FANCY EATIN’! Greek Mezedes on the Mezzanine at “The MEZ”

I might look like a caveman, a hobo, a drug-addled hippy who lives under a cardboard box, but sometimes, I get to eat like a friggin’ king. #mostofthetime The food here in Asheville is real good, Yo. From gourmet hot dogs, to muhfuckin’ escargots, this tiny li’l ol’ mountain town in Appalachia, Western North Carolina has it all, and I’m eating it all. Sometimes, I even get invited to a fancy dinner, or brunch, or cocktail party. I don’t drink cocktails, but I get all blazed up on the marijuana and show up to buffet table ready to tuck into some…


FANCY EATIN’


Greek Mezes at The Mez, Upstairs at the New S&W Artisanal Eatery

Above: Even the salt on the tables is imported from Greece. – photo by Stu Helm

I got lucky recently. Well, we all did, actually.

Let me explain. A few short months ago you, me, and the whole city of Asheville were granted a boon, when the beautiful, historic, and famous S&W Cafeteria Building, located adjacent to Pritchard Park, was rented, renovated, and reopened as a brand new venue featuring Greek food, that has several fun, unique, and delicious facets to it, that are collectively called the S&W Artisanal Eatery.

First thing in the morning, a coffee corner, with Pennycup coffee and Greek and American pastries, opens for early risers. A little later in the day, a cafeteria with super-traditional, filling, and comforting Greek foods like moussaka and spanakopita opens for lunch, along with a deli-style counter, with salads and sandwiches made on house made breads. After 5pm, The Times craft cocktail bar opens up, as does the spectacular mezzanine, where they begin table service, and feature very delicious Greek small plates, which are called mezes, or mezedes in Greek.

Yeah, I know, that’s a LOT of stuff going on in one place.

For now, let’s concentrate on the restaurant up on the mezzanine, which is called, The Mez. First of all: It’s fucking NICE up there. Holy shit, Yo. Like, really nice. If you haven’t been inside the S&W Building, you haven’t seen one of the best & most beautiful interiors in all of downtown. Of course, the new restaurateurs respected the historic value of the venue and have not changed, replaced, or destroyed any of the original walls, stairs, tiles, or fixtures. The S&W Cafeteria was build in 1929 and is a palace of Art Decor design that you can read more about HERE. Asheville’s history is fun and interesting, but this is a food blog, so…

Here are some potatoes…

Above: Traditional Greek Potato Salad with “evoo” (Extra Virgin Olive Oil). – photo by Stu Helm

The Chef at S&W is Alex “Bax” Baxevanis, and lucky me, he invited me personally to come check out the new mezes menu! He asked me to bring friends, and I knew why: Mezes might be described as Greek “small plates,” but that’s just an expression. Nothing Greek people do is small, and I knew that Alex was about to style me out with the grand-daddy of all meals, and that he wanted me to have other people to enjoy it with me — Greek style — all loud and boisterous and stuff. I’m not like that. I’m small and of German-English descent (aka uptight as fuck), and I actually prefer to eat alone when I’m on the job, which I was! I gotta concentrate, Yo, and betches be grabbin’ up the food before I get good pictures and shit. True story. I have to concentraaaaaate!

I accepted Chef Bax’s kind invitation, but informed him that I’d be dining alone.
He still sent out enough food for a large family.

The potato salad pictured above was great. A cold dish that was bright, tangy, and refreshing. On a hot day in the Summertime: Perfect. The olives added a nice touch of slight bitterness and salt. The tomatoes had been marinated perfectly, and were neither mushy nor tough, and the potatoes were cooked just right as well. I kinda didn’t know what to do with the giant scallion spear on top, so I set it aside and pretended it wasn’t there. The romaine Salad below was just a straight-up head of romaine lettuce, chopped-up table-side, and served with a very simple olive oil-based dressing, some chopped scallions, and a lemon wedge. I hit it up, and was like, “Mmm… lettuce-y.” Lettuce ain’t so much my thing. I’m more into sausages than lettuce, but I’ll get to that later… If you like lettuce, but hate goopy, slimy, sweet, creamy dressings, this is your jam.

Above: Maroulo Salad aka Romaine, scallions, lemon juice, & evoo. – photo by Stu Helm

Tyrokafteri aka Spicy cheese dip was the next plate to hit my table, and wow, it was awesome in my opinion. The house-baked, charred bread was killer! I love a good bread, and this shit was GOOOOOD. The creamy, spicy arahova feta cheese is made from goat’s milk imported from Greece, and was one of two “canned” dishes that were served that night. Don’t let the presentation fool you, though, neither dish was actually canned, but were both house-made foods — the cheese dip in this case, and some pickled octopus that came later — that were simply served in cans, in a playful way, that I found both amusing and quirky.

All of the plates featured in these photos are intended to be split among friends, and I could totally imagine splitting this cheese dippity-can with Dawn and a couple of our pals, and every single one of us being like, “Yeah, Man, this is fucking gooood.” The cheese was thick, and substantial, creamy and goat-cheesy, and had a pretty surprising little kick of heat to it! The goooood bread that came with it made several appearances on different plates throughout the evening, and was a star every time. In this case, it was literally kinda shaped like a star…

Canned by us, opened by you!” – The Mez Menu

Above Goat Cheese Feta Dip with Gooood Bread. – photo by Stu Helm

A cheese plate came next, and wow, I gotta tell ya, this was one of the best cheese plates I’ve had in a long time. No joke. I like a good cheese plate. Operative word: Good. Some are so meh that I sometimes regret ordering them, or so skimpy, that I’m like, “This is not enough cheese.” Bad or boring cheese plate experiences have left me a little hesitant at times to try new ones. When this one came out, the first thing I thought was: Atsalotta cheese! There were five kinds of cheese on the massive plate, all Greek, and each more delicious than the next! Also on the plate: Sweet, chewy figs, crunchy little sun flower seeds, some herbs ‘n’ spices, a li’l bit of honey-drizzle, and a wee tomato cut in half. There was also a small, shallow dish of sweet, sticky, quince paste in the middle, and interspersed throughout, the coup d’grace in my opinion: Barley rusks. I’d never even fucking heard of barley rusks before my server brought me this plates and e’splained them to me. In the photo below they are the bready looking things.

Called Paximadia in Greek, barley husks are essentially a twice-baked , savory biscuit type of thing that dates back to ancient Greece, and has a really great, crunchy, bread-like texture, and a wonderful flavor to match.

I give this cheese plate two thumbs-up, five stars, and a smiley face emoticon. :)

Above: This is an early contender for “Cheese Plate of the Year.” – photo by Stu Helm

I lerved this cheese plate. The cheeses were excellent, and ranged from mild and creamy to tangy as fuck. The figs added the perfect element of sweetness, as did the quince paste. The tomatoes seemed a tiny bit out of place, but whatevs, because…

Barley rusks are my new favorite ancient food item.

Pickled Octopus was the next example of Alex’s Greek mezedes there was served to me, and it was the other item that came in a can. Again: The can is simply a playful plating choice on the part of the kitchen. This delicious octopus is pickled in-house, and had a great flavor and texture. I don’t even really like octopus all that much, and I thought this was really good!  The pickle was tangy, but not overly so, and had Greek herbs in the mix of course. The texture was soft and had a nice chew to it, but was not “chewy,” or rubbery in any way. I can imagine that actual fans of octopus would really dig this treatment, and it might appeal to people who are on-the-fence, or new to the whole concept of eating octopus as well. I liked it! It’s one of the best preparations I’ve tasted, but as I’ve said, I’m no expert, so please go try it for yourselves and let me know what you think! It came with some of that INSANELY good bread.

Vol Au Vent – Lion’s Main Mushrooms, Mushroom Crème, [on April 1st it will be served with a] Poached Egg, Bitter Green Salad

Skordalis aka Galric Potatoes arrived next, and yeah, I already knew what these are from past experiences with Greek food, and holy fucking shit, Yo. GARLICKY.  This is an interactive dish, as in: The customer is put in charge of adding however much garlic and olive oil mixture one wants from a small jar on the side, and then mashin’ them shits all up with the wooden masher / pestle-thingy. Now, my server was great, and warned me to proceed with caution when pouring the oil and garlic mixture into the taters, which I already knew to do, from said past experiences with these potentially soooooper-fahhhking-GAHHHHHHRRRRRLICKY garlic potatoes. I poured mostly oil in, not much of the garlic puree at the bottom of the jar, mashed it up, ate it, and it was all good, but I am just not the biggest fan of this dish. Alex did tell me, however, that it’s the one of the most popular dishes on the menu, so again, please go in and judge for yourselves. You might love them!

Above: Kiss your loved ones for the last time, before you tuck into the garlickiest garlic potatoes you’ve ever had in your life. – photo by Stu Helm

At the very beginning of this meal, my server asked me if I would like to order items of my own choosing from the menu, or just have the chef send food out. I responded by saying that I was all good with the kitchen deciding things for me, but, added timidly, “I would like to try this house-made Greek sausage if at all possible?” And, holy fuckernuts, I’m really glad I asked! This is a super-star of a sausage. I frickin’ LOVED it. Nom nom nom. I chowed it down, and would have CRUSHED it right then and there, but I knew there was a lot more food coming, so I saved two small bites of super-star sausage to bring home. That was hard for me to to do. Good lord. I was really into this sausage. Again, I was all alone, like no one else around at all, and I felt slightly embarrassed by how fucking much I was enjoying it.

This Sausage is a Super-Star

Above: Super-Star Sausage

I know you, Asheville.

You like house-made sausages as much as I do, and you can’t deny it. This sausage actually made me excited. That’s how fucking good it was. I couldn’t wait to tell the next human being I saw just how much I liked this sausage! When they came back around I excitedly told my server, “This sausage is a super-star!” Then a few ins later, I excitedly told Sakis, one of the owners, “This sausage is a super-star!” Not long after that I very excitedly told Chef Alex, “This sausage is a super-star!!!” Now I’m excitedly telling you: This sausage fucking is a fucking super-star! Served warm, the texture was moist and crumbly, not dense or chewy, the skin had pop to it, and the char on the outside was right on the money. The herbs were likewise perfect, and the salt levels were too. I personally love the tzatziki at S&W, it’s mild and creamy and doesn’t compete with or overbear any of the main dishes that it comes with, so it went great with this SUPER-STAR SAUSAGE!!!

(Did I mention that I like sausage?)

Souvlaki Skewers of all kinds were next on the list of giant-sized portions of Mediterranean food that arrived in front of me, and WOW. This was REALLY good shit. They sent out one skewer each of beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp. They herbed and seasoned just right, then cooked on the grill and served nice and hot, on top of more of that amazing bread, which this time had itself been doused in olive oil and herbs, before being charred on the grille. Jumpin’ Jimminy Crickets, Y’all. I enjoyed the ever-lovin’ shit outta these things! They came with a little more of that amazing, creamy, mild tzatziki, and some house-picked onions. You may have also noticed that there was at least one lemon wedge per plate of food during this entire meal, so that must be a Greek thing. I don’t lemon-up a ton of my food in general, but I did squirt some lemon on some of the food in these pictures and it was great. I squirted lemon on the shrimp skewers in the picture below for example, and it was great.

Above: Beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp skewers with bread, herbs, and oil.

FYI – I brought a TON of this food home, as you can imagine, and I just want to say that every single bit of it was still insanely delicious when I reheated it later. I only ate one or two pieces of meat off each skewer during the actual meal, so the next day, I laid it on the bread, popped it into my taster over, and holy moly, it was fricking GREAT. I could have eaten it for days. Oh, wait, I DID! Yeah, lotta food. Also: Even with, like 11 boxes of food in bag to bring home, there was not ONE single piece of plastic involved in all of the to-go packaging. I commend S&W for that, and would like to encourage every other venue in town to consider ditching as much of their “single-use” plastic as possible!

Next, one of the heaviest, saltiest, greasiest, and MOST UNBELIEVABLE TASTIEST pieces of food ever invented in the entire long history of humanity arrived: The famous Greek Saganaki cheesealso known as “flame cheese…” if you’re 12. The Greek word saganaki refers to any number of dishes fried in a pan, but when we say saganaki here in America, we generally mean the incredibly savory, breaded and deep fried, “kefalograviera” cheese dish seen in the picture below.

If you don’t like this cheese, you’re insane… or maybe just dairy intolerant, or you can’t eat fried foods, or you’re Vegan, or just on a diet, all of which is totally fine, BUT, if none of those caveats apply to your dietary possibilities and you still don’t like this cheese, you fucking insane. If you’ve never had true saganaki cheese, made by a real pro, then please go to The Mez and eat this cheese now, so that you may love it as much as I do. I’ve had saganaki cheese many times before, but not for a long time, so I was psyched when it arrived at my table. First I ate the crispiest, most “burnt” edge available, and… oh… hell… yeah… that’s the shit right there. It was fantastic. Salty as fuck, just like it should be, crusty around the edges, melty in the middle, umami out the wahzoo, and slightly tangy from the lemon. Yerp, more lemon.

Burnt Cheese: One of Humanities Greatest Creations

Above: Authentic Greek sganaki – photo by Stu Helm

Saganaki cheese is sometimes called “Flame Cheese,” because it is doused in alcohol and lit aflame before serving. Here in the United States, this lighting of the cheese is often done table-side, to loud cheers of “opa!” But Chef Alex kind of explained to me that the logistics of lighting shit on fire inside the S&W building where not so great, so they light it up before it leaves the kitchen. I also got the impression that the “opa” flambe ritual is not an actual Greek thing, and might be considered kind of tacky… or cheesy if you will… be real Greeks. That whole thing got started in 1960’s Chicago, so, yeah, nahhht super authentic. Anyhoo, I ate several bites of this very satisfying dish at dinner that night, then heated up the rest at home the next day and it was fucking great both times!

Gigantes, aka Giant Beans were next to arrive from the kitchen, and I’ll tell you what. Despite  it’s somewhat humble appearance, this was one of the best dishes of the night, during what was a great night of many great dishes. It was just simple, slow cooked, goodness in a crock pot. This food would make anyone, especially Southerners, feel comforted to their very bones. Which makes sense, as Chef Alex himself was raised in the mountains of WNC, but studied cooking under his Grandmother in Greece. I went into S&W on Easter Sunday (or what Sakis and crew call “American Easter“) and Alex was serving his mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens right along side the mousakka and pastitsio. I love it.

The giant beans hit every note of comfort  for me, something that I love about Southern food, but with a Mediterranean flavor profile here. A rich tomato sauce, lots of garlic & onions, those big gigantes beans, all stewed down to a wonderful, soft consistency, with a hunk of imported Greek feta cheese, fresh parsley on top. It was fantastic, and when I reheated it at home, it had somehow gotten even better! I think the flavors were able to blossom even further over time. And again, it came with that amazing bread, which as I said, remained a star of the evening throughout the entire meal.

Above: Giant beans – Photo by Stu Helm

when I first arrived, I mentioned to Alex that the only dish he could hold back would be his mousakka, because I’d already tried it so many times, and I love it! It’s some of the best, if not thee best moussaka I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve already raved about it on Facebook and such. “No,” said Alex in response, “I’m sending you some!” [paraphrased] For one thing, he told me, I’d only had it for lunch, when it’s served out of a large pan — cafeteria style — and is basically a square. An awesome square for sure, but Alex wanted me to see the dinner presentationwhen it comes in its own little crock pot, Hell yes. Extra points for cuteness! At dinner time, each crock of moussaka is made to order, from scratch, which takes about 20-25 mins, so you should order it right away, when you order your drinks and appetizers. You might want to share it, or not. It’s a LOT of food, so either share it or pick it as your entree.

JUST IN CASE you didn’t know…

Moussaka is an eggplant- or potato-based dish, often including ground meat, in the Levant, Middle East, and Balkans, with many local and regional variations. Many versions have a top layer made of milk-based sauce thickened with egg or flour. Wikipedia

Above: Crock of moussaka – photo by Stu Helm

Chef Alex’s moussaka, I’m not even kidding, is… totally… GAH!!! So good!!!

It comes out hot as fuck, so beware! Let it cool, or you will burn yourself. Once it’s cooled somewhat, and you can tuck in, just try a li’l bit of that Béchamel sauce on your spoon or fork first, Just a teeny tiny taste, to see what’s up. Because, it’s fucking awesome is what’s up, just in case you were wondering. Now that you know what’s up with Béchamel, dig deeeeep into the crock pot, and get a LOT of EVERYTHING on your fork, spoon, or shovel, and start piling it into your mouth-hole, because, yeah, wowsie-wowsie-woo-woo… as the saying goes. I sweardagahd, it’s some of the best moussaka I have ever eaten in my life. Right here in li’l ol’ Asheville, Appalachia, NC!

Who would have figured on on that happening?

Toward the end of the meal, my server asked if I had saved room for dessert. Yes (no) I had (not)! So I ordered one. They sent two. By this point I was already almost in a coma, so I took one or two bites of both of them… and then nearly crushed one of them… and then took the rest of the other one home.. and crushed most of it later that night. (heavy exhalation of air) So full of Greek things.

Above & Below: Dessert – photos by Stu Helm

Chef Athena Baxevanis is the head of pastries at The Mez, as well as the cafeteria and coffee corner downstairs, and she has a lot of different sweets going on over there.  The two I had were (above) the Galaktoboureko aka Greek Milk Pie, made from a semolina custard and filo dough with a citrus syrup on top, and something Chef Athena concocted (below) called “Greekamisu,” which is a delightful take on tiramisu using Greek goat cheese instead of mascarpone cheese, that took me by surprise, and was the dessert that I nearly finished, despite the fact that I was really really reallyreally full at the time.

Okay… there you go! I very comprehensive review of every single dish that I ate that night, and what amounts to about 1/5th of the entire menu upstairs at The Mez. I highly recommend this exciting new venue, especially for date night, double-date night, specials occasions, and just an after-work bite and beverage. It’s nice, quiet, has a full bar, Greek wine, pro service, and GREAT food.

I can’t wait to go back and try the Keftedes! And the Baked Manouri! And the Melitzanosalata!!! Good lord… I might need some friends to dine with me after all.

S&W Artisanal Eatery
“Hub for Mediterranean plates & products with an upscale eatery, bakery & coffee bar.”
Address: 56 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours:
Sunday 10AM–9PM
Monday 9AM–5PM
Tuesday 9AM–10PM
Wednesday 9AM–10PM
Thursday 9AM–10PM
Friday 9AM–10PM
Saturday 9AM–10PM
Phone: (828) 575-9551

— END —


Asheville Food Tours


From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O'SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.

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External links:

ashvegas.com

facebook.com/stuhelmfoodfan

instagram.com/stuhelm33

twitter.com/stuhelmfoodfan

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