ASHEVILLE, N.C. In downtown Asheville, good restaurants are as handsomely conspicuous as the artsy boutiques and bodegas that give the Blue Ridge Mountain mecca its trendy, vibrant flair. Across the French Broad River, in West Asheville? Not so much. This is the funkier side of town, where families, artists and workers live in frame bungalows lining narrow, hilly side streets, and the main drag, Haywood Road, has an earthier, slightly gritty feel. Thats why driving down Haywood, youre more apt to notice the gas station across the street than the squat cinder block building that houses The Admiral. Chances are, you will pass us at least three times. You wont be able to find a good parking place, said Admiral co-owner Drew Wallace. When Admiral opened in 2007, Wallace and business partner Jonathan Robinson called this the wage-earning side of town and their aim was to create a successful dive bar/unexpected restaurant. It has more than met their desires. West Asheville has blossomed since those early days, and the Admiral has morphed from a neighborhood tavern into a destination restaurant, but it still feels like a wonderfully hidden gem. Reservations are a must, unless you want to sit at the bar and are willing to wait. But those are the best seats in the small, dimly lit space. Thats where you get the best view of the open, galley kitchen, where a quartet of chefs busily cook up small plates of unforgettable mussels, bathed in a slightly smoky sauce of San Marzano tomatoes; entrees like meaty, barbecue sauced pork chops with collard greens and root vegetable gratin; or an other-worldly version of steak frites, featuring black Angus rib-eye, sweet potato chips, green beans and quail egg salad. Desserts might include a sinfully delicious chocolate mousse with cherry clotted cream and red wine cherry sauce, but the eclectic menu changes regularly, so prepare for the unexpected. There is really no straightforward summary of our style Wallace says. The food tends to be a little more experimental than most of our peers. And much of it is locally sourced, from family-owned businesses. The slightly kitschy decor includes a neon Dive sign in one corner, a handful of industrial-looking hanging lamps, and black-clad, tattooed and welcoming servers. There are no uppity attitudes at the Admiral, and thats partly what draws Boomers, hipsters, business execs and obvious out-of-towners. Most appetizers and small plates cost $12 or less, and entrees run up to $30. On Friday and Saturday nights, tables are pushed aside at 10 p.m. for dance parties. Also on Haywood Road is the informal Sunny Point Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but best known for amazingly fluffy and delicious biscuits and legendary waits for breakfast and brunch.
Photo by Matt Rose Asheville Citizen-Times February is looking to be an impressive month for the restaurant scene. Thats particularly true for West Ashevilles Haywood Road, which is experiencing yet another restaurant boom. Among restaurants like King Daddys Chicken and Waffle (by the Early Girl Eatery owners) and a new pub, Buffalo Nickel, February will also see the completion of a new location of Nine Mile on West Ashevilles Haywood Road. The restaurant is likely to open in early March. What to expect from the group that opened Nine Mile in Montford in 2008? Nothing terribly different, it turns out just a whole lot more elbow room than in its 1,350-square-foot Montford space, and perhaps a slightly expanded menu. As it turns out, this second Nine Mile is one you might call a reluctant expansion. Owner Aaron Thomas said that Nine Mile Montford, which can serve up to 250 people a day, has simply outgrown its footprint. This Nine Mile here became so busy so fast that we cant prep or store enough to keep it going, said Thomas, sitting in the buzzing dining room of the current restaurant. Thomas, who will open the restaurant with wife June Thomas and co-owners Roland Knoll and Nate Ray, said the level of business Nine Mile has experienced made the expansion a near necessity. Its exciting, but I didnt really want to do it, he said. Nine Mile Montford will stay exactly the same, said Thomas, though the restaurant may lose some of its staff to the new Haywood location. The staff we have here right now is the best weve had here, said Thomas. And now we have to split that up. Thats probably the toughest thing about it. Still, Aaron is excited to have the growing room; the new restaurant is more than double the space of the original. Right now, hes storing some refrigerated goods at Lucky Otter, the restaurant that business partner Roland Knoll also owns. The new place has a basement, a freezer walk-in and two refrigerator walk-ins, said Thomas. Here we just have one refrigerator walk-in and a single-door freezer unit. Everything is cramped. The new restaurant will have a full bar with a top-shelf rum selection. The Nine Mile bar will have several Caribbean-themed signature drinks. The restaurant is likely to open as early as the second week of February, approximately the same target opening for Buffalo Nickel, the restaurant that shares half of the new Nine Miles Haywood duplex. Aaron said many people have asked him if he thinks its a problem opening almost literally on top of another new restaurant. I see it as, competition makes you better, he said. And if youre putting out good food, which I feel Nine Mile does, at an affordable price, you can compete with anybody, if youre doing it right. Nine Mile will be located at 747 Haywood Road. Written by Mackensy Lunsford, Asheville Citizen-Times