I did say I would return another day to finish telling you about our day of serendipity in Asheville, didn’t I?
The next part of our evening discovering what’s new in Asheville actually had been planned although it did come about because of serendipity. I was driving on Lexington Avenue when a new restaurant caught my eye. James and I like to think that we are pretty up to-date on the restaurant scene in Asheville but I have to admit this one completely flew under our radar. Lex 18 is located right across the street from the entrance to Top’s Shoe Store and I have been in and out of that door many times but never noticed what was across the street until this week! It calls itself a Moonshine Bar offering Appalachian Cuisine–something a little different from the usual Asheville food scene.
Back at our Asheville bed and breakfast, the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, some research turned up an interesting history for the restaurant. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times the restaurant opened in March 2014 then closed in again in early June. It recently re-opened with the third new chef in almost as many months. It has no listing on TripAdvisor that I could find and the listing on Urban Spoon seemed to be for one of the earlier incarnations. There are some good and current reviews on Yelp along with some from the earlier months (interesting reading) and, if you want to search for it, there is some dirty laundry being hung out by the previous chefs/owners which gets a little ugly.
But James and I didn’t know any of this when we dined there. We went because it promised live music and a slightly different take on Western North Carolina cuisine. The restaurant is designed to look like the speakeasy it once was. (There seems to be a trend toward speakeasies in Asheville. Read Part I of this blog, What’s New Asheville for more about that!). A gorgeous tin ceiling hangs over a lustrous wood interior which features Art Deco design. An upright piano in the corner gave promise of the music to come. It wasn’t very crowded for a Wednesday night in the summer, probably a consequence of the messy social media, but there were enough people there to make it feel comfortable. They had a decent wine list, a few retro cocktails and flights of moonshine for those who were interested.
On first perusal the menu didn’t seem to offer much: a number of salads, mushroom bisque and some cheese for appetizers and the entrees featured the usual NC mountain trout, along with salmon and lamb. James ordered the soup and some braised brisket and I ordered the grilled cauliflower and the rabbit. We decided to share an order of the savory doughnut with duck liver mousse and berries because we were intrigued. The food, when it came, blew us away. The flavors were clean and bright, the pairings perfect and intriguing (my cauliflower came with garlic scapes and cat’s ear dandelion and I couldn’t get enough of it!) and the sauces were both light and sublime. As a matter of fact, the only thing that didn’t work that well was the doughnut. It was too sweet and fussy although the mousse was delicious. The whole meal was a welcome break from the sometimes aggressive trendiness of the Asheville food scene. I only have two suggestions to make: 1) Put something on the menu to bring people in. While we were eating we saw a number of people read the menu and walked away. It was a shame because they would have loved the meal, and 2) Please give us some bread to soak up those wonderful sauces!
Shortly after dinner began, The Roaring Lions began to play. Fans will know of them from their very popular gigs at 5 Walnut Wine Bar which is often so packed that people line the sidewalks. The band with it’s “non-traditional jazz” is perfect for Lex 18. The music is good and not so loud as to prevent conversation while the players are pretty easy on the eyes! You can enjoy a preview by clicking on the link below. (Nope still don’t know how to embed it!)
In sum, if Management can keep in the background and let their very accomplished chef, Edwin Bloodworth, do what he does so well then this restaurant has a chance to build an audience and secure a place in Asheville. We are going to keep an eye on it and if it maintains this quality, it will become a recommended restaurant for a quiet, romantic dinner for our guests.