The following article originally appeared in Food Life Magazine, which is a local Asheville print magazine, published four times a year, and available free all over downtown, Biltmore Village, and West Asheville. Some of the information contained below may no longer be current, and annotations have been made to the original content in red to indicate changes when possible
LIVING THE FOOD LIFE!
Stu Helm’s Top 10 Unexpected, Yet Awesome Sweet Things in Downtown Asheville, North Carolina
1) Amazing Cake at Bhramari Brewhouse – Who would have thought that a brewery would have some of — perhaps thee — best cake in downtown Asheville? Not me, until I tried the 8 layer cake at Bhramari brewhouse. I’d heard they have amazing cake, made by Kali Cakes, so I walked in, sat at the bar, ordered a slice of Chocolate Stout Cherry Cheese Cake, and a glass of milk, and I’ll tell you what: Heaven. I shared it with two young beer enthusiasts at the bar, and they agreed, holy wow. That’s some dang good cake. Go try it for yourselves, there’s a different cake every week. The one I ate had multiple stratum of chocolate cake, made with Bhramari’s chocolate stout, which in turn is made with chocolate nibs from The French Broad Chocolate Lounge; plus chocolate cheesecake & sour cherry cheesecake, topped with Italian butter cream and surrounded by sour cherry gelée. I can not recommend this cake highly enough. Bring a friend. Or three.
2) Bread Pudding at Pete’s Pies – PEEEEET”S! I love this place. It’s so cozy and so cute and the people who work there are really friendly, and the pies are really really (expletive deleted) good! Of course, Pete’s pies aren’t sweet pies, they’re meat pies. (Which is now my new favorite sentence ever!) So, I’m not adding Pete’s pies to this list, but instead putting Pete’s pudding in it’s proper place as one of the great, hidden, sweet treasures of downtown Asheville. Seek it out and taste for yourself how delicious, comforting, and satisfying one of Pete’s bread puddings is. I even had one delivered by Takeout Central and it arrived piping hot and delish, with the sauce on the side, so it didn’t get all sogged-out while I ate my pie. It was perfect, Pete! [ NOTE: Unfortunately Pete’s closed their doors in April 2018 ]
3) Hippy Sweets at Dobra Tea – Whether it’s their fig & buckwheat teacake, the matcha cheesecake, or the… ahem… a seed cookie… yes, I just said seed cookie… all of the organic, vegetarian (sometimes vegan), gluten free snacks at Dobra are actually really tasty, even that seed cookie, I promise. I go to Dobra more for the snacks than the tea. I’m not a big tea drinker. I once tried to order coffee at Dobra. #truestory . ___ . For newbies to Dobra and hippy chow, I recommend the pistachio rose cardamom cookie and the matcha coconut shortbread. And tea. I suppose. If I must. Can I bring in coffee from Izzy’s? Or will that break the magic spell?
4) Doughp Doughnuts at The Underground Cafe (formally known as the Jackson Underground, formerly known as something else before that and something else before that.) – Tough space. Lotta rules. Not a lotta room. No hood. No grille. No windows. Room for maybe 7 tables? So many challenges for a small independent food venue. Well, Chef co-owner, Jay Medford has brought some ingenuity and innovation to the tiny space under the world’s tallest building on the smallest plot of land. #TrueFact Chef Jay got a special fryer that doesn’t require a hood, and he’s makin’ burgers, sandwiches, other food items, AND… doughnuts! Or more technically, “Doughp” doughnuts, which is his brand name for the funky flavors that he’s offering in the Underground Cafe.
5) Bindi Imported Italian Treats at Manicomio – So, I’m all about this new Manicomio’s pizza place that opened up on Biltmore Ave, right where Hannah Flannigan’s used to be. The pizza is 100% awesome, I endorse it with all my pizza-lovin’ heart. The two owners Mike and Jon are also nice guys, and when I asked Mike about the delicious looking desserts in the case, he said a few are from Geraldine’s Bakery on Merrimon Ave, but the others are from an Italian desserts importer called Bindi, that has been around for about 70 years. I tried a cannoli, and BOOM, I was whisked back to Boston in the 1970’s, eating at the many family owned pizzerias and restaurants in the area, and I felt as if I’d had that cannoli many times before.Taste, texture, nostalgia factor, pure comfort… it really ticked a lot of boxes for me, so even though it’s not locally made, I’m going to give it a spot on this list, because it certainly was unexpected and awesome.
6) Lemon Ricotta Thingy at French Broad food Co-op – This is one of my go-to treats in downtown Asheville, and whenever I’m at the Co-op and they don’t have these, I feel a sadness. A heartbreaking sadness. They are all of the following things: Tasty; Sweet, but not too sweet; substantial; moist as can be; relatively healthy; house-made; and 100% unique to the French Broad Food Co-op, as in: You can’t get them anywhere else. Plus, they make them in small batches, so when they are gone, they’re gone. And that’s when the sadness creeps in.
7) Hop Ice Cream at Lexington Corner Market – The Lexington Corner Market has some of the most unexpectedly awesome eats in downtown Asheville, including really great sandwiches, my favorite boiled peanuts ever, and Corner Kitchen Chips, plus it’s one of the few places in downtown that you can grab a small, single serving package of genuine local ice cream from The Hop! They’ve got full-sized pints of it too, but I love that I can get the tiny, cute, to-go cups of it — in both vegan and dairy — right out of the freezer case. The Lexington Corner Market is one of the best new things about downtown.
8) Sunshine Sammies at The Aloft Hotel – Yes, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Aloft Hotel, I admit it. They run an adopt-a-dog program out of their WXYZ Lounge in partnership with Charlie’s Angels Animal Rescue and the dog’s are all tiny and cute and make me wanna #squee out loud every time I’m in there, which is quite often because my Sunday food tours meet at the lounge and I get to hang out with the dogs, and the nice folks who work there, and about a week or so ago I noticed that they sell Sunshine Sammies Ice Cream Sandwiches in their little food area for the guests and stuff, and they don’t even gouge on the price! They sell them for about the same price as anywhere else. Now, for real, Sunshine Sammies has their very own brand new retail location less than a block away from the Aloft Hotel on South Lexington Ave, so please go there and get freshly made, creative flavors, but I included Aloft on this list, because it was very unexpected to find this local product — among others like Munki Food and Poppy’s Popcorn — being offered to the guests and other visitors at the Aloft Hotel. I like that.
9) Vegan Chocolate Truffle at The Block Off Biltmore – Okay, for this one, I abdicated my authority, and asked my good friend and fellow Asheville Tour Guide, Paddy Riels to contribute one recommendation for this list of sweet treats in unexpected places, and without hesitation he said, “the vegan salted caramel chocolate truffle at The Block Off Biltmore.” First of all: Paddy is not a Vegan. Nor am I. We both respect the vegan diet, but the point is: If Paddy says it’s good, it’s good, so go try one for yourself, and rest assured that no animals were harmed in the making of this suggestion by my Good Friend Paddy.
10) Go On An Adventure at Sovereign Remedies – Have you been to Sovereign Remedies yet? If not, get there soon, and be prepared to enjoy some of the best craft cocktails in town, the best, most creative savory food items in town, as well as desserts that are off the hook. Off the chain? Let’s just say, out of this world. The last time I went in there, and first of all, I ate an insanely awesome piece of toast with house-made ricotta cheese, micro greens, and other amazings on it, but — as delicious as that was — it was just an excuse to get dessert, which I had heard from one of the chefs that day was sunchoke ice cream, with chocolate mousse, and… sumac dusted house-made potato chips on top. Yeah. Are you kidding me? It was insane. I loved it! Now, I can’t just tell you to, “go get it,” because it might not be on their ever-changing menu when you go in, so instead I’ll just say, before you pig out on savories at Sovereign, look at their desserts. You may want to save room for the insanity.
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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.