Dina Opici: 2019 Wine’s Most Inspiring People

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Dina Opici, President of Opici Family Distributing (photo credit: Opici Group)

I am honored to share my recent article for Wine Industry Network (WIN) Advisor, my contribution to their 2019 Wine’s Most Inspiring People series. Meet Dina Opici, fourth-generation President of Opici Family Distributing, and role model for women in the wine industry.
*CLICK HERE TO READ*

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Five restaurants born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina

G Social Media and I recently visited five amazing restaurants that were born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, but have launched or are poised to launch nationally due to their insanely delicious food and successful business models. Say hello to five of Asheville’s finest: Tupelo Honey, Chai Pani, White Duck Taco Shop, Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack, and Biscuit Head. I don’t know about you, but I could eat!

Exclusive Interview with Crocodile Wine in Asheville, North Carolina

This young family just moved to the area from New York City, they just had a baby who is only a week old, and they just opened their dream wine shop on Friday, December 21, in downtown Asheville. G Social Media and I were so fortunate to stumble upon Crocodile Wine the day after the shop opened. Here is our exclusive, inaugural interview with owner John Hale, who brings an amazing selection of natural wines to Asheville, North Carolina.