Top 16 Bites, Plates and Meals of February 2020
I tried to be a little more discerning about my “Best of” list for February, in an effort to avoid breaking it up into two parts like I had to with January. Even so, there are over 16 great things on this list, which is just a fraction of the great food I ate all month. The items (and in two cases, two different entire meals) listed here, are truly the cream of the crop of what I dined on this month. There’s so much great food in this town, it’s hard to pick just 16 things, but here they are, and I encourage you all very much to get out there and enjoy our uniquely excellent food scene.
1. BACK TO BROTH LAB
Broth Lab is my favorite ramen shop in Asheville. There. I said it. And yes, I will admit that before I went to Broth Lab, I didn’t have a favorite ramen shop in Asheville. But now I do. They made my “Best of January” list last month, and here they are, topping the charts again in February.
One thing I love about Broth Lab is that they offer a “warm sauce” alternative to their broth! It’s a thicker, more concentrated, cooked-down version of the broth, that’s just not as… uhhhhh… brothy? You can see in the picture below that there ain’t no broth. The sauce is on the bottom, where it’s left for the individual eater to mix it all up.
Another thing I love about Broth Lab is that you get to build your own bowl, which means picking your own noodles, protein, and toppings from a list. This time around I got the sesame citrus shoyu warm broth, with tokyo wavy noodles, sake-soy chicken, crispy pickled cauliflower, a shoyu egg, & some pickled cucumber. I crushed every single molecule of it. Everything was seasoned and flavored perfectly, and cooked just right.
The chicken was surprising, in that it was ground-up, like burger meat, and was crumbly in texture. At first I was a little bit like, wtf, but one bite later and I was a fan. I guess the cauliflower was slightly surprising too, just because I didn’t know it was deep fried, but I ain’t no stranger to deep fried things, so all good! The menu doesn’t give a lot of details about the food, and that’s fine with me, because every single surprise, as well as every bite so far, has been more than pleasant!
Yep, Broth lab, you’re my fave ramen shop, and my plan is to eat my way through your entire menu. Thanks for being you!
Broth Lab is located at 1 Roberts Street, Asheville, NC.
2. SOUTHERN SLOPPY
SANDWICH OF THE YEAR 2019
Last year I had this sandwich delivered to my house a couple of times, and based on those experiences, it was my Sandwich of the Year for 2019. That’s a big deal to me, because I ferkin’ lerv serndwerchers! I first caught wind of it on line from the maker, Chef Witt Pinkerton, who is working for the good doctor, David Brown at Doc Brown’s BBQ, and it is just one of the best things ever. Now, Doc himself makes some KILLER brisket, and yes he will be participating in the upcoming Brisket Battle, but when Paddy and I took an Asheville Food Tours lunch junket to see Doc way out in Candler, I basically had that Southern Sloppy on my mind.
It’s the best dang thing in the fuckin’ world, I’m telling you what.
The Southern Sloppy is a sweet, tangy take on a Sloppy Joe sandwich, served in a City Bakery bread bowl, topped with a Highland Gaelic beer cheese queso. It’s so good, that the picture is triggering memories and making me hungry AF as I type this review! GIVE ME THAT SANDWICH NOW!
You’ll have to go to Doc’s to get it, where it’s a limited menu item for now. If it’s not on the menu, go for the brisket, and if that’s not available (brisket is a rare and beautiful thing, also in limited supply) go for something else, and let me know how it is. So far, I’m new to Doc’s menu, but I’ll be eating my way through it as I’m able!
Doc Brown’s BBQ is located at 1320 Smokey Park Hwy, Candler, NC.
3. BURNT ENDS
Chef A.J. from Black Bear BBQ (formerly of Mojo Kitchen) asked about being a participant in my upcoming Brisket Battle, and I was like, “I’ve never had your brisket, and I’m being wicked picky about who gets to be in this battle,” so BOOM he brought me some brisket, and fuck yes, he’s in!
I could seriously eat these burnt ends every fucking day for the rest of my life. Good lord.
He brought all the fixin’s for a burnt end sandwich, plus some chopped brisket, and a big ol’ slab of hot fresh brisket, all of which was fucking excellent! In case you’re not familiar, burnt ends are very tasty pieces of meat, that have been cut from the “point” half of a smoked brisket. Brisket is generally separated into two halves: The leaner “first cut” or “flat,” and the fattier “second cut” or “point“, also known as the “fat end,” or “triangular cut.” The burnt ends are literally BURNT ENDS, that are trimmed off the point to be enjoyed separately. According to some folks, me included, they are the Best of the Brisket. Well, A.J.’s burnt end sandwich, and his brisket in general, are in my Best of February list for sure. We’ll see how he does in the Brisket Battle come May 28th!
For some reason, the facebook post above got an INSANELY high reach. Believe me, twenty one thousand is not typical for one of my posts. I mean, my reach rules, somewhere between 1,200 and 2,500 per post these days, up to 5,000 or even more at times, but 20,942? Nerp. That is not typical. I guess people really love brisket. And A.J. And sandwiches. Yeah, they fuckin’ love sandwiches.
Black Bear BBQ is located at 57 College St, Asheville, NC.
4. PAST WINNERS FUCKING RULE
Over the 7 years that I’ve been giving out accolades for excellence in our local food scene, I have given 67 Biltmore Ave a lot of nominations and awards. They even won the Mac ‘n’ Cheese Championship that Shay Brown and I hosted in 2019! I had an early morning meeting last week with a guy who has some super exciting food-related ideas (that I can’t tell you about of course. Ha!) and when he asked where I wanted to meet, I picked 67 so that I could enjoy three of the things they have won awards from me for in the past: Best Breakfast, Best Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy, and Best Fried Fried Chicken.
You can literally see the deliciousness of this food in the picture above. It’s visibly tasty. Your eyes are salivating right now, admit it. Those aren’t tears coming out of your face, that’s SALIVA!!! You’re gross. But yeah, looks real good, right? Well, it tasted even better. Best, best, best, just like I said. 67’s biscuits are scratch-made, perfectly crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside. The gravy is homey AF, and thick as a brick, though certainly not too stiff. The fried chicken is yummy and scrummy and oh-so good. A little fresh green stuff and a few pieces of fresh fruit on the side, and this is THEE perfect breakfast.
67 Biltmore Ave Downtown Catering and Eatery is located at… wait for it… 67 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
5. FOOD TOUR FOOD
This is not just a shameless plug Asheville Food Tours, because I’m telling you what: Some of the best fucking food I eat all month, in any given month, is on food tour. Which is intentional of course! We have the best restaurant partners, and they are super-proud to show our patrons what they do! Plus, they know that I really enjoy their food myself, so they always knock it out of the park for us!
Paddy and I have something like 40 tour partners from which to build a six-to-eight stop tour. You can see them listed on the Asheville Food Tours web site, and they are all great! In the photos above are just a fraction of the bites offered in February by Storm Rhum Bar, Daphne at Twisted Laurel, Greenhouse, Daphne again, Strada, and Capella on 9. Below is another bite from Daphne, and I want to give a special shout out to Chef Tom LaFaucci, who is keeping it real, and making some seriously solid, accessible, delicious food for his customers as well as for our tour patrons, Chef Tom is somewhat new to town, so please go into Daphne and make him feel welcome.
Above is one of my personal top bites from all of my February food tours, by Chef Tom. It’s a really nice-sized serving of steak, with caramelized onions, cheese sauce, and fresh micro-greens. Kind of a fancy, deconstructed Philly. Fuck yeah. Am I right? It came served with some really tasty little taters.
Daphne at Twisted Laurel is located at 130 College St, Asheville, NC.
6. THAT PANCAKE
My family is Canadian-American, so we love Sawhorse, which is Chef Dan Silo‘s Northern-focused restaurant located over there on New Leicester Hwy in West Asheville. We took a jaunt out there recently and had a full-on feast that involved everything from meat pie, to fish and chips, to apple salad, to the famous, giant-sized buckwheat pancake, which comes smothered in cheddar cheese, duck confit, roasted taters, and maple syrup. Fuckin’ aye. It was SOOOO good!
This fuckin’ thing is famous for a reason. It’s hearty, smoky, maply, sweet ‘n’ savory, dense, and delicious. I’ve never had anything quite like it, though it had a familiar wholesome quality that definitely touched off some nostalgic notes for me. I grew up pouring real maple syrup on home made pancakes and breakfast sausage. This pancake was like my childhood memories, all grown up, and presented by a creative local Chef! It’s a beast, BTW, and we shared it four ways as a family-and-friend unit. We barely finished it.
ALSO THAT ECLAIR
And of course, even though we we stuffed from all the food we ordered for dinner, my family does not skip dessert. Ever. So, we ordered two burnt maple eclairs, which were my 2019 Best Sweet treat winner, and boy howdy. I wasn’t lyin’, folks. This thing is special. Go get one. Or five. Just save one for my mom, please,. She has a little food FOMO for it.
Sawhorse is located at 101 New Leicester Hwy, Asheville, NC.
The first Asheville food truck that I ever fell in love with was Root Down Food Truck, owned and operated by Chef Dano Holcomb, and the very first food item that I ate from Dano’s truck, and absolutely died over, was his boudin balls. Well, good news, everyone! Chef Dano has taken up permanent residence in the kitchen at the good old Salvage Station, down on Riverside Road, and will be cranking out his boudin balls, and more of his dank NOLA-focused food. Root Down has won awards and accolades galore over the years, and a “brick and mortar” location is a long-time coming, so I’m happy for both Dano and the Salvage Station!
Appropriately, they decided to announce and celebrate this new arrangement on Fat Tuesday, with a press party and a live show. The press party had five courses, one of which was my old friend the boudin ball! Awwwwww! It’s been too long, Bae! How you been? Nom nom. Amazing. I ate two. Shhhhh!
Boudin balls are cajun style pork and rice sausage, rolled in panko, and deep fried. Dano served them with creole mustard sauce and cane sugar. Crispy and crunchy on the outside, warm, comforting and packed with flavor on the inside, and providing both sweet and savory satisfaction, it was just as good as I remembered it.
If an endless supply of these boudin balls isn’t waiting for me in heaven when I get there… disappointing.
The final course was dessert, and of course, since it was Mardi Gras, it was king cake. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of king cake to be honest. I find that it can be a little dry, aaand a lotta boring. So imagine my surprise when yet another ball of food came out, and it was a fantastical, unicornian, sparkling, disco ball of sweet, moist, exciting goodness! I squinted at the menu again. “King Cake Bread Pudding.” Aha! Makes sense. I didn’t see that part. Good idea, Dano. You are a fucking genius. And note to self: Bring glasses to press dinners.
I have to say, it was the best version of king cake I’ve ever had in my life, for real, bar none, not kidding or exaggerating, and literally handing it that accolade right now: Best King Cake Ever. It’s done. Don’t even argue.
The whole evening was very enjoyable, in part because Chef Holcomb came around to each table to say hi, and he is just one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life. I know that you’re all already big fans of Dano and Root Down, so go pay him a visit at Salvage Station, and tuck into some balls!.
Root Down at Salvage Station is located at 468 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC.
8. MORE-DI GRAS
I’m basically shameless when it comes to food. If an exciting Mardi Gras meal comes along, smiles at me, and says, “hi,” I am totally up for whatever, even if I already have a date with another Mardi Gras meal later that same day (see #7 above). So, yeah, I had made plans in my head to attend the Mardi Gras meal at Buxton Hall Barbecue before I saw the invite to go the Root Down/Salvage Station shindig featured above, and I decided I shouldn’t do both, so I planned on skipping Buxton, which made me sad, but, y’know…
Who the Hell eats two full-on Mardi Gras meals on one day? Oh. Hi again.
I blame my friend Witt Pinkerton for this one. As I said, I was, and then wasn’t planning to attend the Buxton blow-out, but then on the very morning of Fat Tuesday, Witt PM’d me and asked if I wanted go with him. While my brain was saying “Hell, no,” my fingers typed “Fuck, yes!” Dang fingers!
We went early, and as a compromise between my brain and fingers, I only ate one third of the food we ordered, leaving the other 2/3s for Witt to contend with.
He and I split a big plate of a little bit of everything, including super crispy pulled pork, oysters, etouffee, jambalaya, crab-stuffed hushpuppies, awesome bread, and house made saltines, as well as an order of the “mussels under the hog” (not pictured) which are a standard menu item and one of the tastiest, heartiest treatments of mussels you’ll find in all of Asheville.
What can I say? Every single bite of every single thing in these pictures, as well the things that we ate that are not pictured, was fucking excellent. Executed perfectly, flavored deeply and expertly, it had all the right colors to make it visually enticing, and all the right textures to make it a varied experience, with contrasts and blends, depth and punch. YOM!
Most of the food pictured above is not part of their regular menu, unfortch, so I’d like for this review to serve as a reminder to you all to check social media for special events and pop-up menus, not just at Buxton, but at all of the wonderful restaurants that do such things in Asheville and the surrounding areas. This meal was special and memorable, and an experience that I’m glad I didn’t let slip through my fingers!
Thanks, Buxton, w/ a special tip o’ the hat to Chef Nicholas Barr, and thanks, Witt for helping me put the FAT in Fat Tuesday!
Buxton Hall Barbecue is located at 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC.
9. UNDENIABLY TASTY AS FUCK
The Chicken Parm with a side of spaghetti, and a house-made garlic knot from Manicomio is undeniably one of the tastiest fucking things available in all of Downtown Asheville. At the end of a food tour, I often stop in and order it to go, especially when I have the next day off from work. I’m usually full after a tour, so I’ll have a bite or two that night, then eat it for lunch the next day, and then again for dinner that next night, and then sometimes I’ll even have enough to revisit it one more time as a late night bite.
And hell no, I’m not above powering down a few more bites of pure fat, carbs, and proteins moments before passing out on the couch in a food-weed-and-super-boring television induced coma. I mean…
Did y’all watch season 9 of the Walking Dead? It’s so fucking BAD.
Good. Lord. What a complete POS that show has degenerated into. Here, I’ll write a script…
Super bad decision.
Rinse and repeat until vomiting is induced. Jesus fuck me.
Then Rick “died“ (oops, spoilers) and was reborn as Awwww Precious Rick, complete with tiny cowboy hat and a gun the size of her arm… that she shoots with deadly accuracy… of course.
If you thought Carl was annoying, just wait until you hear Judith bark out orders, and act like Princess Fuck All Y’all to the adults in the room, but not in a cool, punk rock way, just in an annoying, “who let this little kid in here?” way.
And then there’s Negan. That lovable, mass-murdering, psychopath. Good god. Fuck this character. Fuck. This. Character. FUCK HIM.
And the acting. There are not enough lines and dots in the universe for me to make all of the dot-line-dot faces that I want and need to make in order to properly express my feelings about the acting in this horrible horrible POS television show. So, I’ll just do one, and you can imaging that it goes on for infinity…
. __ . 4eva
I know it’s hard to work with a script that reads like a series of speeches being practiced into a mirror, but… a little less emoting please. I could have made enough ham sandwiches to feed my entire neighborhood. So many tears. So many quivering lips. Shouldn’t these fucks be hard as fucking nails by now? Nearly every single person they’ve ever known, loved, or come in contact with has died a horrible death, and yet… they still lose their fucking shit, physically crumble, and openly weep in slo-mo over some dumb fuck we literally just met, like at the beginning of the episode.
“Gawd no! Not ol’ what’s-his-name! He was mah best frey-ennnnnnnd!”
Also, after nine years of faking a Southern accent, you’d think they’d be at least a little bit better at it. Maggie. Rick. I’m looking right at you.
Aaaanyhoooooooo…. Don’t even get me started on the fucking “Whisperers.’ Just go to Manicomio, eat some chicken parm, and be sure to tell ’em Stuey sent you.
Manicomio is located 27 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC.
10. GRIT CAKE OF MY DREAMS
Good lord, Y’all. Just look at the picture below. What you’re seeing is one large, deep fried pimento cheese grit cake, with andouillle gravy, fresh & pickled veg, Spaceman’s remoulade, and a great many crispy pieces of deep fried cat fish. This was a fucking super star dish in my opinion, that I ate at The Malvern, way out in WAVl near Skylanes bowling. This tower-of-power was 100% special and unique, I’ve never eaten anything like it before, and I hope to eat it again and again and again. The “Spaceman” mentioned above is one of my favorite cooks in Asheville, Dave Bristol (aka Spaceman Jones) and the grit cake by Chris Cox (aka Burger Boi) is one of my all-time favorite things on Earth, perfected by one of Asheville’s most amazing and creative cooks. Dave and Chris did a pop-up collab at the Malvern recently, mixing their creative talents in a mash-up of fantastic flavors and pure comfort, featuring the grit cake of my dreams, in a whole new way!
I loved Chris’s grit cakes when they were available at the Montford Pull-up (RIP miss you, MPU) and it was an instant hit with me. I had been lamenting it’s absence form my life for a long time, so when I saw that Chris had paired it was some cat fish, and sauces, I was excited, and believe me, it did not disappoint! The andouille gravy was dank, the remoulade was creamy and punchy, the pickles were snappy and sweet, and the cat fish was thin, beautifully battered, and deep fried until extra crispy. Likewise, the grit cake was crispy AF on the outside, and the pimento cheese grits contained within were creamy, steamy, and real fuckin’ dreamy. Yep.
Spaceman told me that this baby will probably make it on to the regular Malvern Menu, so request it if you’re there, and see what happens!
The Malvern is located at 1478 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC.
14. CHASING THE HANGRIES AWAY
When I’m hungry, bordering on hangry but I don’t want a full meal, or even a small plate, but rather just a little sugar ‘n’ carb boost, in the form of something super-delish, that’s when I turn to my old friend the fig rhuton. I also buy them when I’m just whatever, and not hangried-out, but they are the perfect bite for curing that particular mind-set, so I use them for that very often.
A fig rhuton is basically the world’s greatest version of a fig newton, created by the amazing baking staff at The Rhu. If you already know what a fig newton is, then you don’t need me to describe this thing in great detail, you just need to know that it is the best fucking fig newton on the fucking planet. Period end of story. It’s big (about the size of a credit card, maybe a tad larger) it has sea salt on top, and is made with all natch ingredients. It’s just the best thing ever and I love it. I got the one in the picture above at a great new cafe on South French Broad Ave called Olarié Coffeehouse (oh-lah-ree-ay), which is one of my jams, since that’s my neighborhood! It’s a very cute, clean, and stylish little cafe with great coffee and excellent locally made bites. Please pay them a visit!
Olarié Caffeehouse is located at 45 S French Broad Ave #150, Asheville, NC. | The Rhu is located at10 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
15. UNICORN CAKE
Don’t tell the other sweet things, but my current favorite sweet thing on the planet Earth right now is the unicorn cake from Sunshine Sammies. Holy fuckitty-fuck-fuck-fuck. And just go ahead and imagine ten eff-bombs being dropped right now, because these things are INSANELY good. For real. Have you ever had a “zebra cake,” from Little Debbie’s? Well, fuck those. This is a unicorn cake, and it’s way better than a zebra cake. Made from all natural, locally sourced ingredients (when possible), Chef Susie Pearson’s take on this trashy drug-store classic is a wholesome treat of the highest caliber, and I can not recommend it highly enough. if you like sweet things, go eat this now.
A unicorn cake is basically a cream cake, covered in a shell of really good, rich, buttery white chocolate, with a colorful, zig-zagging stripe of naturally flavored berry-based icing on top. It is very creamy inside, the cake literally melts in your mouth. The texture and the flavor are nothing but pure, sweet comfort of the die-and-go-to-heaven variety.
FYI – Good white chocolate is not white! It should be an ivory color, or even take on a yellowish tone from the cocoa butter! Pure white chocolate is pure crap, and is likely to be made from confectionary sugar, various food-grade oils, and sad elfin tears.
So, for everyone who’s feeling nostalgic for zebra cakes, or any other number of childhood favorites, head on down to Sunshine Sammies, get some of the above, or a lunar pie, a sunny tart, an ice cream sandwich, or just some ice cream, or just a cookie, or some coffee. You get the idea.
Sunshine Sammies is located at 99 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
16. LAST MINUTE ENTRY!
On the very last night of February 2020, leap day, I attended a very special 5 course dinner and beer pairing at 12 Bones River with 12 Bones Brewing, The Whale Craft Beer Collective and food, by Chef Christian Albrecht and crew of Braised and Confit. It was amazing! Smoked salmon, charred carrots, quail, shrimp ‘n’ grits, short ribs, and sweet potato panna cotta. The other guests remarked to me that the 5 very unique beers that were served paired perfectly with each course.
In the picture above is the deconstructed, koji smoked shrimp ‘n’ grits, with fermented tomato, andouille soubis, and pickled fennel. The grits are in the form of deep fried balls, that were crispy on the outside, warm and creamy on the inside. This dish was delicate yet satisfying, creative but familiar, and it was presented nicely, with very high visual appeal. The various flavors of smoke, pickle and ferment interacted with each other in a very nice, playful but sophisticated way, and I tried to get a little bit of everything on the plate in every forkful I ate, to maximize that interaction as much as possible, Every dish had a similar feel and level of execution. You can see more pics of this meal, and tons and tons of other bites that I ate in February on my FaceBook Page and Instagram account!
This dinner was excellent, and so was the company! I enjoyed chatting with my table-mates very much about food, politics, and our personal biographies. Good times, great eats! Look for more pop-ups with 12 Bones in the coming months.
12 Bones River is Located at 5 Foundy St #10, Asheville, NC. | The Whale Craft Beer Collective is located at 507 Haywood Rd #10, Asheville, NC.
And that rounds-out my “Best of February 2020” list!
I ate a whole lotta great food this month, and back in January I ate so many great things, my “best of” list got a little long, so I broke into two parts, which you can read by clicking the links below.
Read the Best of January Part 1 HERE
Read the Best Of January Part 2 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.