2017 BEST OF ASHEVILLE PART II
THE SPECIFICS

Are you as ex-fucking-cited about part two of these dang Stoobie awards as I am?!? Yeeeeeah, Baby! Last week I posted part one HERE on Ashvegas, and when I shared it on Facebook, and it got a ton of reach — organic reach — so the excitement is at a fever pitch, I tells ya! FEVER PITCH!!! Well… I got a nice thank you note from Tastee Diner anyways. 🙂 So part one was a kind of sun-up to late-night theme. In part two I’m gonna get real specific… as the title “The Specifics” would hint at…  with individual food items. Cake. Pizza. Burger. Etc. There are more categories in this installment, so the descriptions and such are gonna be a little bit shorter.

LET’S DO PART TWO!

If you wanna read the rules and regs of the Stoobie Awards, click HERE. Otherwise scroll down, readers and eaters, to see who’s got the best of what in this town, starting with the…

The firrrrrst Category…

This one is simple: Who’s basic cup of coffee, straight out of the urn, is the best in town. Not a pour-over, not a fancy espresso drink, just a good ol’ fashioned mug of the house cup of coffee. Y’know, the fuel that gives us a reason to get out of bed, and keeps us going in this exhausting fucking life. Here are the nominees…

City Bakery – City Bakery is a constant in our lives. Always there for us. Never flaking out. Never doing a half-assed job. Never making a sandwich that doesn’t look exactly like a fucking sandwich, and never ever ever serving us a tepid, weak, shitastically bad cup of coffee. Their house cup is the picture of consistency.
Past Stoobies: Best Coffee 2013, Best People Watching (runner-up) 2013, Hot Coffee of the Year nominee 2014, Sandwich of the Year nominee 2014, Server of the Year nominee 2014, Restaurant of the Year nominee 2014, Best House Cup nominee 2015, Best Sandwiches nominee 2015

Trade and Lore Coffee – The house cup at Trade and Lore is one of the many reasons why that establishment won the 2016 & 2017 Best Cafe Stoobie award. Sure, it’s good, great in fact, but the reason it makes this list is because it is perhaps the last of a dying breed in downtown Asheville: The self-serve house cup. You walk up, place two dollars in a box, and serve yourself a cup of Joe, for here or to go. That way the baristas are freed-up to make the fancier drinks, and the patrons have some fucking control over our lives. For once.
Past Stoobies – Best Cafe 2016

Izzy’s Coffee Den – I walk in, I look up, I ask for the darkest roast available, the friendly(ish) person behind the counter pours it for me, I pay them cash monies, sit down in the gloom, and do the crossword puzzle all by myself. It’s the greatest fucking thing ever.

Aaaaand the winner is…

CITY BAKERY!

CITY BAKERY, you still excite me. After all these years of drinking your coffee — twelve years to be exact, ever since I first moved here in 2005 — I still think of you when I want thee best fucking cup of coffee in downtown Asheville. You are my number one JAM when it comes to a cup of regular old Joe, and that is because your coffee is always piping hot, it is always plenty strong, it never takes but a few mins to get it after ordering, your staff is pro as fuck, and — importantly — you use Dynamite Roasting coffee, which is simply some of the best coffee available in the country, let alone the area. Just like Dynamite’s deliver person, Gretchen told me way back in 2013 when you won this award for the first time, you must still follow their brewing instructions to a tee, because your coffee is perfect every single time. So, for both its consistency and excellence, I’m proud to give you the 2017 Stoobie award for Asheville’s Best House Cup!

They will have to pry this cup of coffee from my cold dead hands. – photo by Stu Helm

Next category…

Okay, house cup is one thing, but a really great espresso drink is a whole different category… literally… this is a different category. When I say “espresso drinks,” I mean lattes, cappuccinos, cortados, even affogatos and more. Any drink made with espresso qualifies. I judge them all just like Ms. Sarajane Case taught me to: On flavor, texture, and presentation. The nominees are…

Rankin High Five – Now with three locations, there is bound to be a High Five Coffee near you. The closest one to me is Rankin Ave, and I go there with some regularity. They have a very handy chart of what the espresso-to-dairy ratio of each drink is, and the baristas there are all excellent, to say the least. The staff includes competition winners, creative thinkers, cafe veterans, and some of Asheville’s most notable upcoming, talented baristas. The top down attitude is nothing but awesome. It’s been a fave of mine for a long time.
Past Stoobies – Best Coffee: Espresso / Specialty drinks nominee 2015

PennyCup Coffee – Also with three locations, my neighborhood jam is PennyCup RAD, and — full disclosure: I got paid to do their Instagram page in 2017. They are the only cafe that I worked directly for as a freelancer, and I worked for them because I happen to think they are among the very best in many categories, including their espresso drinks, which I get very often, and are always smooth, never bitter, never sour, and never flat. While it might seem like a conflict of interest, I don’t think that working with me should preclude anyone from being eligible for a Stoobie. That doesn’t seem fair to me. I did resign my job last week though, just because I’m busy, if that means anything to ya.
Past Stoobies – Best Local Roaster 2015, Best House Cup nominee 2015, Counter Server of The Year 2016, Best Coffee 2016,

Trade and Lore Coffee – Does winning the Best Cafe automatically make you the winner of Best Espresso? Well, it puts you in the running for sure! One of the reasons I have awarded the Best cafe to these folks for two years in a row is partly based on their espresso drinks. Duh. But so many other factors went into being Best Cafe, that the espresso need not necessarily be the absolute best in town in order to win that category. However, it seems kinda likely, so let’s find out!
Past & Current Stoobies – Best Cafe 2016, Best Cafe 2017

Aaaaand the winner is…

TRADE AND LORE COFFEE!

TRADE AND LORE COFFEE, you totally cheated… by being AWESOME! I guess that’s not cheating, but it’s tough to beat you when you’ve got alllll the elements that won you the 2016 and 2107 Best Cafe Stoobie award, including of course your espresso drinks, which are always great! I’m in there so often that you started calling my end-of-the-day cortado a “Stu-tado!” plus,  there’s always a really gorgeous work of milk-foam art on my lattes. Yesterday it was a swan. It was really CUTE!!! Also, the milk you use is from Farm to Home Milk, and that’s always a bonus. Basically, Trade and Lore Coffee, you’re awesome at everything you do, so of course you have Asheville’s Best Espresso. Thanks for the Stu-tados, I’ll be back for more.

A reward for a hard day’s work… or shopping. – photo by Stu Helm

Next category…

I know that I just gave out a Stoobie award last week for “Best Bakery,” so, WTF is up with this “Best Pastries” category? Seems redundles. (No, that’s not a typo. I just used the word “redundles.” Sorry.) But it’s not redundles, it’s a whole different thing, because for various reasons, these pastries go above and beyond the usual bakery fare.

Karen Donatelli – The undisputed Queen of the pastry scene ever since she opened her doors. The only year since I started doing the Stoobies that Karen Donatelli hasn’t won “Best Pastries,” was the one year I didn’t include that category, and that year she was a Chef of the Year nominee, so yeah… Karen and her pastry case are two of the treasures of downtown Asheville, of that there can be little doubt, but the times they are a’changin’ and we all know that past performance is no guarantee of future results… so… we shall see… we shall see…
Past Stoobies – Best Pastries 2013, Best People Watching 2013, Chef of the Year nominee 2014, Best Pastries 2015, Best Pastries 2016

Old Europe – Chef Melinda Vitro ain’t no slouch, Yo, and in fact she’s been one of my favorite pastry chefs since the very first week I moved to Asheville — twelve years ago — and I ate there for the millionth time just last week, so I’ve been a fan for a long long, longlong time. And I’m a newbie! Chef Vitro has been in business downtown for over 22 years. Holy fuck!
Past Stoobies – Best Pastries 2013, Best Pastries nominee 2015

50 / Fifty the Art of Dessert – Chef Mandy Butler, and husband Chris are two of the nicest people you will every meet, and Chef is one of the most creative, artistic, yet traditional and homey pastry chefs I’ve ever known. Macarons, truffles, cookies, entire cakes, you name it, I have eaten it from these good folks. If I was fat, I would blame them, but I’m not, so gim more! They do catering and wholesale only for now, and will make and deliver whatever amazing confection you need. It will look and taste beautiful, and I happen to know that they are two of the most reliable people you will ever meet.

Aaaaand the winner is…

KAREN DONATELLI!!!

KAREN DONATELLI, yeah, no, ain’t nobody gonna topple you from your thrown, Queen Karen. As long as there is a “Best Pastry” category, you’re gonna win it. It’s the easiest Stoobie for me to award, but also it kinda sucks for everyone else, because being nominated might be as close as anyone else is gonna get while Karen is baking in this town. Unless current weather extremes brought on by catastrophic global climate change actually result in Hell freezing over… and even that will totally suck for everyone else, because C-C-C-COLD!!! But yeah, all joking aside, Chef Karen Donatelli is without peer in his town when it comes to her pastry case, and on top of that she’s super-nice and very supportive of other chefs, so they can’t even hate her for winning this award hands-down year after year. There’s not much I can say about her pastries that you can’t see with your own eyes in the picture below, or in her actual shop’s glass case, except that they all taste as fucking gorgeous as they look, which is why she is the current, reigning, undisputed Champ, and the 2017 winner of Asheville’s Best Pastries for a fourth time! Sorry, everyone else.

One word: YOM! – photo by Stu Helm

New Category!

Wouldn’t it make sense that whoever won best Pastries is a shoe-in for best cake, Stu? Not necessarily, Imaginary Person! 2 of the three entrants on this list are not offering a wide variety of pastries, but they are offering excellent cake! Cake is here there and everywhere, not just in bakeries, but these three nominees are crushing it in my opinion…

Blackbird: Coconut Cake – Redemption. You may or may not recall that I once wrote a scathing review of a piece of this cake, in which I was mercilessly cruel in my choice of words. I stand by that review 100%, but that was then and this is now, and the famous coconut cake is back on track and it’s being as awesome as it originally was, and is supposed to be. If you abandoned this cake, like I did once, please consider inviting it back into your life… and by “life” I mean your ravenous cake hole face.

50/Fifty The Art of Dessert: Various Cakes – I ate an ASSSLOAD of their cakes in 2017, Yo. They were the food sponsors for my WPVM 103.7fm radio show, so just about every week, Chris Butler would deliver some sweets to the station on Wall street, and about every fourth or fifth week, it would be a whole dang cake. Jesus Eff Christmas. Champagne cake. Chocolate cake. Chocolate peanut butter cake. A cake that had my fucking logo on it! They fed me a lot of cake and in-turn, I fed cake to lot of other people. Their cakes are legend.

Kali Cakes at Bhramari Brewhouse: Chocolate Stout Cake – So, a guy walks into a bar and orders milk and cake. True story. Read it HERE. Short version: I heard that Bhramari had awesome cakes. Turns out they do. Really awesome cakes, made by a catering company called Kali Cakes. The chocolate stout cake was made with Bhramari beer, just for Bhramari Brewhouse.

Aaaaand the winner is…

TIE SCORE!!!
50/FIFTY THE ART OF DESSERT
&
KALI CAKES AT BHRAMARI BREWHOUSE!

50/ FIFTY THE ART OF DESSERT and KALI CAKES AT BHRAMRI BREWHOUSE, you’re both so amazing I literally couldn’t decide and since I’m in charge, I didn’t have to! There have been very few tie scores in the recent years of the Stoobie Awards, it’s not something I do lightly. It is a decision that is usually born of struggle… in this case my struggle to pick which cake is more fucking amazing! Gah! 50/Fifty is so frickin’ consistently awesome, plus they made a cake with a cute reindeer face and frickin’ HORNS, and they made my family’s traditional Christmas trinket cake this year, and yeah, man, their cakes are the fucking bomb titty ass bomb and I’ve loved every bite of every cake they’ve ever put in front of me. The piece of Kali Cake that I had at Bhramari Brewhouse on the other hand was such a rare, exotic beast, and a contextual oddity, as well as just mind-blowingly good, that I literally made up this new category just to honor it. And then I was like, “Oh, but what about 50/Fifty?” And then I was like, “Fuck it. Tie score.” They both have Asheville’s Best Cake.

L: Squee! Cake by 50/ Fifty the Art of Dessert. R: Gah! Cake by Kali Cakes at Bhramari Brewhouse.

 

New Category!

As you may have read in my 9 part series, I ate about a thousand brunches in 2016, but 2017 was a whole different story. I got this weird thing called a “job,” and I started doing it every weekend. Well, I’m kind of lying, because my job is with Asheville Food Tours, so it’s insanely fun, so it’s not like a real job at all, but I **do** get paid, so it **is** like a real job… anyhoo, even though I lead a dang brunch tour every Saturday, I couldn’t sit down and eat a proper brunch hardly at all during 2017, so I’m just doing “Best Brunch Item” instead of “Best Brunch.” Anyhoodledeefuckindoodles… here are the three nominees for Asheville’s Best Brunch Item…

Posana Pork Belly Benedict – Of course I went to Posana for brunch in 2017! They were my Best Brunch pick last year out of, like, a shit load brunches that I ate. So one Sunday not too long ago,  I found myself downtown with time for brunch before my afternoon food tour, and I popped in to Posana. A 10 minute wait for the bar, and then before I knew it, a fucking beautiful pork belly Benedict came out of the kitchen and was placed in front of me. Holy fuck it was good. Poached egg, Hollandaise, super-crispy-melty-chewy pork belly, and of course every dish is gluten free at Posana, so it was all served on a piece of corn bread instead of an English muffin. Great call. Great brunch item. Winner? Well, I am craving it right now.
Past Stoobies – Best Bachelor Chow 2013, Peter Pollay Chef of the Year nominee 2014, Restaurant of the Year nominee 2014, Meal of the Year 2016, Best Brunch 2016

Korean House Bulgogi Bibimbap – Now, this might seem a little counter-intuitive, but this dish comes with an egg on top, and in my world, anything with an egg on top is perfect for brunch! As I wrote HERE, this is one of my favorite dishes in downtown Asheville. I can’t recommend it, and the entire menu at Korean House, highly enough to you. I even added them to my Saturday brunch tours, so that I could share this brunchy discovery with the tour-takers. Now I bring up to 17 food-fans in there every week, and they all kinda look at me like I’m crazy, until the bibimbap comes out, and then they all agree: Very brunchy. And very awesome!

Mojo Kitchen & Lounge Jerk Chicken ‘n’ Waffle Sandwich – In 2016 Mojo served me one of the all around best brunches I had during my many many brunchings, so — duh — now I bring my brunch tours into Mojo every week too. The setting is just my style: Dark and cave-like with twinkly lights. The people who work there are also my style: Down to Earth, fun, funny, hard working, and dedicated to high quality food. As a result of bringing my tours into mojo, I have eaten a small flock of the jerk chicken ‘n’ waffles, and holy shitsticks, Yo, it’s goooooood. Like, **rill** good.

Aaaaand the winner is…

MOJO JERK CHICKEN ‘n’ WAFFLE SANDWICH!

MOJO JERK CHICKEN ‘n’ WAFFLE SANDWICH, you are the perfect combination of traditional and creative cooking, in a style that fucking screams ASHEVILLE to me (in big red capital letters just like that) every single time I see and taste you! Two scratch-made Belgium waffles are the “bread” for this brunch-wich, with plenty of super-nice, battered & fried, all white meat, chicken tenders inside, along with fresh shredded apples, mozzarella cheese (of all things!), Jamaican jerk sauce, and Chef A.J. Gregson‘s house-made, “jerked,” maple syrup. Good gahd damn. 99.999% of the people I bring to Mojo for brunch agree that this sandwich fucking rüles.

I tell my tours each week…

“Chef A.J. makes food people like, and then he adds the mojo.”

Fried chicken tenders are so user-friendly, they end up on kids menus more often than as the main ingredient in an award winning dish, but I’m telling you what, when AJ and crew get a hold of a populist food item like a dang chicken tender, they twist it and tweak it, and use the best ingredients to take it from mundane to fantastic, and it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen or tasted. Mojo’s  jerk chicken and waffle sandwich is often singled out by the brunch tour patrons as the “favorite” or “best” of the tour. It’s food people like. Try this sandwich and tell me if I’m wrong in selecting it as Asheville’s Best Brunch Item! Hint: I’m not.

NOTE: Mojo’s jerk chicken & waffle sandwich is available all day, every day (except Monday) not just for brunch.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that, adds up to a whole LOT of awesome. – photo by Stu Helm

New Category!

Some of these categories are strictly about people asking me things. Things like, “Who’s got the best biscuits ‘n’ gravy in town?” To which I am likely to answer with one or more of the following nominees…

67 Biltmore – Yeah, duh, you don’t win a “Best Breakfast” Stoobie Award three years in a row with shit biscuits ‘n’ gravy. Like everything else they do for breakfast at 67, I am a big fan of their biscuit ‘n’ gravy. I like to fancy it up with an egg.
Past & Current Stoobies – Best Breakfast 2015, Best Breakfast 2016, Best Breakfast 2017, Best Pastries Nominee 2015

Early Girl – I once went into Early Girl and ordered their smokey bacon biscuits ‘n’ gravy. The food runner accidentally brought me the vegetarian biscuits ‘n’ gravy. When my server noticed the mistake, they brought me the bacon version, so I was able to compare the two side-by-side. The bacon one was great, but it’s the vegetarian biscuits ‘n’ gravy at Early Girl that I very frequently recommend to people as one of my all-time favorites in town.
Past Stoobies: Best Service 2013, Best Breakfast 2013

Blackbird – You’re going to see Blackbird pop up on my radar and in my writing more and more, and that is because they have been crushing it lately in my opinion. I’m always looking for the basics downtown. These folks do the basics, and they do it the Asheville way: House made food, locally and regionally sourced ingredients, creative cooking, warmth, love, and yumminess. The biscuits and gravy are all 100% scratch made, even the sausage in the gravy is cured in-house. They do theirs a little on the spicy side of things, so there’s a tiny amount of heat involved in the warmth. I’ve eaten these biscuits ‘n’ gravy numerous times, and they never let me down.

Aaaaand the winner is…

67 BILTMORE AVE DOWNTOWN EATERY AND CATERING!

67 BILTMORE AVE DOWNTOWN EATERY AND CATERING, again, you have a super-long name, hard to fit on the Stoobie award graphic, but your food, and in particular you biscuits n gravy are amazing and I crave them all the time! Scratch-made from the bottom up with wholesome ingredients, always served fresh and hot, with a li’l bit of fruit on the plate, and something green on top. As I mentioned above, I usually add an egg, which makes it super-breakfasty, and awesome, and I do sometimes get more fruit, because, well, Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy — while delicious, and comforting, and one of my favorite dishes on Earth right now — is not the healthiest meal. Adding fruit makes all things healthier. There’s not a ton that one can say about biscuits ‘n’ gravy in general, so I’ll just say that I’ve eaten them all over town, and when I’m asked by a friend or stranger to recommend the best, I will invariably say, “In my opinion, 67 Biltmore Ave has Asheville’s Best Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy, bar none.

Super yummy things in yo FAAACE! – photo Stu Helm

Next Category…

Shrimp ‘n’ grits is another one of those very specific food items that people ask me about quite often. As in, “Stu, who’s got the best shrimp ‘n’ grits?” I usually answer that question with another question, “In Downtown or West Asheville?” Depending on their answer to my question, I might recommend one of the following three nominees…

Sunny Point Cafe – This category was basically added to the Stoobies last year for the first time, just so that I could give it to Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville. There were no nominations, only a winner. Sunnypoint does their Shrimp ‘n’ grits with a creamy chipotle sauce, roasted tomatoes, and caramelized bacon. The shrimps are big. The bacon is the absolute bomb-diggity, and the sauce is something that I literally wake up in the morning thinking about sometimes. Last year it was no contest — literally, there were no other contestants — but what about this year? Can they beat out the best that the rest have to offer?
Past Stoobies – Best Breakfast 2013, Sandwich of the Year 2015, Best Shrimp ‘n’ Grits 2016

Blackbird – So, here’s Blackbird again, popping up in the Stoobies for a third time in one year! Much like their biscuits ‘n’ gravy, I’ve eaten Blackbird’s shrimp ‘n’ grits many many times on my brunch tour. I really dig them it’s true, but more convincingly perhaps, is this actual exchange between myself and my friend John: “Stu, who’s got the best shrimp ‘n’ grits?” “Downtown or West Asheville?” “Downtown.” “Black Bird.” Exactly one day later I ran into John, and he was very enthused about my recommendation! He gave me a hug and told the people I was with, “This guy knows where the best shrimp ‘n’ grits downtown are!” He had gone to Blackbird, tried their shrimp ‘n’ grits, and that day, I was his hero.

Table – Last year, Table actually gave Sunny Point a run for their money and nearly toppled them from their position as #1! Table is a high-end, high-class place in my opinion, with amazing food that has always been fucking great, and has never been better than it is right now. Dawn and I go for dinner on special occasions, and I go for lunch a little more often than that. Table is a great, and slightly under-utilized lunch venue in Asheville, so I made special point to grab lunch there somewhat recently, specifically to try their latest take on shrimp ‘n’ grits, and HOLY FUCK it was good. Seriously. Mind blown. The did it “barbecue” style with Brussels sprouts, and I wanted to die with every bite. Wow. Table is truly crushing it lately, and the barbecue shrimp ‘n’ grits are indicative of how great they are right now.

Aaaand the winner is…

SUNNY POINT CAFE!

SUNNY POINT CAFE, are you fucking kidding me with how good this shit is? It’s like, the best thing ever, and is practically the entire reason I got into writing about food. No kidding. True story. I wanted to let people know how fucking good this shrimp ‘n’ grits was, way back in 2013, and five years later, I just ate it this morning with my mom, and I want to let the world know again how amazing it is. The sauce is something I could eat a bucketful of. The grits are perfect, maybe the best in town all on their own, the shrimps are BIG and sweet and cooked just right. The whole thing comes out piping hot, and oh yeah, good gahd that bacon is unreal. Again, maybe the best baconny-thing in town. It’s one of the original food items that I fell in love with when I moved to Asheville, and it holds fast in its position as my absolute #1 pick for Asheville’s Best Shrimp ‘n’ Grits! If you haven’t tried them yet, do yourself a huge favor and get them inside of you as soon as humanly possible. TODAY if you can. Seriously. I can not recommend this dish highly enough. I would eat it non-stop forever and ever if I could. and I always have a giant sad whenever I finish a bowl. Thank you, Sunny Point Cafe, for being consistently awesome always, and for nailing my favorite dish every single time!

Good lord. – photo by Stu Helm

Next category…

I eat a lot of burgers. Like, a LOT of them. More than most people should, more than doctors recommend. Recently I stepped-it-up and started eating even more burgers. Y’see, in my limited capacity to make rational decisions, I decided to basically try them all. All the burgers. From The Med, to Nightbell, to Juicy Lucy, to Chestnut. I went a little cray-cray for a while there, and ate soooo many burgers that I lost count. I live to tell the tale, and now, just sayin’, I know stuff about where to get some great burgers in this fucking town. It was difficult to whittle it down to just three nominees, and I did a LOT of conciderating (yeah I just made that word up) before arriving at my final decision. Here are my choices, there should be no surprises here…

Twisted LaurelSurprise surprise! Ha ha! Gotcha! The truth is, I had never been overly impressed with the food at Twisted Laurel, but I was on a mission to eat burgers everywhere, so I went back, and wow, I am glad I did. I have since learned that they have a new executive chef, and that the general manager over their is dedicated to stepping up their game and making awesome food, up to and including a fucking great black Angus cheese burger.  It’s the perfect “dad” burger, with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, and American cheese.

Carmel’s – Another surprise. I just went to Carmel’s because they have a burger, not because I’m a big fan. I was a fan in the past, and then they lost me with a couple of clunkers in a row, but then I was just like, “Fuck it, I’m on a burger trek, so let’s see what they got.” Turns out they’ve got a really fucking great burger! Who knew? It had a great sear on it, and was umami as fuck. The cheese, lettuce, and tomato were all great too, and so were the fries. I enjoyed the burger at Carmel’s tremendously, I have to say, and it is often on my mind when it’s time for lunch now. It had been a long time since’t I’d gone to Carmel’s, but it won’t be a long time before I go back!

Bhramari Brewhouse – On my burger adventures, I had been told by several people that I needed to try the burger at Bhramari. Having recently had that insanely good cake, and knowing that the food there tends to rule the roost in general, I went in, sat at the bar, ordered, and tucked into their signature Bhramari Burger. Good gahd, People. Are you kidding me with how tasty this fucking burger was? It was an instant contender for this Stoobie, but was it tasty enough to win this important new category?

Aaaand the winner is…

BHRAMAMARI BREWHOUSE!!!

BHRAMARI BREWHOUSE, your cake and your burger are both soooo fucking good, and for a lot of the same reasons: Complexity, hugeness of size, satisfaction faction of 15+, basically tasty as fuck, made with care & expertise, and right there waiting for me at all times! I only need to walk to Bhramari, plunk down at the bar, say “Burgr,“and holy jebus hoppin’ criminy on a crutch. All the best things come out: A spent grain-fed beef patty, stout wort glaze, crispy onions, oaked mayo, hop smoked black truffle American cheese, candied bacon, & house-made pickles, all on a Stoobie-Award winning Geraldine’s bun. I mean… seriously.. dude… it has candied bacon. I died and went to heaven. This beast of a burger is very chefly in my opinion. The spent grain-fed beef ties in with the brewery, as does the stout wort glaze. The use of American cheese is a trend in high-end cooking right now — a trend that I embrace and endorse — but doing it all hop-smoked and truffly and stuff was a risk that Chef Josh Dillard was willing to take. High risk, high rate of return, score!!! It’s fucking awesome. Creamy and melty, and yes, truffly, which can go so wrong, but doesn’t in the deft hands of this chef and his crew. The crispies on top really put it over, and the combination of flavors & textures make every bite of this burger a hearty delight, and an adventure. Now days, when people ask me who’s got Asheville’s Best Burger, I do not hesitate for a second to say Bhramari. Did you see that part where I wrote “candied bacon…” twice?

Don’t worry, I haven’t fallen off the wagon, that’s Kombucha, not beer. – photo by Stu Helm

Next Category…

Now, I don’t usually compare “artisan” pies to “traditional” pies, but this year I’m combining them into one category, mostly because I have too many dang categories already, and I gotta have some limitations, or the Stoobies would take a MONTH. Oh wait… they DO take a month. Fahhhhhk… I wanna mention that last year’s winners, Tin Can Pizzeria aren’t on the short list this year only because they are a food truck, and I just didn’t get a chance to eat any of their pizza at all last year. (sad trombones) I hope that changes in 2018! Tin Can, come park in my yard. In the meantime, here are the three nominees for 2017…

Delvecchio’s – Delvecchio’s delivers. I love that about them. And when the pizza gets to my house, it’s always fresh, hot, delicious. Three things that pizza should always be. Until the next day that is, when it’s no longer fresh, or hot (unless you reheat it), but if it’s Delvecchio’s it does stay delicious, even that next day. When Dawn’s not in town, I often dial-up Delvecchio’s, smoke a bunch of  weed, turn on some MMA or YouTube videos, and eat that shit for two days straight. The sauce is great, and there’s plenty of it. The crust is so good, I always eat it all. The cheese is cheese. I like cheese. Delvecchio’s delivers the pizza, and the quality, every time.

Manicomio – New to Asheville, Manicomio opened their doors and started slinging slices right on Biltmore Ave downtown sometime in October of this year. Owners Mike and Jon are experienced veterans of the pizza trade with over over 3o years in the business all over the country. They took over the old Hannah Flannigan’s space and it took them more than a year to renovate! They made it awesome inside and out, and now they are serving hot fresh pies daily until 11pm.

All Souls –  The pizza at All Souls Pizza is awesome, and it’s the pie I probably eat more than any other throughout a typical year. The crust is insanely good, as one might expect from a place associated with Farm and Sparrow Bread, the sauce is simple and exquisite, and the sliced ovalines of fresh mozzarella are pretty much to die for. I remember a time in my life before I discovered fresh mozzarella. A dark time to be sure. When Dawn and I go to All Souls, we usually get the specials, sides, and entrees, but about every third visit, we get the pizza, and it’s always fucking great.
Past & Current Stoobies – Restaurant of the Year 2015, Best Pizza 2013, Best Dinner nominee 2015, Server of the Year nominee 2016, Sandwich of the Year nominee 2014, Best Dinner 2017

Aaaaand the winner is…

MANICOMIO, you might be new to town, but you are as familiar to me as an old shoe, because I grew up in the North East. eating the greatest pizza ever. Holy shit, the pizza I grew up with was insanely good, in all various styles, but I especially loved the New York City style pizza: Thin, flat, large, saucy, and covered entirely in browned and bubbling aged mozzarella cheese. Holy fucking shit. A really great slice of NYC pizza is something akin to fine dining to me. For real. Whenever I can, I add a hot, fresh slice from Manicomio to my fanciest food tours.

PRO TIP: There’s a basic rule at Asheville Food Tours: No pizza. The consensus is that, it ain’t worthy.

Manicomio pizza is fucking food tour worthy, Yo. 100%. I’ve been eating great pizza for so many years — as a kid, a teen, a young adult, for fucking decades — that I recently wondered if I was sick of it. I mean, I still ate it and enjoyed it, but it didn’t get me excited like it used to. You know the feeling. The feeling that makes you want to squee “PIZZA!” out loud in a high pitched voice because you’re super-excited about pizza. I had lost that feeling. After eating Manicomio pizza, I’m fucking excited about pizza again. The squee factor is back. Thank you Manicomio, for rekindling my passion for pizza, and for fixing up that shit-hole of a space, and for being super-nice guys, and for making Asheville’s Best Pizza.

Pizza by the slice in downtown Asheville. Yasss. – photo by Stu Helm

Next Category…

To me, this is one of the most important Stoobies of them all. Right up there with Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year in my mind. Right now, at this time in my life, I am super-fucking-duper into sandwiches. I was into them in the past, and then I wasn’t, and now I am again. There’s just so much great stuff going on in the sandwich world of Asheville, I want to give a nod to some runners-up in this category before moving on to the three nominees. Last year’s winner, the Reuben at Chestnut still fucking rules, and has not diminished in it’s greatness as far as I’m concerned. The Montreal style Reuben at Blackbird is also great, and almost made the short list for sure. The Iberian ham sandwich at Cúrate is also fantastic, and a one of a kind experience here in Asheville. The entire sandwich program at 67 Biltmore, City Bakery, and the Pull-up at the Peel are noteworthy, and finally, the Sugaree at Mojo Kitchen almost made the top three as well. It was harder than you know to get this list down to these three nominees…

Buxton Hall Fried Chicken Sandwich – If this contest was based on sheer volume, this sandwich would win hands down. Sometimes, I feel as though I am compelled by unnatural forces to order it. I’ll start walking towards downtown, with every intention of eating something else, somewhere else, when I’ll suddenly find myself seated at a table in Buxton. Weird. At that point I might even be, like, “I’ll just get something else instead of the fried chicken sandwich,” all inside my head, and then when the server comes, I say out loud, “I’ll have the chicken sandwich, please.” It’s fucked up, I admit it. But I can’t resist this beautiful, deep-fried, battered piece of really high-quality chicken, with pimento cheese, and American cheese, and sauce, and refrigerator pickles, all on a soft white bun. (Please never change that bun, Buxton. It’s part of the greatness for sure.) I think I ate my weight in them last year.
Past Stoobies: Best Sandwiches 2015, Sandwich of the Year nominee 2015, Best Lunch Nominee 2015, Best Deep Fried Thing nominee 2015, Restaurant of the Year nominee 2015, Best Burger 2016, Best Hot Dog 2016, Best Lunch Nominee 2017

Lexington Corner Market Grab and Go Sandwiches featuring bread from The Rhu – These sandwiches are fast becoming famous. They are only available at the Lexington Corner Market. They come in three flavors: Apple & Brie, Italian, and a third, wild card flavor that is sometimes Salad Nicoise, sometimes something else. Ya never know. They are really tasty, use nothing but excellent ingredients, and the laminated baguette from the Rhu really puts them over the top. I ferkin’ love ’em , and I even give little samps of them to my food tour takers sometimes, who all agree that they are fucking awesome. Well, they don’t say “fucking,” and… actually… they don’t usually say “awesome” either, but they do use other, more mainstream, superlatives. Like, “This is really great!” and such.

Melt Your Heart Food Truck Firebird Sandwich – Talk about a rare bird! Wakka wakka! I only ate this sandwich once in 2017, and I’ve only eaten it three times total, and yet it made my top 3 Sandwiches in Asheville this year! Why is that, Stu? Well… whoever asked… it’s because I craved this sandwich constantly. I thought about it often. I sought it out frequently, and was dev when I couldn’t find it. As I mentioned, it’s a rare bird for me. My only chance to get it is when Melt Your Heart is parked next to the Green Man brewery, AND I happen to be walking past it on my way home from Downtown, AND I’m not already stuffed from eating somewhere else or doing a food tour. There’s a lot of X-factors involved, and it doesn’t always work out for me. Very rarely in fact, but when it does work out, BOOM. I fucking love it.

Aaaaand the winner is…

MELT YOUR HEART FOOD TRUCK FIREBIRD SANDWICH!!!

MELT YOUR HEART FOOD TRUCK FIREBIRD SANDWICH, you prey upon my mind like a hawk. You elude me like a night owl. You peck away at my psyche like a raven at the eyeball of a corpse… ew! Why, Stu? Use another metaphor for fuck’s sake. Ha ha! Seriously though, despite the fact that I almost never have a chance to eat it, I crave this fucking sandwich almost every day. My lifestyle is such that I can’t always just go get what I want to eat, when I want to eat it, and food trucks are hard for me to keep up with for sure. I mean, c’mon, have a hard time with my own dang schedule, let alone the schedule of the five hundred different food trucks in town. Not even this sandwich can cure me of that, BUHT, it is very significant that I thought about this sandwich as often as I did. Which was constantly. I also recommended it to about a thousand people… and now I want one. It’s a grilled cheese sandwich that has smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, and chipotle mayonnaise. (Extra points for not calling it “aioli” on the menu.) They say, “add jalapeños if you dare,” and I wouldn’t pass those up for anything. What’s the fucking point of eating something called a “firebird” if it isn’t hot as fuck? Add the peppers, tuck in, love on it like I have had the rare pleasure of doing, and then love on me for bringing it to your attention. This sandwich is the thing of dreams, but not a figment of my feverish imagination! It’s real. I’ve seen it. I took a picture once. And ate the fuck out of it three times! Now I’m giving it one of my all-time highest honors: My 2017 Stoobie award for Asheville’s Sandwich of the Year!

Shhhh… it’s the very elusive Firebird Sandwich! – photo by Stu Helm

And that’s the end of part two of the Stoobie Awards!

I’m exhausted. And there’s still two more installments, and 15 categories to go! Ha ha! Why do I do it to myself? Because I love it. And I love the food in this town. If I came up with a hundred categories it still wouldn’t be enough to reward every great chef, cook, server, restaurateur, food maker, farmer… composter…. barista, roaster, potter… writer, promoter, organizer… the list of high quality people who make this amazing food scene happen is truly endless. 15 categories? Pfft! I’m up for it. Are you? Here’s what’s happened so far, and what’s still to come…

SO FAR!

Prt I – Sunrise / Sunset
(read here )
BEST BREAKFAST: 67 BILTMORE AVE DOWNTOWN EATERY AND CATERING • BEST CAFE: TRADE AND LORE COFFEE • BEST BAKERY: GERALDINE’S • BEST LUNCH: TASTEE DINER • BEST DINNER: ALL SOULS PIZZA • BEST DATE NIGHT: NIGHTBELL • BEST DRINKS: IMPERIAL LIFE • BEST LATE NIGHT BITE: SOVEREIGN REMEDIES

Prt II – The Specifics
BEST HOUSE CUP: CITY BAKERY • BEST ESPRESSO: TRADE AND LORE COFFEE • BEST PASTRIES: KAREN DONATELLI • BEST CAKE: KALI CAKES’ CHOCOLATE STOUT CAKE AT BHRAMARI BREWHOUSE & 50/FITY THE ART OF DESSERT VARIOUS CAKES • BEST BRUNCH ITEM: MOJO CHICKEN ‘N’ WAFFLES • BEST BISCUITS N GRAVY: 67 BILTMORE AVE DOWNTOWN EATERY AND CATERING • BEST SHRIMP N GRITS: SUNNY POINT CAFE • BEST BURGER: BHRAMARI BREWHOUSE • BEST PIZZA: MANICOMIO • SANDWICH OF THE YEAR: MELT YOUR HEART FOOD TRUCK FIREBIRD SANDWICH

STILL TO COME!

Prt III – People Power!
BEST COUNTER SERVICE • BEST TABLE SERVICE • BEST BAR SERVICE • MOST KICK-ASS KITCHEN CREW • FOOD PERSON OF THE YEAR • RESTAURATEUR OF THE YEAR • CHEF OF THE YEAR

Prt IV – Best of the Best
BEST FOOD EVENT • BEST FOOD COMPETITION • MOST MISSED RESTAURANT• BEST NEW RESTAURANT • MEAL OF THE YEAR • BEST RESTAURANT • FAVORITE RESTAURANT • RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR

~ STAY TUNED! ~

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

ARCHIVE: ashvegas.com

BLOG: stuhelmfoodfan.wordpress.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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