That’s the answer co-owners Mike Vaughn, Joe Douglas and Chris Carlson gave in late 2004 when asked where the name came from for their first restaurant, 131 Main. The idea was to have a name that wouldn’t restrict the eatery to one type of cuisine, but allow them instead to focus on their credo of “no freezers, fresh produce daily, limited menu [exceptional service] and [remain] privately held”.
After opening the first 131 Main in Cornelius (just North of Charlotte) in August of 2004, they began expanding.
Fast forward to 2009 and you find the three friends have opened three more locations, the latest in (South) Asheville, and are now operating under the name Captiva Restaurant Group, LLC. In addition to the four 131 Main locations, they’re applying their “fresh food, great service” philosophy to the fast food market in the form of Tenders Fresh Food.
These guys seem to know what they’re doing, making the decision to expand into lower cost “value priced”, quality fast food in the midst of a recession, as risk counter-point to the mid-priced eateries in their portfolio.
Okay, back to Asheville! Feeling that Asheville would embrace their concept, the newest 131 Main opened in Biltmore Park Town Square (off of Long Shoals Rd, near it’s intersection with I26) the weekend of June 27, 2009.
We’ve been to 131 Main a couple of times since they opened and I can think of nothing but praise for this place.
The interior is cosmopolitan and open in design. In fact, their kitchen is SO open, there are many seats in the house from which you can casually observe the action. On our last visit, I counted at least eight, maybe ten, chefs/cooks in the kitchen at any time. It was hard to keep track because they kept moving!
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Their open concept is all-encompassing. Walk around the exterior of the building toward the parking garage and you’ll be able to see a good portion of their “pantry” through a huge plate glass window. On the other side of the building is a nicely shaded patio.
Our first visit was lunch for five. PIC and College Son 2 (graduated from high school this year) both ordered the Classic Cheeseburger ($10.00) “fully loaded with mayonnaise, mustard and served with hand cut fresh fries”. The “fresh” in fries is a reference to house cut fries. Both the burgers were cooked as ordered and the fries were a big hit.
Teen Daughter ordered a Caesar Salad ($7.00 or $4.00 w/Entree) and Teen Friend, visiting from the West coast, ordered Beef Short Ribs ($12.00) from the Starters section of the menu. Didn’t want to clog up this post with too many photos, so left the Caesar out even though it was a pretty picture! The Short Ribs are advertised as “slow cooked overnight, [dressed with] shitake-cabernet jus and served with white cheddar grits”.
Teen Friend was in heaven. I didn’t get to taste the ribs, but she raved about them (don’t discount her opinion because she’s a teen-she’s very well traveled). Grits aren’t her thing, but I had a few bites and liked the flavor and texture.
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I selected a Side (Deviled Eggs/$3.00 or $5.00) and a Starter (Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta/$8.00) for my meal. See the 131 Main menu here.
Pictured is the $3.00 portion of Deviled Eggs. These weren’t just any stir up the yolk with mayo deviled eggs, either. These were the kind of beautifully seasoned (tangy with more than a hint of mustard) eggs your Auntie or Grandma always brought to family picnics. The ones you tried to get to before your cousins saw them.
The Bruschetta, oh, the Bruschetta! Each covered with caramelized onions, asparagus, red peppers and mushrooms, then topped with crumbled goat cheese and a balsamic drizzle. As you can see, 131 isn’t stingy with ingredients, especially the asparagus, which can be a problem sometimes. The Asparagus was tender crisp and flavorful, while the other veggies were roasted to doneness, not mushiness.
The second trip to 131 Main was Sunday Brunch for six. Breakfast items on the menu are very limited. They also offer dishes you’d associate with lunch.
It’d been a while since I’d had Steel Cut Oatmeal, so I couldn’t pass up their Steel Cut Toasted Oatmeal ($7.00). Arriving garnished with three banana slices and brown sugar sprinkled on top, flanked by ramekins of raisins and fresh fruit (strawberries and blueberries this time) and a homemade buttermilk biscuit. The oatmeal lived up to my expectations, although I did ask for more brown sugar about half way through.
PIC, Sis, her husband, College Son 2 and Teen Daughter got the last five orders of Brioche French Toast ($12.00) What arrived at our table were five plates towering with three thick-cut slices of Brioche, encrusted with granola, griddled and served with applewood smoked bacon, fresh fruit and warm maple syrup.
We marveled at the Chef’s French Toast skills. Every slice of dense, rich, buttery Brioche was soft and luscious, while the granola crust, not crunchy, simply added an additional dimension of flavor and perhaps a bit of body.
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Coffee was prepared and served in a 4-cup French Press. We had some big coffee drinkers at the table, causing me to wonder how efficient the Press was going to be. How would they handle refills? The answer came in the form of another Press close on the heels of the first and the assurance that another would follow if needed. No problem.
Service was impressive, arriving and departing as if our meal had been pre-scripted. Our server made big points when Teen Daughter wouldn’t share the side of fries (a huge hit on previous visit) she’d ordered in addition to the French Toast, with College Son 2. The server told him not to worry and comped him a side of fries! That’s the kind of thing you don’t forget.
In May of this year, Charlotte Magazine readers named 131 Main “best overall restaurant” in the magazine’s annual “Best of the Best” poll.
Welcome, 131 Main, to Asheville. Don’t change a thing!
308 Thetford St.
Asheville, NC 28803