The Delightful Story of Joe Juniper and Vermilion Valley Vineyards

Meeting and tasting with Joe Juniper at the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium

To be a wine farmer is to be a smile farmer. ~ Joe Juniper

The last weekend of March 2019, my chosen brothers, Gary and Ben, and I hosted one of our Seattle wine tastings, this time with a fantastic lineup of six wines provided by winemaker, vintner, and co-owner, Joe Juniper, of Vermilion Valley Vineyards. I met Joe at the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium and found myself immediately intrigued as to how this young man found his way into Ohio’s wine industry.

Ready to blind taste the wines

We had the best laid plans: choose the food pairings, blind taste the wines, take notes, discuss the wines, reveal the wines, discuss the wines further, and take lots of photos. I must confess, though, that nothing went as planned with regard to note and photo taking, and perhaps Joe might be disappointed that this article is not going to be as much about the wines individually, but more about them collectively, the camaraderie we shared at the dinner table, and most importantly, Joe’s story. Truth be told, nothing inspires me more than to discover a brilliant, spirited entrepreneur with a passion-filled story to share.

Our main course of pork, asparagus, and kale salad

Eight of us came together on a Sunday night to taste the wines blind as part of a multi-course dinner. As usual, my brothers Gary and Ben outdid themselves purchasing and preparing the food: spicy bacon-wrapped jalapeños, shrimp and grits, kale salad, grilled asparagus, grilled pork, and chocolate cake, all dairy free and healthy. We hid the wines in tissue paper, rather than paper bags, which added a festive touch.

The dinner lineup from Joe Juniper and Vermilion Valley Vineyards

What happened next is how wine is meant to be enjoyed. Instead of sticking to the plan, the dinner evolved into something much less structured and formal. We began the evening with the pétillant naturel in celebratory sparkling wine glasses, as a toast to my new career. This wine was by far the most unusual of our tasting, aptly described by Joe as a “kitchen sink” blend of grapes. Throughout the evening, we tasted (er, drank!) the Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin (the first for all attendees except me, I think!), and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Gewürztraminer was an ideal pairing with both the bacon-wrapped jalapeños and the shrimp and grits, while the four reds elevated our enjoyment of the pork. I do not think anyone at the dinner but me had tasted wines from Ohio. Because I live in Napa, California, a few guests assumed that the wines were from here, and remarked they had never tasted similarly balanced, elegant, lower alcohol, and food-friendly wines from California. Others commented that the wines were Old World in style, comparing them to wines from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Some tried to guess the grape varieties and were surprised to discover what they were during the reveal. A testament to the deliciousness of these wines was that not a single drop remained at the conclusion of dinner.

Ben’s wonderful shrimp and grits

Once I revealed the grape varieties and that the wines were from the Lake Erie AVA, located outside of Cleveland, Ohio, I was hammered with questions from the dinner guests. We had experienced an authentic and genuine wine moment and were eager to learn more. Everyone wanted to know more about the Joe, the guy behind these wonderful wines. I immediately jumped on my iPhone, messaged him, and relayed his answers to the dinner guests. Below is the conversation.

Me: Questions! Minds blown!

Firstly, I told everyone that you were young! How old are you?
I’m 27 years old.

TTB approved, pét-nat label

What grapes are in the pét-nat?
Pét-nat is mainly Pinot Noir dominant, with Muscat Ottonel being around 25% and other grapes like Lemberger and Müller-Thurgau at just a few percent each.

Kristi, Gordy, and Joe Juniper

What is your background in winemaking? Any family history?
I am 100% self taught (though perhaps it shows at times). I do not have family in the industry. I was raised as an inner-city kid from a lower-class household. I have always had a love of plants, and at age 13, was given the opportunity to work in a local vineyard, pruning, and harvesting. I started working in the cellar when I was 16 years old, helping make the wine, and by age 18, I began at the new startup winery, Vermilion Valley Vineyards. My role was to grow grapes and make wine. In 2013, when I was 22 years old, the partnership at Vermilion Valley Vineyards folded and allowed my wife, Kristi, and me to assume ownership. We acquired a partner two years ago that is allowing for our expansion.

Vermilion Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

Do you grow all your grapes? How many cases do you produce annually and how many cases of each of the wines we tasted? We are 100% estate grown and are trending to 160 acres over the next few years. Our current production is around 3,000 cases. We are building out our new production facility to 55,000 cases. As to the wines you tasted, Pét-Nat – 245 cases, Gewürz – 185 cases, Pinot Noir – 125 cases, Cabernet Franc – 285 cases, Chambourcin – 190 cases, Cabernet Sauvignon – 65 cases.

Joe and Kristi enjoying some rare time away from the winery

What wines inspire you?
I love whites with structure. Typically lees aged and perhaps a bit of skin contact. We drink California Chardonnay more than anything. With reds I like rich, powerful wines, but with finesse and complexity. High-alcohol fruit bomb doesn’t cut it. We drink primarily Italian reds like Super Tuscans.

Everyone enjoyed the wines! You might get some friend requests and Instagram follows. One suggested you should be making wine in the Loire.
I am glad to hear it. The feedback is greatly appreciated and thank you for taking the time to show them off. The Loire is a dream trip.

How many grape varieties do you grow? Which ones?
Above is the full list. Some are to be planted this season, so not all in production yet. Thirty varieties in total. It a lot but we have an extremely variable climate here so it helps us spread out our risk to allow us to have a number of exceptional wines in every single year. That, and for blending purposes.

Joe and Gordy Juniper

Any events you would like to share with my readers?
GORDY’S 4th BIRTHDAY PARTY (6/9/19)
Gordy, our vineyard pup will be turning four and will be having a huge birthday bash on Sunday, June 9th, from 1 to 4 in celebration. 
This is a pet friendly event so bring your dog to help celebrate Gordy’s birthday. There will be music, people food trucks, a puppy food truck, 50/50 raffle, and basket raffles. This is a benefit to raise money for Partners With Paws Of Lorain County, Inc., an organization that distributes funds to many Lorain County animal rescues. There will be a $10 entry fee and all raffles and T-shirt proceeds will be donated to the cause. 
Radio Stations WOBL & WDLW will also be there broadcasting live.
Mark your calendar and save the date now: SUNDAY, JUNE 9TH, 1:00 TO 4:00 PM AT VERMILION VALLEY VINEYARDS.
(All dogs must remain on a leash)
Please share with all of your animal loving friends!

Who doesn’t love another photo of Gordy?

More about Joe Juniper
In addition to his ownership and duties at Vermilion Valley Vineyards, Joe serves on the board of directors for the Ohio Wine Producers Association. He holds degrees in viticulture and agriculture business from Missouri State University and The Ohio State University. Follow Joe on Instagram at @myvinesmywines.

Vermilion Valley Vineyards
11005 Gore Orphanage Road
Wakeman OH 44889
Main Number: 440-965-5202
Sales: 419-239-1259
General Inquiries and Weddings, Parties & Meetings (Kristi Juniper): vermilionvalleyvineyards@gmail.com
Sales (Joe Juniper): myvinesmywines@gmail.com
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/VermilionValleyVineyards/

Photos Credits: Elizabeth Smith and Joe Juniper/Vermilion Valley Vineyards

Ten Questions for Anthony Campbell of Redwing Café in Rainier Beach, Seattle

2019-01-20 14.55.08
Redwing Café

When my chosen family in Seattle moved to the Rainier Beach, Seattle, neighborhood a year and a half ago, one of the first restaurants to which they introduced me was Redwing Café. I was immediately smitten with the entire restaurant, from the healthy menu selections to the warm and friendly atmosphere, to the art adorning the walls. Since my first visit, I have returned to Redwing Café every trip to Seattle. During one of my visits last year, we bought some of Redwing Café’s vegan biscuits for a sparkling wine brunch my family and I hosted. Needless to say, I was thrilled to finally meet and interview co-owner Anthony Campbell and share Redwing Café’s story.

2019-01-20 13.23.26
One of Redwing Café amazing dishes

I heard that your entry into cooking and the food industry was baking. Please share your story. 
I was a contractor for many years but was ready for a change. I always cooked at home but decided to teach myself to bake and it worked.

What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
There were no restaurants near our home in Rainier Beach. I had worked in a vegetarian restaurant in the past and my wife and I decided to just go for it.

Is Redwing Café your first restaurant? How did you choose the name? How long have you been business? 
Yes, this is my first and only restaurant. My wife, Su Harambe, and I opened it four and a half years ago. I chose the name because my grandparents lived in Red Wing, Minnesota. When I was a kid we would visit often. It was a place I loved that felt very homey, someone was always glad to see you when you arrived.  I wanted the café to have that kind of a feeling. Like coming to our home for breakfast or lunch or just to hang out with coffee and a pastry. And, I think we achieved that.

2019-01-20 13.24.45
A brunch sandwich at Redwing Café

Why did you select your location in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle?
We have lived in Rainier Beach for the last 15 years and loved the neighborhood. We were missing a café, and we wanted one that embraced the entire community. I wanted to offer healthy food in a beautiful atmosphere. It is important to me that everyone feels welcomed by me and my friendly staff.

Will you share with us details about your restaurant’s concept and décor, especially the art element?
We worked with what we had, so a lot of things in the café were re-purposed. The beautiful wood walls just appeared when I removed the drywall. The exposed framing is for 2x4s nailed directly to each other. We cleaned up the wood and finished it with linseed oil. We like color and art and wanted to have all of these elements as part of Redwing. The art shows change every two months and we try to show mostly local art. All proceeds of art sales go to the artists. Art is a very important part of the experience here and my wife works hard to find lots of beautiful art to hang.

Is Redwing Café vegetarian? What is your style of cooking and baking?
Yes, Redwing Café is all vegetarian. We offer many vegan options as well as plenty of gluten free items. My wife and I have been vegetarians for most of our adult lives, so that was natural for us. The style of cooking and baking is pretty simple. We like the pastries to never been overly sweet. You should enjoy the flavors rather than being shocked by sweetness. The menu items are healthy and meat free, but we hope they are also appealing to people who are not vegetarian.

2019-01-20 13.24.05
My brunch with the indescribably delicious vegan biscuit

I am a huge fan of your vegan biscuits, thanks to my dairy-free friend, Gary, and I am a Southern girl that demands a lot from her biscuits. Will you share with us why and how you came up with the idea and recipe? What are some of the other customer and staff menu favorites? 
It was just a matter of trial and error until the perfect biscuit emerged. The Harambe salad is quite popular and it uses the lemon tahini dressing from an old Seattle favorite, Gravity Bar. My wife and I both worked there and since it no longer exists the owner gave us the go ahead to put it on our menu. Our almond croissants are quite popular. And of course, the vegan biscuits and gravy are a hit. For many of the vegan pastries, we use Earth Balance (vegan buttery sticks) in place of butter. The secret to the vegan biscuit is olive oil. The gravy contains hemp milk, cashews, almonds, and rice flour, among other things, all blended to a creamy consistency.

Do you have a philosophy as it relates to food, beverage, and hospitality?
We want things to be tasty, healthy and beautiful. We like everyone to feel like we are welcoming them into our home, our family and our community. Because of that feeling people seem to come in and join into that community and make new friends here. Kids seem to feel really comfortable at Redwing as well.

Do you have plans to open additional locations or restaurants? Why or why not?
No more. This is plenty of work and this was as much about Rainier Beach as it was about me owning a restaurant. It would be hard to duplicate in a neighborhood in which we weren’t so involved.

2019-01-20 13.55.11
A glimpse inside of Redwing Café

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming menu items, events, etc.?
Yes, an event! May 10th from 6pm to 9pm we are hosting a fundraiser and art opening to benefit the Twilson Mack short film production, 703 – short, gay, and delicious. Featuring live music from Moon Dial, the evening will also be the official opening of writer/director Tom McIntire’s show of paintings of 703’s short, gay, and/or delicious cast members.

Redwing Café
9272 57th Ave S
Seattle WA 98118
Phone: (206) 420-1706
Email: redwingcafeseattle@gmail.com
Hours:
Tues – Fri 7am – 4pm
Sat & Sun 8am – 4pm
Closed Mondays

plēb urban winery

IMG_0359
2018 Maréchal Foch rosé

I have visited plēb urban winery in Asheville, North Carolina, three times over the course of the past five months: October 2018, November 2018, and January 2019. I am planning another visit this month, February 2019, so make that four visits. This may qualify me as a plēbeian and that is OK. I am delighted to share my latest wine crush with you, my readers. (See what I did there?)

plēb urban winery opened in September 2018 offering wines from various regions. However, their mission is to produce small-lot NC wines with grapes sourced within a two-hour radius of Asheville. To date, plēb has released three of their 2018 wines: a rare Maréchal Foch rosé from Appalachian High Country (8.8% ABV), a Chardonnay Pét-Nat from Henderson County (10.1% ABV), and an effervescent, Cayuga-based wine in a can called exuberant white (12.2% ABV). I have tasted all three and enjoyed them immensely because they are a palate match to my Hs (Hypersensitive) Vinotype, with their lower alcohol, higher acidity, no added sulfites, and a “less is more” approach to winemaking. The wines are kegged and offered by the glass or growler. The most intriguing of the three for me has been following the evolution of the Maréchal Foch rosé. When I initially tasted it in November 2018, its higher acid was more pronounced. However, when I tasted it again in January 2018, it was like tasting a different wine. The bright fruit flavors and acid were much more harmonious.

What I most love about plēb is that the winery is bringing Western North Carolina wine to the forefront of Asheville’s craft beverage market, especially to a younger generation of buyers, most of whom are likely craft beer drinkers since Asheville is such a beer destination. I also enjoy plēb because they are changing what the vision of a winery is. The vibe is anti-establishment and anti-traditional regarding the varietal wines they make, their winemaking style, their packaging, and their marketing. Different is good for all wine consumers.

The plēb urban winery team
The plēb urban winery team. (Photo Credit: https://mountainx.com/food/small-bites-pleb-urban-winery-opens-in-the-rad/)

To delve into plēb’s philosophy and approach to winemaking, the wine industry, the urban winery environment, and wine marketing, I interviewed the team: co-owner and business manager, Lauren Turpin; co-owner and winemaker, Chris Denesha; and assistant winemaker, Tyler Kay. Below is the story of plēb urban winery in their own words.

What inspired you to get into the winemaking business?
Lauren: The surge of craft beer and local breweries had me wondering if a similar local tap room approach and concept could be applied to wine. I wanted to start a business that produced a product, engaged with the community and filled a gap in the market. After doing some research, I believed this could be achieved through an urban winery. And that, while I’m not the winemaker, is how I got into the winemaking business.
Chris: It’s the farming and growing aspect that got me into the business. There is something beautiful about working with the land and partnering to make something that has the unique ability to age for a long time and tell its unique story of place and history. Being a part of growing grapes and making wine has more to do with the place and year in which the grapes were grown than anything else. I got into winemaking more as I saw the identity being stripped away from our local grapes and wine to fit a more homogenized and marketable palate. It’s simply not representative of what most people love about wine and we are losing that connection without anyone really knowing that it’s happening.
Tyler: Wine sparked my curiosity in college. My “ah-ha” bottle was a 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from California. I never tasted anything like it, and I needed to know why. I bought a wine encyclopedia and dove right in. After college, I worked on a vineyard in southern Utah. Then I started my path towards becoming a sommelier. I love to travel, but when you’re balling on a budget, I would study regions and plan a trip. It helped shaped my winemaking style and kept the dialogue of travel alive.

Why and how did you select your location?
Lauren: We selected our location in the River Arts District for its size, accessibility and neighborhood. Wine is art and to be surrounded by hundreds of artists throughout the district, it felt like a natural fit. The size of the space allows us to produce and grow. It also enables us to provide a full-production winery and tap room experience to a large audience. Lastly, being two miles from downtown and Biltmore Village and next to West Asheville, we are well situated to serve locals and tourists.

IMG_1115
My tasting flight

How did you choose the name plēb?
Lauren: The plebeian spirit and their admiration for the gods of agriculture, fertility and viticulture led us to select the unique name. Our focus is on local growers, pursuing local vineyards and grapes that will grow well here in Western North Carolina. We seek to pay growers for their crops a rate that enables them to reinvest in their land. Farmers, winemakers, artists, in Roman times these were the plebeians that were the economic backbone and underappreciated of society. We want to put them front and center.

IMG_1122
Inside the winery space

Will you please share with us details about the winery’s design and décor, both the tasting room and the working winery?
Lauren: Being in the River Arts District and among the large murals, we wanted to bring that design inside since we have large walls befitting their skills.

What is plēb’s winemaking style or philosophy?
Chris and Tyler: We grew up playing baseball, and both of our fathers taught us the old school philosophy of things. I’d say that mentality is carried over in the winery. Old world winemaking with modern technology. This means low intervention in the cellar. Hand destemmed, foot crushed reds. Whole cluster pressed whites and rosés. Only non-competitive yeast strains, or 100% wild spontaneous fermentation. We even used fermenting wine to pitch on new juice to promote fermentation. No sulfur added, no fining or filtering. Just a cold cellar temperature to age, and we’re BIG fans of barrel aging on fine lees. We work in a cold climate and we want to see the reward of patience in time, not heat to showcase these wines.

What kind of vineyard partnerships does plēb seek or have? What are your criteria for selecting partners and vineyard sources?
Chris: We manage about 5 acres up in the Boone area. The rest of our grapes are all contract based with an emphasis on new small growers. We’re focused on Western North Carolina, which is generally higher elevation vineyard sites ranging from 2,100-3,400 ft. We want to build a united mentality for the future and longevity of this new wine growing region. Recognizing our temperate rainforest continental climate and acting accordingly with the right varietals. We believe highlighting French American hybrids and native varieties as quality grapes, along with shorter growing season Vitis vinifera.

IMG_1121
exuberant white wine in a can (Photo Credit: G Social Media)

Why does plēb sell wines by the glass, growler, cans, and/or on tap instead of traditional bottles?
Lauren: We have a commitment to be environmentally friendly and sustainable, not just in the vineyard but throughout our operation. Therefore, we do not bottle in mass. Using stainless steel kegs, we keep the equivalent of 78 bottles of wine free from light and oxygen for an extended amount of time. The growler option allows customers flexibility to choose any wine on tap to-go. Our cans are great for three reasons – first, they are recyclable, second, they are convenient for our outdoor enthusiasts, and third, it’s 375mL or two glasses of wine, which is a good size for one person or two to split. If you see any of our wine in a bottle it’s because either the wine or the retailer demanded it in that format.

Does the winemaking team have any favorite wines to make? Why?
Lauren: Sparkling because they’re my favorite to drink!
Chris: Sparkling because of bottle variation, you never know what you’re going to get!
Tyler: Rosés because so much is dependent on the chemistry of the grapes to dictate the winemaking.

Besides the winery, where can we find your wines?
Lauren: Select retailers, breweries and restaurants in the Asheville area.

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming wine releases, events, etc.?
Lauren: I see us as revolutionaries and advocates for WNC grapes and wines and I call upon all those who want to revolt to join us. We will have new single varietal wines and blends coming out on a regular basis throughout the year. Best to check our website and social media for up-to-date information.
Tyler: Live life with no regrets, and everybody Wang Chung tonight.

Ten Questions for Adam and Kate Bannasch of Copper Crown in Asheville, North Carolina

2019-01-10 16.50.38
The not-to-be-missed Brussels sprouts

A third restaurant that I visited during my recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina, was Copper Crown in East Asheville. I grew up here, fewer than two miles away, so this restaurant touched my heart and palate in a special way. I never in a million years imagined such a restaurant in East Asheville, but I am proud and excited to share this addition to my hometown neighborhood. Below is the inside scoop about Copper Crown in the words of owners and chef Adam and Kate Bannasch.

What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
Adam knew from a young age that he had an interest in cooking and pursued a culinary education and career out of high school. I fell into the business more sort of accidentally, working in restaurants in college and after. The flexibility of the work and high pay rate per hour were what initially attracted me, and then once our children were old enough for me to re-enter the workforce, the industry still felt like home.

2019-01-10 16.53.32
Seared Scallops

Why did you select your location?
We have resided in East Asheville for about 12 of our 14 years here and felt that there needed to be more options for dining in our neighborhood. Our intent is to provide an experience that you could easily find represented in downtown or West Asheville but convenient to our East Asheville neighbors.

How did you choose the name of your restaurant?
Naming a restaurant is really challenging! We considered several options, none of which felt quite right. At the end we were inspired by the copper roof of the plaza building we’re in.

2019-01-10 16.55.55
Cocktails, anyone? (Photo Credit: G Social Media)

Will you share with us details about your restaurant’s design and décor and how the theme complements your menu?
We partnered with a local architecture and design firm, Form & Function, to help us redesign the space. The first focal point we created was the wooden slat “waterfall” to both cozy up a space with incredibly high ceilings, as well as create the backdrop for our bar. We tried to be as economically and environmentally considerate as possible when choosing furnishings and found most of our tables and chairs second-hand. All the artwork in our dining room was done by local artists and we receive fresh cut flowers for each table every week courtesy of FarmGirl Flowers. Our aesthetic is a little bit retro, we wanted to create a space with bright colors and a vibrant feel for day but also cozy and romantic at night. Our menu is a little bit eclectic and colorful like our design, so we feel well represented by our space.

What is your restaurant’s style of cooking?
Our style of cooking, for lack of a better term, could best be described as New American. We find influences from a wide variety of cuisines, including Italian, German, Cajun and Creole, but we try to avoid being pigeon-holed as one style of restaurant versus another. Our lunch menu is casual with sandwiches, salads and soups, and our dinner and Sunday brunch menus are a bit more upscale, featuring both small and large plate options.

2019-01-10 16.58.52
Brûlee Vidalia from the evening’s tasting menu

What are your and/or your staff’s favorite dishes?
Everyone, staff and guests alike love the Brussels sprouts. They’re hard not to love! But we also have a great burger and several good sandwiches that are popular during the day with the staff. The dinner options are constantly updated but recent favorites have been an amazing pea shoot salad, lobster mezzaluna pasta, as well as the local roasted carrots and radishes.

How does your restaurant’s beverage program enhance the cuisine?
We are very fortunate to have an experienced and enthusiastic bar manager, Tim Walker. He is constantly challenging himself to utilize ingredients in cocktails in new and inventive ways and has an eye for balance in the finished product, like that of Adam and our sous chefs. We strive to offer both food and beverages that can be familiar and comforting as well as those that can push someone to try something new. We support local breweries and distilleries as well as local farms, growers and foragers. We believe that a quality product on the plate should be enhanced by a quality product in your glass.

2019-01-10 17.20.58
Pan Roasted Beef Bistro Tender

Do you have a philosophy as it relates to food, beverage, and hospitality?
Our underlying philosophy for our work is to do the most we can to ensure that every experience a guest has with us is one that is worthy of their time and expense. One of the reasons hospitality continues to appeal to us is the knowledge that it is within our power to improve someone’s day, even if just for a little while, by providing them the best of what we have to offer. We strive to be good members of our community in every way we are able.

Do you have plans to open additional locations or restaurants? Why or why not?
We don’t have any current plans to open a second location, but if the right situation came along, we would consider it.

2019-01-10 17.45.14
Bourbon Butterscotch Ice Cream

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming menu items, events, etc.?
We have three ongoing weekly specials nights right now. Sunday night is our Burger and Beer Night where both of our burgers as well as all our draft beers are $1 off, Wine Night on Tuesdays we offer select varietals for just $5/glass, as well as Kids Night on Wednesdays where our $5 kids’ menu is half-off. We also have been benefiting local non-profits and organizations on the first Monday of each month during our Giving Back Night. We update our website regularly with our menu changes and events at our website.

Editor’s Note: Copper Crown is a participant in Asheville’s 2019 Restaurant Week January 21-27, 2019, so I recommend adding this restaurant to your foodie crawl. Find their special menu at this link, and say YES to the Brussels sprouts!

Ten Questions for Sam Etheridge of Ambrozia Bar & Bistro in Asheville, North Carolina

2019-01-10 13.00.27
Ambrozia’s signature deviled eggs paired with NV Gruet Winery Blanc de Noir, New Mexico

Another restaurant stop on my recent visit to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, was Ambrozia Bar & Bistro in North Asheville, in the neighborhood where my mother grew up and where my uncle, aunt and cousins lived. I had not been to this part of the city in a long time, so imagine how delighted I was to learn of Ambrozia, tucked away in an unassuming shopping center. While interviewing owner and chef Sam Etheridge, I discovered someone that truly inspires me, a person who is committed to family and life-work balance, both of which are difficult to achieve being in the restaurant business. Below is the fantastic story of Ambrozia in Sam’s own words.

What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
I have always been in the restaurant business. I began as a busboy as a teenager and worked at various restaurants throughout high school and college. After college, I attended culinary school in South Florida and the rest is history.

Why did you select your location?
We decided to move to Asheville from New Mexico in order to be closer to family. I grew up in Tennessee and my wife in Florida. We loved the food scene and lifestyle here and the city itself as a place to raise kids.

2019-01-10 13.13.52
Smoked salmon platter paired with 2017 Garzón Albariño, Uco Valley, Mendoza

How did you choose the name of your restaurant?
This is the second restaurant I have had named Ambrozia. The first was in New Mexico. I chose the name because it means “food of the gods” and had a Southern tie-in with the sweet salad you see at church picnics. After moving to Asheville and deciding to open a restaurant here, I kept the name because I just identified with it and loved the name.

Will you share with us details about your restaurant’s design and décor and how the theme complements your menu?
I had a friend of mine come in who is a contractor and help with design and décor. Being in a strip mall, our idea was to make you forget that you were in a strip mall once inside. We wanted an understated wine theme that was upscale and modern, but also comfortable enough to be an everyday hangout.

2019-01-10 13.41.01
Bison Reuben paired with 2015 Tacho Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza

What is your restaurant’s style of cooking?
We are modern Southern cuisine with a twist and a focus on farm-fresh, local ingredients.

What are your and/or your staff’s favorite dishes?
Our deviled eggs and fried chicken have long been our signature dishes. We change the menu constantly, so we have lots of favorites seasonally like tomato pie or chile relleno.

How does your restaurant’s beverage program enhance the cuisine?
We are very focused on wine that enhances the food. We don’t want anything too overpowering. We like high acid and well-balanced fruit. We also create seasonal cocktails that are focused on culinary ingredients and seasonality and local beers, for which Asheville is very well known.

2019-01-10 14.03.28
Bourbon butterscotch pudding paired with Notorious Coffee, Marshall, North Carolina

Do you have a philosophy as it relates to food, beverage, and hospitality?
My philosophy is to have fun, whether it be me, the staff, customers, everyone. It’s not always an easy thing in the high-stress business, but I think everyone is better off if they are enjoying themselves and it shows.

Do you have plans to open additional locations or restaurants? Why or why not?
No, I do not have plans. I have kids and a family, so that is my focus. I had tried to have multiple restaurants before, and it was not good for my family life.

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming menu items, events, etc.?
We feel like we are a hidden gem in Asheville. Everyone is so focused on downtown, and it is great, but Asheville offers great restaurants all around the city and everyone should get out and explore the neighborhoods as well.

Editor’s Note: I recommend Ambrozia and its prix fixe menu during 2019 Asheville Restaurant Week January 21-27, 2019.

Ten questions for Sean Piper, Owner of Jargon Restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina

 

Earlier this month, I enjoyed an amazing opportunity to be hosted by four of Asheville, North Carolina’s off-the-beaten path, perhaps lesser known restaurants, in West, North, East, and South Asheville. As part of my Ten Questions for series, I interviewed the proprietors of each restaurant. Nothing excites me more than someone who turns their life upside down and does a complete 360-degree turn to follow their dream. Therefore, I am thrilled to share the story of Sean Piper and his new restaurant in West Asheville, Jargon, which opened about a year and a half ago, in Sean’s own words.

img_1172
Pickled Beet Salad

What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
Before my movie production career, I had worked many years in the restaurant industry doing various jobs.  I was a dishwasher, prep cook, broiler assistant, bar back, bus boy, server, bartender, and eventually a dining room manager.  I absolutely loved it.  All of it.  There’s something special about having guests in your house and making them feel special and welcome.  Ironically, it’s very similar to movie production: a group of hardworking folks each with a specific job to do, working as a team, and providing that “escapism” for our guests.

img_1178
The lovely and unique 2017 Cuvelier Los Andes Rosé of Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Why did you select your location?
My parents have lived in Asheville for over 28 years, and consequently I’ve spent a lot of time here.  I fell in love with the entire area.  The eclectic vibe, the creative energies, the waterfalls are intoxicating!  An old mentor of mine told me that if I was truly serious about owning a restaurant, I must own the building.  After many years of searching for the right space (that I could afford), I found a small condemned building for sale at 715 Haywood Road.  It took four years to negotiate the purchase, and I later discovered that it’s a nationally registered historical building.  I worked with the Historical Preservation Office, saved the building, and was awarded the Griffin Award for historical rehabilitation in June.

img_1182
Yes, that’s me in front of the Scrabble tiles in Jargon’s amazing restroom!

How did you choose the name of your restaurant?
Honestly, it came to me one afternoon after some “midday inspiration” (drinking wine).  A friend suggested “Slang” which was too edgy in my opinion.  I immediately said, “Ooh, how about Jargon”?  I looked up the definition which says that “Jargon is a language that is understood within certain groups”.  I loved the juxtaposition of exclusivity and inclusivity, and the play on words that Jargon inherently presented.

img_1177
Scallops and Pork Belly

Will you share with us details about your restaurant’s design and décor and how the theme complements your menu?
Jargon has also been described to me as “repurposed language”.  This was a key to our branding, as we try to look at new ways to use ingredients and décor. We acquired 1952-era bowling lanes from Indiana that we used as my table tops and bar top, we also made glasses from recycled wine bottles, made a 1938 Philco radio as our host stand, used 1940’s Hamilton Printer trays for my bar facade, used antique game boards for our menu backs, and utilized 20,000 scrabble tiles as accent walls in our bathroom.

img_1174
Rabbit Agnolotti

What is your restaurant’s style of cooking?
Chef Marcus Day is from Louisiana and he has an Italian cuisine background.  You can find those incredible Cajun flavor profiles in his cooking, and his house made pasta is simply outstanding.  Our Sous Chef Jeff Crowder was born and raised in Western North Carolina, so there is also a Southern flare in many of our dishes.

What are your and/or your staff’s favorite dishes?
My staff’s favorite dishes at the moment are our oven roasted octopus, the scallops and pork belly, and the bacon and Brussels salad. Simply outstanding!

img_1171
Scallops and Pork Belly paired with a signature cocktail named True Story…and Deliciously Evil

How does your restaurant’s beverage program enhance the cuisine?
Chris Keane, my head bartender has a wealth of knowledge that he brings to our guest’s experience.  His craft cocktails are a fantastic way to start your evening.  My current favorite is his “Granddad’s Lunch Box” that uses a peanut butter washed bourbon and house made strawberry syrup. Think of it as a PB&J Old Fashioned! Also, I’m very proud of our wine program here at Jargon.  We store all wines at proper temperature, serve in appropriate elegant glassware, and decant medium to full bodied wines without asking to open them up as much as possible.

img_1167
Ice Breaker Cocktail

Do you have a philosophy as it relates to food, beverage, and hospitality?
Our philosophy is to treat every single person who comes through our door as a guest in our house. Forget about the outside world and be treated special.  My entire staff genuinely cares deeply about everything they do, and it shows.

img_1176
Pickled Beet Salad

Do you have plans to open additional locations or restaurants? Why or why not?
We’ve only been open a year and six months, so I’m focused on making this “little gem on the Westside” stand on a firm foundation. That said, I’m having some discussions with some folks who would love to put a Jargon in Chicago!

img_1180
Chocolate Hazelnut Chess Pie

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming menu items, events, etc. We have some great things planned!  Starting with a special Valentine’s Day event!  We are also discussing a Godfather Dinner Theatre, a Prohibition dinner (where we lock the front door, and folks must enter through the back with a password), another New Orleans Jazz Dinner, a wine maker dinner, and much more!  Make sure folks sign up for our newsletter because those folks have first dibs!

Travel Tuesday: Three Fantastic Downtown Asheville Hotels

Happy Travel Tuesday!
During my December 2018 trip to Asheville, North Carolina, I tagged along with Ask Asheville to visit a few hotels as well as other downtown locales. I am delighted to share with you three fantastic hotel recommendations: Hyatt Place Asheville DowntownAloft Asheville Downtown, and AC Hotels by Marriott Asheville Downtown. All three hotels also have libations, food, and fun at The Montford at Hyatt Place, W XYZ Bar at Aloft, and Capella on 9 at AC.
Video Sneak Peeks: Rezaz – Pan Mediterranean CuisineTwin Leaf Brewery, plēb urban winery, and The Chemist‘s and Urban Orchard Cider Company‘s collaboration, Eau de Vie.
Bonus: Puppies for adoption and my bed head!
Guilty Pleasure: Bathroom sinks!
Video and Creative Partner: G Social Media