Nate Allen, co-owner and chef of Knife & Fork in Spruce Pine, N.C., announced last week that he would be the restaurant consultant for an as-yet-unnamed restaurant planned for the piece of waterfront property at 233 Riverside Drive. The RAD-based site was purchased last year by Matt Logan, owner of Asheville's 5 Walnut Wine Bar, and is currently under development.
For now, the work on the property is in its early stages, but progressing. Plans include using up-cycled shipping containers for the construction of a restaurant and bar, raised-bed organic gardens, a greenhouse, an open-air market that could one day house a farmers market, and — of course — plenty of waterside seating.
Having Allen help plan the restaurant is the latest move indicating that this venture is one to look forward to. Allen is excited to be on board from day one, he says, and will oversee many restaurant-development tasks, from helping with the design of the kitchen, to staffing, to creating the menu.
"My promise to Matt is that I am going to take him to turn-key, day-one readiness," Allen says. "Of course, there will be collaboration between Matt and myself, but he's willing to let my creativity run."
Allen, being a very hands-on chef, has no plans to give up the helm at his tiny, fiercely seasonal and local restaurant. However, when he has the time (Knife & Fork closes for some of the winter), he spends some of it in Asheville, catching up with the local chef contingent (even on-season, you can find him at Asheville farmers markets, where he's just as likely to be holding cooking demonstrations as hunting for produce).
"I've met and worked with with some real wonderful talent in the Asheville area, and all of them say to me — with much joy and pride on my part — that they'd really love to work with me and they just can't imagine relocating," Allen says. "Now, I'll hopefully be able to recruit some of the best in the area and have them as my allies and co-workers and co-creators."
Allen reports that the small, ever-changing menu will revolve around the wood-burning grill and wood-fired oven, also the working heart of the restaurant.
"We'll be using the wood-burning oven in a lot of unconventional ways to focus on items that aren't pizza," he says. "That's not to say that things on asymmetrical disks of bubbly, somewhat charred bread may not be coming out of the wood oven, but there will be a lot of other things coming out of it, too."
"The key word is 'accessible,'" Allen says of the menu. "I want fine, hand-crafted food using the least amount of tampering with the original design. Let's just say that the whole thing could be driven by salt, pepper, thyme and fire. We're going to try to be a little rugged without creating any catch-phrases. Look at the early days of Chez Panisse — they had a wood-fired grill and a wood-burning oven and they just found the best stuff they could find, cooked it as simply as possible and put all of their love into it and put it out there."
In the summer, expect "salad-y" preparations with fire-roasted veggies, those same veggies piled on house-made breads, fire-roasted meats and a "sick-ass" burger, says Allen. Take all of that, add beer, wine and liquor and put it down by the water? "Yeah. And thanks ... and done. It's just ridiculous," he laughs.
"Things seem real simpatico," says Allen of Logan. "I like his vision and where his heart's at. I couldn't be happier with the pair-up, and I've been dying to get involved with something down there. I know we can go forward with something that has heart and that will be for the good for the community and allow me to extend my vision with the backing of another large-hearted entrepreneur."