The Woodfire Bar and Grille inside the Holiday Inn Asheville – Biltmore East is truly an unexpected surprise. Executive chef Jason Krueger is the culinary brains behind the independent restaurant, which is privately owned by Bryan Nearn and Mountain Top Management.
Krueger refers to the Woodfire as “somewhat of a rogue operation.” He first started working at the Holiday Inn in April 2015 as a sous chef when the restaurant was called Big Al’s. The place was revamped and rebranded as Woodfire Bar and Grille in spring 2016.
Nearn’s wife wanted a woodfire grill, Krueger says, which led to the concept and the name. The kitchen’s hickory wood-fired grill is now the main focal point for menu items. About 80 percent of the dishes come off the grill, including everything from asparagus and Brussel sprouts to chicken wings, steaks, salmon and Hickory Nut Gap Farm bone-in pork chops. A good portion of ingredients is sourced in the Asheville area.
Xpress talked with Krueger about the restaurant and his work as a chef:
Mountain Xpress: What’s your background?
Jason Krueger: I started working in the business when I was about 19. I worked in wine sales for a while but always loved cooking. A microbrewery opened in my hometown of Lancaster, Pa., and I approached them about a job in the kitchen. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. I was the kitchen manager within two years. I asked a colleague who had attended culinary school if going to school was something I should do too, and he said I already had the real-world experience, so I never did. I don’t think I’ve missed out on anything. Over the years, I’ve worked for different restaurant groups and culinary operations and was happy I found this place. Dewaine Smith, the general manager here has been a great mentor too.
Being located in a hotel, do you get much local business?
Our local clientele is building. We’re doing a lot of social media stuff to get the word out. We offer 10 percent off to locals all the time. We also have $5 burgers and $5 Moscow mules on Monday nights. Those prices are pretty hard to beat. Right now our clientele mix is about 70 percent hotel guests and 30 percent locals. What’s one of the things locals like the most? It’s easy to park. No hassle. The atmosphere is also elegant, yet comfortable and cozy.
What are some of your more popular menu items?
Our authentic Philly cheese steak, trout and chicken wings. On Wednesday and Fridays, you can get a dozen wings for $10 — no sauce needed.
Do you enjoy cooking over the wood-fired grill?
I certainly hope so! The trick is to get it lit and let it smolder. The flavors released in the food are so delicious.
What’s your most coveted ingredient?
Love. You have to have passion.
Why do you enjoy working here?
It’s all about the staff. We have great retention because we work and laugh together. We keep each other’s morale up and my front-of-the-house manager, Sharon Shach — well, there are no words. She’s amazing.
What’s your favorite menu item?
I love the burgers. The meat comes from Hickory Nut Gap, and they’re oh-so-good.