It would be disingenuous not to use the words “fairy tale,” “storybook,” or “magical” to describe the first glimpse of Eldr (111 Grovewood Road, Asheville), the newly opened restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a century-old cottage nestled amid the trees in historic Grovewood Village. Ruddy red shingles drape over pebbled exterior walls; paned glass windows are framed with pine green metal; and a sturdy flagstone path meanders through landscaped grounds to the golden oak front door.
Though the exterior evokes Red Riding Hood, from inside the snug vestibule the view is minimalist Nordic, a less-is-more ethos that co-owner Carson Lucci describes as “super-clean, modern, and timeless.” Eldr is Old Norse for “fire”, a term Lucci and her personal and professional partner, chef Eric Burleson, learned in their travels through Scandinavia. Those trips over the years inspired the restaurant’s decor, and the region’s culinary profile informed Burleson’s menus.
Lucci and Burleson are Asheville F&B veterans. Lucci opened Over Easy cafe on downtown’s Broadway in 2005, serving a combined breakfast and lunch menu seven days a week. Burleson came on one day a week in 2012; as other cooks left, he assumed their shifts until he became executive chef. In that role, he began sourcing more locally and regionally, starting with products from Gaining Ground farmers Anne and Aaron Grier, and Alan Benton’s famed bacon.
What had ambled along as a favorite locals hang exploded with Asheville tourism traffic; by 2019, the 42-seat restaurant was seeing two-hour waits even in the middle of the week. Heather and Jim Cassidy, regulars at Over Easy, offer professional consulting and financing to local businesses and witnessed that growth. They approached Lucci and Burleson about partnering for a second location, but the couple wasn’t interested at the time. Burleson was exploring more creative culinary paths with pop-ups and events like Charleston and Atlanta food and wine festivals.
When Covid forced Over Easy into a take-out only model, Lucci and Burleson pondered the options to reopen their small cafe for indoor dining. But Over Easy was overdue for some long-needed infrastructure repairs, and after getting the hard numbers, they made the tough decision to close permanently in November 2020. A week later, they heard from the Cassidys.
“They told us they found a building in North Asheville, and all I could think was ‘What kind of awful old building are we going to see?’” Lucci says. “When we walked up to this place, it blew us away. It looked like a fairy tale.”
Inside the building — which until March 2020 was the fine-dining, Greek-inspired Golden Fleece restaurant — the vibe wasn’t quite as magical. “The back room was shut off from the front; the walls were painted gold; the wood was dark. It was just all kind of gloomy,” she remembers. “Thankfully, Heather and I were on the same page aesthetically.”
They widened the door between the two rooms to create flow and light; after priming the walls to paint, white was the obvious color choice. With the outside greenery framed through the windows, too much art on the walls would be superfluous. Instead, they hung some references to the history of the building and property.
From the front door, the commanding Marra Forni brick, wood and gas fueled oven — hand-built on site with the white tile shell emblazoned with ELDR — is the first thing diners see, but Burleson is emphatic: “We are not a pizza restaurant. But we will make a damned good Neapolitan pizza.”
Eldr invites locals who were driven off by the long waits at the original downtown restaurant to visit Grovewood Village for their fix of Over Easy breakfast and lunch favorites like huevos rancheros, breakfast sandwiches, soft scramble with crunchy bits of smoked trout, smash burgers, and radicchio salad. The diner-style breakfast hash is kicked up a notch with the addition of a confit crispy-skin duck leg straddling a heap of seasonal vegetables and potatoes pan-fried in duck-fat.
Burleson has a fondness for duck, and uses the entire bird: duck fat, duck leg, duck liver for a pate, duck carcass for a rich demi, and duck breast as the plump centerpiece of a dinner entree with kohlrabi and sour cherry preserves. Roast chicken, two fish, and a dry-aged ribeye round out the main plates for dinner service. Burleson relies heavily on his local farm friends, and items across the menus will change out frequently to reflect that, as well as protein availability.
Like the most enduring fairy tales, Eldr believes in happy endings, and here dinner concludes with what Burleson calls an angelican cannoli, a complimentary finale. Wild angelica celery, foraged specifically for him, is cut into two-inch hollow batons, piped with spruce cream and topped with spruce sugar and tiny elder flowers; a pair is plated with a smear of tangy-sweet lemon curd. “The last bite of the night,” he says, “should be memorable.”