One of Asheville’s best chefs and owner of one of Asheville’s best restaurants opened his second venture last week. Here is a November article from Asheville Citizen-Times detailing the Rhu, a café, bakery and grocery opened by John Fleer last week. Stop by for homemade pastries and breads, light breakfast and lunch fare(the menu will be expanded over time), coffee and cool local and regional products, from Anson Mills grits and Benton’s bacon to locally crafted kitchenware and cocktail accessories. Soon, beer and wine will be available. The Rhu is located at 10 S. Lexington Ave. in the old Chocolate Lounge space and the current hours of operation are 8am-6pm.
Rhubarb’s new bakery gets a name, target opening
As Rhubarb hits its stride as an Asheville destination for memorable meals, chef and owner John Fleer is not content to coast on his accolades.
Instead, he’s planning to open another space on Lexington Avenue, another face of his flagship Pack Square Eatery where he can pay even further homage to the Southern ingredients he meticulously curates for Rhubarb’s menu. The result, The Rhu Bakery, Café and Pantry, should open sometime around Christmas.
“My favorite thing in the world to do is celebrate local producers and The Rhu will be a vehicle to do that,” Fleer said.
To that end, the new bakery and cafe’s deli case will be laden with local cheeses, available by weight. Prepared salads, also available by weight, will showcase heirloom grains from Anson Mills. Baked goods, arranged to be in front-and-center focus when customers enter the Lexington Avenue space, the former home to the relocated French Broad Chocolate Lounge, will fold in sweet potatoes and other local ingredients.
Those baked goods will also be the chief focus of a relative newcomer to Rhubarb, Cynthia Wong, a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef category in 2011 and 2012 and formerly of Hugh Acheson’s Atlanta outpost, Empire State South.
Wong’s specialties include a sumptuous figgy toffee pudding and, apparently, pastries studded with pork from Allan Benton’s revered Tennessee smokehouse..
“Cynthia just did a few test batches of ham-coccia,” Fleer explained, describing a focaccia dusted with powder made from Benton’s country ham. “And this crazy-good sweet potato brioche that’s both sweet and savory,” he continued, explaining that the rich egg- and butter-rich bread comes finished with bacon crumbles. “She’s very keen, as we all are, on Allan’s products,” he said.
Certainly it’s hard to deny the bewitching nature of Benton’s distinctively smoky pork products. But not everything will come with meat on it, Fleer noted.
Expect to find sweet and savory cruffins, a bakery hybrid that might not quite inspire the fervor of Dominique Ansel’s cronut, though it still garners an intense local following. Same goes for the rosemary-caramel sticky buns. Ciabatta and various old-world breads will be made using locally milled Carolina Ground products. “We’ve been doing that, but can certainly do more,” Fleer said.
The better to outfit the sandwiches featured at The Rhu, the details of which are still coming together.
“We’ll be super focused on tying the cheese into them,” Fleer said. “There will definitely be some kind of melty thing going on.”
Seasonally inspired sandwiches will also lean on local and regional meats and seasonal vegetables while they last, plus Sunburst Trout and house-produced sandwich meats.
Additionally, The Rhu will sell a limited number of brick oven-roasted half chickens daily. It’s one of many grab-and-go options, the likes of which are rather scarce in downtown Asheville.
Though the city has to wait a couple more weeks for the bakery to open its doors, The Rhu’s new second-floor event space, complete with barn doors and a sparkling open kitchen, is already humming with wedding-related events and other parties.
Fleer hopes that the space won’t lie dormant when the events end; the “medium-term” plan is to enable local artisans to host cooking demonstrations and classes in the west-facing room.
“We want to make it not just an event space, but a place for programming that’s meaningful to what we do at Rhubarb, and now at The Rhu,” Fleer said.
The Rhu Bakery, Café and Pantry will open shortly before or after Christmas at 10 S. Lexington Ave. The expected price point in the cafe is $7-$13. Tentative hours are 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. More information at www.rhubarbasheville.com.