Asheville's Eclectic Admiral
Part blue collar, part white tablecloth, the Admiral is in a class of its own
It used to be a third-shift bar. “NASCAR, pull tabs, and PBRs,” bartender Don Everhart told me when I asked about the roots of the Admiral, a concrete block restaurant serving centrifuge-cooked farm eggs and local-ish riffs on gastropub fare on the rapidly gentrifying fringe of Asheville, North Carolina. “It was that sort of place.”
Those days are over. Gone are the mills. Gone are the mill workers who, after laboring through the night, retired to the bar to watch television and savor breakfasts of longneck beers and fried eggs. Vestiges of West Asheville’s past are still present. Used car lots. Tire stores. But the neighborhood is now a haven for coffee shops and other hangouts for the hip and crunchy, like Digable Pizza, the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism, and the Organic Mechanic.
The Admiral is a bit more slouchy than crunchy. It’s hip, too, but not in a way that’s unwelcoming. Line cooks, working the galley kitchen, sport tattoos and wear porkpie hats. Regulars, in plaid shirts and skullcaps, take seats at the black laminate bar to listen to the Rolling Stones thud through the speakers while drinking white wine and devouring plates of fried frog legs, served buffalo wing style. Pilgrims, from already gentrified corners of wherever, arrive early to ogle the netherworld interior, lit by neon beer signs and bordello-red table lamps.
The service is curt, smart, and pleasantly off-kilter. Waitresses sass and smile. Bartenders toss off witty bons mots. When I fumbled through the list, trying to figure out what wine might go best with my shrimp succotash–garnished quail, Everhart stopped me and offered, “Something red and appropriate?” And then he poured me a perfectly pitched zinfandel that tasted of black cherries and graphite.
The young cooks here, led by Elliott Moss, are accomplished. A small plate of swordfish, caught off the South Carolina coast, arrived atop a fluffy hump of whipped potatoes and creamed codfish. The fish was sweet. The brandade smelled of salt marsh and leather. The duo sang.