When I’m out and about in Asheville, there’s usually only ten things on my mind, and they’re all food!
Asheville is the greatest food city in America as far as I’m concerned. From the trashiest smash-burgers to the hautest of the haute, our food scene has something for everyone, and everything for someone! That someone being me of course. I want everything. Here are just ten of the amazing things I ate while out and about in Asheville recently…
1) PERFECT TRASHY SMASH BURGER #1 – Maaaaan, Burgerworx is my muhfuckin’ JAM, Yo! I have been going here since forever, and it has not dipped or slipped in my personal ratings one fucking bit in all those years. It’s one of the most stable relationships I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve written about it many times and even nominated it for a 2018 Stoobie Award as my “Burger of the Year.” It’s a “build your own” burger where you tick off the little boxes on the dry-erase menu, until you have your best burger. Then you pay, take a number, get your own soda, and sit down. They either call your number or bring it outside if you’re sitting at the (very low slung!) picnic benches in front of the Page Street entrance. Then you unwrap that fucker, and start eating it and you don’t stop or put it down until you are finished. Use your other hand to shovel fries and guide Cheerwine into your face, and you’ll have one of the best “fast food” experiences in downtown Asheville! Oh, but to be clear, Burgerworx is NOT a chain. It is an independent, locally owned restaurant. I only call it “fast food,” because that’s the style, not the quality, of this awesome burger. When I was a kid… jesus fuck old man… WHEN I WAS A KID there were indie mom and pop “fast food” joints in little towns that had really good, tasty burgers. These burgers remind me of those burgers.
2) PERFECT TRASHY SMASH BURGER #2 – When I asked my mom where she wanted to go for Mother’s Day, she said “Tastee Diner!” YES! I love my mommy! She’s easy to please, and a relatively cheap date, as well as charming company and my personal hero. Also, I’m am ALWAYS up for a trip to Tastee! My mom’s biscuits ‘n’ gravy was a heapin’ helpin’ of Southern comfort food, and she lerved the shit out of it. Also being lerved, this time by me, was the beautiful burger in the picture above. Double patty, Yo. “Mercan cheese. Pickles. LT no O. Soft trashy white bun, and a basket chock full of some of the best fuckin’ fries in all of Asheville. Plus, a classic red and white checkered piece of paper in a red basket. I LOVE THAT!!! PS – I squeezed ketchup ALLLLL OVER those pretty little French fries! BWAHAHA! I know that some of you dainty dippers hate that, but when there’s a squeezy ketchup available, I go fuckin’ nuts. It’s fun, Try it. Might loosen up those stiff pinkies a little bit. ;)
3) (WAY BETTER THAN) BASIC BREAKFAST – Bacon, eggs, taters, toast, and yes, when you go to the brand new Sawhorse restaurant out on New Leichester Highway, add a pancake. In fact, one of the best signs in Asheville is out front, imploring passers by to “Come for the pancakes. Stay for the pancakes.” So of course I did add a giant buckwheat pancake to my order, and it was hella GOOOOD! Hearty, and buttery, and cooked just right. My main dish was the “Sawhorse Breakfast,” which is basic AF, but made with top notch ingredients, and exactly what’s for fucking breakfast. The toast is made in house, and the taters… I’m telling you what… the theme of Sawhorse is kind of “Northern” style food and cooking, with Canadian tinges… and these taters truly whisked me back up North to my childhood growing up in the woods and fields and frozen tundra of Fairhaven, then Westboro, and finally Boston Massachusetts. They diners all cook their home fries a certain way up North that y’all just don’t do around here, and (sniff, wiping away a tear) these taters were ezzackly like them taters I grew up on. I loved this breakfast, and I will be going back to try the lunch menu, the dinner menu, and if I can get a Sunday off from food tours, maybe their brunch menu. Plus, I’m bringing my mom, she will love it! We’re not just Yankees, y’know, we’re Canadian too!
4) EGGS BETTY – Now, don’t hate on me for giving Tupelo Honey a good review! I know that a lot of you seem not to like it anymore, and I admit that yes, since it blew up, it is simply not the same, but I’m not a hater by any stretch, and when it’s not crowded, I sometimes pop in. So, Paddy and I went there on one of our Asheville Food Tours lunch junkets the other day, and I have to admit that I enjoyed my Eggs Betty very much! The biscuit was real good. The ham was ham. I like ham. I also like eggs, and theses were cooked just right. The hollandaise was tasty, and the whole thing was served hot, in a timely fashion, and tasted great all together. The taters were actually insanely good, I have to say. I think they were called potato “cracklin’s” on the menu, and they were like, deep-fried to death, which made them really really really crispy and good. I would definitely eat this entire meal again, and I’m craving those taters as I write about them. Also: The salad was the perfect size: Miniscule.
5) DINNER FOR BREAKFAST AT LUNCHTIME – I told you I was rekindling my love affair with Early Girl Eatery downtown, and I meant it! I went in again recently, to get breakfast for lunch, and to my surprise they had dinner entrees on the lunch specials menu. There were things I had never seen on there menu before. Things that sounded kinda fancy and awesome. I couldn’t resist, I ordered one, but also expressed my confusion to the server, who explained to me that the chef just wanted to try out some of the new dinner entrees at lunch time. Alrighty then. That’s legit. Bring it! I ordered pork tenderloin medallions, with green beans and mashed potatoes avec sauce Diane. Kinda weird for Early Girl, right? My expectations were set to medium-low, but I’ll tell you what: My first bite was of the mashed potatoes, and… wow… holy shit… they were not just good, not just really good, they were like, fucking beautiful. I wanted to burrow into them to live out the rest of my days surrounded by their creamy goodness I don’t know what magic they added, because I get the mashed taters at Early Girl all the fucking time, but these were like, different, and… yeah: Wow. The rest of he meal was outstanding as well, and yes, I was as surprised as you might be while reading these words, but every aspect of this meal was cooked perfectly, tasted really fucking good, and satisfied me on both a fill-’em-up level and a “foodie” level. Sauce Diane, BTW, is a mustard sauce (I had to look it up) and this one was made with Lusty Monk mustard, so it was stronger than normal humans might like it, but I like some strong-ass muhfuckin’ mustard, so I dug it a lot. Of course, by the time you read this review, the dish may no longer be available, but let it be known throughout the land that I ordered a fancy dinner entree at Early Girl Eatery and it was truly awesome.
6) MEATY MUSSELS – Recently, Vivian introduced their “Viv Nibs” menu, which is a limited menu, offering smaller versions of the regular dishes. Two oysters instead of four, a small salad instead of a big salad, a reasonable portion of mussels, etc. So, my GF Dawn and I went on down to Viv’s, sat at the bar, and started ordering nibs. Dawn loves mussels, and is always trying them here and there around town, so that’s one of the things she ordered, and of course, she shared them with me (It’s love, Yo.), and these mussels were literally the biggest and perhaps the best I’ve ever eaten. They were meaty AF, but tender, and buttery, and soft, and subtle, and surprising, and delicious beyond compare. Ye, I conclude that they are the best mussels I’ve ever had. Of course, the broth was exquisite also, and I finished it off with bread and a spoon. If you are fan of mussels, Vivian’s mussels are a must try for you, as is the rest of their fun little Viv Nibs menu, like…
7) THE BEST SALAD EVER? – Rarely do I rave about a salad, but Vivian has a salad on the menu that Dawn loves, so we always order it when we go there together, and the truth is, I love it too! It’s like, the best salad ever, and that ain’t no joke. It does not hurt this salad’s chances with me that it features a giant chunk of cheese on top, and that the cheese is grilled to an umami level that is making my mouth water right now, just from writing and thinking about it. Or that it has edible flowers, which, believe it or not, are some of my favorite things on Earth, because I feel like a fairy princess when I eat them. #truestory Also, the dressing on this salad is not brash, or goopy, or overwhelming or any of those bullshitty things that salad dressing can sometimes be. The greens rotate seasonally (it’s called the Salad de Saison) and it’s never the salad twice, which I love, because who the fuck wants the same salad twice? The cheese is called charred Hornbacher, BTW, and it is truly incredible. The dressing is called vinaigrette piquante. So, yeah, go to Vivian (how many times do I have to tell you?!?) try the Viv Nibs menu, and most definitely get this salad. It might even get a fuckin’ Food Fan Award at the end of the year. “Best Salad Ever.” That’s not even a category, but maybe it will be.
8) LIGHT BITES AT THE BAR – I know that I don’t really need to tell you over and over and over again to go to Cúrate, because if you haven’t been there by now, I seriously don’t even know what to do with you anymore. Go to your room! IIn the meantime, I do hope that y’all are not tired of my rave reviews of their food, because, well, I shall continue to eat there, and I will probably continue to love it, so I’m gonna keep writing about it. If I didn’t, then WTF?!? I’d be ignoring one of the best restaurants on the country, located right in my home town. That’s like being a reporter on Skull Island, and not reporting about King Kong. I mean sure, you’ll also wanna write about the giant insects, supposedly extinct dinosaurs, and super mysterious people of Skull Island, but, y’know, KING FUCKING KONG!!! So, please allow me to continue by specifically recommending drinks and a light bite on the Vermuteria side of the bar at Cúrate, where there are often seats available for walk-ins, and the menu is smaller, as are the bites themselves. Drinks, quick tapas, and the “Jamoneria” (ham bar!) being the highlights, iIt’s a much more fast-paced, casual atmosphere than the other seating areas in the restaurant, and is truly meant for the quick pop-in, get a bite ‘n’ splash, and get the fuck out crowd, which describes me and Dawn perfectly sometimes. We did all of the above just recently and ordered the pan de cristal con tomate which is a special Spanish bread that is called cristal, all toasted up nice and crispy, and served warm, with fresh tomato, garlic, and olive oil, and we always add Manchego cheese. We both enjoyed it tremendously, for the one millionth time. It’s one of our go-to small, light dishes in downtown Asheville, and we’ve been ordering it for years. Cúrate won my “Most Consistent Restaurant” award in 2018, and that really applies to every year they’ve been open. I basically invented the category last year in order to give them the award. They deserve it! Okay, you can come out of your room now, so long as you promise me that you’l go to Cúrate sometime soon!
9) FUCK YES TO THIS CAKE – So I popped into Chestnut the other day right before a tour, I just wanted a li’l something, so I asked the the manager, Brad, “What’s up with the dessert menu today,” and without hesitation, he enthused, “Banana cake!” I replied, “Wait, is it banana bread?” And he answered, “No, banana cake, with house made tres leches ice cream, bruleed bananas…” and… I kinda lost track of what he was saying after “tres leches ice cream,” and interrupted him to blurt out a quick, “I’d like that please.” Normally I don’t like anything with bananas as the main ingredient (unless it’s a banana, which I do love) from banana bread to banana toffee, I hate it all, so I was taking a risk with this cake, but also keeping in mind that if the cake was whatever, the ice cream would make up for it. Needless to say,t he cake was NOT whatever, it was awesome, and I basically freaked out about how yummy this whole pile of food was, exclaiming to brad that it was a great suggestion. “Right?!?” he replied. Every single bite was fantastic and every morsel, accept for those few morsels i shared with Paddy, went straight down my cake chute in about 5 minutes flat. I loved it! Created by Chef Heather Gressett, it has immediately shot to the top of the charts as one of the best fucking things I every ate in muh life! Just. Look. At. It. Y’all. And tell me you’re not dying.
10) PIE! – With the 2019 Asheville PIe Fight and Bake Sale right around the corner, I thought I should maybe prime myself pie eating more pie than ever, so the last time I went to Buxton Hall Barbecue I actually did “save room for pie,” as the sign instructs. The baking staff there is amazing, and head baker Chef Ashley Capps was my 2018 “Chef of the Year” Stoobie award winner, so the pies are always awesome. Strawberries and rhubarb are both in season right now, so you’re gonna see that classic combo all over town, including on the Buxton menu, so yay, ordered some and it was fucking perfect, The crust of flakey and crunchy and hearty and doughy, just like pie crust ought to be, and the balance of sweet to tart, strawberry to rhubarb, warm pie to cold ice cream was exactly right. It even came with some fresh strawberries, and a Blalir Witchy type of hex sign thingy made out of rhubarb on top that made me super happy. Pie is always on my list of things to eat at Buxton Hall, and Ii highly recommend that you also heed the signage, and save some room in your body to shove some pie into after your pulled pork or fried catfish or whatever monstrous pile of delicious food you’ve already consumed at Buxton. It’s all so goooood. I love this place.
And there ya go. I hope you enjoyed the 3rd installment of “10 Things I Ate About Asheville!” Please stay tuned, I plan to post several more from this series throughout the year, as I eat my way through the greatest food city in America, Asheville, North Carolina!
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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.