When we saw that Ambrozia Bar + Bistro was one of the finalists in the Fire on the Rock Competition Dining Series we were surprised to learn that they were located right here in North Asheville. Why didn’t we know about them? When they won the competition we had to find them and eat there! It turns out that Ambrozia is only about a year old and is tucked in a little unassuming strip mall. The location, on busy Merrimon Avenue, is in an area of Asheville that doesn’t attract a lot of tourism, with its grocery stores and drug store chains. The space used to house a sandwich shop and they kept one unusual and interesting feature. The restaurant occupies two adjacent store-fronts, with one housing the restaurant and the other the kitchen. Glass shop windows give you a full view of the kitchen staff from the street. In the restaurant portion the shotgun layout, with a bar on one side and tables on the other. has been given new life with the addition of subtle lighting, glass and wood.
When we arrived for our reservation we were struck with how friendly the staff was and how they seemed to already know many of the other customers. It appears this gem of a restaurant was already a well-known secret to many North Asheville and Beaver Lake residents! The menu was eclectic and promising, focusing on fresh farm to table cuisine with many influences – Southern, Southwestern, Asian, Caribbean, all with a twist. When the first course arrived we knew we were in for a treat. Compressed watermelon and cantaloupe squares topped with a layer of feta cheese were lined up on a long plate and garnished with watercress, candied jalapeno jam with a vanilla bean vinaigrette. The Seared Elk Carpaccio had looked tempting too, but we couldn’t imagine being happier than we were with the refreshing, salty sweet salad. My short rib special was perfectly tender and full of flavor.
The wine list was extensive and the beer list was even more impressive with our own local craft beers represented, but also craft brews from all over the country. The attentive, friendly service was equally impressive. There seemed to be an “ownership” feel permeating the staff. When I explored the restaurant’s background I could see why. The chef/owner, Sam Etheridge relocated to Asheville from Albuquerque, NM, where he ran Ambrozia Café and Wine Bar and Nob Hill Bar and Grill. When he relocated several of the staff members from his previous restaurants came with him and together with some stellar additions from the Asheville area they have created a restaurant that tastes good and feels good. Congratulations Sam!