Sometimes, I get Invited to Dinner. I Rarely Say No.

Recently the nice folks from Buxton Hall Barbecue reached out to me, and invited me to attend one of their “Punk Wok” pop-up dinners. I had been to several of these in the past, and they rüle, so true to form, I did not say no. The reason for the invite was that the restaurant had decided to extend the January Punk Woks into February, and they wanted me to spread the word, and write about it.

“Hi Stu,

I wanted [to] share some exciting news that Punk Wok has been extended! The Buxton Hall team loved it too much to see it go, and is keeping the Asian vibes going throughout February. See below for the full list of dates:

· Monday, February 5
· Monday, February 12
· Monday, February 19
· Monday, February 26

We would love if you could share the extension with your readers – are there any opportunities to feature Punk Wok in an upcoming piece?”

Well, I had actually been to one of the January Punk Wok dinners, and loved it, but didn’t take any pictures, so I replied to this invitation in the affirmative, with both food and photos on my mind…

“Hi!

Thanks for the update! I made a post to Facebook about it just now, and if you create an event page for the extended dates, I’ll share that too, and add it to my calendar of events!

I would love to write a feature about Punk Wok Mondays!

I can come in on Monday, Feb. 5th, right around 5:30 [6:00] if that works for everyone.

My only requests are that I would be seated near some good lighting for pictures, and to be given the opportunity to taste all or most of the menu.”

I knew from my past experiences with dining in the special event area upstairs at Buxton, which is called the “Remingtin Room,” that… well… let’s just say…

Lighting is an Issue.

“Reporting to you from a radioactive tanning booth on the planet Mars…” – selfie by Stu Helm

So, yyyyeah… the lighting was no different this time than the other times… red… and from the moment I was seated, I knew that every picture I took that night would be a grainy, pixelated study in the redness of red, so, fuck it…

I’m writing the rest of this post in red.

I showed up to Buxton hungry and on time. Because I was there by their invitation, they had offered to comp me and a guest, but I told them I’d be dining alone, so that I could better concentrate on the food, and also get in-and-out of their hair quickly. When a restaurant invites me to dine as a guest of the house, I always want to try as much of the food as possible, so I can write about it, but I try not to be a burden in food & labor. So, at my request, they served me smaller-than-normal portions, starting with the pork & shrimp crispy dumplings and scallop & country-ham rangoons pictured below…

There would normally be more food on these plates, aaand it’s not actually red. – photo by Stu Helm

As I said, I was a little bit hungry, so I did not hesitate to tear into these two appetizers… slightly as if I hadn’t eaten in a week. I think the guy sitting next to me might have been a little bit, like, “settle the fuck down, Buddy” in his head, while I devoured these fuckin’ things in two seconds flat like a hungry ant-eater… Thhhooomp! Thhhooomp! Thhhooomp! I sucked them into my mouth-hole one at a time, after dipping them into the two sauces they came paired with of course.

SAUCE ME, I SAY.

The sauce for the rangoons was sweet & fruity, while the “burnt lemon tare” & chili oil sauce that came with the crispy dumplings was spicy, and savory, and had a nice tang to it. Both of these dishes were fucking great and I totally want to go back next week just so that I get them again — especially the rangoons — when I’m not so ravenously hungry. I ate them too fast in other words. Sorry, Guy sitting next to me.

Another dish that I want to go back for is the Fried Chicken Sando, which is like a Asianed-out version of Buxton’s famous fried chicken sandwich that I love and eat so many of! This version comes with kimchi, American cheese, smoky nori mayo, ice box pickles, and a hot, dry spice. Holy shit, that sounds incredible. Wait. “Sounds incredible?” But… didn’t you taste it? Hang on a minute… why isn’t there a picture of this one? What’s going on here,  Stu?

Well, there’s no picture of the Chicken Sando — and I don’t know how it actually tastes — because I didn’t order it. STUPID STUPID STU!!! I know. I know. But, here’s something weird about me, that maybe some of you can relate to: I sometimes feel ashamed of my diet. It’s true. And in the moment, because everyone at Buxton knows full-well that I eat an ASSLOAD of those chicken sandwiches, I felt a small amount of shame, and before I knew what was happening, I ordered tofu instead.

When Shame Turns to Regret

This tofu dish is hilariously ***not*** vegetarian. – photo by Stu Helm

To be fair to this tofu dish, it was great, and I ate the fuck out of it, and enjoyed every bite, so any regrets I felt later weren’t for choosing the tofu, but strictly for choosing the tofu instead of the fried chicken sando. I should have remembered one of my own Gourmand credos: “Why not both?” Well, lesson learned about giving in to shame, I have since tucked my regrets away, and I’m ready to accept this Mapo Tofu as the wonderful dish that it really is.

The menu description states “not vegetarian,” which I thought was funny, because Buxton is literally the one and only restaurant in town that I actively discourage vegetarians from going to. I always say, “Even the vegetables are cooked under the hog,” and in this case, yep, the tofu was cooked with something called “nduja” which is a spicy, spreadable, pork product, like a mushy salami. God bless your hearts, Buxton Hall. This dish contained chili bean paste, Szechuan peppercorns, shallot, vinegar, and that spicy nduja, so it was pretty dang hot ‘n’ spicy, just to warn the meek among you out there. This entire meal had a lot of spice to it, in fact, which I really liked, but again, if you are mild of palate, be forewarned.

Do I recommend the Mapo Tofu dish? YES! Do I think you should also order whatever the fuck else you want? 100% shame free? Fuck yes.

Shame is for Suckers.

Anyhoo, the next dish I ordered was the Fried Rice Party Bowl, because, well, I like fried rice! I really like it, in fact, and I was especially excited by this particular offering of fried rice because — for one thing: “party bowl!” — but also it contains something I had never eaten before, called “Lap Cheong,” which is a dried Chinese sausage, house made of course. I’m usually up for trying brand new foods — especially in the sausage genre — and I was really pleased with this lap cheong stuff, which was spicy and porky and had a nice, dry, crumbly, but substantial texture to it. The dish also has egg, kimchi, and assorted vegetables, and it totally met my fried rice needs and expectations.

Have I mentioned I showed up hungry?

Yeah, I ate this pile of fried rice like a human back-hoe. Beep beep beep, scoop, lift, dump, scoop, lift, dump. Poor Guy sitting next to me must have been, like, “Oh Jesus fuck, Asshole, next time eat a dog biscuit before dinner.” I mean, if I was Guy next to me, that’s what I would have been thinking! Ha ha! Whatever. I was on the job! Beep beep beep…

If this doesn’t exactly look like a “party bowl” to you, please keep in mind that it is a smaller than normal portion, and that the party was mostly in my mouth. – Stu Helm

Ooftah… after so much rice, sausage, eegs, veg, deep-fried things, and pork-tainted-tofu, even I was starting to get filled-up to a degree. I still wanted to try at least one of the three entrees, however, so I consulted with the host, and went for the DanDan Noodles, which I assume are named after two guys named Dan. Just kidding. I’m not that big of an idiot. Well, I am, but I looked it up on Wikipedia, and Dandan noodles are named after a pole that street vendors used in olde tyme China to sell noodles to passers-by.

“The pole was carried over the shoulder, with two baskets containing noodles and sauce attached at either end. As the noodles were affordable due to their low cost, the local people gradually came to call them dandan noodles, referencing the street vendors. Literally, the name translates as ‘noodles carried on a pole’, but may be better translated as ‘peddler’s noodles’.” [ link ]

Well, these noodles were not served to me via pole, but they were super enjoyable none-the-less! And again – containing beef, sesame paste, egg, chili oil, and Szechuan peppercorns, it was very savory, filling, delicious, and spicy!

A small portion of the Dandan Noodle entree. These noodles were hearty AF and had a high stick-to-you-ribs factor. – photo by Stu Helm

As I mentioned, this whole meal had a fairly high spice factor, and I even had that “moment of panic,” I look for when eating spicy food. By that I mean, I got one bite in particular that hit me in such a way that it sparked off a small amount of panic inside of me… “Uh oh… too spicy? Oh fuck… what if this shit is too spicy and I… I dunno… I burst into flames?” Then it subsided, and I was, all, like, “Oh, HELL yes! Moment of panic, I love you.” Nom nom nom!

The excellent staff kept my water glass full, and I was all alone, so I really was able to just enjoy the heat, without having to listen to any babies whining about it. I don’t experience a lot of truly hot food here in Asheville, where people think that “Cajun” food is spicy. Fuck man, Cajun food is spicy like I’m tall. #iamnottall So, I was of course, very psyched to eat so many spicy hot Asian dishes in one night. They also brought me a tiny sample of the Peking Chicken, and whoa. THAT was fucking awesome. Not at all spicy, but very moist, and smoky, and slightly sweet, and… yeah… I love chicken.

Okay, super full now. I tap out. No more.

Oh, wait, what’s this? An ice cream sandwich? I guess I have room for one little bite of you… after another… until you’re all gone.

It’s me and you against the world, Elvis. Let’s eat everything!!! – photo by Stu Helm

YOM! So, yeah, the staff brought me a dang ice cream sandwich at the end of the meal, which meant I was, y’know, obligated to eat it. Obligated, I tells ya! It came in a very cute little paper bag-type-thing (see photos), so I packed up all my stuff, laid some cash down on the table for the servers, and headed back home, fat and happy as they say, with a fantastically good ice cream sandwich in my hand for the walk. (Hey, I’m an active senior, I need my calories!)

The cookie part of this awesome ice cream sandwich was not insanely sweet, which I liked, and it had a very “toasty” flavor, which I loved. The sesame seeds on top brought it nicely into the context of the meal itself, which contained a lot of sesame paste and such, and the cold temperature and cream content did serve to settle down my palate after the spice attack it had just endured.

The perfect end to a great night!

I highly recommend any of Buxton’s pop-ups, especially these Punk Wok ones, which give us a chance to try some great Asian dishes, prepared by our favorite local chefs, with ingredients that might be Southern faves like country ham, featured right alongside things we may have never even heard of, like lap cheong and nduja. I really am planning to return next Monday for that Chicken Sando, and more rangoons, and whatever else is on the menu that appeals to me. In January they had ribs that were insanely good, and something I still dream about called “Cheeseburger Egg Rolls.” The menu does change, so who knows what I’ll end up getting next time, I just know that I’m ordering whatever I want, SHAME FREE! #noshame #ieatlikeachild #ilovefriedthings

Buxton always scores extra points with me for cuteness and clever branding. – photo by Stu Helm

One last thing before I go: Along with Elvis, Chef “El Kimchi” Jimmy Lee‘s image was all over the fun, punk rock band flyer-style menu, so we might be able to assume that he played a large part in creating the food featured on those very same menus, but since this dinner was not hyped to me or to the public specifically as Jimmy’s pop-up, I will also assume that the entire kitchen played a role in the plates and flavors that I enjoyed that night. Thanks everyone! Thanks, Buxton Hall! Thanks, Guy sitting next to me.

We now return you to the not-red world outside of the Buxton Hall’s Remingtin Room.

Buxton Hall Barbecue
“Whole-hog East Carolina BBQ, Southern sides & cocktails on tap meet in a soaring industrial space.”
Address: 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Hours:
Wednesday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–9:30PM
Thursday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–9:30PM
Friday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–10PM
Saturday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–10PM
Sunday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–9:30PM
Monday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–9:30PM
Tuesday 11:30AM–3PM, 5:30–9:30PM
Phone: (828) 232-7216

Punk Wok Schedule:
· Monday, February 5
· Monday, February 12
· Monday, February 19
· Monday, February 26

— 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:

avlfoodfans.com

ashvegas.com

stuhelmfoodfan.wordpress.com

facebook.com/stuhelmfoodfan

instagram.com/stuhelm33

twitter.com/stuhelmfoodfan

wpvmfm.org/show/asheville-food-fan

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4 Comments

  1. I’m a trained and internationally published food critic. Writers NEVER get paid enough for what we do. Love your style of writing, your insight, wish you were paid more, and glad you told this chronic know-nothing to get lost.

  2. rosewoodgypsy says:

    oh look…another commercial for Buxton. Don’t get me wrong, Buxton is awesome, but there are OTHER restaurants in Asheville I’m sure readers would love to hear about. Do they pay Stu for all this coverage?

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