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. Everything from crickets tacos to… Wait, what? Did you say “cricket tacos?” Yes. Yes I did. I ate one of those, and nine other amazing things while I was out and about in Asheville recently…
1) L’IL CAKIES – So what exactly are the Li’l Cakies at Sunshine Sammies? Are they cake? Are they cookies? And, most importantly, can you eat them for breakfast?!? The answer to all three questions is of course an emphatic YES! Chef Susie Pearson at Sunshine Sammies is a mad genius, who is always coming up with great new sweets to tempt us with, and one of her most delicious of all creations is the Li’l Cakey! Imagine the beautiful love-child of a cake and a cookie, who took molly together, and never expected to get it on, but things happen, and before they knew it, Li’l Cakey was born! In simple terms: It’s a cookie that tastes just like yellow cake, and has a texture that kind of shoots-the-middle between cake and cookie. Softer than the average cookie, denser than a piece of cake. With a lovely frosting on top that also falls between cake frosting and a cookie glaze, throw some rainbow sprinkles (or “shot” as my grandma used to call it) and that makes Li’l Cakey perfect! I love the shit out of these things and I eat them all the frickin’ time.
2) TOUR FOOD! – I am a fan of the brand new Noble – The Greenhouse restaurant on Rankin Ave, and I truly feel as though Asheville has been very fortunate that yet another world class restaurant has opened up in our humble little town. I go into The Greenhouse with Asheville Food Tours once or twice a week, and we often treat it as a “Centerpiece” or “Signature” stop, where we stay a little longer than at a regular stop, and get several small bites with a nice drink. Last week, Chef Gavin Baker sent out a perfectly roasted baby carrot for each of us. It was so fucking cute, I wanted to squee myself to death, but instead I took a picture, and then ate it, and as usual, BOOM! Mind. Blown. This guy (Chef Gavin) can fuckin’ cook, and this carrot was to die for. For real. I have never in my life said that about a carrot. #truestory It was roasted to perfection, and served on a bed of thick, savory romesco sauce, a little bit of house-made chowchow, a dollop of cream, some greens, and a few toasted almond slivers. Jesus Eff. I ate mine in three bites, making sure to get a little bit of everything in each bite. (Keep in mind, this was tour food, so it was much smaller than their usual menu items.) When I returned to my tour patrons and their clean plates, they were all raving about it. It was our second stop on the tour that day, and at the end of the tour, everyone agreed that it was all the food was awesome, and that this wee little carrot was one of the best things that any of us had ever eaten anywhere. Get thee to The Greenhouse if you want to try this lovely carrot preparation, as well as many other delightful dishes.
3) HAND-ROLLED CRISPY LUMPIA – I went to Blue Dream Curry House on assignment for Dig Local recently, with specific orders to eat an entree and write about it for their blog. I chose the Masala for that post, but I also ordered an appetizer called lumpia, which are deep-fried, super-crispy, Filipino-style spring rolls! They are filled with ground, spiced Hickory Nut Gap pork, cabbage, carrot, and onion, and served with a house-made sweet chili sauce & house pickled broccoli stems. I really love a good egg-roll, so these things were really singin’ my song, only they were singing it way better than just about any other egg-roll ever sang to me before. They arrived hot as fuck, fresh out of the fryer, and at their highest otential crisp-factor. I could really tell that these were hand-rolled and house-made, and not dumped out of a bag of frozen BS, I love that Blue Dream is a part of our Farm to Table scene, and it absolutely comes through in the their offerings, including this very enjoyable appetizer. The pickled broccoli stems that came with were quite mild, and I ate every bit of them, because they enhanced and complimented both the flavor and texture of the lumpia. The sweet chili sauce, which was a transparent pinkish color and very pretty to look at, was really nice too. I was as happy as could be with this appetizer, and when I posted pictures of it on Facebook, two of my friends — obviously familiar with the dish — commented they would trade their children for it. My two friends are married to each other, so now I’m dying to meet their kids! Ha ha! Go get this dish.
4) SHRAAAAMPS – Holy fudge-nuts, Y’all. These shrimps were goooood! Okay, so, yes, Buxton again… I have already explained, over 100,000 times, that I go into Buxton Hall Barbecue a lot, partly because it’s my neighborhood jam, but mostly because I fucking love it! I have also mentioned many times that, lately, I almost always order their daily specials, rotating sides, seasonal dishes, and anything that is new or different on the menu. I still love me that chicken sando, do not doubt it for one second, but when I saw a shrimp dish listed on the menu the other day I ordered it with no hesitation. My confidence was rewarded when a sizzling hot skillet filled with, pretty much, butter and shrimp showed up. There were various seasonal herbs as well, plus garlic, and a mini-loaf of a really wonderful house-made bread. There was about a gallon of butter involved in this dish, and they gave us just enough bread to soak it up. This is not always the case with dishes that come with bread and juice / gravy,/ sauce or whatever liquid in general. The basic bread-to-sauce ratio must a tough thing to gauge for restaurants, but Chef Elliott Moss‘ kitchen and Chef Ashley Capps‘ in-house bakery seem to be in perfect harmony here. As always there is no guarantee that this dish will be on the menu when you go to Buxton, but the point is that you should always try the specials there, and any new menu item that is tied to a season, or might leave the menu next week. The pulled pork, the fried catfish, and the chicken sandwich are always gonna be there for us. These shramps were gone the very next time I went! Mehhhhhmories… and a great photo are all I got now. Three great photos actually. Please follow me on Instagram to see all the beautiful food that I take pictures of, with Insta-filters. Ooooooh.
5) WINGS – Brined in buttermilk, fennel, and hot sauce, smoked to perfection, then fried to order, tossed in sauce again, and served hot ‘n’ crispy with fresh carrots, celery, and house-made ranch. The meat on these wings came right off the bone, and every bite was an awesome combination of chewy, crunchy, meaty, spicy, and HOLY FUCKIN’ FUCK THAT’S HOT!!! I burned the fuck out my mouth on these dang wings, so be careful out there people. Yes, shut up, I was back at Buxton Hall Barbecue not even a week after eating those delicious shramps featured above, and while those were predictably no longer available, these chicken wings had magically appeared out of nowhere, so boom, ordered, loved. I’m a wing fan in general, and like all wing fans, I have my preferences. One of my personal litmus tests is the ol’ does-the-meat-come-right-off-the-bones factor. If a chicken bone puts up a fight to hang on to any of the “good” attached to it, that chicken wing has not been cooked long enough in my opinion. These wings were cooked long enough. Now, I should say that in terms of personal preferences, I think my friend Paddy would have hated these wings. He’s got a whole different set of criteria than I do, and we don’t always agree on wings. And that, my friends, is exactly why there’s always a panel of 7 or more judges at the Wing War every year. Every wing fan has their own list of do’s and don’ts, and for this wing fan (talkin’ ’bout me here) these wings from Buxton nailed it on every count. PS – I’m also a Wings fan, as in the Detroit Red Wings! Woohoo! Here comes the Hockey season, Y’all! Who’s excited? (silence) I said… Aaaaarrrrre you rrrrrrrready for hockeyyyyyyyyyy??? (silence) Football? (wild cheering, horns blowing, cars being overturned, and whole city blocks being set on fire) Yerp.
6) TENDERLOIN SANDWICH – Yes, I’m tripling-down on the Buxton Hall Barbecue menu items in this episode of 10 Things I Ate, because I went twice in the span of a few days, and ate some kick-ass shit that I want to let you know about! Please don’t hate me for frequenting my neighborhood restaurants. Because I don’t drive a car, I do tend to support the local food scene in an ever widening circle around my own house, with those venues closest to me being the ones I go to most often. I have been making a real effort to break that cycle a little bit, and get out to the hinterlands of Hendo and The Weave and such as often as I can. If you’re a restaurateur with a shop located outside of Downtown / South Slope / RAD, please don’t be hurt or angry that I don’t get to your spot as often as I do to others. I’m tryin’! In the meantime pork tenderloin! As usual at Buxton Hall these days, my eyes gravitate to those menu items that are not always or often available, such as the amazing tenderloin sandwich that I had last week. The meat on this sandwich was soooooo tender (hence the name, Yo!) and perfect. I’m a fan of tenderloin in general, and this was as good as any I’ve ever eaten! I’m going to be sure to order it at Buxton any time I see it on the menu, in any form: Sando, entree… a shoe. I would eat a shoe made out of this tenderloin. The house made pickles on the sandwich were great, and I really like the white sauce at Buxton, so I was pleased that it was also a topping. Add a side of BBQ watermelon salad, and I was good to go. So, yes, I’m sorry I write about Buxton so often, but I do try to steer you toward certain items beyond just the pulled pork and fried chicken. If you see cuts of pork on the menu — such as tenderloin — order them! My theory is that it’s gotta be a special cut to be removed and prepped differently than there daily porky fare. Okay, I promise you: No Buxton reviews for at least the next twenty things I write about.
7) GUSTAVO’S OLD SCHOOL HAMBURGER STEAK – My mom and I took a trip out to Stoney Knob Cafe, where I had earlier in the year enjoyed a nice meal with my sister and her husband. My mom was soops jelz, so we got in the car, and vroom vroom, there we were! Our server was excellent, and as I mentioned in my first post about this restaurant, the decor and atmosphere at Stoney Knob are eclectic, interesting, and fun. I was happy to return! The menu has a little bit of everything, and all of it sounds really good, so it was a difficult choice, but I eventually landed on something called Gustavo’s Old School Hamburger Steak. I’m old school in many ways, and just old in others, but this appealed to me for sure! A steak-burger made from house ground short rib and rib eye, wrapped in bacon, and char grilled. Topped with a demi glace, and served on a bed of caramelized onions, roasted Brussels sprouts, and whipped taters. It. Was. Friggin’. AWESOME! I showed up hungry and ate every morsel of food on my plate. I scraaaaaped up every last bit of mashed taters and demi that I could, and if it wasn’t for the fact that my mother — the great arbiter of table manners — was sitting across from me, I would have licked the frickin’ plate. The texture of the ground meat was perfect and the cook was too. The demi galce was very tasty and savory and warm and comforting, The bacon was subtle and unobtrusive, yet integral to the flavor. The pile of veg underneath was likewise perfectly cooked and tasty AF. Smooth whipped taters, soft not mushy Brussels, and onions that were cooked to death, the way a caramelized onion ought to be. You know that I don’t usually cotton to too many onions (or any raw onions) but I ate all of these, so that should tell you how good they were! I don’t know who Gustavo is, but I admire his old school ways. He and I, we are the same. I recommend this entree very much for you, if you are one of us.
8) EGGPLANT FRIES – I took a road trip out to Hendersonville with my friends Luis and Laura, with a specific mission to EAT BUGS. Yes, we were hot on trail of tacos chapulines, or grasshopper tacos, which are available at a place called Never Blue, right on Main Street in the supes adorbs downtown Hendersonville. Makes parts of downtown Asheville look like Shit-Hole City, Y’all. Just sayin’. We’re getting’ out-cuted by Hendersonville. Anyhoo, I’ll get to the grasshopper tacos in a minute, but we ordered a bunch of food from the very eclectic Never Blue menu, and I want to give a shout-out to the eggplant fries that Laura purchased for the table to share. They were fucking great! Like, really tasty, and enjoyable, and at the end of the dinner, we agreed that they were a highlight of the meal. Lighter and crispier than a french fried potato, they elicited excited reviews from all three of us in the moment. Reviews, Like, “These are gooood,” and, “mmm-hmmmI” and “fuckitty fuck fuck fuck tasty fuck fuck yum tasty fuck.” (That last review was mine.) We devoured them all in about two minutes flat. They came with a dill-mint toum (which is a form of aioli) and agrio dulce which is a sweet and sour sauce. Both sauces were great, and went well together! I was about half an inch away from ordering another round of these delicious fries — all for my fuckin’ self! — but decided I was probably better off not over-doing it, as I had a giant ravioli and a grasshopper taco in my immediate future. Plus the dessert menu looked pretty intriguing. Sooo, if you find yourself in Hendersonville, and you want to try something that got six thumbs up from me and my two friends, pop into Never Blue and order up some eggplant fries.
9) TACOS CHAPULINES – Okay, so here it is, a grasshopper taco in all its glory. For a little background: In certain areas of Mexico these are called tacos chapulines, and are somewhat common. Around here, they’re pretty dang uncommon, I’d have to say,and it took us forever to find a place that serves them! My friend Laura put the question out there on WAX and the fans came up with Never Blue in Hendersonville as the one and only venue in the area that seems to have them on the menu, every Tuesday for their taco Tuesday. If you know of any other restaurants, food trucks, taquerias, or carts that are serving chapulines, please leave a comment below. In the meantime, Laura, Luis and I were excited to try them, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised, and perhaps even a tad disappointed, that when they arrived, the grasshoppers were not recognizable as grasshoppers! They were tiny, and looked more like rice than anything else. I guess I imagined something like a whole, battered, deep fried giant locust. Kinda staring stiffly at me from the taco like something from Fear Factor, but nope. Rice is what it looked like/ Until you looked too close, that is, and then you could see the insect-y segmented bodies. Laura looked too close, and fear became a factor. She couldn’t finish hers. I plowed through mine, and crushed it in four bites. Fun Fact: I grew up swimming in the North East Atlantic Ocean, where you learn to just run into the water up to your neck and deal with the fact that the water is like fucking ice even though it’s July. I took that same approach to this taco. Before my mind could catch-up to what my mouth was doing, I had taken four huge bites, chewed, swallowed, done! My brian was like, “Wait. Did you just eat some crickets?” And my mouth was, like, “Crickets? What crickets? The only crickets around here are when you tell a joe. Hehhh… ” The wee little critters were savoy and flavorful, and the tacos were also loaded with cotija cheese, and a lovely corn salsa, so they kinda tasted a lot like those two things, which was fine by me. And there you go! “I ate a cricket taco,” it now says on my list of “Things I’ve Ate but Might Never Eat Again,” along with balls, and brains, and tongues, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Grohhhsssss!
10) WAFFLE BREAD PUDDIN’ – As I said above, the dessert menu at Never Blue was intriguing, and think I ordered the most intriguing offering of them all: Waffle Bread Puddin’. Yes, first of all, let’s get this out of the way: GAHHHHHHH!!! It was insanely good. It is described on the menu as a “New Orleans style praline croissant bread pudding waffle,” (WTF?!?) and it is served warm with two scoops of caramelized hazelnut butter ice cream, and then covered in a sticky toffee-cognac sauce, with golden raisons, and hazelnut crunchies. Holy cripes! Push that shit straight into my eatin’ hole with a snowplow please. One of the things that made this dessert so good, was that it could have gone bad from the get go. It could have been pure trash of the worst kind. It could have been a TGIFriday-esque nightmare of unadulterated All-American overblown confectionary bullshit. Or, it could rule. And duh, I wouldn’t be writing about it if it didn’t rule. At the end of the whole meal, my friends and I agreed that while we would readily dine at Never Blue again if we were in Hendersonville, this dessert would bring us all back to Hendersonville just to get this and share it with others. I can’t wait to bring my mom, for examps. She gonna love it.
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.