WILD ASHEVILLE FORAGED BEER DINNER WITH BELLY UP TRUCK.
I like being invited to stuff! I can’t always make it to everything I get invited to, but I go as often as I can. It helps if I can walk to the stuff I get invited to, because I don’t drive. It’s even better if I have a purpose once I get there, like taking pictures to post on social media, because I enjoy being useful. Oh, and of course, there better be BEER! Er… I mean, food. I don’t drink beer… anymore, but that’s another story for another time, because this is the Eat of the Week, my friends, and this story is about a piece of beautiful pork belly that I had at a five course beer-and-food dinner… at which I drank no beer.
Yep. Even though I don’t drink, and everybody pretty much knows that I don’t drink, I still get invited to beer pairings, and wine pairings, and cocktail pairings, and sometimes even hard-cider and whiskey pairings. Hey, as long as those things are being paired with food, and not cigarettes, bumps of cocaine in the ladies room, and a head full of regrets the next morning, I’m totally there! Keep those invitations coming! I’ll eat the shit outta the food, and talk to the folks around me about how it paired with the booze-a-roony. It’s fun for me, and for your other guests too! They love telling me what they think, and for some reason, they always seem highly amused by the fact that I’m not drinking.
So, I didn’t say no when Hannah Starr from Belly Up Food Truck dropped me a note through Facebook inviting me to attend a 5-course beer-pairing that they did with Catawba Brewing and Tasting Room on Banks Ave! I had already fallen in love with Hannah and her husband Rob Starr‘s cooking at the Let’s Taco Bout It event last month, and I knew that my friend Billy The Owner of Catawba wouldn’t be upset that I wasn’t drinking, so I readily accepted Hannah’s invite, and, gosh, am I ever glad I did. For one thing, Eat of the Week: This fucking pork belly…
Pork Belly Perfection.
This pork belly is my Eat of the Week, because it is literally the best fucking thing I ate all week, and this week was a typical week for me, in that it was a week chock-full of eating amazing fucking shit every fucking day. That’s pretty much what Asheville has to offer these days, folks: Amazing food every day. Check it out. This is what-all was up with this little ol’ plate of pork belly: First of all, it was cooked perfectly. Purr. Feck. Leeee! I’m telling you WHAT, Yo. It is not the easiest thing in the world to cook perfect pork belly, and I have known some really good chefs to get it all wrong when the chips are down, but Rob at Belly Up Food Truck knows what the fuck is UP when it comes to cooking pork belly, and he fucking nailed it this time.
What makes perfect pork belly? Ask any pork belly fan, and if they know their ass from their elbow, they’ll start with the same phrase:
“It Should Melt in Your Mouth.”
All of the copious amounts of pure pig fat that are attached to the layer of meat that make up a typical piece of pork belly should melt in your mouth, like fucking butter. Like warm, liquid, clarified, pork-flavored ghee. When it’s good, it’s fucking great! When it’s bad, it’s horrible. This piece of pork belly from Belly Up Food Truck was not horrible, and the fat did melt in my mouth, and everything about it was great, including the hot crispiness of the zatar rubbed top, the thick, flavorful layer of well done meat on the bottom, and every scrap and molecule of the other stuff on the plate.
In addition to Hannah, Rob, and Billy, this event was co-hosted by a really nice woman named Abby Artemisia of the Wander School. Abby is a botanist, herbalist, and professional forager, who foraged a lot of the stuff on our plates all night, from the burdock root, to the chickweed, to the sunchokes in the puree! I frickin’ love sunchokes and did not know that they could be foraged locally, so that was informative. Yeah, Man! Gonna forage me some sunchokes now! If you don’t know what a sunchoke is, they are sometimes called a Jerusalem Artichoke, and they are a root vegetable, that has an appearance that’s kinda like a potato and a ginger root had a baby. They are sweet and earthy in flavor, so sweet, in fact that they can cloy if not toned down or used sparingly. When done right, I really love sunchokes, and this puree was heavenly to me, and certainly did not cloy.
The dandelion chimichuri was a great touch, and so was the slightly bitter, grilled radicchio leaf, and partly charred wild onion. Wild onions are Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Hey, here’s an onion.” ._. They grow in every single part of my yard all Summer long, and I actually do pick and eat them from time to time. I’m not sure if the Romanesco was foraged or farmed, but it was great. Gotta love Romanesco: Fractal food. All five courses of this meal were fantastic, not one bad bite, and the fact that it was mostly foraged made it even more interesting!
Did You Know: Foraged plants have a higher health value than even organically farmed plants, because the natural stresses of being in nature strengthen, improve, and increase the vitamin content.
Word. I learned that from Abby. She knows stuff. The rest of the menu looked Like this:
prosciutto cracker, maitake goat butter, nettle kimchi, sherry reduction.
chickweed and sorrel salad, pickled burdock root, evergreen vinaigrette, miso cured soft boiled egg.
wild zatar rubbed pork belly, smoked sunchoke purée, charred wild onion, radicchio, romanesco, dandelion chimichurri.
rabbit cacciatore, heirloom carrot, Autumn olives, shiitake, garlic mustard, sumac pappardelle.
black walnut shortbread, preserved trifoliate orange curd, candied rind, mountain ash chocolate twig.
Each course was paired with a beer from Catawba, and as is my habit, I asked the folks around me — all strangers to me until that night, but friends by the end of it — what they thought of the beer and the food together, ie: the thoughtfulness of the pairings. To a person they said that each beer was paired very well with each dish, even the dessert, and every single person I spoke to was very happy with the beer and the food, together and separately. I heard zero complaints or grumblings, and did not see one bite on anyone’s plate that remained uneaten.
So, thanks to everyone involved with this dinner! It was a wonderful evening, maybe one of the best of these types of pairings I’ve ever been to, it was a unique and delicious experience, and yeah, man, that fucking pork belly was sooooo perrrrferrrrct that I just had to make it it my dang Eat of the Week!
The Wander School / Abby Artemisia
“To (re)connect people with nature, and empower people with their own health care.”
Catawba Brewing and Tasting Room
“the Craft Beer of the Carolina’s”
32 Banks Ave #105
Phone: (828) 552-3934
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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