For a year, brown paper covered the windows of the former Happy Hill Restaurant (1400 Patton Avenue) in West Asheville, an old-school Asheville diner that opened in 1967 and closed in December 2021. Neighborhood curiosity was further piqued as cryptic messages went up on the signboard out front and the exterior stucco walls were painted pale pink.
It didn’t take too long for the food and beverage grapevine to report that locally loved and nationally recognized chef Elliott Moss was the man behind the curtain. Moss and his partners Mike Piroli, Taylor Godleski, and Lisa Wagner kept the concept under wraps, occasionally putting up teasers on their Instagram accounts and via Little Louie’s, the hoagies and pierogis spot they opened a quarter mile away in March 2023.
All was revealed June 1, when Regina’s launched its comfort classics menu, offered from noon to 8 p.m., and a new bar pouring cocktails, beer, wine, and zero-proof beverages.
When Moss and his wife Jennifer moved to Asheville in 2007, he drove past Happy Hill every day on his way to work at the Admiral, his friend/former roommate Drew Wallace’s then-new restaurant on Haywood Road.
Post Admiral, in 2015, the highly regarded pitmaster teamed up with restaurateur Meherwan Irani and opened Buxton Hall Barbecue. Buxton became enormously successful, and it was a shock when Moss announced his exit from the Chai Pani Restaurant Group in July 2022.
The Happy Hill building became available well before Moss had fully formed his ideas for the space, but as he said on opening day, sitting calmly at the bar three hours before the first customers walked in, “A year and a month later, here we are.”
Much of those 13 months was spent on demolition, renovation, and updating mechanicals. Most daunting was ripping up the carpet to reveal the tile floor beneath. Happy Hill’s free-standing tables and chairs have been replaced by cushy booths and banquettes.
Moss says pink has long been one of his favorite colors, proven by Regina’s exterior and confirmed inside, where different shades of the hue swath the walls of the two dining rooms, one on either side of the central receiving area, centered by the original lunch counter. Over that counter hang mustard-yellow glass light fixtures, which wouldn’t look out of place over a dinette set in a 1950s suburban split-level home.
The streamlined curves that define the custom-built glossy blonde wood barback and bar (by Godleski), the host stand, and the seating are thoroughly aerodynamic, evocative of a swanky TWA Ambassador Lounge of the swinging ’60s.
A vintage glass, multi-shelved dessert case is round, as is the carousel stocked with comic books from Moss’s own collection, among multitudes of quirky items and tchotchkes he gathers thrifting and antiquing.
The yellow lights informed the color of the fabric on the banquettes and booths, and Moss loves orange, the shade of the padded leather rim of the bar.
The menu is also an ode to what Moss loves — comfort classics that anchor and inspire him. Regina’s has opened with a core menu of staples Moss expects to remain stable, though vegetable-focused items like the green goddess salad, the market soup, and the chilled and warm vegetable plates will change seasonally. He sees the green goddess as a signature salad and the dressing — tarragon, cilantro, basil, mint, chives, parsley, lemon, and garlic in a mayo base — as a mother sauce.
The shrimp in the shrimp cocktail is grilled because, he says, “I think grilled shrimp is better than not grilled shrimp, and I built a little charcoal grill for it.”
The first bite of Regina’s classic club is a revelation of how much that sandwich has been missed, and how masterfully Moss plays it — three slices of lightly toasted white bread are spread with a magic potion of turkey drippings stirred into Duke’s mayo, then stacked with thinly sliced in-house brined and roasted turkey, sharp cheddar, smoked applewood bacon, butter lettuce, and tomato, sliced into triangles pierced with olive-studded toothpicks and plated with a just-right serving size of crispy fries. The same turkey goes in the Rachel Reuben on toasted rye.
Leading the succinct selection of plates is tomato glazed pork-and-beef blend meatloaf, which Moss calls the ultimate comfort food. “When people are having a bad day, they can come here and get some meatloaf to cheer them up.” Moss hearkens back to happy childhood memories of Chef Boyardee for the petite one-ounce meatballs on Regina’s spaghetti and meatballs plate. Melbourne chicken Parmesan — or parma and chips as the dish is called in Melbourne — is pounded breasts dredged in panko and Parmesan, fried, covered in marinara and mozzarella, and served with fries. He predicts it will be a sleeper hit.
Aunt Maeve’s cold oven poundcake, handed down from his Aunt Maeve, is a blue-ribbon winner, served with berries of the season. “I have a book of my family recipes and once we settle in here, I’ll be rotating some of those in. We’re having fun and it feels really good to be right where we are.”
Regina’s is currently open Thursdays through Sundays, from noon to 8 p.m.