Asheville’s food scene is more than just restaurants. It’s indie grocery stores, grocery wars, food scarcity hand-in-hand with great chefs and restaurateurs, and the unfolding drama as a small mountain town makes food that makes the whole world take note.
1. ASHEVILLE’S GROCERY WARS
2013 was Asheville’s Year of the Grocery Store, with Trader Joe’s finally opening in Asheville next to a brand-new Harris Teeter, and plans for another Whole Foods (across from the mall), plus another Fresh Market and a Publix on Hendersonville Road.
And Earth Fare/Greenlife veteran John Swann just opened his own independent grocery/café, Katuah Market.
2. ASHEVILLE CHEFS MAKE A SPLASH NATIONALLY
Some of our usual suspects – William Dissen, Elliott Moss and Katie Button – received national attention and national awards this year.
And Moss (formerly of The Admiral) and Button (Curate) were both James Beard semifinalists. There’s a lot of nationally recognized talent cooking on our local scene. Of note: Dissen’s recent long, respectful piece on Appalachian cooking in the Huffington Post.
3. CABLE COOKING TV DISCOVERS ASHEVILLE
National cable channels that discovered our food scene this year included The Travel Channel (downtown barbecue cook-off and a visit to The Lot), The Cooking Channel (Laurey’s Catering and Tomato Jam), and the Food Network, which shot segments at Blind Pig and Pisgah Brewing with celebrity chef Justin Warner. This will continue in 2014 as a PBS food documentary already plans to shoot during a Blind Pig dinner.
4. ASHEVILLE INDIE RESTAURANTS EXPAND
Folks freaking love Curate, Chai Pani, and Nine Mile, so it’s no surprise that each of those Asheville standouts is expanding. Chai Pani opened a downstairs lounge, MG Road, and a new location in Decatur. The Curate team will open a new nightclub, The Nightbell, in the next couple of months. And Nine Mile has announced it’s opening a new location on Haywood Road – Nine Mile West (rhymes with HELL YES).
Thirsty Monk opened TWO new locations in 2013, the Green Sage will open a west side location next to Earth Fare in 2014. Rosetta’s is branching out too, with a downstairs bar. Also expanding in 2014: Neo Burrito (Woodfin), and Tupelo Honey.
5. CHIPOTLE & CHICK-FIL-A: THE CHAINS MOVE IN
Asheville loves its indie restaurants, but 2013 was the year that chains generated excitement even if they didn’t open. Look out for the Chick-fil-a near the Merrimon Harris Teeter and a new Golden Corral on Patton Avenue. Based on all the buzz, and despite corporate denial, we’re calling 2014 as the year Chipotle announces it’s moving in at last.
6. BIG CHANGES IN THE OLD GUARD AT 12 BONES, THE ADMIRAL
Holy crap! 12 Bones changed owners. And Ivan Candido, a young, self-taught chef still in his 20’s, took the reins of the Admiral, one of Asheville’s most popular and respected restaurants.
7. THE SOUTH SLOPE FIZZLES, THE WEST SIDE BOOMS
The South Slope is turning out a billion new breweries, but its restaurant action hit a hitch or two. In 2013 it saw two restaurant concepts fail or stall: King Daddy’s Chicken & Waffles will now debut in West Asheville; and the eagerly awaited Buxton Hill Barbecue from Asheville chef Elliott Moss (an Admiral mastermind) is dead in the water.
The booming restaurant neighborhood right now is Haywood Road in West Asheville, which is currently slated to be home to Nine Mile West, two new coffee shops, Buffalo Nickel, and King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffles. And FYI, there’s work underway for a new restaurant at the old Barbecue Inn at the intersection of Haywood and Patton.
Keep in mind that New Belgium is bringing an influx of tourists and local workers to West Asheville. This area’s restaurant golden age might be starting next year.
8. ASHEVILLE: #9 NATIONALLY IN FOOD HARDSHIP
In a city chock full of delicious restaurants and top chefs, we can’t feed our own.
According to TakePart.com, a social justice-focused website, 21.8 percent of people in the Asheville area struggle with food hardship, and our city is one of the 10 hungriest places in the country.
Of note: The recent U.S. Conference of Mayors 2013 report examining hunger and homelessness in 25 cities was released this month, and Asheville was one of the 25 cities included. The report cited “unemployment, medical/health costs and poverty” as the main reasons behind hunger in Asheville, according to this summary from Mountain Xpress.
9. MAGNOLIA’S CLOSES
WHAT? After around 30 years in business, the true O.G. downtown restaurant (we’re counting the Med as a diner) closed up shop for good with nary a peep. Look for it to become a Brazilian steakhouse in 2014.
10. RHUBARB OPENS: Rhubarb, the new restaurant by well-known chef John Fleer, opened late this year and lots of folks have already noted that Fleer and his food are setting a new mark for restaurant dining in Asheville. Garden & Gun just named Rhurbarb one of five new restaurants in the South to watch.
Celebrity shout-outs in 2013: The president still loves 12 Bones and orders barbecue every time he’s in town, and TV personality Joe Rogan loves Buchi Kombucha.
Trends to look for in 2014: donuts and Brazilian steakhouses. Look for new donut shop Hole, Vortex Doughnuts on the South Slope, and two West Side coffee shops, plus Brazilian steakhouses downtown and on Hendo Road.
Things we’re tired of waiting for: An Ethiopian restaurant! A sophisticated downtown nightlife spot with dancing (though Nightbell may have us covered). A real soul food restaurant. A 24-hour diner. And Elliott Moss to open a new restaurant.
This just in: According to Moss, Asheville needs to look for his new whole-hog, wood-cooked BBQ joint in 2014.