I ate a whole lotta ‘mazin’ bites in the first month of 2020, so many that when it came to showing you the best of the month, I had to break it up into two parts! Here’s part two, which includes a burgers and sandos and fried stuff and more!
FANCY BLOOD SANDWICH
Above and Below: Sometimes, I like to pretend I’m rich and svelte, and that I only have time to eat small, expensive things for lunch in between trips to the gym, power meetings at the office, and picking up the chihuahua twins from their toy-poodle riding lessons. They look so cute in their matching dude-ranch outfits! I am of course, being and doing absolutely none of those things, but I can dream, can’t I? And when I dream of eating rich people lunch, I often wake up sitting in Cúrate.
The last time that happened to me I ordered their new blood sausage, Manchego cheese, and pickle sandwich, served on imported Spanish Crystal bread! I love Cúrate’s small but tasty selection of bocadillos, which if you speak Spanish is the the word for “sandwiches,” but if you’re like me and you don’t speak Spanish it’s the super-fancy word for sandwiches! This sandwich was sweet and savory, and crunchy and delicious and it was over before I was ready for it to be over, but hey, I had to gas up the leer jet, and go get fitted for some haute couture in Prague, Y’all. No time for big lunch…. too rich!
Cúrate is located at 13 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC.
STANDING AROUND EATING HAM
Chef Brian Canipelli is one of Asheville’s most excellent and understated restaurateurs, and he’s brought both of those qualities to his brand new Contrada venue. I nominated his front of the house guy, Brenton, for a 2019 Stoobie Award based on being there just a couple of times in December, but one of favorite visits was early in January of this year, when i had just a few minutes to kill and I was on the verge of getting hangry, but didn’t want to fill up on a ton of stuff, so I popped into to say hi to Brenton and see what was up with their very limited, and very delicious selection of food. I ordered ham and olives and stood at the counter sharing it with Brenton at my insistence. We chowed together, and chatted up a small storm, and I loaded up on meat and fruit (yes, olives are fruit, I looked it up to make sure.) and then I was off to party, or something. I can’t remember, but sure as heck remember standing around eating ham with Brenton at Contrada! It has been one of my favorite F&B experiences of the year so far!
Contrada is located at 28 Wall St, Asheville, NC.
A nurse practitioner once recommended that I eat fewer burgers. I asked if she could also recommend another nurse practitioner. Bah-dum-pah! Just kidding. About the second part. The first is absolutely true, but I haven’t really cut down on my burger intake, so, y’know, shhhhhhh! Don’t tell anyone. Below a partial list of the burgers I ate in January. Each of these three was a “best” of the month in one way or another.
1. THE MED
The Mediterranean is the oldest restaurant in town, being established in 1969, which is 3 years after I was established as a human being, which means that I am also old. Unlike me, the Med is under new ownership, and although the menu, decor, vibe, and price point all seem to be pretty much the same as the last time I went in, the burger, at least, has improved greatly since my last visit, which predates the new ownership by a few years. Yes, it had been YEARS since’t I had stepped foot int he Med, and that’s because i was thoroughly unimpressed with the last burger I has there. It sucked. This one, however, did not suck, and was in fact, great! I split it with Paddy, and they were kind enough to cut it in half, which also made it easy to see how perfectly cooked this burger was. Unlike the fucking hockey puck I got last time. Everything about this burger was spot on, including the price, and the fries. I am a fan of this burger now, and will be back for many more. Thanks, Med!
The Med is located at 57 College St, Asheville, NC.
2. DAPHNE at TWISTED LAUREL
One day, a few weeks back Chef Tom at Daphne brought out sliders for everyone on my food tour, and as he handed me one, he looking me dead in the eye, and said in a low tone, just loud enough for only me to hear, and just ominous enough to send a shiver up my spine, “I want that Stoobie award.” My eyes might have grown large with a combination of fear and excitement, who can say for sure, but I’ll tell you what, that damn slider was so fucking food I couldn’t wait to get back in for the full size version. Which I did, not long after, and it was awesome. The grill, the crumble, the flavor, the toppings, the way the bun is grilled too, everything was tasty AF, and I loved it. It is in fact, an early contender for my 2020 burger of the year nominee.
Daphne at Twisted Laurel is located at 130 College St, Asheville, NC.
3. H&F BURGER ASHEVILLE
I don’t know when the last time I ate a turkey burger was. On a scale of 1 to 10 of things I don’t give a shit about, turkey burgers aren’t even on the list, because that’s how much a shit I just don’t give. Buhhht I recently found myself wandering, zombie-like, through downtown, looking for a place to eat, but not really knowing what I wanted, and eventually I found myself sitting int he brand new H&F Burger Asheville on Biltmore Ave. They have a super-limited menu at H&F, consisting of burgers, fried chicken, hot dogs, oysters, (oddly) gnocchi with Bolognese, and few other things. I kinda wasn’t in the mood for any of it, and was about to lay my head on the bar and be depressed, when I remembered that someone had tol’ me the H&F turkey burger was really good, so I ordered it, with my expectations set exactly at “this is gonna suck.” I’m happy to report that I was completely wrong, and the person who recommended it to me in the first place was totally right! This turkey burger fucking ruled!
Hot as a pistol on arrival, it was steaming and the cheese was actively melting, so that was a big plus. Also, it came on an awesome bun. I think you could put a shoe on this bun and I would still… well maybe not a shoe, but, y;know, this was a really good bun. The burger was topped with Monterey jack cheese, avocado slices, and fresh jalapeño wheels. The sear and crumble on the meat were both great, the moisture levels were right where they needed to be, and the over-all flavor was top notch. Not kidding: Best Turkey Burger Ever.
H&F Burger Asheville is located at 77 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
FRIED OYSTERS… and PICKLES
Back to H&F for this one!
So, they have both fried & raw oysters at H&F Burger Asheville, and I am a fan of both. It’s more difficult to find fried oysters in this town, so when I see ’em, I eat ’em. When I saw them listed on the menu at H&F I was excited! When they arrived I was even more excited! There were a ton of them and they looked tasty AF! I took one between thumb and forefinger and popped it into my mouth. Her’s my actual thought process upon biting down…
What. The. Fuck. Is. This?!? This isn’t a fucking oyster! GAH! I’ve been poisoned! Moe! Larry! Oh, wait… it’s a pickle.
Y’see, the fried oysters at H&F come with fried pickles, but they are not mentioned in the description on the menu, so I was caught off guard. Big time. When I looked closer at my plate of fried stuff, I saw, that there were clearly many fried pickles mixed in with the fried oysters. At first, I scoffed to myself about “filler,” but them I turned the apple around, so to speak, and got right in my head with all the “free pickles,” that came with my oysters. Anyhoo, moral of the story, I fucking loved both the fried pickles and the fried oyster and they are going to be one of my favorite bites in downtown I know it already.
H&F Burger Asheville is located at 77 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
RAMEN-Y WAYS DO I LOVE THEE?
Everyone seems to think that ramen is trending, which is causing it to trend. L’il bit. It’s not like ramen is gonna surpass livermush in popularity in WNC anytime soon, but here in Asheville a couple of new shops have opened, and some of the established restaurants have started adding it to their menus. For me, Ramen is kinda sorta just a big bowl of soup, and once the fun stuff, ie: pork belly, pickled ginger, etc, is gone, it’s just a big bowl of really boring soup. But, I’m an idiot, and if ramen is trending, I should try to eat and post about more of it, so that’s what I’ve been doing. So far, my absolute favorite #1 ramen experience has been at Broth Lab in the River Arts District, where the OG White Duck Taco used to be. I saw they offer “hot broth” or “warm sauce,” so I asked what the diff is, and the person working the counter told me that the broth is what you might expect, and the sauce is a thicker reduction that makes for a “dryer” ramen. I went for that. I asked for the Tokyo wavy noodles with a lobster curry reduction sauce, then I added seared salmon, chili-lime peanuts, braised mushrooms, and one of those weird Shoyu eggs that comes on ramen. Holy fuck, y’all. It was so fucking GOOOOOD! Wow. this might actually be my number one food experience of the whole month. I can not wait to go back!
Though you can’t see it in the pictures, make no mistake, the sauce was on the bottom, there was plenty of it (you know I’m a sauce hound), and the flavor was exquisite. For real. Like nothing I’d ever tasted. Rich and deep, though mild and comforting, it was something special in my opinion. The quality of the noodles was head-and-shoulders above any I have ever had, keeping in mind that my ramen experience is very limited. They were hearty and filling and seemed to be a cut above. The seared salmon was fucking PERFECT! Oh my god. Cooked and flavored with obvious skill and expertise, it went perfectly with the lobster sauce, and there was just enough of it (I would think) to make the average consumer feel like there’s some bang the buck in the protein department. The other toppings were GREAT. The peanuts were crunchy and toasty, the mushrooms were savory and texturally pleasing, and that Shoyu egg was the coup d’grace for sure.
As I said, I can’t wait to go back, and eat this again, as well as trying the rest of their menu! I will definitely get the “hot broth” on one of my visits to see if it’s better than my soupy experiences at other venues, and I will post about it when I do!
Broth Lab is located at1 Roberts St, Asheville, NC
RED GINGER, YO. IT’S FUCKIN’ GOOD
If you haven’t been to Red Ginger Dim Sum & Tapas on Patton Ave yet, or not for a long time, get over there. It’s fucking great as far as I’m concerned. A week or so ago, my boss at Asheville Food Tours, Paddy took me and our friend and fellow food tour guide, Spaceman Jones out for lunch, and when he asked me where we should go, I suggested Red Ginger. I’m really glad I did! We ate a freight train of awesome food, ranging from the Schezuan wontons that I’ve written about before, to some very rich curried soft shell crab, to the unique and delicious “beef meets shrimp” roll, to the Tuna Tataki pictured below, which was a beautiful, lightly seared tuna, served in a mild spicy chef’s dressing. We ordered much more than that short list, and gorged ourselves like fools. All of it was excellent. So, yeah, what a lunch! They seem to be very busy these days, but they have plenty of space, so go pay them a visit and order a bunch of stuff to share!
Red Ginger Dim Sum & Tapas is located 82 Patton Ave Suite 100, Asheville, NC
GIANT PILES OF MEAT & SUCH
One of my three Restaurant of the Year nominees for 2019 was Foothills Butcher Bar in West Asheville, and one of the reasons I love them is because I can usually count on eating giant piles of food when I go there. I’ve written up a number of the meals I’ve had at Foothills, and have praised their daily “blue plate special” offerings, which I find myself ordering more often than not when I go in these days. In the middle of this month, I was lucky enough to be on an episode of Slumber Party on Asheville FM, which is way out on the far end of Haywood Road in West Asheville. After the interview, I decided to walk home to my place over near the RAD and South Slope neighborhoods, which is a long-ass walk, just in case you didn’t know. About halfway home, I popped into Foothills, and had a heapin’ helpin’ of steak tips, grits, and broccoli that was some of the most wholesome and delicious food I’ve put in my body at one time in one sitting in a long time. I don;t eat enough broccoli. I’d eat a lot more of it if it all tasted like this broccoli, which was left fresh, green, and snappy, while being totally cooked, and even a little burnt or browned on the florets. I’m still thinking about that dang broccoli, and it’s been weeks since’t I ate it. That’s not normal for me.
Of course, everything else on this plate was also fucking amazing. The beef tips were tender and flavorful, the grits were creamy and plentiful, and the gravy was the absolute fucking bomb. I’m never not satisfied at Foothills, and I fucking love it. I showed up hungry and this meal gave me all the content and calories I needed for the rest of my walk home, as well memorable flavors and textures that I’ve been craving ever since. Thanks, Foothills! You’re always there for me when I need ya!
Foothills Butcher Bar West is located at 697 Haywood Rd unit e, Asheville, NC .
GET THE POT PIE
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you should get the chicken pot pie from Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack, stop wondering and get it. Holy moly. Wow. SO TASTY AND DELICIOUS! I’ve been ordering Rocky’s to be delivered for years, and had never tried the pot pie until this January, because, basically, I was always stuck on the hot fried chicken sandwiches, which are some of my fave sandos in all of AVL. So, I never wanted to risk missing out on the sandwich by ordering the pot pie, and then what if the pot pie isn’t all that? Then I’d be fucked! Now, I’m not saying I’m the stupidest person you’ll ever meet, I’m just saying it took me all this time to figure out that I could order both. Both! Duh. So, I did, and the pot pie was absolutely the best pot pie I’ve had in years. Not even exaggerating.
This is a very traditional chicken pot pie, and no it’s not full of Rocky’s deep fired hot chicken, just regular chicken, with the usual veggie friends, like peas and stuff. The texture of both the crust and the contents is home-style goodness at its fuckin’ goodest. Savory and comforting, this pot pie ain’t thinkin’ outside the box. Naw, it’s nestled deep inside the box, all cozy ‘n’ shit. The first bite was pure heaven, the second was also pure heaven, and yeah, fuck it, I was basically in heaven for this entire experience. I didn’t even touch my back-up sandwich. The only downside is that now I’ll have to order both every time, because they have an equally high FOMO factor.
Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack is located at 1455 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC.
I ate a whole lotta great food in January, so my “best of” list got a little long. Thanks for reading this far! If you missed Part 1, click the link below!
Read the Best of January Part 1 HERE!
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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.