Thirty minutes after our 9:15 p.m. reservation (which was the only available time two weeks in advance), my boyfriend and I were seated in a tall booth near the entrance of Asheville’s The Admiral. I had been trying to have a meal at this praised restaurant ever since I lived in Asheville two years ago, and especially since founding chef Elliott Moss was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast.
It was a Saturday night in late April and the former body shop restaurant/dive bar’s small space was abuzz: the waitstaff hovered over tables, gregarious diners relaxed in their chairs, and the line positioned steaming tenderloin and rib-eye cuts underneath rosy heat lamps. The radiating warmth of adjoining dining room, bar, and kitchen abated my late-night appetite.
Since we were celebrating a birthday, and it was easily 10 p.m., we didn’t hold back. To start, we ordered a half-dozen oyster mix from Maryland and Massachusetts (a move outside of my normal comfort zone considering the restaurant is in the mountains of western North Carolina) alongside sweetbreads in a simple Marsala sauce garnished with thin radish slices. For what it’s worth, both of us eventually used our fingers to mop up any remaining juice or brine.
We also ordered the house-smoked duck with mole, fingerling potatoes, and orange over a compressed fennel salad with salty peanuts and sesame espuma, as well as the fried quail and waffles topped with maple black pepper butter, tomatillo bacon crema and smoked almonds. While the first course lived up to its voluptuous description, I was somewhat disappointed with dry and crunchy waffles. They were simply overcooked.
We would have ordered dessert if we hadn’t already made plans to share dessert from the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. We would have also stayed for drinks and swing dancing (the staff pushes back dinner tables to make a dance floor) if I hadn’t had to catch a flight back to New York the following morning. Next time around, though (dry waffles aside), we will make plans to finish our evening at this "blue collar meets white tablecloth" venue.