The seating arrangements in the dining room of the newly opened – December 2 – Holeman and Finch Public House Asheville feel so homey that strangers inquire about dishes at the table next to theirs and friends who spy friends one table over lean back in their chairs to exchange greetings behind the backs of the table in between. It is generally agreed by locals that this iteration of 77 Biltmore Avenue is the absolute best of a previous half-dozen.
The highly anticipated reveal begins with a small vestibule inside the front door, a buffer from street noise and inclement weather. A 5’ tall divider splitting the interior space into defined areas of dining room and bar is also new, and chef/owner Linton Hopkins credits the dramatic transformation from the very casual H&F Burger to the smartly-dressed Holeman and Finch to his wife/partner/designer Gina Hopkins. “Before, the space was a tube from front to back; there was no shape to it,” he explains. “Gina created two zones that are still connected yet have their own vibe. People can sit and relax over a full dinner, or pop in and have a beer and some ham at the bar.”
Diners will settle into upholstered leather and tweed banquettes on one side of sturdy wood tables or on the other, cushy chairs. Twilight blue walls are the canvas for a collection of art posters, vintage photographs, gilt-framed oil paintings, street signs, mottled mirrors, and memorabilia that might have been culled from a sophisticated world traveler’s attic.
Small lamps on the main bar make that zone feel clubby and pubby. A dedicated oyster bar anchors the street end, and if the window-framed sight of chefs shucking shells doesn’t lure in the curious passerby, the multiple hams hanging overhead should do the trick.
When Hopkins says “before” in describing the building, he includes himself, having opened H&F Burger in December 2019, subsequently closed by COVID in March 2020. Though the name was intended to take advantage of the magnetic draw of the late-night cheeseburger made famous at the original Holeman and Finch Public House that opened in Atlanta in 2008, as one early online reviewer pointed out, “There are only two cheeseburgers on the menu of H&F Burger.” Hopkins laughs at the snark. “I appreciate the Monty Python humor of having a cheese shop with no cheese.”
In reality, the H&F Burger menu was a more succinct interpretation of Holeman and Finch’s whole-animal-driven repertoire of plates and parts, ham and cheese, farm and fish, albeit sourced locally. When he decided to reopen H&F Burger in Asheville as a full-on Holeman and Finch Public House, in part it was because he missed cooking with that commitment. “Holeman and Finch is an expression of how I think about food and how I want to cook. I have always been drawn to that world of bistros, brasseries, pubs and trattorias, delicious food that is approachable.”
He calls it playing with high-low. That can be a tin platter of pristine oysters on ice served with a stack of saltines dipped in butter then baked (something he grew up eating at the family table); or go high with fancy shellfish towers.
It can be a classic bistro plate of veal brains with black butter and capers; rabbit cooked in cast iron with mole and Sea Island white peas; and a droll translation of a croque monsieur to the tangy cheesiness of the Crunchy Gentleman.
Hopkins credits chef de cuisine Antonio Perez with perfecting the luscious tartare, which began on the menu at Holeman and Finch Atlanta, then appeared at C. Ellet’s with roasted bone marrow on the side. The marrow made its way into the mix of hand chopped steak for the current menu, with Perez’s finishing touch of shaved pecorino romano cheese.
Holeman and Finch Asheville is full-on committed to Western North Carolina – from what’s on the plates to the plates from East Fork Pottery and potter Kyle Lawson’s custom-made dinnerware; the check holders and coasters are cut and stamped at Oowee leatherworks in Candler; bookmarks tucked into the check holder for diners to take home were designed by the Hopkins’ daughter Avery. It might be assumed that the delightful bird song playing in the two gorgeous individual restrooms are local avians recorded by Gina Hopkins.
Linton Hopkins says that after all the pauses, delays and obstacles that preceded the opening, he was thrilled to see the lights go down, doors open, the kitchen buzzing, energetic service staff and happy diners. “I think a lot about what it means to be a chef, what Holeman and Finch is. I feel like I am a steward of an idea, building a value system within the fabric of a team, integrating with our chosen place. The pandemic taught us our job is so much more than simply feeding people, it’s connecting and building community. I want people to go into Holeman and Finch and feel like it’s always been there.”
• Holeman and Finch Public House [Official]