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 house-made SAPM to the fanciest of dinners and desserts. Also brisket. Lots and lots of brisket. I will be eating the shit out of a ton of brisket over the next few months as i figure out who’s got the best in Asheville. Here are three examples of tasty brisket, and 7 other amazing things that I ate while I was out and about in Asheville recently…
1) HOUSE-MADE SPAM – My mom and I went to lunch at the brand new Rosabee’s in the Foundy part of the River Arts District, over by 12 Bones River, Wedge Brewery, and Summit Coffee. Rosabees is billed as a sort of dessert bar / restaurant / cocktail lounge with a menu inspired by contemporary Hawaiian dishes, and I’ll give a more comprehensive review of the meal that my mom and I ate later, but for now I just want to point you all in the direction of Asheville’s one-and-only offering of house-made SPAM. Growing-up, my family didn’t eat SPAM (my dad liked it, my mom didn’t. House rules, Mom wins.) but in my early twenties, I started eating it on my own, and loved it! Then I became a vegetarian for 10 years, and it was a loooong-ass muhfuckin’ time before I ate any SPAM again, and by the time I did, I was already a little bit spoil’t by eating awesome farm-to-table food and shit, so I was like, “Yeah. no, SPAM kinda sucks… a lot.” This house-made SPAM at Rosabee’s, however, does not suck, at all! It’s awesome. I loved it, like I loved actual SPAM in my 20’s, and even my mom loved it, so there you go, Asheville. Your SPAM tip for the day.
2) GRAVY DAY! – One day I wanted gravy! As luck would have it, my good friend Scott also wanted gravy on that same day! We sussed this out via text, and soon — at my recommendation — we were sitting at Homegrown with two plates of gravy-smothered food in front of us. I love Homegrown and when I lived in North Asheville, I tried to eat there about once a week. My go to move was always their fried chicken with mashed taters, broccoli, gravy, and extra gravy. The I discovered their meatloaf, and have been toggling back-and-forth between the two dishes ever since. Homegrown makes a sort of all-purpose mushroom gravy that can be poured on top of any protein, including tempeh (or just vegetables) for vegans and vegetarians. The mushroom gravy is thick, rich, deep, and savory as fuck, and is perfect on top of their hearty, filling, homey meatloaf, which is dense in texture, and has a ton of flavor to it. The mashed taters are perfectly creamy, not to smooth or too lumpy, and again — as the name of the venue would suggest — they are very homey and satisfying. I forewent the broccoli, on this particular Gravy Day, but I do recommend it because it adds some green to your plate, and is just steamed, so it’s fairly low-cal and healthy. On Gravy Day I wasn’t interested in making healthy choices, instead I was paying extra money for extra gravy, and that’s your Gravy Tip of the Day. At Homegrown, and basically everywhere else, pay extra money for extra gravy. I did and I was pumped. Scott didn’t and he wished he had.
3) BRISKET & SIDES – One of my Mom’s favorite lunch spots in Asheville is 12 Bones Barbecue. She’s got that in common with thousands of other people, including me, and some guy name Barack Obama… sigh… long pause while I stare off into the distance… Oh, sorry, I got lost in missing the fucking shit out of not having an unstable idiot in the oval office… but anyhoodles, yeah, 12 Bones! Mom loves it, and we go all the time! For years I have ate almost nothing but the smoked turkey plate, believe it or not. What can I say? It’s fuckin’ good, I still recommend it but lately I’ve been branching out and trying other things on their menu and my latest fave thing is their brisket! I’ve been eating a shitload of brisket in the past month or so, because I’m kind of new to it, and when it’s good it’s fuckin’ good! Now, when it’s bad, it fuckin’ sucks. I’m no expert, but I’ll tell you that much right now. The brisket at 12 Bones is among my favorite so far (see also Foothills Butcher Bar) and what I like about it is that it’s cooked to death, and falls apart on my fork and in my mouth. I’ve had it several times now, and it was a wee bit dry once, but the other times it was nice and moist, although still falling apart, which I like. That one time it was dry, I added sauce and kind of mixed it in will all the great sides (grits, mac ‘n’ cheese, collards, all excellent!) and it was fine. Great in fact, and I ate it all. As I said, I’m no brisket expert, so please let me know your thoughts on the 12 Bones version, and school me up on where to get your favorite in Asheville!
4) BAKED STUFFED POTATO w/ BRISKET – I was able to multi-task one day by getting my lazy ass out to Black Bear BBQ for the first time and tasting a new version of brisket at the same time. Black Bear is owned by Autumn and Chef AJ Gregson, formerly of Mojo Kitchen and Lounge, one of my favorite places in Asheville right up until it closed in the middle of this year (2019). Chef AJ is one of my “Chef of the Year ” winners, so yep, I’m a fan! Without a car, it’s a little hard for me to get out to Fairview Road where Black Bear is located, so I went with my mom, because she’s always up for a short road trip, especially when lunch is the destination! When we got there, I was impressed with the cuteness of the decor, and it was nice to see my friends Autumn and AJ! I let Chef AJ talk me into something I might never had ordered on my own: A “fully loaded” baked potato! Who the fuck eats those?!? I do, apparently, and so do a lot of other people. Autumn told me it’s becoming one of their most popular items, and now that I’ve tasted it, I see why. It was frickin’ delicious! And very filling. And deeply satisfying. And comforting AF, which made sense when AJ told that there’s a layer of his actual Grandmother’s actual broccoli casserole involved. Thank you, Grandmas of the world, for your simple, yet delicious foods that make us all feel awesome inside. From the bottom up: A big ol’ baked potato, topped with very tasty and texturally pleasing house-made chopped brisket, house-made cheese sauce, Grandma’s broccoli casserole, white BBQ sauce, and the coup d’grace, toasted Cheez-Its. ‘at’s right. Cheez-Its. I always said that Chef AJ straddles the line between hippy food and stoner food, and now you can add home-style cookin’ and BBQ to his resume. Get on out to Black Bear and try this tater! It can be ordered with brisket, BBQ pulled chicken, jackfruit, or soy curls… which I’ll have to explain another time.
5) DYNAMITE BRISKET SANDWICH – Another entry into my brisket jag, i decided to pop into the recently re-fronted Isa’s Bistro on the corner of Haywood and Battery Park Ave right in the middle of downtown. You may have noticed that the entrance and outdoor seating area look a little more European in motif, and I like the new look, so I went in to see what was up with the food. They have a new lunch menu, with a coffee & chocolate braised beef brisket sandwich on it, the coffee being from Dynamite Roasting in Black Mountain! So of course I hit it up, and it was great. I ate every single bite and loved it. The sandwich was on a nice soft potato Kaiser roll, yum, and was topped with house made onion rings, champagne pickles, and Lusty Monk tzatziki. I asked for the tzatziki on the side just in case it was over-powering, but it was not, so I used it on the sandwich, where it cut the sweetness of the brisket very nicely. The pickles were excellent, and the onion rings, which I was dubious of, were great! Very thin and not too heavily battered, they added the right crunch, and were cooked well enough that they weren’t too oniony. This brisket sandwich gets two thumbs-up from me!
6) MARLEY BURGER – One night I was super-hungry kinda late, so I got up with KickbackAVL, who deliver late from some great local joints, including The One Stop. One Stop is where Mojo Kitchen used to be on College Street downtown, and when Mojo left I wasn’t sure what the food sitch would be, but they’s still rockin’, so I ordered “The Marley” burger and I fuckin’ loved it! It arrived hot, and I tore right in while steam was still wafting from the (bio-degradable) box it came in. Thank you KickbackAVL for the best possible experience with late night delivery! I was deep in 11pm snack-out heaven, with this angus beef burger, topped with smoked gouda pimento cheese, peppered bacon, and Sriracha aioli on a very nice bun. Came with tots. The menu claims it “satisfies your soul,’ and while my feelings are complex on the question of the human soul re: What it is, and whether or not it even exists beyond the combination of id and ego that make up our individual or group identities and personalities, I agree 100% that this burger was hella satisfying! Kinda been thinkin’ about it ever since. Them tots were good too. I recommend this burger, and KickbackAVL very highly!
7) MEATBALL SUB – All hail Manicomio. No, seriously. HAIL THEM! I love everything about this joint. The food. The vibe. The people. The random super-hero figurines everywhere. The awesome porch and patio. The hearse out front. Yerp. Manicomio co-owner Mike Napelitano bought a hearse, and he parks that ridiculous thing out front every single-dingle-dang-day, and it has corny shit written all over it, like, “I’m dying for a slice of Manicomio pizza,” and it’s pretty much the greatest fuckin’ thing ever. It joins the Yellow Jalopy in front of Pack’s Tavern and the Double Decker Bus, in the ranks of eye-catching shit of a vehicular nature in downtown Asheville. Buhhht, enough about the hearse, I’m at Manicomio a couple times a week to get food for myself, my family, and the patrons on my food tours, and I have loved everything on their menu that I have eaten, from pizza, to entrees, to desserts, they’s all real good. Their meatball sub is one of my fave sandwiches downtown right now. The roll is from Geraldine’s Bakery, the meatballs are awesome and sliced for ease of eating, the cheese is quality stuff as always at Manicomio, and the sauce is some of the dankest shit on Earth. No joke. The red sauce is fuckin’ DANK, Yo. I know I write about Manicomio a lot, but expect me to cover them more in future, because they’re currently one of the best food makers in downtown in my opinion! For real.
8) CASHEW CHICKEN – I live pretty close to Little Bee Thai. If I walk home from work a certain way, it’s my last chance to eat before entering the food desert of my neighborhood. If they were open more often, I would go more often, but I go when I can, and I enjoy it when I do. I recently met my friend Lucy for lunch, just to gab and catch-up, and we both ordered the cashew chicken. It was big, and tasty, and a little bit spicy, and the chicken had a good texture and flavor, and the rice was nice (yes I just said that), and the cashews were plentiful and crunchy, and there were also mushrooms, and scallions, and a shit-ton of onions. I ate every scrap of what I just described, down to the last grain of rice (except the onions, but that’s me not you, Little Bee) and I enjoyed it all very much. I know this place is an Asheville favorite, and I want you all to know that I like it too.
9) FANCY QUAIL – I went to a fancy-pants dinner in Biltmore Village recently, and by that I mean it was IN Biltmore Village, like, right out in the street, and shit. It was the annual “Farm to Village / Dinner Under the Stars” event, in which all of the restaurants of Biltmore Village get together, and put on a banquet outside, on Boston Way. Last year it won my “Fancy Dinner of the Year” award (yes, I have one of those) and this year the food and fun were back! For the purposes of this review, I’d like to use one of the menu items — a fig stuffed locally raised quail on sage scented grits — to bring to your attention the fact that the great and powerful Chef David Van Tassel, formerly of The Junction, is currently working at The Corner Kitchen. Chef David is one of my ALL-TIME favorite local chefs, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for, and faith in his food! The Junction was one of the best restaurant in Asheville, and the culinary style and influence there were all David. Now he’s working at Chef Joe Scully‘s Corner Kitchen, and I will admit that I literally begged Joe to let David do his thing and be his self. #notkidding #truth If this little bird is any indication of what Chef Van Tassel might be cranking out from Joe’s kitchen these days, then hoo-ray, because it was fucking exquisite. Not every chef, not even every good chef, can cook a teeny tiny bird and have it come out right. This thing was cooked perfectly. It was moist and flavorful, and for a small critter it had a lot of meat on it. The grits were also cooked perfectly, the apple cider gastrique was savory and delish, and the piece of “apple glass” on top was the Van Tassel touch that put this dish over. If you were a fan of The Junction, then you were a fan of Chef David Van Tassel, so go see him at Corner Kitchen now that he’s there.
10) GOAT CHEESE CHEESECAKE – I’m on a gluten free diet… just kidding! I couldn’t give less of a fuck about gluten one way or the other, so when Dawn and I recently dined at Noble – The Greenhouse, and I saw a gluten free goat cheese cheesecake on the menu, I did not let that deter me from ordering it! And good golly, trippin’ on molly, I’m glad it didn’t, because this fancy (not-so) little dessert was fuckin’ amazing. Chef Gavin Baker at Greenhouse is a culinary treasure for this town, in my opinion, and the food coming out of the kitchen at Greenhouse is some of thee best in Asheville, without a doubt. It’s high-end, fancy-ass stuff, and I love the fucking shit out of it! I’ve sampled and enjoyed many dishes there, and this wonderful goat cheese dessert with almond crust, ginger caramel, and bourbon roasted plums was delicious beyond my expectations. Sweet but not too sweet, familiar, yet exciting and new, it had a grown-up feel to it, as does much of the fare at The Greenhouse. I’m poised to place this joint among the top ten downtown eateries, that’s how good it is. If you haven’t been yet, do that, and tell ’em Stu sent ya. As of this writing, the dessert above is available on the menu. Get 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.