What’s new in food: Posana turns 15

THEN AND NOW: Peter and Martha Pollay when they launched Posana on Pack Square in 2009, left, and today. The 100% gluten-free restaurant will mark its 15th anniversary with a dinner event Thursday, May 16. Photos courtesy of Posana

When Martha and chef Peter Pollay opened Posana in 2009, they were not thinking long-term goals. “We wanted to serve good food and be part of the community,” Peter recalls.

Mission accomplished — and so much more. Posana is one of Asheville’s most well-regarded restaurants, a dining destination for locals and visitors alike; a leader in establishing the stellar culinary reputation of the city and a solid anchor for an ever-changing downtown — all the while being 100% gluten-free. (Martha lives with celiac disease, a chronic immune disorder triggered by gluten ingestion.) But to hear Peter tell it, the couple just segued their style of cooking, eating and entertaining at home to a restaurant.

On Thursday, May 16, 5-9 p.m. the couple will celebrate Posana’s 15th anniversary at 1 Biltmore Ave., with a sampling of menu staples and seasonal spring dishes, as well as a one-night-only return of the restaurant’s award-winning lobster mac and cheese. The bar will reprise its famous Zentini — vodka, ginger syrup, lime juice, ginger juice and lime bitters — and pour a glass of bubbly for each guest.

Before moving to Asheville in 2003, the Pollays lived in Malibu, Calif., where they shopped three times weekly at local farmers markets, choosing local meats, fish, fruits and vegetables to prepare at home. “This was before Martha got celiac, but what we were cooking was naturally gluten-free and delicious,” says the chef.

When the Pollays first arrived in Asheville, tailgate markets were not as prolific as they are now, so Peter established a relationship with a distributor at the WNC Farmers Market to buy cases of produce grown nearby. “We had neighbors also interested in that, so we’d go in together and divvy it all up from our dining room table,” he explains. “Then we’d invite them back for a big dinner.”

When the couple decided to open a restaurant, Peter suggested they just re-create the food they made at home. “We’ll source from the market, make the food and serve the food,” he recalls of their plan. “By then, Martha was diagnosed with celiac, and I wanted a place where she could safely eat.”

For years, the Pack Square corner building had been Café on the Square, and the ambiance was very much a casual café model, open for breakfast and lunch with soft seating, sofas in the front window and tables at a banquette. The Pollays kept much of the decor, creating a new menu for breakfast and lunch and adding dinner, which meant the restaurant was serving three meals a day, seven days a week.

The hours were not sustainable. About two years in, Posana dropped breakfast except for weekend brunch service and, about a year and a half later, also eliminated lunch.

As the restaurant’s food, beverage and service programs became more elevated, the Pollays realized the space didn’t reflect that sophistication, so the year the restaurant turned 5, Posana underwent a complete remodel.

A decade later, in addition to its original commitment to being gluten-free across the board — from bread and pasta to desserts — and sticking with charter vendors Sunburst Trout and Three Graces Dairy, Posana’s famous kale salad has not been altered. “If we changed it or took it off the menu, there would probably be protestors outside the door,” Peter says with a laugh.

Reflecting on 15 years, Peter speaks warmly of staff members who have passed through the front and back of house. “It’s a huge honor to have had them in our family, to see them develop skills, grow and go on in this industry or another field,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to be part of their lives and the lives of all the guests who have chosen Posana for meals and milestones.”

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