ISA’S BISTRO, BHRAMARI BREWHO– USE, & RHUBARB – by Stu Helm

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Hello Asheville!

You know what’s a weird concept to me these days? Hangovers. I used to have them on a pretty regular basis, sometimes really bad ones that would leave me feeling miserable, groaning, vomiting, and wishing I was dead. I was a wreck. Now when I look back on those days, I’m like… what… the… FUCK?  I mean, if I was to wake-up tomorrow morning feeling like I did on those many “mornings after,” I would be ready to check into the emergency room for fuck’s sake. I felt AWFUL. I’m telling you what, when I look back at it, it’s really really weird. Why did I do it? How could I possibly think that was acceptable? Whatever. I hope to never experience a hang-over again.

Why did I even bring them up? Simple: I’ve been eating and writing about brunch for three months and brunch is often associated with being hungover. So much so that it is the only meal during which it is socially acceptable — and even customary — to have an alcoholic beverage to start the day. The reason for that being, of course, that a little “hair of the dog” (more booze) is one of the only reliable cures for a hangover known to humanity.

According to the Wiktionary, use of that phrase as a metaphor for a hangover treatment dates back to at least the 16th century and comes from an old folk remedy for rabies, in which some “hair of the dog that bit you” is placed into the bite wound. Ew. I can see why a mimosa might be preferable.

Brunch is so closely associated with the hangovers in the public’s mind that some less-boozy individuals have questioned the whole concept to me, with perhaps a slight hint of judgement and apprehension in their voices. “Isn’t brunch for hungover people?” Some booze hounds on the other hand have implied that one can’t truly enjoy brunch unless one is hungover…  aka feeling like absolute shit… and sipping a Bloody Mary. Yeah. No. I beg to differ.

I ate three brunches in February, and I somehow enjoyed every single one of them very much, despite my lack of a splitting headache, nausea, or dog hair in my bite wound, so I can assure you that brunch is safe for people who are not hungover. That’s a promise. I have even seen families and small children at brunch. True stories! So don’t be afraid, non-drinkers and light-drinkers, you don’t have to have a hangover to be part of the brunch club. In fact, I think the brunch experience is even better when you’re not so sick that you wanna die. If you can even imagine that.

HERE’S WHERE I BRUNCHED DURING THE MONTH OF FEBRUARY, 2016

1) ISA’S BISTRO – 1 Battery Park Ave, Asheville – Sunday Brunch 11am – 3pm

• BRUNCH MATE – None. Just li’l ol’ me.

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Damn good crab-cakes Benedict, with the best biscuits I’ve had in a long time — maybe ever — underneath.

• FOOD – I am a sucker for eggs Benedict. I see ’em on the menu, I want ’em in my mouth. They’s SOOO good! When done right. Did Isa’s do ’em right? HELL YES! I got their crab cakes eggs Benedict, and it was phenomenal. Let’s start at the bottom: It was all on a biscuit, not the traditional English muffin, and wow, that biscuit was good, Yo. On top of the biscuit halves, were two crab cakes, cooked and seasoned perfectly. Crispy on the outside, not gummy or mushy on the inside, and nice crab flavor that wasn’t too “fishy.” Two perfectly poached eggs were placed on top of the crab cakes, and a couple of blobs of very smooth, tasty Hollandaise sauce where on top of those. Add a sprinkling of really fresh, earthy, powerful micro-greens, and this dish was solid as a fucking rock. It came with a very tasty, if somewhat unremarkable fruit salad.

• PLUS COLUMN – The staff was very nice. The young woman at the hosts’ stand, my server, and the floor manager where well dressed, polite, professional, and very accommodating to me and the other patrons. When I sent a compliment back to the kitchen, telling them that the food was great, and that the biscuit was particularly impressive, the sous chef himself, Jamie Witzleben, even came out to tell me his “secret!” Now, Jamie knew who I was, so I’m gonna assume that he also knew his secret was not going to be a secret much longer. He told me that it’s fairly common for cooks to freeze their butter before food-processing it and mixing it with the dry ingredients. Jamie’s twist is that he doesn’t food process it, he grates it into the dry ingredients with a cheese grater! He says it makes all the diff in the world, and I believe him. That was best dang biscuit. Anyhoo, yeah, the staff and the food, as well as the luxurious space, were definitely highlights.

• MINUS COLUMN – None, really. If I had to nit-pick, I guess I could say that the fruit salad wasn’t up to par with the rest of the experience. A couple of the pieces of fruit were damaged or squiffy, but that didn’t stop me from eating every bite… no, wait… I think I left one grape in the bowl that was too soft. So, yeah, there’s the minus: ONE SOFT GRAPE.

CONCLUSIONS – I would absolutely return to Isa’s for brunch! In fact, I’m looking forward to going back when I’m done with all of the other places that I need to go to for this series. Or maybe sooner. Who says I can’t go back to a place I’ve already been to? No rules! Anyhoo, if you like big, bright spaces, with room to breath, and pro service with great food, I totally recommend Isa’s Bistro for brunch.

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An unremarkable, but perfectly tasty fruit salad. No sour fruit.

2) BHRAMARI BREWHO– USE – 101 S Lexington Ave, AshevilleSunday Brunch – 11am – 3pm

• BRUNCH MATE – Good Friend Leslie

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Being from the 1970’s myself, I was excited to see that Bhramari uses the Chemex system for coffee! The last time I saw one of these, it had a fondue set next to it.

• FOOD – I had grabbed a Bhramari brunch menu the week before I went in, and my heart was set on the steak and eggs, one of my all-time fave things on Earth, but when I got there, the menu had changed, and that dish was no longer available. Damn it! By the time the server arrived, I was annoyed, irritated, bordering on hangry. I was having a hard time rolling with the punches, and sat there in an indecisive grump while Leslie ordered, then reluctantly stammered, “I guess I’ll have the… I dunno… this sundae… thing… whatever, this Bhramari sundae thing.” ._. What the fuck does that even mean? Well… turns out… it means deliciousness in my FAAACE! Holy fuck. I stuffed myself full, cleaning out this giant bowl of awesome, until I was near fit to pop. Again, from the bottom up: Really super-awesome french fries, topped with pork debris, then covered in remoulade, and finally, topped with what’s called a “65 degree egg.” Sometimes also known as the “Perfect Egg.” Just in case you’re a dumb-ass like me: It’s 65 degrees Celsius, which is about 149 degrees Fahrenheit. I had to look that up.

• PLUS COLUMN – The food was great, Leslie seemed to enjoy her biscuitty-thing, and we ran into Chef Joe from Chestnut’s with his lovely wife Vanessa, and they both said they enjoyed their food very much. The decor is also a plus, it’s very cool inside! Lot’s of wood, and creativity, and lots of little rooms to hide in if you want to. They utilize the Chemex coffee system at Bhramari, and that was a delightful throwback to a bygone era! It’s basically the pour-over system of the 1960s and 70’s, and it makes great coffee. Way better than the French Press that a lot of restaurants employ. Yay! Chemex!

• MINUS COLUMN – I really wish we had hidden in one of those little rooms, because in the big tap room where we were sitting… the live music was CRUSHING US. Holy fuck-a-moly. Loud. Very very loud. It wasn’t bad music, it was probably pretty good music, but it was loud as fuck. It started about 20 mins into our brunch, so we were stuck there, screaming across the table to each other. Not good. One of the owners, Josh, did come by our table to tell us that he knew it was way too loud, and that it was their first time with live music, and that they would get it dialed-in, so I have hope in my heart that it will not be that fucking loud the next time I go, but I’m still gonna hide in a little room, just in case.

CONCLUSIONS – As with Isa’s Bistro, I am looking forward to returning to Bhramari for brunch, and would recommend it, especially for you beer drinkers out there, and of course, all of you hangover people.

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Okay, I admit that this looks a little bit like fake-vomit with an egg on top, but it was dee-fucking-licious.

3)RHUBARB – 7 S Pack Square, Asheville – Sunday Brunch – 10:30am-3pm

• BRUNCH MATE – Good Friend Leslie!

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Proper brunch hours being observed at Rhubarb.

• FOOD – The brunch menu at Rhubarb is simple, limited, clean, and concise. I ordered the sausage patty melt. It was, as advertised, a house-made English muffin, with a house made breakfast sausage patty on it, covered in delicious bechemel cheese-sauce, and a sunny-side-up egg. It also came with a side salad, that was fresh and delicious if not mind-blowing.

• PLUS COLUMN – The atmosphere at Rhubarb is really nice, and the decor is pleasant and artistic. Our server was great, and seemed very “real,” if not the slickest. He always had a smile for us, and was very attentive. The food was great too, especially for the price! It was one of the more affordable brunches I’ve had at the “fancy” places downtown. High quality, house-made, grub for a nice price. I like that. I also like that they observe proper brunch hours at Rhubarb. 10:30am – 3pm. Leslie and I had originally planned to go to LAB for brunch, but they didn’t open until noon. Noon? That’s lunch.

• MINUS COLUMN – There wasn’t much to complain about during this meal, but if I had to complain about one thing it would be that the food wasn’t, like, super-pretty. It was fairly basic in appearance, a regular “plain Jane” compared to some of the presentations I’ve seen at brunch, but hey, the flavor was great, and as I said, the price was right, so who needs super-pretty food?

CONCLUSIONS – I would totally go back to Rhubarb, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to grab brunch downtown, have a great farm-to-table meal, and not spend an arm and a leg.

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Bechemel might not be the prettiest of French things, but it’s my personal fave.

And that concludes brunch for this month.

I only ate three brunches this month, mostly because A) I was kinda broke by the end of the month, and B) I was called in to judge the Wing War at the last minute, which took place at 2pm on the last Sunday of February, so I couldn’t stuff myself with brunch before eating what ended-up being 20 chicken wings. You can read a bit about that and watch a video too by clicking here.

So, who won brunch for Feb? Well, once again it was a tough call this time, because I didn’t eat any bad brunches, and in fact they were all great, BUT, I’m gonna have to say that Bhramari Brewhouse wins brunch this month! Whoop whoop!

Despite my giant-sized grump about not getting my steak and eggs on, and despite the skull-crushingly loud music, I have to say that Bhramari really rocked my world with their sundae, and they won my heart when they busted out the Chemex system.

Thanks to all three venues for having me, and for crushing it on brunch. There is almost no way to go wrong when picking a place to eat brunch in this town. I haven’t found a bad one yet.

Maybe this series of pieces should become a search for bad brunch. Is there one? Whose got the worst one in town? If you’ve had a bad brunch, let me know on FaceBook, and I’ll seek it out. In the meantime, please go out and eat brunch! Hungover or not, it can really be one of the best meals of the week, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite.

— 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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3 Comments

  1. There should be a disclaimer here somewhere, because Stu is able to process food in a superhuman way.

    Following his regimen would kill a normal human in due course.

  2. “Chestnut’s”? You’re sure it’s not “The Chestnuts”?

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