“Best” is Such a Loaded Word…

I like to use the term, “of The Year,” rather than “Best” when it’s time to hand out Stoobie Awards to the people that I meet and engage with along the way in the Asheville Food scene. When it comes to “Chef of the Year,” for example, I factor in a lot more than just who’s the “best cook” when considering this or that contending chef for the title. As always, when giving out Asheville’s highest culinary accolades — and by “highest” I mean, I’m usually… always… high — I try to look at the big picture, and consider what these chefs have done over the course of the previous 12 months. With the servers, there are other factors that I’ll explain when we get there. And, speaking of explaining… just in case you don’t know what the Stoobie Awards are… here’s this again…

My name is Stu Helm. I am a food writer, and I host a weekly radio show about food. I am also a guide for Asheville Food Tours. I eat at a lot of restaurants. People often ask me to label stuff — meals, venues, other people — as being “The Best” in Asheville. The Stoobies are me doing that. Click the links below to read the first three installments of the 2016 Stoobie Awards. Thank you!

2016 STOOBIE AWARDS, PT 1: THE BASICS

2016 STOOBIE AWARDS, PT 2: 3 SQUARES (+1)

2016 STOOBIE AWARDS, PT 3: Jazzed and Baked

Okay, ready? So far I have given out a total of FOURTEEN 2016 Stoobie Awards and now it’s time for the final SEVEN… or NINE, depending how you look at it.  Anyhoo… These were tough decisions, because the following accolades will be given to individual people — and thus NOT to other individual people whom I also love and admire — so how could these categories be anything but difficult for me? It was tough, but I did it.

Let me me be clear: This is not a popularity contest, or a “who’s Stu’s fave friend” contest. If that was the case, Good Friend Joe Scully would win every award, and everyone would roll their eyes, and say “Get a fuckin’ room already.” No. These are The Stoobies, Yo. I think very hard about them, and despite all my comedy jokes, I take them seriously. Dawn and I talk about these next categories right up until Red Carpet Day, tossing out a half dozen names or more for each category, until I finally arrive at my final final decisions. Okay… so, here we go… Fingers crossed…. I hope I win a Stoobie!!! Oh, wait, I’m not getting one… here’s who is…

SERVER OF THE YEAR, COUNTER SERVICE:
TOMMY @ PENNYCUP COFFEE CO.

Ermergerrrrrd! I have been SO excited to announce this one, for like, EVER! It’s been killing me keeping it inside, and it feels so good to finally let it out and tell the world that TOMMY at PennyCup Coffee Co. in the RAD is my 2016 Stoobie Award winner for Best Counter Service in all of Asheville! Yay, Tommy!!!

To say that Tommy is lovable is like saying that Johnny Ramone was an asshole.

As in: No shit, Sherlock, everybody already knows that. Seriously, if you know Tommy, you love him. If you have the distinct pleasure of being one of Tommy’s regular customers, you feel loved by him! Tommy is fun. And funny. And smart. And thoughtful. And personable. And knowledgeable. And creative. And kind. He is full of the pow-pow-power of positivity! We all lerv Termmy! Right? I know I’m not alone in my praise of Tommy, so please if you know how awesome Tommy is, make-up an award of your own to bestow upon him. He rüles. Here’s a picture of Tommy “The Bomb” posing for The Asheville Coffee Expo’s coffee sack races.

photo from Instagram. please follow @pennycupco

I kicked Tommy’s ass in the sack race we had, and I constantly tease him about his amorphous latte art. “It’s a… six-legged moose eating an octopus?” Ha ha! He never fails to make me laugh or smile, and yes, even though his milk foam art skills might be the absolute WORST in all of Asheville, Tommy makes a killer espresso beverage, and his barista skills are tops, in my opinion. Indeed, Tommy is one of the reasons that PennyCup itself won a Stoobie Award in Part 3 for the Best Coffee in Asheville. Tommy might be fun, but he’s all biz when it comes to pulling a perfect shot of espresso, and steaming that milk jehhhst right. He’s aces in my book, and provides The Best Counter Service in Asheville. Thanks, Tommy! See you soon!

Okay, I meet so many people in the food biz, that I had to expand the Best Server category into three parts, and even made one of them a tie…

SERVER OF THE YEAR, TABLE SERVICE:
MOLLY & CARA

Are you kidding me? Take a look at the picture below, and then try and tell me that these two women are anything but totally frickin’ awesome. I will fight you — with my fists! — if you think any differently.

L-R: Cara & Molly. photo by stu helm

I first met Cara and Molly at The Barleycorn, when I was doing the B-Corn’s Instagram page for a bit back in the first part of 2016. When that awesome establishment closed its doors, I was sad, both for my own stomach — #gawdIlovedthatfood — and for the owners and staff. Then one day, while walking past Wicked Weed on Biltmore Ave I heard a pair of lovely voices call out, “Stu! Stu!” and there they were, Molly and Cara, together again! Yay! “Are you guys both working here?” I inquired, and they informed me that, no, but they were both working right up the street at Chestnut, for mean old Joe Scully! Poor things. They were having a drink together at Wicked Weed, and asked me to join them. Ahhh… alas… no drinking for me anymore, for I am a recovering alcoholic. 🙁 Sad. Trom. Bones. I had to decline the invite, but I was very happy to know that these two charming people had landed on their feet, at a really great restaurant! Molly had worked for Joe before.

Buhhhht, being charming, inviting me for drinks, and suffering under the tyranny of Joe Scully are not enough to qualify one for Server of The Year, so let me tell you a few the other reasons why I have decided to award this honor to these two women…

When I run an Instagram account for a restaurant — such as Barleycorn —  I have to take an ASSLOAD of pictures of food and staff and food and staff and beer and food and staff and you get were I’m going with this… It’s a medium sized pain in everyone’s butt, and I sometimes feel like people wish I would drop dead and go away. Cara and Molly were really nice and upbeat about it! They would bring me food and drinks to take pictures of, and they would pose for me, and they never once made me feel like a nuisance. I call that professionalism, and being a team player. I was just doing my job, Man. They treated me with respect, and they were helpful. I appreciated them for that.

I also got to see them in action, on the job, with the other customers, and they are both highly efficient, old-school, get-it-done servers, with polished skills, impeccably good manners, a high tolerance for ill behavior, and just the right amount of friendly to make every customer feel at home, without ever seeking to ingratiate or seeming to cloy-at the customers. They are both very genuine people with genuinely appealing personalities.

Anecdotally: I once saw Molly deal with an older man who snapped his fingers to get her attention. That is a super-duper faux pas BTW, and considered rude by contemporary standards. Molly transformed into a steely-eyed, battle worn veteran of the game, and handled this gentleman in a manner that only a true professional could pull off. She took the upper-hand with such aptitude and subtlety, that the gentleman never even realized that he’d been put in his place — which was the palm of Molly’s hand — and he seemed as happy as a clam and complacent as a kitten from that point on.

These two woman are not only my Server of the Year co-winners in the Table Service category, but I think they’d also be a really fun TV show. Don’t you?

Okay, so who’s next… Bar Service is, of course, a big part of the dining experience in Asheville, and it was Cliff at the Curate bar who wrote the book and won the first Server of the Year Stoobie back in 2014. This is the first year that I’ve split the category into three parts, and in some ways, Bar Service is the most demanding of the three, in terms of customer relations. At a counter, the customer is there, and then gone. During table service, it’s the server who is there and then gone… and then back again and then gone again, etc. At a bar, however, the customer and the server are face-to-face much of the time. Most of the time. Sometimes, for the… en… tire…. tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime. A good bar server knows how to make that time pass as painlessly as possibly. I tended bar for half-a-second myself in Boston, and, good lord, people… you’re fucking  drunk, and you’re boring as fuhhhhhhk, go home already… but that was just me. I had a terrible attitude. I was a shit bartender. You know who’s not a shit bartender, but is in fact, my 2016 Server of the Year winner in the category of Bar Service?

SERVER OF THE YEAR, BAR SERVICE:
BEN @ IMPERIAL LIFE

Can you say, “Super-Handsome Men of Imperial Life?” I try not to judge people on how insanely fucking good looking and attractive they are… but, c’mon. I’m judging in a positive way, right? And besides, being attractive absolutely does not figure into who I give a Stoobie Award to… much… at all… a little bit…. nawwww, never.

Aaanyhoo… BEN! Yes! He’s a great server. That’s him on the left in the picture below.

L-R: Ben, Chef Jacob Sessoms, Jasper.

I do give extra points for being well-coifed and fashionable, because those are things that we can control, and if you work at a stylish joint like Imperial Life, you’d better be good at controlling those things. Ben does score high marks in the coifed-and-dressed department, but it is truly his personality, demeanor, composure, and mad skills with a shaker that solidified him as the 2016 Server of the Year, in the Bar Service category in my eyes, aaand Dawn agrees. Which is important, because she actually drinks and I don’t

Dawn gives Ben’s mixology chops a big thumbs-up. I’ve seen her ask him to “make me something tasty” many times, and he always consults with her for a minute or two, about everything from her mood, to the weather outside, to a certain rare bottle of booze that may not be available forever, and together they arrive at a drink that is about 90% Ben, and 10% Dawn, and Dawn ends up frickin’ loving it every time. That’s skill, that’s knowledge, that’s creativity, and most of all, that’s fucking awesome customer service. Yes, it is the job of any bartender to give the regulars their “usual,” but it’s more fun, more exciting, and more likely to please a regular like Dawn if you can work together to arrive at new cocktail experiences for the patron. Ben is really good at that.

Because I’m a super-terrifically awesome person, who hangs out in bars even though I’m a recovering alcoholic… Dawn…  She buys me food and “mocktails” to keep me happy. (It’s actually a pretty sweet little a scam I’ve got going, because I don’t give a shit about being in bars, I’ll sit there all day and eat the fuck outta some hot dogs, and never once be tempted to drink, but shhhhh… don’t tell Dawn.) I’ll have another mocktail, please!

Just to be a royal pain in the ass, I will sometimes give Ben an exaggerated version of Dawn’s routine when I order my mocktails: I describe my day, or bring up current cultural zeitgeists, I might even evoke childhood memories, or get poetic… “I wish I was a creamsicle today, Ben. Y’know, like from an ice cream truck.” Then Ben whips-up a fuckin’ non-alcoholic beverage that makes me feel just like I’m a gott-dang creamsicle from a mutherfuckin’ ice cream truck. He’s a genius. A wizard perhaps. And speaking of wizards…

Does is hurt that Ben likes Doom Metal and so do I? No, that did not hurt his chances of a Stoobie one bit. We became FaceBook friends in 2016, and whenever I post a doom metal song from Youtube, Ben will usually pop up with a “like.”

If you don’t like doom metal, that’s cool. But it would be a lot cooler if you did.

So we’ve established that Ben is cool, Cara and Molly are awesome, and Tommy is lovable. Yay, Servers! Let’s move on to the next category, which is a brand new one that I added this year, because I’ve gotten to know more of the folks who own or co-own restaurants, but are not chefs. These people are called Restaurateurs, and the very first Stoobie Award winner in this category is…

RESTAURATEUR OF THE YEAR:
CHARLIE HODGE, Sovereign Remedies / Ole Shakey’s

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Sovereign Remedies, and of owner, entrepreneur, and restaurateur, Charlie Hodge. I’ve had Charlie on my radio show a couple of times, and  — full disclosure — Sovereign Remedies is an underwriter of the show. The fact that Charlie supports the show, and therefore the food scene and indie media, should not exclude him from winning a Stoobie award, and in fact, it could be seen as one more reason to give him one! Underwriting a show on public radio that gives a platform to all of his contemporaries, comrades, and even the “competition,” helps to support the local food community at large and is a selfless act that is quite different than paid advertising. Anyhoo, I didn’t even consider any of that when I decided to award Charlie the first-ever Stoobie Award for 2016 Restaurateur of the Year! There were so many other reasons, it was a no-brainer to me. First of all, here’s a picture of him hand-crafting the prizes for a beef jerky making competition he hosted at Ole Shakey’s this Summer called The Great American Jerk Off. For that name alone… Seriously. 2016 Restaurateur of the Year.

photo from Facebook. please follow stu helm: food fan

Charlie is a great guy, a hard worker, a community-minded individual, and a creative entrepreneurial thinker, who has put his heart and soul into Sovereign Remedies, and I truly look forward to seeing what he does with Ole Shakey’s, which he purchased in 2015. Here are some bullet points as to why I have awarded him my first ever Restaurateur of the Year Stoobie.

  • 364 – That’s the number of days of the year that Sovereign Remedies is open. I am an hours queen, as I have stated many times. The more hours of operation, the more excited I get. Being open every day of the year, save one, is a sure way to win my heart.
  • 11/9/16 – The day after election day, Charlie opened Sovereign Remedies early and offered food, drinks, and sympathy to anyone and everyone who wanted to come by. There was even free cereal. I walked there in a daze first thing in the morning, drank a cup of coffee, hugged and cried with a few friends and strangers alike, and then because I’m an anti-social freak, I immediately went home. But the other people stayed, and actually enjoyed themselves, and probably made subversive plans to resist fascism, so thank you for that space on that particular morning, Charlie.

It’s a restaurant, damn it.

I happen to know that Charlie has worked very hard to make Sovereign Remedies into a restaurant, as opposed to a bar, not only in the eyes of his patrons, but in the all-important eyes of the ALE as well. Here’s some of the ways he’s done that:

  • Although the kitchen is Lilliputian in dimensions, he has always maintained a very creative and tasty food menu, that has had some of my favorite bites of the year on it!
  • He has worked with top cooks and chefs, including James “Jimmy” Albee, Steven Goff, Matt Grush, Henry Gregory, and most recently Graham House and Melissa Hsu. As a frequent patron, it has been a pleasure and a treat to sample the amazing food of all of the folks who have cooked there.
  • Charlie has expanded the daily hours in order to sell more food, even going to far as to open for Sunday brunch hours before being able serve alcohol, in an effort to attract more eaters, who are not necessarily drinkers.
  • He has expanded indoor seating by adding tables and chairs upstairs in the “North Room,” which has a lovely view of the main bar from an open balcony of sorts.
  • He added outdoor seating where previously there was none, by working with the City to convert a portion of the street into a patio. It is even dappled by some City Trees.

In terms of community, you won’t find a guy more willing to help out than Charlie Hodge.

  • He’s at every food event, usually helping in some capacity.
  • He raises money for charities.
  • He is a member of the Awesome Foundation, which gives small grants to local do-gooders.
  • He threw a block party last year at which I paid good money to drop Jonathan Ammons in the dunk tank for some good cause or another.
  • He works with Patchwork Urban Farms, which is his partner Sunil Patel‘s multi-plot urban farm program that creates sharing networks around “abundant landscapes” in Asheville.
  • He supports other businesses and entrepreneurs, such as Collin Lee, for example, who won the Jerk Off and was given an exclusive contract to vend his “People’s Jerky” at Ole Shakey’s.

And speaking of Ole Shakey’s… how fucking cool is it that Charlie bought that place, and is preserving its integrity as an old school biker bar, while also changing it for the better in my opinion, by making it more accessible to everyone… except children. No kids allowed in Ole Shakey’s. Sorry, but I love that. It’s a bar, for fuck’s sake. Bring your kids over to the Bywater, right next door… then tether them to a tree, and go back to Ole Shakey’s for some grown-up good times.

Okay, so there you go, is that enough for you? It was more than enough for me to give Charlie Hodge  the 2016 Restaurateur of The Year Stoobie award. Next question… does being Restaurateur of the Year guarantee that your restaurant will be Restaurant of the Year? Eff no. Love me some Sov Rems, but this next accolade goes to a couple new-comers on the scene…

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR:
SALT & SMOKE

“…and a little further down the South Slope is one of the best restaurants in Asheville, which also happens to be a food truck… with no wheels… that’s bolted to the side of a brewery, which itself looks like something from the Road Warrior. The brewery is called Burial Beer, and the restaurant is called Salt & Smoke.”

That is an excerpt from a regular part of my South Slope spiel that I tell my patrons when I’m working for Asheville Food Tours. We don’t often venture all the way down the slope on the tour, but I make sure to tell my patrons what’s going on down there when we exit Bhramari Brewhouse which is on the corner of  Hillard and South Lexington. I point south and I tell them all about Buxton Hall, Catawba Brewing, Vortex Doughnuts, Twin Leaf Brewing, The Funkatorium, Green Man, Dirty Jacks, the food trucks, The French Broad Chocolate factory, and I end it all with my description of Burial Beer, and Salt & Smoke…

“That food truck, bolted to that brewery is currently serving some of the best food in Asheville, and that is no joke. In terms of the quality of the food, and the integrity of the ingredients, which are responsibly sourced from local farmers, growers, and foragers, I would put them in a category with Table, Sovereign Remedies, or Local Provisions.”

And then we walk straight to Local Provisions, so the patrons actually get a sample of the quality of food that I’m attributing to Salt & Smoke. Which is fucking excellent. If you’ve been to Local Provisions, but not Salt & Smoke, please go to Salt & Smoke, and let me know if I’m wrong in my assessment. The limited space and equipment at Salt & Smoke is reflected in a very limited menu, but it changes constantly, so with frequent visits one can sample many offerings.

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

So, why is Salt & Smoke my Restaurant of the Year, rather than a venue such as Local Provisions, or Table, or even Curate or Nightbell? Partly because of the fact that they even ARE a restaurant, officially classified and recognized as such by the ALE. I know that because I asked. I am somewhat fascinated by the ALE’s sub-catagories of venues, and how one place gets to be a “restaurant,” while another is an “event space,” or even a “private club.”

It’s fairly boring stuff to anyone who’s not in the food biz, but I like to know these things, so I asked the owners, “Are you a… food truck?” The answer was a surprising, “No, we’re a restaurant.” [paraphrasing]  Whoa. I was blown away, so I further inquired, “Are you part of the brewery?” and again, the response came quickly, “No. We’re our own thing.” [paraphrasing again] Wow. Anyone who pays attention to such things as ALE classifications should be just as impressed as me. Or not. I admit it’s really dull, but it did figure heavily in my decision to award Salt & Smoke with one of the highest honors in the Stoobie universe, 2016 Restaurant of the Year.

I mean, these guys started off the year as a young couple, food-busking at night, to the patrons of one of the most make-shift looking breweries, in one of the last sketchy neighborhoods of downtown Asheville, and by the end of the year, they were a full-blown, bona fide restaurant, in a permanent structure, creating and vending amazing food that reflects the greater Asheville / WNC / Appalachian area, and contributing in a big way to the de-sketchification of the South Slope.

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

It is truly impossible for me to select what I consider to be the BEST restaurant in Asheville, but in terms of Salt & Smoke’s 12 month arc… fuck yes, I can feel real good about selecting them as the Restaurant of the Year for 2016.

Add the fact that co-owners Shannon and Chef Josiah McGaughey are super nice people, and that their #1 helper is Kelly Vormelker who is one of my favorite people in the food scene, plus it’s located at Burial which is a very cool, somewhat edgy brewery also run by really nice people, and Salt & Smoke has got that human factor nailed down. Because I’m a misanthropic monster, I like to hide from every one, and Burial definitely offers that option as well, with plenty of dark shadows and remote tables… so the space also wins on that ever important inhuman factor as well. #ihateeveryone

This is actually the third accolade I’ve awarded Salt & Smoke in 2016. They were my “Eat of the Week” for the week of September 16 [“Salt & Smoke Saves the Day…”] and they tied with Sovereign Remedies for “Brunch of the Month” in August. [“A Month of Brundays, Part 8 – Things Are Heating Up…“] That’s a pretty fucking good track record for a place that is relatively obscure, and that  is one more reason I want to give this Restaurant of the Year Stoobie award to them. All of the other restaurants on my short list have a much higher profile than Salt & Smoke, and I wanted to draw some attention to this scrappy little venue, and reward them for their hard work and major accomplishments in 2016.

MEAL OF THE YEAR:
DAWN’S BIRTHDAY MEAL @ POSANA &
THE CHEF’S TASTING TABLE @ THE JUNCTION

Once you break the seal and start handing out tie-scores… Molly and Cara… then why not just hand ’em out left and right?  Wellll, that’s not exactly true, but when it came to these two meals, I had to do it. I fucking labored over this decision for a long long time, and even considered not having a Meal of the Year category this year at all. Because both of these meals were so fan-fucking-tastic, in such different ways, I maintain that no human being could possibly decide which was better than the other, thus another tie score was unavoidable. That’s why both Dawn’s Birthday Meal at Posana and the five-course Chef’s Tasting Table at The Junction are getting my 2016 Meal of the Year Stoobie Award!

Since I wrote about the Junction meal extensively not too long ago, I’m just going to provide you with a two photos, several excerpts, and a link to that write-up.

Here’s the link: What’s so special about Asheville? The Junction’s tasting table for one thing”

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

“The Junction is all about the personal experience for me, and it doesn’t really get any more personal than doing the “Chef’s Tasting Table,” a five-course, tailor-made, one-of-a-kind dining experience that is served directly to you, by Chef David himself, from the window of the kitchen.”

“First Course: A small wedge of Challerhocker cheese perched atop a very delicate salad, paired to contrast with… the crunchiness of the corn-nuts…”

“Next course: Praaawwwnnn! I love prawn. These prawn were expertly prepared and served head-on, with a beautiful, complex, savory sauce that was made with miso & carrot, and there was also a… deep fried chicken skin!”

“Next course: Oh… just the best soft shell crab I’ve eaten in my fucking life. That’s all. No big whoop.”

“Next Course: An iron skillet hangar steak, served “Pittsburg rare” (alternatively called “Pittsburgh black“) which means that it was cooked at a very high temperature, very quickly, so that it was charred on the outside but still rare / raw on the inside.”

“Final Course: …essentially a house-made doughnut, topped with icing, caramel, fresh apple slices, foie gras, and… Apple Jacks.”

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

Dawn’s Birthday Meal at Posana, was, like… fucking perfect from beginning to end. Posana might be the most perfect all-around experience in Asheville, from greeting, to seating, lighting, to decor, dish-ware, service, to the fucking food of course. Everything — every little thing — is totally perfect. I didn’t write about this meal at the time we ate it, but I posted some of the most beautiful pictures of the year on Instagram that I took during this beautiful meal. I’m just going to post all of those here with the original captions below, and that should give you more than enough indication as to how amazing this meal was. It was perfect in fact. Perfect in every way.

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

Heirloom tomato salad with compressed melon & feta cheese at Posana #tomato #salad #restaurant #asheville #food #yum #superyum #stuhelm

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

Bison tartar appetizer at Posana #yum #superyum #food #asheville #fresh #light #silky #delicious #awesome #stuhelm

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

Trout with greens & tomatoes at Posana #yum #superyum #awesome #delicious #fresh #local #trout #asheville #food #restaurant #stuhelm

photo from Instagram. please follow @stuhelmfoodfan

Pannacotta at Posana #wow #dessertofthemonth #yum #superyum #dessert #delicious #food #restaurant #asheville #pannacotta #stuhelm

So, yeah, those are my two 2016 Meal of the Year Stoobie Award winners. I highly recommend trying the Chef’s Table at The Junction, as well as Posana any time, but especially for a special occasion.

Okayyy... so here’s the biggie. The one I labor over the most… Chef of the Year…. who’s it gonna be??? Well, it says so right below…

CHEF OF THE YEAR:
CHEF KATIE BUTTON

I once described Chef Katie Button as an 800 pound gorilla. [Best of Asheville – The 2015 Stoobie Awards – Part Three ]

Y’see, that’s funny because she is a totally lovely, slightly built, graceful, humble, elegant young woman who is the furthest thing from an 800lb anything, let alone a gorilla. My point was that, in a culinary sense, she’s very hard to ignore, especially within the relatively small Asheville food scene.  She’s world class, and that’s no joke, and if you didn’t already know that, then you have been depriving yourself of some of the best food available in Asheville… I mean North Carolina, or the country, really… possibly the world. I dunno, I haven’t been all over the world, but I know people who have, and they say that Chef Katie Button is cooking some of the best food they’ve ever eaten, so there.

I’ve been a huge fan since the first day I went in to Curate back in 2012, and it was among the first three restaurants I reviewed when I started writing for Ashevegas back in 2013 [“Introducing Stu Helm, Asheville’s Facebook Food Critic…“]. In that first review I started out by writing that, “Curate is special,” and I gushed from there. More recently I wrote about Curate again [“Still Coo-Rah-Tay-zy After All these Years!“] and I started off that review with the line, “Cúrate is as awesome as ever.” Yeah, I’m a fan. The atmosphere at Curate might be my favorite in town, and is perfect for what the venue is: A bustling, up-scale, traditional Spanish Tapas bar with Katie’s own flare, and a very chic European feel to it. I am very excited about the expansion into the space next door! More space for patrons means more tapas for me, as the one drawback to Curate is that it is PACKED most nights. Bonus: They are open for lunch. A good move that has endeared them to me for sure.

My friend Chef Joe Scully once said on the Food Fan‘s radio show that Katie’s other restaurant, Nightbell is the “best restaurant in Asheville,” and I wouldn’t disagree with him one bit. Katie and her insanely well-trained and knowledgeable staff at both venues make some of the best food, and provide some of the best service that I’ve ever experienced in my life. Both have remained consistent from day one, while constantly improving. But, believe it or not, just being one of the best Chefs in the country, with two of the best restaurants in town ain’t enough to get you a “Chef of the Year” Stoobie award! For that you gotta have accomplishments that took place throughout the year.

L-R: Chef Joe Scully, Anita Elliott, Chef Katie Button, Stu helm

Did Katie Button accomplish things in 2016?

Let’s just say that Chef Button has more check-marks on her “Things To Do” list than Donald Trump has ties to Russia.

I wanted a comprehensive list of Chef Katie’s accomplishments in 2016, so I wrote to Liz Button (Katie’s mom and part owner in the two restaurants, along with Katie’s dad Ted, and her husband Felix) because I figured, who better to brag on Katie than her mom? Here’s the list that Liz came up with…

So, yeah, she might have did a thing or two in 2016.

I nominated Chef Katie for a 2014 Chef of the Year Stoobie award, and did it again in 2015, but in both cases, I was kind of like, “Well, she’s got so much lined-up for next year, I’ll just wait and give it to her then.” I was thinking the same thing about 2016 / 2017, when I suddenly realized: Hey, dumb-ass, this person is gonna ALWAYS have big things on the horizon, so you could be waiting until “next year” forever. So, that’s why I’m saying right here, right now, fuck yes, it’s happening: Chef Katie Button is my 2016 Chef of the Year.

An aside about sexism… One or two people I’ve encountered along the way have tried to sell me a line of bullshit about how Katie Button gets all the attention because she’s a woman. They imply, or even say out-right, that it’s unfair. To that I reply, no effing way, Dude-Bro. And yes, it’s always a man, never a female chef, whining about how Katie Button is pretty, and sweet, and adorable, so the press loves her, and it’s not fair, blah blah blah and… y’know what? Seriously, fuck off with that shit. If you think for one minute that it’s easier to be a woman in the culinary world — or the world in general — you’ve got your head up your ass. It is actually — wait for it — more difficult for women to get recognition in the culinary world, and in almost every single other profession out there. Believe it. Know it. Accept it. Katie works constantly, and does everything exactly right, and that is why she gets so much attention. Any accolades she receives are hard fought for, and more than well deserved.

Anyhoo, next year, with the expansion of Curate and lord knows what else under her belt, Chef Katie will probably be considered for Chef of the Year once again, but I decided I’m not letting another year go by without giving her my most important Stoobie Award: Chef of the Year, 2016.

Okay, and that’s the end of the 2016 Stoobie Awards! It’s over! Finally.

Holy fuck, it took me forever this time.

Let’s review:

SERVER OF THE YEAR
Counter Service: Tommy
PennyCup Coffee Co.
362 Depot St, Asheville, NC
Phone:
(828) 232-7216

Table Service: Molly & Cara
Chestnut
48 Biltmore Avenue Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 575-2667

Bar Service: Ben
Imperial Life
48 College St, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 254-8980

RESTAURATEUR OF THE YEAR
Charlie Hodge
Sovereign Remedies
29 N. Market St. #105, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 919-9518
Ole Shakey’s
790 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 545-6985

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
Salt & Smoke
40 Collier St., Asheville, NC
Phone: (816) 739-2582

MEAL OF THE YEAR
Dawn’s Birthday Dinner at Posana
1 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 505-3969
Chef’s tasting Table at The Junction
348 Depot St #190, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 225-3497

CHEF OF THE YEAR
Chef Katie Button
Cúrate
11 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 239-2946
Nightbell
32 S. Lexington Ave.
Phone: (828) 575-0375

BEST COFFEE
PennyCup Coffee Co.
362 Depot St, Asheville, NC
39 S Market St, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 232-7216

BEST CAFE
Trade and Lore Coffee
37 Wall St, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 424-7291

BEST BAKERY
OWL Bakery
295 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 785-1770

BEST PASTRIES
Karen Donatelli Bakery Cafe
57 Haywood St, Asheville
Phone: (828) 225-5751

BEST DESSERTS
The Admiral
400 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 252-2541

BEST BREAKFAST
67 Biltmore Downtown Eatery + Catering
67 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 252 1500

BEST BRUNCH
Posana
1 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 505-3969

BEST LUNCH
Chai Pani
22 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 254-4003

BEST DINNER
Rhubarb
7 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 785-1503

BEST BURGER
Buxton Hall Barbecue
32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 232-7216

BEST HOT DOG
Buxton Hall Barbecue
32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 232-7216

BEST PIZZA
Tin Can Pizzeria
Tuesday, Thursday,& every other Sunday @ Wedge Brewery. Wednesday @ Highland Brewery. Friday @ Pisgah Brewery

BEST SHRIMP ‘N’ GRITS
Sunny Point Cafe
626 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Phone: (828) 252-0055

SANDWICH OF THE YEAR
Reuben at Chestnut
48 Biltmore Avenue Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 575-2667

—END—

From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O'SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM
From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

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.

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External links:

PODCAST: avlfoodfans.com

ON THE RADIO: wpvmfm.org

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BLOG: stuhelmfoodfan.wordpress.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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