Asheville has dipped its toe in the speakeasy trend with a few recently opened venues sporting things like a door hidden behind a bookcase, an entrance made to look like a retail storefront, and appetizers served through vintage P.O. Boxes unlocked with a key patrons get when they place their order. They’re all fun and serve good food and drinks.
But what if someone were to take a building that housed an actual speakeasy during prohibition and bring it back to its former glory – with a few modern twists thrown in?
Lex 18, 18 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, has done just that. Recently re-opened after a change within the ownership group, their tagline is “Moonshine Bar, Comfort Food & Diversion”, and they describe themselves as “A 1920’s brunch & supper club with moonshine & music”.
From decor to staff, they’ve done an exceptional job recreating the 1920’s feel. And they’ve done it without getting kitschy or cheesy. See the guy in the cap below? He carries off that outfit like it’s part of his normal wardrobe, not a costume.
I so wish I’d gotten a picture of our server, Jeannie. She was wearing a fabulous black fascinator. She also happens to be Executive Chef Edwin Bloodworth’s wife, and was glowing happily with news that “they” are pregnant with their first child. What an exciting time in their lives. I’m very happy for them and their families.
Wallpaper, mirrors, light fixtures, furniture. Everything evokes the 20’s. But again, not cheesy in any way. In fact, it feels perfectly sophisticated. Be sure to notice the gold tin-look crown molding and ceiling panels.
Seating somewhere just above 30 in the dining area, Lex 18 has stopped taking reservations on weekends because they frequently didn’t have room for walk-ins.
We arrived at 7pm on a Friday night. There were still plenty of tables, but it filled to capacity by 7:45pm. Music Tuesday – Sunday, a big draw due to excellent entertainment picks, begins at 7:30pm.
I spotted part of this evening’s trio (drums) relaxing at the bar until the keyboard and bass arrived. When they did play, their smooth jazz renditions added a new layer of sophistication to the place.
By the way, if the dining room is full and there are seats available in the bar, take them. You’ll have no trouble hearing the music and the room has its own cool vibe.
Chef Bloodworth started us off with an Amuse Bouche of house-made crackers topped with pickled spring onions, grilled garlic scapes, wood sorrel (Oxalis) and purple basil. Chef knew I was in the house and came to our table to deliver the Amuse and introduce himself. Thanks, Chef.
Couldn’t believe how thin those crackers were. Each bite was delicate and delicious, with a burst of mixed earthy, briny, grilled, slightly tart flavors.
Bright light beamed through windows fronting Lexington Ave., giving this Beet appetizer ($8) an edgy look. This was one of the best beet salads I’ve had – honestly. It’s made with a soft egg, vidalia onions, chervil, and kombucha. Don’t know how he did it, but the flavor was amazing.
See the round, tan-ish disks to the left and tucked under the chervil to the right? At first taste, I thought they were made with moonshine, but it was kombucha in gelatin form. A unique twist that added to both the taste and visual experience.
And see the colors running to the bottom of the plate? By the time you finish this salad, there will be three distinct colors, yellow from the egg, green from a touch of oil, and red from the beets, swirling brightly on the plate. Beautiful.
Can’t go to a moonshine bar without getting a moonshine cocktail, right? Tall and fresh, this Cucumber Moon ($10) cocktail reminded me of a Mohito, but with added kick. It’s made with muddled cucumber, mint and lime. I just read that “Mohito” translates to “something a little wet”. Love that. Next time I’m making drinks, I’m going to ask folks if they’d like “something a little wet”.
PIC’s entree was an incredibly tasty NC Beef Ribeye ($22). People always ask, where can I get a really good steak? From now on, I’ll be telling them to get Lex 18’s Ribeye. It was cooked exactly as ordered, was fantastically seasoned and had a beautiful grill crust on the outside. Of course, some of that flavor could be the NC beef itself . . .
Also on the plate, grilled squash, potatoes (on the menu as mashed, but more like diced or pearls), and bacon jam, garnished with strategically placed Queen Anne’s Lace. Oh my, that bacon jam. Sounds like it would be sweet and soft, but it was more like the crusty “bark” on BBQ pork in taste and texture. Mixing bacon jam and ribeye in the same bite was heaven.
In the mood for something I considered lighter, I ordered the VA Rabbit ($25). Silly me, I didn’t get the whole rabbit / carrot thing until looking at photos the next day!
Portioned generously, these must be big rabbits. Chef cooks legs sous-vide and loins grilled. Both had lovely mild flavor and were fork-tender. The leg wasn’t quite as moist as the loin. Wheatberries and green beans provide an al dente bed for the rabbit. Roasted tomatoes were mentioned on the menu, but if they were in the dish, I don’t recall seeing them, and they weren’t missed. Edible flowers added a nice color splash.
PIC finished with a nice glass of Tawny Port ($4). Wished I could have done the same, but alas, I was driving.
Dark and romantic by this time, the ambiance lent itself perfectly to a rustic dish of Black Raspberry Curd ($8). Bordering on sensual, the curd was paired with chantilly cream and topped with toasted sunflower seeds. Fresh black raspberries anchored each of three chantilly/curd dollops. Topping it all off was a restrained maple drizzle and Queen Anne’s Lace garnish.
Share this with your love, eat slowly, letting curd and cream melt off the spoon in your mouth, while looking each other in the eye across the table.
Naughty? Maybe just a little. How can you help but feel a little naughty sharing an evening of food that makes you stop and think about what you’re eating and how it makes you feel, while listening to melodious jazz played live just a few feet away? And oh yeah, there’s the moonshine in the back room.
- As of this writing, Lex 18 is closed on Mondays. Otherwise, serving supper Tuesday – Sunday 5pm to 9:30pm.
- Chef serves a Five Course Tasting Menu for $45. Paired with 3 wines, it’s $60. Three items to choose from in each course. Tax and gratuity not included.
- From 5pm to 6pm, Chef serves an Early Supper Three Course Pris Fixe Tasting for $29. With 2 wines, it’s $40. Three items to choose from in each course. Tax and gratuity not included.
- There’s a Late Night Small Plate Menu. Not sure if there are any time restrictions?
- Brunch – Saturday & Sunday, 10am – 2:30pm
- Lex 18 has a good selection of cocktails, beer & wine
- Reminder – online menus might not be up to date. Use them to get a general idea of what to expect.
- Read more about Lex 18, including Chef Edwin Bloodworth background here.
18 N Lexington Ave
Asheville NC 28801