first-floor café is open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. La Bodega will not take reservations.

La Bodega by Cúrate is at 32 S. Lexington Ave. avl.mx/8zh.

Gospel truth

After 13 years living and teaching Pilates in Brooklyn, Rotem “Disco” Bar felt a call to be closer to nature and the urge to return to his true calling. “Food has been the core of my professional world since I worked for one of Tel Aviv’s leading Italian restaurants,” says the Israeli native. “I’ve always been intrigued by it.”

After years of experimenting with an at-home ice cream maker in New York, the passion project became the catalyst for his newborn Gospel Ice Cream in Asheville. “I would bring my ice cream to friends’ parties, and it was very well received,” says Bar. “I sat with the idea of starting an ice cream business for a couple of years, but I didn’t have a background in the product business.”

Bar introduced Gospel — described as small-batch, made-from-scratch, adult flavors — on Instagram on Jan. 29. Earlier this month, he celebrated its debut at the River Arts District Farmers Market with pints of Panna Cotta and Tahini Date.

“I was blown away by orders as soon as I went live,” Bar says. “I’m looking forward to bringing global flavors to ice cream.”

Two new flavors will be announced every other week via a Sunday night email. Those interested can order online the next morning and pick up at the RAD market, 289 Lyman St., Wednesdays, 3-5:30 p.m. Pickups are also available at Waynesville’s Wild Flour Blue Bakery, 113 N. Main St., Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sign up for Gospel updates at avl.mx/bgg.

Ice ice baby

Caitlin Olson’s career trajectory from nuclear weapons officer in the U.S. Air Force to finance manager for BMW Asheville to franchise owner of Asheville’s first Jeremiah’s Italian Ice seems puzzling. But it makes sense to Olson.

“Growing up in Orlando, Jeremiah’s was the destination for our family to get a treat or celebrate something,” she says. “We loved it so much that my mother even called about opening a franchise.”

Though Jeremiah’s was not franchising then, the company kept the Olsons’ contact information. By the time Jeremiah’s reached out, Caitlin’s parents, Diane and Rusty Olson, had retired to Maggie Valley, and Caitlin had relocated to Asheville. “I was ready for a career change, and Asheville seemed like the perfect place for a Jeremiah’s.”

The family-owned franchise found its sweet spot on Merrimon Avenue at the former Tacos and Taps location — already built out with a drive-thru kiosk and a small building with two walk-up windows and patio.

The April 7 opening day was rainy, Caitlin reports, but busy. “The most popular flavors were cotton candy and mango, but we offer free sample tastes all day every day, so people tried a lot of flavors.”

With nearly 25 flavors daily, that’s a lot of potential for brain freeze. Gelati — Italian ice layered with soft-serve ice cream — is a signature item. “Jeremiah’s was a special place for our family, and we’re excited to bring that feeling to Asheville.”

Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, 705 Merrimon Ave., is open seven days a week, noon-10 p.m. with extended hours on Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit avl.mx/bgd.

Eat, give, live

Mark your calendar for Thursday, April 28, when Western North Carolina AIDS Project invites people to Dine Out for Life and raise funds to support HIV prevention, care and harm reduction services. In collaboration with Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, nearly 50 restaurants have signed up and will provide customers with portals to donate to WNCAP via a QR code or online.

For more information and a list of participating restaurants, visit avl.mx/bgh.

Mother’s day

Mother Earth Food celebrates a decade of connecting local farmers and makers to the community via online ordering and home delivery with a party on Friday, April 22, 5-9 p.m., at Smoky Park Supper Club, 350 Riverside Drive. The Earth Day event will feature food trucks, live music, lawn games, a cash bar and meet-and-greets with farmers.

The event is free to attend, but registration is required. For more information, visit avl.mx/bgk.



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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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One thought on “What’s new in food: Zella’s Deli brings NY-style sandwiches to WNC

  1. Curious

    Will Asheville ever have a Kosher-style deli, with matzah ball soup, chopped liver, tongue sandwiches, borscht, knishes, gefilte fish, in other words, the whole schmear?

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