Day 1 In Asheville, NC – Plant, Firestorm, Rosetta’s Kitchen, + New Vegan Friends
The four-hour drive from Hill to Asheville wasn’t too bad. I arrived in Asheville in the late evening. All of the restaurants on my list had already closed so I swung by a Greenlife Grocer (a subsidiary of Whole Foods) to grab a snack before sleeps. The next day I planned my first stop at Plant, the one and only 100% vegan restaurant in all of Asheville.
Asheville’s vegan-friendly reputation isn’t completely off, there are many vegetarian/mostly-vegan restaurants and, from what I’ve heard, a lot of the non-veg restaurants understand “vegan” and have at least one vegan dish. But I was surprised to learn that there there was only one all-vegan joint. However, there is a vegan baked goods/sweets company and a vegan food delivery service… but they’re both currently online operations and/or present at farmer’s markets. Actually, in Asheville farmer’s markets are called tailgate markets. This is still the only instance that I’ve heard tailgate used over farmer, not involving sporting events, that is. I guess it makes sense though. Not every vendor at a farmers market is in fact, a farmer. Uhhh… anyway…let’s get to Plant, shall we?! Oh and I’ll be talking more about those other vegan businesses in a later post! :)
Plant – 100% vegan
165 Merrimon Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801
Waaaaaaaay back in August, when I first launched an active version of Will Travel For Vegan Food, I received an email from Leslie, co-owner of Plant. She had heard of the trip and enthusiastically invited me to stop by her then brand new vegan restaurant. Gosh dang it, I love when business owners/managers are on top of relevant buzz!! It makes them look awesome and it makes the lives of those who want to be a part of their amazing work, much easier. Win-win! :)
So yeah, as I was prepping for NC I went back to Leslie’s email and let her know that I was on my way. I went in for lunch on this day and ended up staying after they closed, while they prepared for the dinner crowd, having a BLAST chatting with both Leslie and the head chef/co-owner, Jason Sellers. But before I get to that, let’s talk food, and such.
The ambiance at Plant is lovely. It’s cute and fancy-ish, and seems to draw a nice crowd. I really like the open/bar kitchen area and the warm, inviting color scheme. It’s a pleasant dining atmosphere, for sure. I was only there for a lunch but I hear the dinner crowd and vibe is even better!
I started with the Peanut Lentil Soup special. it was a bit spicy and it had a hearty, tomoato-ey taste. I loved the creaminess that the lentils provided and the crunch of the crushed peanuts on top. The bread was awesome too. Sometimes I forget how wonderful bread can be but Plant’s side of bread, with their soups, is excellent. It’s buttery and perfectly crispy brown around the edges, in exactly the right spots and the right amount (for my liking).
I then left planet earth as I indulged in Plant’s Peppercorn Crusted Seitan dish. This is THE best seitan I’ve ever had. Per my notes, I was “transported to another universe” while eating this meal. Haha. It was as if I was watching myself eat and bask in the pleasure of the luscious joy of the meal. Also, this dish came with a side of broccoli rabe…again, the best prepared broccoli rabe that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. It was more lemon-ey instead of bitter. The cauliflower was excellent! And the mushroom bacon on top is heavenly, delightful, and super unique. I just loved it! The sauce is a tomato base with garlic and onion. Just divine. What a beautifully crafted dish. Like a work of art, no doubt. Not to mention that peppery flavor lingers delicately on the tongue, urging the next bite. ::sigh:: Heck, this entire dish, from top to bottom, had me all kinds of twitterpated. ;)
Upon recommendation from my server I ordered the Blackout Mousse Pie with a side of Peanut Butter Crunch ice cream. Word on the street is that Plant has THE best homemade vegan ice cream in town. Agreed! Mind blowingly delicious, this ice cream is (sometimes Yoda helps me express myself best…he does. :D ). See that slab of chocolate and peanut butter sticking out of the ice cream? THAT is a chocolate peanut butter bar. It. Was. Amazing!!!!! Scooping up some of the ice cream and pie together, into one bite, somehow reminded me of fried ice cream. It must have been a texture thing. Regardless, this dessert is ridiculous. Magically delicious, even. ;)
So, funny thing. Since the kitchen was open to the dining floor, and since Leslie knew I was coming I had the rare opportunity to be in view of the head chef. It’s not every day the head chef knows why you’re in his restaurant and gets to watch you take pictures and notes of the food he’s just prepared. Eep! But it was totally cool. And what’s more, I had a chance to sit down with both Leslie and Jason after the meal. Here’s what I learned in talking to them for nearly an hour:
Plant opened in August of last year and nearly the entire staff is vegan, and super enthusiastic about making the food the best it can be at all times. Plant is 90% organic and everything is made from scratch. Jason (the head chef and one of the co-owners) brought up an interesting point about Plant’s primarily clientele. He said, “People come into the restaurant in their 60-70’s (age) because they want to change their lives NOW. they want to start feeling and living better. Seventy percent of the clientele is not veg…they are just trying to eat better (primarily for health) as they understand cholesterol and heart conditions, and how that’s related to diet.”
I thought this was an interesting observation because I’ve met some people, while on the road, who believe it’s too late for them to become vegan. Or, in some cases, they are concerned about their parent’s health and tell me that, ‘they’re just stuck in their ways.’ It was cool to hear that the local Asheville community, both young and mature, are embracing Plant and veganism. :)
More about Jason Sellers
Jason’s mom taught him to cook when he was really young, and then he started cooking for friends who later encouraged him to get into the culinary industry. He started working in the restaurant business when he 16 years old, and up until he went to college. He was vegetarian at the time…which then turned into veganism. After some time away from the restaurant biz he became more interested in cooking again…at first for himself and then in 2004 he applied to the Natural Gourmet Institute to make a career of it all. It essentially grew out of necessity for his expression of veganism and wanting people to get excited about veg food. After finishing up at the Natural Gourmet Institute Jason took a position with Candle 79, a premier vegan restaurant in NYC. Jason and his wife then moved down to Asheville and he took a management position at The Laughing Seed, and was there for five years. After some time he met Leslie and her husband, Allen… and before they knew it plans for Plant were in the making.
On becoming vegan: Jason said that he had always had vegetarian tendencies, especially as a teenager. He was veg for fifteen years and then became vegan twelve years ago. Jason said, “at that point it was an intellectual move and also a compassionate/ethical decision. I never looked at animals as food. I didn’t always have the psychology to understand and articulate that but as soon as I became and ‘adult’ I was able to think for myself and take the necessary steps toward veganism.”
More about Leslie
On becoming vegan: Leslie was close to forty years old when her teenaged daughter showed her an animal rights-related pamphlet. “I was already involved in other animal-related campaigns [such as whaling and the humane treatment of companion animals] but hadn’t yet made the connection to animals used for food.” After that she stopped eating flesh but didn’t immediately make the connection to eggs and dairy until three years later, after doing more research.
More on Plant’s Roots
Leslie met her already-vegan husband, Allen ten years ago. (Already vegan?! Lucky!! ;) She and her husband then met Jason and even though they were sort of retired at that point they decided to give the restaurant business a go. She explained that it’s a much bigger project than they expected, especially given the fact that they had both led completely different career paths prior to opening Plant.
I asked Leslie if she had any advice for those of you considering opening your own restaurant. She said, “It’s always going to cost more [money] than you think it will, be prepared to not make money in the beginning. Be ALL OVER the place, especially with social media [since it’s a free form of advertising].” I also found it interesting that they weren’t sure if they wanted to use the term “vegan” in promotional materials. They chose to go with “plant-based” and “veg” but because Asheville is so well versed on veganism, the local media knew better and were using the term “vegan” to describe Plant. So, they just went with it. Turns out, it hasn’t hurt their business at all.
Thanks so much to Leslie, Jason, and the staff at Plant for providing a stellar meal and wonderful company that afternoon. One of the best times on the trip so far!! ::hearts::
Firestorm – 99% vegan
(I believe they offer dairy as an option for coffee drinkers)
48 Commerce Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Community-driven and employee-owned, Firestorm is one of the most unique cafes I’ve been to on the entire trip, so far. They’ve got a sociopolitical thrust and are known as a meeting place for cultural ideas. They’ve got boat loads of books and related, meaningful periodical publications. In addition, they’re mostly vegan kitchen offers up sandwiches, soups, and a variety of baked goods, along with coffee and tea of all kinds.
I spent a few hours here almost every day that I was in Asheville, to do work. They’ve got free wifi and.. you guessed it, almond mochas! That’s all I needed to find my cozy work space. I didn’t actually try any of their food because I had usually just been to another restaurant on my list or was planning to head to one once leaving. However, I’ve heard that their vegan sweets are great and the food is pretty wonderful too.
I’ll be honest, at first the vibe was a little off to me. But once learning more about their agenda and how they operate, I ended up really liking this place. I also happened to arrive in Asheville the same day that North Carolina passed the ban on gay marriage. Observing that a number of the employees/owners at Firestorm are gay or transgendered, or at least knowing that Firestorm supports the LGTB community, I wanted to support them. And while I was close to jumping on the NC bash-wagon, when the news first dropped, I was reminded by my compassionate friend, Adam M. that many of the residents of NC were unhappy with the State’s decision and were speaking out against it. I didn’t need to add to the negative agenda but instead chose to do what I could to support the community that had just taken a lashing.
After lunch at Plant and work time at Firestorm it was time for dinner. Rosetta’s Kitchen is one of the longest-standing veg restaurants in Asheville, offering up a variety of vegan and vegetarian options. They’ve got an excellent reputation so naturally I had to check ’em out!
Rosetta’s Kitchen – 80% vegan
116 North Lexington Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801
Rosetta’s has a great vibe, very causal with down home/soul food menu items. It’s an order-at-the-front-counter style restaurant and then they bring the food to you, wherever you’re sitting. I love the exposed brick wall (I’m a sucker for those!) and the open air seating in the back. Great color scheme and relaxing atmosphere. Nice.
I had the Broth of Life soup to start – a miso-style soup with seaweed. Very good! A bit salty, but in a good way. :) I also had their Pad Thai dish. I like that they added tempeh to this dish. Unique and quite tasty!
After dinner I met up with a couple of local vegans for some drinks out on the town. Woohoo!! Like Leslie, from Plant, Christina had reached out to me back in August when she first got wind of the trip. She offered up her couch as well as suggestions for places to dine at while in Asheville.
I met up with Christina and her boyfriend, Rudy and we had a BLAST talking marketing and social media. I learned about their creative services business called NU – brand development, logo and ad design, media planning, and web development. They also recently launched a new website called TheAVL.com – “A website highlighting what makes Asheville one of the best places in the country to live.” I also learned that Asheville is very proud of their bluegrass and their beer. ;) We were then joined by some of their other friends before heading back to their place for midnight snacks and sleeps.
When I got to Rudy and Christina’s digs I was greeted by Petey, a super sweet doggie that liked to give kisses. Yay! I was also thrilled to learn that it was time for midnight snacks. Woohoo!! There is a restaurant just down the road from their place called “The WALK” (West Asheville Lounge & Kitchen) and they have vegan tacos and SWEET POTATO TOTS!!! YEEeeEEEs!! We wolfed down Crispy Tacos with tempeh (no cheese, add guacamole). They were sooo good. And the sweet potato tots were incredible. Sweet potato, people! Yumm-o!!
I crashed in Gerty after stuffing myself with food. Good times. Thanks so much to Christina and Rudy for taking me out and letting me park in their driveway overnight!! :) xo
More on Asheville in the next post!