One of the things I love most about my city is that it has preserved an era…and completely by accident. For such a modern, progressive, and hip city, Asheville still knows how to hold onto the good ol’ days. Asheville is a wide-open time capsule full of hair feathers, drop-waisted dresses, Fitzgerald novels, and big band music. It’s present even when no one’s dressed in theme and the blues horns hush for the night. That “it” quality hangs around in the delightfully musty scents and subtly ornate ceilings of old 1920s buildings. It’s Ashevillians’ everyday stomping grounds.
48 Biltmore Avenue is no exception. In fact, the ceiling was the first thing I noticed upon walking into Chestnut, a restaurant and lounge here in Asheville. There’s something so romantic about the raised cream-colored tiles, that I later learned to no surprise, are the 1924 originals. I walked over to the bar and hopped up on the stool, going straight for the cocktail menu. The “Saint Graham” suspiciously favors the “Gin Rickey,” Nick Gatsby’s famed favorite drink. Gin and citrus. Just the sound of it makes me take a deeper breath.
One thing about Chestnut I must point out is that it is not themed. That’s perhaps why it’s great. It resurrects the lost generation organically. No fear of finding cheesy posters of This Side of Paradise, or cocktails named something like, “Hemming My Way.” It doesn’t exist, because there’s no need for a theme. This place is real. It’s relaxing; it’s smooth; it’s easy going; it’s new south delicious; it’s all Asheville.
After I devoured my fried green tomatoes, that were somehow the marriage of Grandma’s from the garden and a taste that can only be described as sassy, I chatted with manager, Ken Rethmeier. Much like the restaurant itself, Ken is laid back, inviting, and delighted to have us. He proudly filled us in on the ceilings, and original chestnut fixtures, and I could tell the history of the venue had become part of him as well. When great leadership, awesome service, history, and yummy food meet, the synergy of it all just sizzles. In this case it sizzles quietly, and refreshingly just like that first cocktail I laid eyes on. Gin and citrus everywhere.
I was entranced by the atmosphere, clearly, so I decided to look behind the curtain. I wanted to know what the quality was. Where did this food come from? When I found out it was all local, farm to table, and green, I was sold. This truly is the Asheville poster restaurant.
I asked Rethmeier, “What’s one thing you want me to know that I don’t? What do you want to tell me about this place?”
He replied with a grin, “it’s warm and inviting. You can come taste local craft food and cocktails…and we’re the only place that still hand chops ice.”
Hand chopped ice. I do believe I’ve made my case.