My Top 9+ Bites, Plates and Meals of March 2020
*** IMPORTANT NOTICE ***
I began writing this column in the weeks leading up to the City-wide closure of restaurants, and the state-wide stay-at-home order. Obviously, the food scene in Asheville, along with everywhere else in America, came to a screeching halt, and my own life changed tremendously due to the run-away Coronavirus here in the States. So, I’m just getting around to finishing this post up now, in late May. I will indicate where the “COVID-19 World” begins.
“I voted!” We only do it for the sticker, right? And to save democracy, of course! Holy crap-nuts, people. Voting has never been more important! I don’t have to tell you why. My own political leanings are pretty well known. On Super Tuesday when it came time to vote in the primaries, I was torn between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. That’s how I roll. After consulting my friends and family, I’m proud to say that I filled-in the little circle next to Senator Warren’s name, because they reminded me that I truly want to live in a world lead by women like her. Obviously, Ol’ Joe Biden won NC, but that doesn’t mean my vote didn’t matter. Every vote matters, whether or not your candidate wins. If voting didn’t matter, it wouldn’t be attacked and suppressed at every turn by those who would seek to thwart the will of the people.
Okay, now before anyone has the urge to start typing “stick to food!” in the comments section, slow that roll, Bossy Butt. Because, first off, don’t tell me what to do. But mainly, not for nothing, food policies affect us all. Farming. School lunch. GMO’s. Industry packaging and health regulations. WIC and SNAP. Organic labeling. Transparency. These are just some of the food policies that impact real people every day, and for diggitty-dag sure, whoever you vote for makes a big difference in how those policies are enacted. In other words: Voting is about food as much as anything else.
1. POST-VOTE POKE
I stopped into YUM! Sushi Burrito and Poké directly after doing my civic duty, because I was in the mood for something good for me, plus it’s just around the corner from my poling place, on Ashland Ave across from the bus station. It’s bright, clean, and cute inside, and the food is healthy AF, especially when compared to my usual fare of fried chicken and burgers.
At Yum! you get to “build your bowl” with your choice of rice, protein, toppings, and sauce., I went for the snack-sized bowl of white rice and ahi tuna ,with edamame, carrots, fresh jalapeño wheels, cucumber, cilantro, unagi sauce, and tempura flakes on top.
It was exactly what I wanted. Fresh and light, with a lot of punchy flavors and satisfying textures. The tuna was tender, meaty, and mild, contrasted nicely by the tangy-sweet unagi sauce, and the crisp, bright vegetables. The tempura flakes on top were more like “pearls” than flakes to me, they had the basic shape and texture of a rice crispy, and they were the absolute coup d’grace. Yes, I trashed-up this super-healthy lunch with deep fried shit on top! Ha ha! Don’t care! Loved it. Love love loved it.
The price was right, service was great, the grub was delicious, and it absolutely did the trick in terms of filling me up, and giving me the wholesome energy dots I very much needed that day.
Yum! Sushi Burrito and Poké is located at 45 Ashland Ave, Asheville, NC.
My mom and Time magazine have something in common: They both love Benne on Eagle! She goes at least once a month, and has recently fixated on the steak ‘n’ gravy there. When my uncle and his GF were in town, my mom couldn’t join us for dinner, but she more or less insisted that I bring them to Benne, aaand she kind of insisted that I order this steak. I might have tried to tell her I wanted to look at the menu first, or I might have just capitulated to her will straight away, I’m not sure, it doesn’t matter, because, when it comes down to it, I do what my mother tells me, and there’s a reason for that: She knows things. Lotsa things. Including what a great steak tastes like, and what kinda food her kids like. Thanks, Mom!
Y’all know I’ve been on a steak kick lately. Probably not a great idea at my age, but to quote some guy in some movie, “Whaddaya wanna live forever?” Well, yeah, but I also want steak, and goll-dang, this steak is definitely worth a few years off the tail end of life if that’s the way it’s gotta be. A beautiful, reasonably-sized sirloin from Bear Creek Farm, grilled until the surface had a nice charred-on crust, yet the center was left red and warm and tender as could be. Every bite was heaven. I’m a gravy hound, so when at first I saw the little bit of red eye gravy, I was a little bit, like, “huh,” but it was just right, actually, as any more would have overwhelmed the simple perfection of the steak. Likewise, the turnip & potato confit was mild, and subtle and there was just enough of it to sort of mix in with everything including the pickled ramps, and sauteed greens, and it all went extremely well together. I crushed every single bite on the plate,
Thanks for a great steak experience, Benne, and thanks, mom, for knowing what’s up.
Benne on Eagle is located at 35 Eagle Street, Asheville, NC.
NOTICE: Everything written below this line was written well after the shut-down and stay at home orders, even for the food that I ate before the COVID–19 changes.
3. MY LAST BITES IN RESTAURANTS
Little did I know, as I led my final tours, ate my last lunches, dinners, bites, and snacks in and around town before the Coronavirus came to The States, that they would indeed be my last. No surprise, I was too depressed in the first weeks of the pandemic getting here to even look at these pictures, let alone write about them. I’m happy to say that , SEVEN WEEKS later, some of these food items are becoming available again, for take-out and delivery only, some as heat-n-eat, par-cooked meals, other for special order. Anyhoo, I’m super glad that I went to some of my absolute personal favorite places in those last two weeks before the COVID hit the fan.
I fucking love this place and these people and one of the last things I did before the shut down was pop in for a bite with my boss Paddy, and I sure am I’m glad I did. We ordered a few things and I enjoyed them all tremendously, but most memorable was the lamb skewers, just because they are literally the first thing I ate there, when the restaurant opened back before the plague-times, and they are still my favorite bite on their whole menu. The picture above is making my mouth water, and my heart ache. Will I ever eat you again, Lamb Skewers? Answer: YES!
THESE DAYS: Chef Katie Button and Felix Meana recently announced that Button & Company Bagels will become “La Bodego” for the time being, selling a small selection of various fan favorites including a heat and eat version of their amazing lamb skewers. I haven’t been into La Bodega yet, but I will let you know when I do! UPDATE: We ordered some food from them recently and it was excellent! More to come.
Cúrate is located at 13 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC.
La Bodega is located at 32 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
BUXTON HALL BARBECUE
Another one of my personal favorites, I am SO GLAD that I chose to eat there a number of times in the weeks leading up to the shut-down. I enjoyed a lot of things, none more than the simple bowl of mac ‘n’ cheese pictured above. The sides at Buxton Hall have been some of my most cherished bites in this whole town since they first opened their doors. It made me very sad — to the point of tears — when they closed their doors a short while into the shut-down, after trying a brief stint of take-out and delivery only. As of this writing, they have not opened back up in any capacity, but I will surely keep you posted if they do! (fingers crossed!) I did get ONE LAST BITE from their take-out table, post-shut-down, and I’ll get to that later. The mac ‘n’ cheese above was part of the last meal I ate in the dining room, which is an experience that I love very much and can not wait to get back to! As I said, I’ll keep you posted.
Buxton Hall Barbecue is located at 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC.
My friends Chef Santiago Vargas and Chef Jay Medford co-hosted a fancy dinner at Jay’s restaurant, Storm Rhum Bar on South Lexington Ave.downtown. I went with my Asheville Food Tours boss Paddy Riels, and we enjoyed a meal together, just the two of us, sitting less than six feet away from each other, not wearing masks. I’m sure that we hugged AND shook hands afterward. Remember the good old days? Well, I don’t think we’ll be doing any of that any time soon, but you can still enjoy food from both of these wonderful chefs via take-out and delivery.
THESE DAYS: Contact Chef Jay at Storm for curbside pick-up 5 days a week, and inquire about their delivery policy. I know that he’s offering free kids meals right now to help people out, and that his excellent bar tenders are also selling their mixers to go. Chef Jay never stopped rockin’ and I admire his tenacity! I also admire his cooking, and I have been trying to eat from Storm as much as I can during these shit times.
Storm Rhum Bar is located at 125 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
Chef Santiago has teamed-up with his friend and mine, Chef Ricardo Carrasco from Polanco to launch something amazing called Pachamama 5. Pleas visit the website HERE to learn more! I have ordered two meals from them since they launched and both were excellent! Like, really fucking food.
Polanca / Pachamama are located at 10 N Market St, Asheville, NC.
4. MY LAST FOOD TOURS
Below you will see a picture of an INSANELY cute and delicious bite from Capella on 9 that was served to one of my tours iIn the weeks leading up to the COVID shut-down. The food on food tours has been getting steadily better and better and better in my opinion, and it had literally never been so exciting and delicious as it was in the days before the shut down.
THESE DAYS: I am unsure of when we will be able to start-up food tours again, and that makes me very sad, kinda bored, and more than a little worried about going broke. I will keep you posted, and surely let you know the moment that I am able to conduct tours again.
Capella on 9 is located at 10 Broadway St f9, Asheville, NC.
*** On March 15th, The COVID-19 World Began in Asheville ***
5. MY LAST DAY WITH CHEF STEVEN GOFF
On the first day of the City of Asheville’s “State of Emergency” that closed down his restaurant, AUX Bar, and put me out of a job as an Asheville Food Tours guide, I spent some time with Chef Steven Goff, tasting his brisket and checking out the interior of his Brinehaus food truck. Eight weeks later, I haven’t seen or spoken to him in person, and the memories of that day are bitter sweet, as we both had a brooding sense of imminent doom, and for my part at least, an overwhelming sadness that my friend Steven and I were probably about to go through some very hard times, along with all of our compatriots in the food industry. Sure as shit, that all came true. I miss this guy. I miss his restaurants. I miss his brisket,
I bought a HUGE chunk of this hot, fresh brisket from him to take home, and it lasted me quite a long time! IT WAS FUCKING AMAZING. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, smoky, salty, savory, meaty, fatty, amazing amazing brisket. Jesus fuck, I miss that shit. And like I already said, I miss Chef Steven, this was the last time I saw him before the shut-down.
THESE DAYS: I got a note from Chef Goff just the other day say, “we’re opening for takeout Friday with some new menu items,.” A little later he posted a menu on Facebook. Yay!
AUX Bar is located at 68 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
6. MY LAST BITE FROM BUXTON
You all should know by now that Buxton Hall Barbecue is one of my ALL-TIME favorite restaurants EVER, not just in Asheville, but anywhere in the world. I love the fucking shit out of this restaurant it it is KILLING ME that they are not currently open, not even for take-out and delivery. But I am and will be eternally grateful that I was able to get one last meal to go right before they closed-up for COVID. I wish I had gotten more, but I got he wings, and good god damn, those wings were fucking amazing. Some of the best wings ever, no shit, I practically wept as I ate them. Smoky, spicy, flavorful, and falling off the bone, every bite was pure heaven for me.I returned the next day to get more, plus a bunch of other noms, but alas, they had decided to close-up over night. My shoulders dropped like two sacks of flour. My heart sank. I heaved a sigh. I felt heavy as fuck in that moment. Buxton closed. The worst possible news. And that was just a few days into the shut-down. As I write this it’s 8 weeks later, and Buxton hasn’t made any moves to re-open.
THESE DAYS: Again, unfortunately, I don’t know what’s up with Buxton, but when I do, I will let you know.
UPDATE: I reached out to Jennifer Moss, and here’s what she said: “We had originally planned to open again for takeout a week ago then changed our minds again due to cases increasing etc etc. [We’re] just REALLY trying to protect our staff. We absolutely will be reopening.”
Buxton Hall Barbecue is located at 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC.
7. MY LAST BITE FROM DOC BROWN’S
I was communicating with Doc Brown and Chef Witt Pinkerton quite a bit in the weeks leading up to the shut-down, and I was enjoying their food more and more… and more and MORE… every time I ate something new. Turn’s out Doc is an actual Doctor, a PHD, who wrote a doctoral dissertation that looked, in part, at government responses to the epidemic of yellow fever in the 19th century. Word. Needless to day, Doc was an early closer-upper, and stopped doing everything right away, including take-out and delivery. On the day he closed, however, he stopped by my house and dropped off a special delivery of smoked turkey, collards, mac ‘n’ cheese, corn bread, and some of the most delicious, house made sausage ever, all credit to Doc’s “sausage guy.”
Doc is someone to watch, right?
If he feels safe doing something, it might be okay to assume it’s a safe thing to do. This is me saying this, not Doc. He’s humble. I’m just watching what everyone is doing, and given what I know about Doc, I watch him a little more closely than others.
THESE DAYS: Doc Brown’s has limited hours, for pick-up only, and delivery within the 28715 area code, Wed-Sat 4-8pm. Doc said, “No idea when we reopen dining room… definitely not during phase 2.” Limited menu available at docbrownbbq.com
Doc Brown’s BBQ is located at 1320 Smokey Park Hwy, Candler, NC.
8. PURE COMFORT FROM ROCKY’S
In the first days of the shut-down, I started stocking up on take-out food (Yes, that’s my version of grocery shopping), and because the world had basically just gone dark, I needed comfort food, STAT. If I couldn’t get hugs from my friends, I could at least get them from a whole roasted chicken and sides from Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack.
On the menu, it’s called Mama’s Li’l Helper (which kinda used to be the nickname for Valium!) and it’s an enormous shit-ton of insanely homey and comforting food. Rocky’s is known primarily for their deep fried hot chicken. This is not that. This is a roasted, un-hot chicken. Y’know, like unsweet tea? Which is actually just tea. This is just chicken, not hot chicken. It’s fucking great is what it is, and I recommend it highly.
The sides from Rocky’s are simple and hearty and some of my favorites in all of Asheville. Their mashed taters and gravy can’t be beat and their mac ‘n’ cheese is creamy and rich and delish. Their biscuits are HUGE. There’s a heavy dose of salt in this food, which I enjoy, but just keep that in mind when ordering for yourself.
THESE DAYS: Rocky’s never stopped doing take out and delivery, and that’s how I always ordered from them anyways, so it’s like nothing ever changed, which I also find very comforting in a time when shits be changing constantly!
Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack is located at 1455 Patton Ave, Asheville, NC.
9. THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF AN OLD FAVORITE!
My good friends at Storm Rhum Bar and Bistro never stopped rockin’ it out. They immediately switched to an all take-out menu, started offering free kids meals, free delivery within 3 miles of the shop, and through KickbackAVL outside of that radius. They offered a whopping 25% discount to health care workers, they stepped-up all of their cleaning and safety protocols, and moved the business end of the business to the front patio area. No admittance to the building.
Storm is a fancy sit-down restaurant, never known for take-out. I’m guessing here, but it probably accounted for 10% or less of their food sales prior to the shut-down, so this was a hugely different model for Chef Jay Medford and his crew. They met the challenge head-on, and have been a shining example of fortitude and flexibilty in the face of adversity. I have mad respect for them. Plus… this fuckn’ Philly is the best one in all of Asheville… perhaps.
Now, as you may already know, Chef Jay also owns the Underground Cafe, a venue that he felt was more apt to survive the shut-down than the fancier Storm, which he had purchased only just last Fall, so it was still a new venture for him before the world got turned upside down. One of the many wise moves that Jay made at Storm was to bring some of his sandwich-making talents from Underground over to Storm’s new take-out menu, where he kinda fancied ’em up a little bit. I’ve always been a fan of the Philly at Underground, but holy shit, Yo, the version of it that Jay is pushing out of Storm is exquisite. Not kidding. Super star sandwich.
Savory as fuck, meaty, juicy, toasty, cheesy, all the words that end in “Y” that can and should be applied to a delicious Philly are true of this Philly, to the Nth degree.
Y’all might be aware that I already have a fave Philly in Asheville, that comes from Chef Glenn Golcher at Food Stop Food Truck. Well, this Philly from Storm is giving that one such a run for its money that I’m actually in the beginning stages of trying to organize a throw down at my house with exactly one judge: ME. I’ll do a live video stream if I can pull that off.
THESE DAYS: As I mentioned, Chef Jay is doing take-out and delivery only from both locations, and he’ll start doing some limited seating on the patio by reservation only if Phase 2 seems safe, but he’s playing that by ear. Please call ahead to inquire further.
Storm Rhum Bar is located at 125 S Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC.
And that rounds-out my “Best of March 2020” list!
Sorry it took me two months to write my Best of March, but I was kinda sorta depressed as fuck, plus I was keeping myself busy doing COLORING PAGES, and also having a hard time associated the word “Best” with March 2020 in any way, shape, or form. I really did eat some great food in March though, both before and during the shut-down, and it deserves attention, now and when it comes time to do the Food Fan Awards in January. And HELL YES Shay Brown and I are doing the Food Fan Awards, one way or another! Ain’t no way, no how I’m letting this shit year go by with giving accolades to the heroic people of the Asheville Food Scene! I might even give an “Eater of the Year” award to an average eater who supported the scene more than anyone else.
Here’s some art I made to hopefully cheer you up if you’re feeling down, and strengthen you in face of this mess we’re in. You’re greatest food city in America, Asheville.
Growers! Makers! Eaters!
We’re all in this together!
— end —
Read the Best of February 2020 HERE
Read the Best of January 2o20 Part 1 HERE
Read the Best of January 2020 Part 2 HERE
Thanks for reading!
If you want to, no presh, you can tip me for my writing or for whatever reason you want, through Venmo at Stu-Helm, or through Paypal at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.