The story of me in Asheville mirrors me and this one pizza place in North Asheville on Merrimon. Early in my relationship with the man who would become my husband, he and I and his mom needed to while away a rainy afternoon, so they checked what was showing at their favorite mini theater.
We’d all seen Despicable Me, the kid cartoon with the yellow minion creatures, before, but they assured me that seeing it at Asheville Pizza and Brewing, complete with their far-superior movie snacks, was the way to spend an afternoon.
They weren’t wrong. Everything from the movie scene murals and eclectic decor to the simple seating and long narrow tables to let you nosh while you watch… it was really a comfortable and easy-going space, particularly given that the place was crawling with children that day.
My husband insisted that we snack on the Napoleon Dynamite Sticks, a cheesy-bread concoction that was admittedly tasty but probably made even better by the strong nostalgia my husband harbors for matinees here in the past.
Now, I have a more well-rounded feel for this restaurant, theater, and brewery, maybe because I’ve lived here for a while and been to it for a variety of occasions. I ate my weight in queso-covered tater tots while watching the United States compete in the Men’s World Cup on the big screen, and this was my go-to spot for watching the Barbie movie when it came out and took the world by storm.
I was in a non-pizza-eating mood, a rarity for me, and ordered the Sunshine Bowl alongside my favorite of their brews (Big Red Llama Seltzer, if you’re wondering). This bowl was a pleasing mix of a grain-bowl and a salad, with greens and rice as well as black beans, onions, corn, queso fresco, guacamole, and a Baja sauce that kept everything nice and spicy. It was still a rich and flavorful choice, making me once again trust the depth on this menu.
While the company itself has diversified into canned beer and has locations that aren’t movie theaters, I’m most impressed by the way that this company has made itself a hub for events like comedy shows, classic movie nights, gatherings around sports events like the World Cup, and trivia nights.
The layout is such that you can have an absolutely normal pizza dinner in the dining room, a nice pint at the bar, or enjoy some classic arcade games, but the centerpiece is the idea of a dinner and a show combined.
While there are a few upscale brands that have created movie theaters with a posh menu, I love the down-to-earth vibe of Asheville Pizza and Brewing. Asheville is at its best when it’s a little mishmash of references, a lot of art and culture, and not too hoity-toity for anyone.
When you first come to this spot, you might not even catch it – located behind the parking lot for Bruegger’s and set back from Merrimon, this building doesn’t look like much of anything, with two circular silo-like portions of the building and a patio between them that leads into the main dining area.
If you look for the spaceship, though, you’ll be able to find the building alright. There’s plenty of parking between Bruegger’s and Autobell, but there’s also a large lot in the back, which is helpful if you come out to the opening of a movie when the place sells out of tickets.
Walking up to the front entrance, simple and helpful signs guide you in, where ordering at the bar is the standard and food is brought to you or available with a buzzer inside the theater if you’re about to see a movie. You’ll see a big Mars-scene mural and spots on the wall that are papered with photos and feature stories in various magazines.
The eye is immediately drawn to the “Welcome to Asheville” mural in the style of many touristy postcards – it’s a little tongue-in-cheek, I think, since, of course, visitors visit this spot, but there’s also a fair number of neighbors who come over because of its good pizza, flavorful beer, and cheap movies.
Cute features abound, like the sign above the restrooms reading “Indoor Plumbing” – I had to point someone to the restrooms because that sign didn’t immediately register for them, which made me laugh. There’s something very amusing in sacrificing legibility for a joke, and I figure everyone eventually finds the restrooms when they need them.
At various times, especially given the pivots needed during COVID, there have been films showing in 0, 1, or 2 of the theaters. When I visited for the World Cup, they’d had no idea how popular the viewing would be, so they gave out free “tickets” to watch the games in Theater 1 and left Theater 2 as the free-for-all, first-come-first-served section, and I’ve seen that play out.
Theater 1 is most commonly being used for whatever movie is showing, while the second theater can be a wild card – additional dinner seating sometimes, comedy night space, or the big screen for a second movie or showing of some kind when needed.
Asheville Brewing started before Asheville was truly a microbrew mecca, making it one of the mainstays of the community. Their beers offer an egalitarian spirit, in my opinion. While many of the newer arrivals on Asheville’s shores focus primarily on some of the more niche tastes – from sours to barrel-aged to intricately hopped IPAs – Asheville Brewing will serve you some tasty lagers and porters as well as their various collabs and intense experimental brews.
The Ninja Porter, Perfect Day IPA, and Rocket Girl Lager are staples of the canned beer aisle in Asheville grocery stores and beyond, but at the actual brewpubs, you never know what you might find, from special infused versions of their classic beers, like the various infused holiday porters known as the Ninjabread Man series.
They have their own unusual beers, including sours and barrel-aged beers, too, so see what they have the next time you’re at the brewery – it’s the best of both the approachable and esoteric beer worlds.
My own favorite drink there isn’t a beer at all, but a strawberry seltzer infused with ginger called Big Red Llama. Yes, there are days when I’m in the mood for a beer, but this drink hits all the right sweet-but-not-too-sweet boxes for me, and I’m not going to apologize for loving a refresher.
It’s always fun to see serious beer folks having to order goofy names at Asheville Brewing, where beers like Brewnicorn and Bantha Milk have been in the rotation at times. Isn’t naming your beer something fun part of the joy of brewing in the first place?
I love being able to sip my seltzer while I wait for my friends to arrive (I’m habitually early), and there’s a real pleasure in trying to take in every detail of the place and always finding something else: one of the cylindrical alcoves is crowned by a coat of arms that reads siempere tranquillo which I think means something like “always calm.”
I see that someone has put a series of whimsical bobbleheads on a ledge up near the rafters, and I’m amused by the perspective of the steampunk-style mural of pipes and valves behind the bar, making it look like the taps that dispense the beer are part of a huge maze of interlinking plumbing.
The pizza itself is a decadent delight, thin crust with tons of chew to it and (maybe to some people’s chagrin) a truly grease-inducing amount of tasty, tasty cheese. While you cannot go wrong with the classics – I myself recently ate their pepperoni pizza and it just is hard to improve on the spicy rich delight that a pepperoni slice offers – they also offer a wide variety of signature pies known as the Legendary Pizzas.
From the Hot, Sexy Mother Clucker (light honey, spicy fried chicken, pimento cheese, goat cheese, red onion, and bacon) to the Shear Delight (sesame seed crust, pesto sauce, mushrooms, walnuts, and gorgonzola), these are not your standard pies.
If I opt for a Legendary pie with a crew in tow, I’d probably aim at the Magic Dragon, which boasts a coconut crust, pesto base, curried chicken or tofu, tomato, and red onion with a sweet chili sauce as a glaze – why hadn’t I thought of putting sweet chili sauce on pizza before? It’s as magical as its name.
It’s hard to say, definitively, what makes something a local icon. Sometimes it is an actually unique element, or maybe some distinctive art or food item offered. But I personally think that most of what qualifies anywhere (including Asheville Pizza and Brewing) as a local icon is that it is beloved by so many locals.
The eclectic murals, the collages and random memorabilia everywhere you look, and the excellent pizza and brews come together to make something that keeps locals coming back over and over. Yes, they could go to a standard movie theater, but there’s something about the simple digs and flavorful options at Asheville Pizza and Brewing that make it one of my top places to catch a movie or just pick up a giant pizza to bring home to share.
North Asheville: 675 Merrimon Avenue, Asheville.
Downtown – South Slope: 77 Coxe Avenue, Asheville.
South Asheville: 1850 Hendersonville Road Suite A, Asheville.