Gan Shan Station pumps out Asian flavor

By Katelynn Watkins – [email protected] – Staff Writer | April 8, 2015 |
Gas stations are easy to spot. They’re located on busy highways or street corners and have customer parking spaces, which is partially why Patrick O’Cain, owner and co-chef at Gan Shan Station, chose an old fill-up station on Charlotte Street as the location for his restaurant.
“I grew up here,” O’Cain said. “This was the gas station we always went to as kids.”
The station has stood since the 1940s, O’Cain said, owned and operated locally before being taken over by Shell Oil Company. Since then, it’s been sort of lost in the hustle and bustle of north Asheville traffic.
Until now.
Around November 2013, the idea for Gan Shan Station started becoming a reality. O’Cain said he went to A-B Tech for its culinary programs before working at various restaurants in the area, including Cúrate. After working with some kitchens in Charleston and eyeing the old station for an extension of those restaurants, he was finally ready to make it his own.
“I’ve always enjoyed making and eating Asian food,” O’Cain said. “After my uncle gave my parents a Szechuan cookbook when I was a kid, I started working with it and really enjoyed myself.”
The current menu includes specialties like squid salad and mapo tofu, a traditional Chinese dish including tofu and chili oils, that O’Cain said has always been one of his favorites. Dishes change with the seasons, he said, so as the weather gets warmer the menu will move toward more Thai items and offerings from tropical areas of Asia.
The open kitchen allows customers dining inside to watch as their food is prepared and cooked, and random elements of the décor include reminders of the building’s former purpose, such as the outline of a track or the overhang out front.
Two newcomers to the restaurant since its late 2014 opening, Jill and Rabon Bissett were excited to see a new place coming to their neighborhood but had not made it to check it out until Thursday evening.
Passing up on one of the Asian imported brews, the sisters moved to appetizers. They settled on beef dumplings and tried a bit of the Szechuan ears.
“I love dumplings, but I don’t know about those ears,” Rabon said. “These crunchier ones are pretty good, and I like these mushrooms, the way they’re cooked down and everything.”
The dish is a mixture of fried and poached pieces of pigs’ ears. Mushrooms are also tossed in with the slightly spicy cilantro and garlic flavors.
For the main course, the sisters decide to split the pork ramen, which comes with a whole egg, scallions, bean sprouts and alkaline noodle amidst the sweet pork broth.
“It’s definitely sweeter than I expected,” Jill said, “but still really savory and filling without being too much.”
The restaurant is still on its way, with O’Cain making changes to both the building and the menu. However, he said most of his customers have responded well and become fairly regular diners.
“A lot of the folks who remember when this was a gas station tell me they’re glad someone did something with the place,” he said. “I think that’s why we get more of the older clientele; they’re the locals that remember what it once was.”
As the restaurant becomes more of a familiar sight on Charlotte Street, O’Cain said he hopes more locals will stop by and make it one of their favorite stops off the busy street.
After all, that is what the place was built for.