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 most delicate little ol’ amuse bouche, to gormet muhfuckin’ chocolate, this crazy town in the mountains of Western North Carolina seems to have a little bit of everything!. Here are just ten of the amazing things I ate while out and about in Asheville recently…
1) CELTUCE AMUSE-BOUCHE – If you miss the flavors of Nightbell, go to Cultura. Period. #truth 100!! and all that stuff. I heard a rumor that my friend and former Nightbell Chef de Cuisine Eric Morris was working at Cultura, and I was very excited to see what this guy was up to! Just in case you didn’t know, Cultura is a brand-dandy new restaurant on the South Slope, co-owned by Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table, and Tod’s Tastys / All Day Darling and the Funkatororium, which is turn is owned by Wicked Weed, which was purchased by Anheuser Busch a few years back. Now, I’m not a hater on the fact that way on down the line, this restaurant is part-owned by a giant corporation. I have complicated feelings and things to say, but in the end, I support great local chefs and restaurateurs like Eric and Jacob and their cohort Chef Ben Hester, and I’m psyched that this awesome new eatery has opened up basically in my neighborhood. I can walk there from my house, and that makes me happy. The decor is really nice, the service is top notch, and the menu is fun, eclectic, whimsical, hyper-seasonal American fare of the highest caliber. I’ve eaten a number of things from their menu already, and I will feature more in later editions of Ten Things I Ate, but for now, let’s talk about this teeny tiny wee little amuse-bouche! It was fucking amazing, packed a big flavor punch for such a small bite, and tasted exactly like Nightbell. I asked Chef Eric and told me that it was made with whey poached celtuce, basil, and minestra. Celtuce is also known as stem lettuce, Chinese Lettuce, and in China, qingsun or wosun. It’s basically a kind of lettuce that is mostly stem, and in this case, a small disc-shaped slice of the stem was cooked until soft, then served with a dollop of very thick, warm, flavorful minestra, which is a kind of Italian soup preparation. The baby basil leaf added the perfect touch of fresh, floral aroma to wake up my senses get my mouth ready for a great meal! There’s only a couple of places in town that serve an amuse-bouche, and Cultura basically won my heart with this one bite, my first there, and the first of many many many many many more, I’m gonna guess. See you there!
2) WHOLE CAULIFLOWER ROYALE WITH CHEESE – So, I gotta say, I’m impressed as fuck with the recently opened Nobel Greenhouse on Rankin Ave. You may have already read my review of a delicious whole fish and summer squash dish that I tasted at their press party, which gave me some indication for the excellence I was to expect on the regular menu at this newest of new venues, and they have not let me down one bit! I immediately started bringing food tours into Greenhouse, and they’ve served of some of our patrons’ favorite bites on tour so far! A few weeks ago I had a private tour of 12 locals,who were the highest bidders on tickets at the Welcome Table charity auction, and wow, Chef Gavin Baker and Crew really styled them out! We had three bites and drink, and all of it was excellent. The obvious star of the show was their whole, baked, stuffed cauliflower, called the “Royale with Cheese,” which comes with kale & roasted garlic custard, a goat cheese crust, cashew Parmesan, Cheddar sauce, and a salad of local greens with Champagne vinaigrette. It is really cool looking for one thing, and the presentation is great! It comes out out a circular wooden tray, with a hot stone platter in the middle! Apparently, Chef Gavin himself made these serving platters! Your server will get the serving process started, by cutting into the cauliflower, and there’s just something about how easily a perfectly cooked whole cauliflower cuts that is soooo satisfying to watch. Of course, I wouldn’t featuring this dish as one of my 10 Things if it did’t taste as great as it looked! The flavor, texture, and temp of this dish were all perfect, and even the salady parts were tasty AF. I recommend this dish for 4 – 6 people, and I recommend the Greenhouse in general! So far, I have really enjoyed every bite of food I’ve tried there!
3) FILLET MIGNON – “Where do you want to go out to eat on your birthday?” Asked my GF, Dawn. “I want a real good steak.” I replied. After a brief conversation about who might be offering such a thing in this town, we decided that The Bull and Beggar probably did. We didn’t even look at the menu on line! We just assumed they would have an awesome steak, and they did! Honestly, if they hadn’t, I would have been totally happy with anything I ordered from their fabulous menu. Chef Matt Dawes is one of the best, yet most understated chefs in this town, and his kitchen busts out some hella good high-end grub that veers towards English / Northern European fare, such as…. fillet mignon! Holy shit, Yo. This steak was SO FUCKING GOOD, I took one bite and died a million happy deaths. Halfway through, I was I’m getting full, but fuck bringing a steak that’s been cooked this perfectly home and reheating it later. Remember that lady who tried to “fix” that painting of Jesus that one time? Yeah, that’s what me reheating this steal later would have been like. So I powered through and finished the entire fillet, along with the bone marrow and the Tartifletteit came with. And, yes, I had to look that one up, and according to Wiki…
“Tartifletteit is a dish from Savoy in the Alps. It is made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions. The word tartiflette is probably derived from the Arpitan word for potato, tartiflâ.”
Every aspect of this meal was fantastically great, and I left not one scrap behind. Steak (which was in a beautiful, dark brown pool of Madeira wine sauce BTW), tartiflette, another dish of taters and cheese they sent out for my b-day, and oh yeah, Dawn and I also shared a lobster roll all went in me. So, yeah, I was fit to pop by the end, but surprisingly not miserable. Good gahd, what a meal! Long-time Asheville eaters don’t need me to tell them this, but if you’re new to the world, go to Bull and Beggar, especially if you’re craving STEAAAAAAK!
4) 1/4 CHICKEN WHITE MEAT W/ 2 SIDES – There’s a cook in this town that I personally think is one of the most unknown and perhaps under-appreciated in all of Downtown Asheville. Her name is Erika Villaney and she’s been cooking for Bomba, on the corner of Biltmore Ave and Patton Ave right smack dab in the middle of Pack Square, for along-ass muhfuckin’ tme, and she is fantastically good at her job in my opinion, and in the opinion of every single person who’s ever eaten at Bomba in the past 5 or 6 years, whether they realized it or not. Now, I know that Bomba has had other names, and the menu has been as mercurial as Chef / Owner Hector Diaz himself, but through it all, there has been Erika, executing each and every dish and menu item with a deftness and skill level that would be the envy of any Executive Chef in the city. These days, Bomba is serving rotisserie chicken, one of my favorite things in this entire world! It’s a tiny space, often crowded, but Paddy and I finally got in there for one of our Asheville Food Tours lunch junkets recently, good lord a’mighty, that chicken was tasty! I ordered a 1/4 bird, and I love that I had the option for all white meat or all dark meat or a combo. #freedom I also ordered a side avocado slices (my health care professionally asked me to eat more avocados), as well as a side of mac n cheese. Yum. Yum. And fucking YUM! The chicken was cooked just right: Thoroughly, but with a ton of juiciness still in the bird, and a li’l bit charred on the outside. It was topped with a mildly-spicy sauce, and came with a couple of nice little tortillas. The mac ‘n’ cheese was frickin’ awesome. It’s competitive, Yo. Meaning that if Erika were to submit this to the next Mac ‘n’ Cheese Championship, I think Bomba would have a dang good chance of placing, or even winning. So, yeah, go get some of this great rotisserie chicken before Hector changes the menu again! And pay your respects to Erika, who calls herself a cook, but I’m calling a pillar of the downtown food scene!
5) SAWHORSE BURGER – Finally got the burger at Sawhorse, and yom. It was fuckin’ great. This place is batting 1,000 with me, on everything from bacon and eggs to stiffed cabbage to a very competitive burger! And again, by “competitive,” I mean that I think this baby could place or win in the annual Battle of the Burger. It was that good! The beef from Ridge Top Farm (which is literally 10 miles up the road from Sawhorse) was of a very high quality, and had a really nice flavor and texture. The burger came topped with Vermont cheddar, maple caramelized onion, and HP mayo, and was served on a homemade bun, with fries. HP mayo is a house-made mayonnaise, made from scratch with eggs and oil and such, and with a British steak sauce called HP sauce mixed in! YOM! Every item in that description was delish. If you are a fan of burgers and, like me, you try to order them here, there, and everywhere you eat, so that you can compare them to each other, then I urge you very strongly to get on over to Sawhorse and try theirs. I give it two thumbs-up!
6) MEATLOAF SANDWICH – A few weeks ago, I got in the kitchen and whipped myself up a meatloaf sandwich. Well, that’s mostly not true. I stood around making jokes and drooling while Chef Jay Medford of the Underground Cafe whipped-up his award-winning Ma! Meatloaf! sandwich, and the film crew from AVLFN recorded the whole thing. It’s been cut into a festive little video segment, and both video and the sandwich came out pretty dang good! If you haven’t eaten one of these fucking amazing sandwiches yet, do yourself a favor, get off the internet, put your pants on fer cripes sake, and get on down to the Unnergroun and eat the fuck out of one RIGHT NOW! It consists of 50% 28 day dry-aged beef form The Chop Shop, sourced from a local farm, mixed with local pork breakfast sausage (also from Chop Shop), topped with a chipotle glaze, house pickled onions, house sweet pickles, Mercan cheese, special sauce, mixed greens, and a runny fried egg, all on a Thomas’ sandwich-sized English muffin. Jesus fuck, it’s good. Here’s the video…
I hope you enjoy the video, there will be more like it from me and AVLFN.
7) CUBAN SANDWICH & PITA CHIPS W/ BEER CHEESE – So, Paddy and I went on another one of our frequent Asheville Food Tours lunch junkets to Foggy Mountain Brewpub. I was on a mission to eat and rave about a dish that I kinda already knew I loved, though I hadn’t had it in a long time: The smokey tomato Alfredo, with bacon and chicken. That dish was fucking GREAT, just like I remembered and I wrote my rave for Dig Local Asheville. Now I wanna just mention the other bites we had that day, because Paddy and I split the Alfredo, and a Cuban sandwich that came with pita chips and beer cheese. All of it was the bomb! As I always remind the readers, I am not an expert on Cuban sandwiches, but this one was really tasty, and the texture was perfect. It had all the right ingredients, ham, pork, cheese, pickles, mustard, and it was pressed until flat, hot, and melty, but NOT until hard, sharp, and deadly, Fuck over-pressed sandwiches. It’s like trying to bite through a piece of hot plywood sometimes. Not so with this sando! It was very goo din my opinion, and i would love to hear the opinions of those who are more in the know on Cubans. Should we have a Cuban competition? Sounds fun! I also need to let y’all know that this beer cheese, is really really really tasty too! The pita chips came out warm and crispy, and that beer cheese was just savory and tangy and tasty as fuck. I could have eaten a bucket full. So, please go check out the Cuban at GFoggy and let me know what you think, and I can all but guarantee that you’re gonna lve the beer cheese. The owners are form Wisconsin, so if they can’t make a damn good beer cheese, no one can.
8) POKE & DUMPLINGS – When Captain Joe Silverman of the APD invited me to lunch at the brand new Yum Sushi Burrito Hawaiian Style Poke joint on Asheland Avenue, I naturally thought it must be a set up for a sting operation, but, turns out, it was just lunch. PHEW! Ha! Captain Joe is cool, Man, and a really fun and nice guy, who loves food, and was even one of the judges at my Donut Thro-down competition back in April 2019. He likes to try all the new restaurants, and thought I might want to join him for poke! Of course, when he showed up a half hour late, I had to write him a ticket. Sorry, Joe. I don’t make the lunch laws, I just enforce them. I was starving my face off at the appointed time, and decided that Officer Joe must be fighting crimes, so I ordered my food before he got there, and went straight for the “Yum’s Classic” wrap. I always try to order the dish named after the venue when I try a new place. The Yum’s Classic had ahi tuna, salmon, romaine lettuce, seaweed salad, mango, edamame, sweet corn, sriracha aioli, and unagi sauce, which is a thick, sweet BBQ saucy type of thing. Everything was fresh and delicious, and I enjoyed it very much! I also ordered the gyoza pork dumplings, which are deep fried, and also come with sriracha aioli and unagi. The dumplings were pipin’ hot, crispy and delicate on the outside, and steamy and flavorful on the inside. I loved ’em! So, yeah, I’ll be back to Yum Poke time and again I’m sure, and I hope to see you there. Officer Joe also enjoyed the sushi bowl that he got, and we had a very pleasant lunch, that ended without incident.
9) COFFEE & GALETTE – I am a fan of The Rhu Bakery Cafe on S. Lexington Ave! Owned and operated by Chef John Fleer, with head baker Chef Kaley Laird and crew making some of the BEST baked goods in Asheville! I’m big proponent of their laminated baguette, as well as the “Fig Rhhutons,” the award winning chocolate chip cookies, the cruffins, the scones, and so much more! Everything in the bakery case is stellar in my opinion, and I am especially a fan of the galettes! I’ve written about them before, but I think great bites are worth mentioning more than once, so here I am again recommending that you go to The Rhu and try one of their sweet or savory galettes! Just in case you don’t know (I didn’t) a galette is a sort of hearty little open-faced pie, and at The Rhu they always fill them with local, seasonal fruit, or vegetables & herbs. The one in the picture above is filled with local blueberries, and buh-lee-mee, it was fan-fuckiing-tabulous. When I’ve got a case of the hangries building up in me, I often pop into The Rhu for a nice bite and a cup of coffee, and I’m never disappointed! Since they opened they have always used local and regional small batch coffee roasters and it’s always brewed just right! The Rhu is truly one of my fave places to grab a snack and a cup.
10) SPICED CHOCOLATE & WHITE CHOCOLATE – Okay, Y’all. I saved the best for last! It’s… CHAWWWCLATE! Holy shit, I love me some chocolate. I love it so much that I eat it all the time, despite the fact that I’m allergic to it, and it can give me horrible headaches! HA! I laugh in the face of pain… and then eat some Advil. Works great! Anyhoo, when French Broad Chocolates recently asked me for my mailing address, I got super duper excited, because I figured they was sending me some chocolate soon! Then I kinda forgot about it, and THEN, a bawx of chawk-lats and three cute little tins of Spicewalla spices showed-up on my front porch, and all that excitement came back in a flood of emotions! Yay! Upon opening the package I found that they had sent me two new flavors of chocolate bars! More yay! And the excited never stops, because it seems that our good friends at French Broad Chocolates and Spicewalla have teamed up for these special new flavors: Coriander lemon white chocolate and chai masala milk chocolate. Both are awesome, and it took every single bit of my will power to save some for my GF, Dawn. She would have killed me. The white chocolate was particularly interesting, with pieces of cracked coriander all stuck to the bottom. I have always been a fan of white chocolate, if it good! You can tell it’s good if it’s ivory in color. The pure white stuff is made mostly from sugar and oil. The yellowish stuff is made from pure cocoa butter, Baby! This was some of the best white chocolate ever, and the coriander adds a wonderful, bright, flowery flavor that is very enjoyable! The milk chai marsala milk chocolate with sea salt was of course, divine. The warm and familiar flavors of Indian milk tea, called chai adds a wonderful exotic flavor to the super high-quality French Broad milk chocolate bar. The large pieces of salt are the genius stroke. I loved both of these new bars, and encourage you to try them ASAP! The spice pack included the cracked Indian coriander, the custom blend of chai masala, and some of those giant-sized pyramidal salt flake crystals from Cyprus. What a fun package to get in the mail, and what a great town we live in, where award winning local food makers collaborate and combine their talents for us. We are lucky as fuck.
And there ya go. I hope you enjoyed this installment of “10 Things I Ate About Asheville!” Please stay tuned for 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.