In 2018, chef Katie Button and Felix Meana, the duo behind nationally acclaimed Spanish restaurant Cúrate, opened Button & Co. Bagels in the ground level of the former Nigthbell space. The New York-style bagels were a hit, but the pandemic forced Button and Meana to turn the bagel shop into La Bodega by Cúrate, a Spanish food and wine retail shop, out of necessity when dining rooms were forced to close.
“The cafe downstairs evolved as soon as dining rooms were allowed and from that moment,” says Button, “Felix and I began planning the eventual full restaurant and wine bar upstairs with our team.” And over time, La Bodega organically morphed into a continuation of Button and Meana’s mission: to bring Spanish culinary culture to Asheville and beyond.
Helmed by chef de cuisine Matt Brown, La Bodega reemerges as an all-day Spanish cafe, market, and wine bar, expanding into the newly remodeled two-story space at 32 South Lexington Avenue. Brown (with experience at Bar Boulud, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, and Alinea), joined the kitchen weeks before the pandemic started. “La Bodega isn’t only an accomplishment for how the concept has been created but also for the people who are running it,” says Meana. “For the past two years, Matt has been showing us that he is capable to create and be true to Spain, and I can’t think of a better chef to run that kitchen,” he adds.
Button and Meana have created a work environment where mentorship and growth from within are the standards.“Jessica Salyer has been by my side all these years at Cúrate learning how I have been building our wine relationships and now she is taking over the wine program — not only at La Bodega but at Cúrate, as well,” Meana says. “We added the perfect sous chefs and front-of-the-house managers to complete the puzzle and they are running the show.”
La Bodega is an intersection of where Cúrate Bar de Tapas, Cúrate Trips, Cúrate at Home, and Cúrate Spanish Wine Club meet in one space. “We wanted something casual, bright, fun, no reservations; a place to complement our existing restaurant, Cúrate — opening another portal to Spain in Asheville,” says Button. “We could not be happier with how it has turned out, and to share the creation of the concept with our whole team, has truly been one of the most fulfilling and proudest moments of our career.”
Meana and Brown spent a week in January 2022 exploring Madrid and Barcelona — eating at a total of 34 restaurants in the name of pintxos and Spanish food research. “The mar y montaña is a meatball with chicken and Mediterranean prawns and was inspired by a dish at Ca L’Isidre [in Barcelona],” says Brown. “We loved the way it felt to sit down for an aperitivo and be welcomed by olives and chips to snack on as we studied the menu — and we offer the same at the pintxo and wine bar at La Bodega.”
La gilda is said to be the first-ever Basque pinxto, and Button notes, is always the same three ingredients: gordal olives, anchovies, and pippara peppers. The anchoa mantequilla — Cantabrian anchovies and butter atop toast — is also a standout. “You heard that right, anchovies and butter!” exclaims Manea. “It was one of the bites from our trip to Spain that we had to bring back here,” he adds.
In addition to pintxos, there’s a leg of Cinco Jotas (Iberian Jamon) stationed at the bar — plus Spanish cheeses and charcuterie and larger dishes like tartar de ternera (a handcut steak), tortilla vaga (a “lazy” duck egg omelet), crispy pork belly, and caracoles (snails) with pork trotter and laminated brioche dish that Brown is giddy over. The beverage list is completely different from Cúrate, offering more natural and orange wines, and of course, Sherry, which beverage director Jessica Salyer notes is “the ultimate pairing with most of the menu.”
“[Last week] we brought our kids in to dine and it felt like we had created our new happy place,” says Button. “The four of us sitting at a table munching on potato chips and berberechos (cockles), I had a glass of fino in my hand and for a moment, life stood still.” Meana can be credited for both the space’s energy and design, bringing in Old World European touches like marble and brass accents and vintage decor — including a collection of original artwork by his late father, Eduardo Meana, vividly telling the stories of his childhood by way of paintings.
The downstairs cafe menu is available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. with the Spanish market open until 10 p.m. The upstairs pintxo and wine bar, with full table service, is open for brunch at 11 am each day, closing briefly from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. to reset for dinner. La Bodega does not take reservations. Follow Instagram for additional specials and events.