Given Asheville’s Appalachian heritage, fluffy homemade biscuits populate more menus than not in the city’s restaurants. But it’s not nearly so easy to scare up a good New York-style bagel. That is, until Button & Co. Bagels opened in late October.
Located on Lexington Street in the space below Chef Katie Button’s second restaurant, Nightbell (her first, the nationally acclaimed tapas spot Cúrate, opened in 2011 around the corner on Biltmore Avenue), this new bagel shop merges the South Carolina-born chef’s Southern roots with her childhood in the North. “I grew up in New Jersey with a love for bagels, lox, and schmears,” Katie confesses. “This shop is my way of bringing my New Jersey roots to the South.”
Button, a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2018, tackled bagels the same way she does everything: she dove in headfirst. She and her husband and business partner, Félix Meana, are always tossing around ideas for new projects, and they decided a casual place with counter service would suit the small space below Nightbell.
So the couple took a research trip to New York City to nosh on bagels. Once they pinned down the type they wanted to make, Katie and Félix came back and started experimenting with recipes. On the whole, the duo spent about a year researching and refining the concept for Button & Co. Bagels.
What they came up with is a classic boiled and baked bagel made from their own sourdough starter and proofed overnight. Flour from Asheville’s Carolina Ground and local sorghum syrup—which takes the place of the barley malt syrup traditionally used up North—represent Button’s devotion to sustainably produced Appalachian ingredients.
Six varieties of bagels—plain, rye, everything, seeded, salt, and fig & sorghum—are made fresh throughout each day. On the sandwich menu, bagels envelop house-cured wild salmon and house-smoked black cod, house-made pastrami and mortadella, and the chef’s seasonal jams. Phoebe Esmon, who directs the cocktail program for Katie Button Restaurants, even concocted the recipes for the house-crafted sodas and shrubs.
The “schmear” to spread on her fresh-baked bagels results from Button’s partnership with Three Graces Dairy in nearby Marshall, North Carolina. “They call it ‘dream cheese,’” Button says of the decadent cultured cow’s-milk cheese that Three Graces customizes for the shop.
Dedicating her storefront to bagels and all the craveable accompaniments appears to be a successful formula. On opening day, the shop completely sold out of bagels in four hours, and by the end of the first week, Button & Co. Bagels had polished off an astounding 250 pounds of Three Graces’ cheese.
As we chat, the over-achieving chef and mother of two (a three-year-old daughter and an infant son) is simultaneously critiquing the amount of cream cheese on the bagels, editing the menu, and managing to sandwich in a quick bagel lunch between meetings and other commitments. “My job is to push the concept forward,” Katie says. “I’m always trying to make things perfect.”
Button & Co. Bagels, 32 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC. (828) 630-0330, katiebuttonrestaurants.com/button-co-bagels