facebook_food_critic_2013By Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

The other day I got so hungry, I ate an apple.

Just a plain ol’ ordinary apple. It didn’t come with a caramel sea salt redux, or balsamic vinaigrette aioli drizzle. It wasn’t deep fried in beer batter, and served with black-strap molasses. It didn’t have an organic baked granola crumble crust, or locally sourced pollen from endangered bees sprinkled on it. It was not delivered to me on a giant-sized square plate by friendly, professional, attractive young waitrons, and it did not come with a side of sweetbreads, prairie oysters, quail eggs, or live monkey brains. It wasn’t even wrapped in bacon.

It was weird. And good! I gotta do more of that. I even saw some oddly shaped greenish apples at the store called “pears.” I might try one.

But in the meantime…

ROAD TRIP!!!

Dawn and I went to Greenville a few weeks ago, because she’s been been invited to create work for an exhibition of photographs depicting the changes happening in West Greenville, which is being converted from (mostly empty) mills & warehouses, into artists spaces, galleries, parks, greenways, retail spaces, and restaurants. It’s pretty impressive what they’re doing down there, and if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, make a day to do so. It’s only about an hour away. I had coffee at a place called Spill the Beans while Dawn took pictures, then we ate at a fancy-pants restaurant called High Cotton. We also hit up a Starbucks.

SPILL THE BEANS – Downtown, Greenville

Dawn got me to leave Asheville by looking up a coffee shop online, and then dangling it in front of me like a caffeinated carrot on a stick. I’ll go just about anywhere – even South Carolina – if there’s a cup of coffee waiting on the other end of the journey for me.

The coffee at Spill the Beans was a little on the weak side, but that’s okay. The atmosphere was bustling and the people-watching was great. A constant stream of customers was in front of my eyeballs at all times. Even though I’m not exactly what you’d call a “people person,” I love people-watching. It’s kinda like, I don’t wanna hang out with lions and tigers and bears, but they’s fun to look at in the zoo. Coffee shops are like human zoos to me. Spill the Beans gives good zoo.

For one thing, you gotta love a college town! Big gaggles of healthy girls in athletic gear, beautiful people from distant lands, speaking foreign tongues, whole Southern families all dressed to the nines for Sunday services. What the coffee lacked in richness was more than made up for by the clientele.

I’d go back to Spill the Beans, but probably order an espresso drink next time, to ensure that the shit is strong enough for me.

STARBUCKS – West Town, Greenville

There’s a Starb’s right across the street from Spill the Beans, and you know I hit that shit up too. Their coffee is never weak.

I’m not a Starbs hater. Anywhere there’s a Starbs I know I can see The Man, and get my fix. When I’m rushing on my run, and I feel just like Jesus’ son… I’m quoting one of my favorite pop songs now. Heroin by the Velvet Underground.

Yes, I am comparing my love of coffee to a heroin addiction. Whatever. I tried to quit coffee once and couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t let me. It mocked me for even making my lame attempts. True story.

I quit smoking cigs, like no problem. I quit drinking booze one day and never touched it again. Coffee? That shit has gots me in its evil grip, and the worst part is that I do not give a flying fuck. Please. Give. Me. More.

Starbucks is my most reliable and steadfast dealer, and I love them for it. They never run out, they never over charge, they never step on my shit. Whenever I see the Starb’s sign anywhere in America, I can relax, because… when the smack begins to flow, I don’t care anymore, about all the Jim-Jim’s in this town, and all the politicians makin’ crazy sounds… Sorry, more VU. What a great song. (PS – Kids, don’t do drugs.)

Of course, the atmosphere at any Starbuck’s almost always sucks balls, and I usually can’t wait to vacate. They do that on purpose y’know, to keep the junkies flowing in and out as quickly as possible. It’s all about volume. Such was the case at the Starbucks in Downtown, Greenville, so we got our shit to go and fixed-up in the river-walk across the street.

Sorry. Too many heroin references. Ew! Heroin sucks. For real!!! BOOO! Gross.

HIGH COTTON – Downtown, Greenville

So, the real reason that Dawn and I went to Greenville, or anywhere else, was to eat!!! We’re a good team: Dawn plans a trip and does all the research. I shovel food in my face.

She found High Cotton online and made a reservation for 5 pm. We eat early. We hate people. Especially cool people. No one cool eats at 5 pm. Just old folks. So Dawn and I usually eat with a bunch of old folks, and since we like fine dining, it’s mostly a bunch of rich old folks. We sometimes feel like “The Beverly Hillbillies Go High Stylin’!” and this was definitely the case at High Cotton. It’s fucking fancy, and it ain’t cheap.

But shit, Fuckers, we know good food, we’ve eaten a shit-ton of it, and we’re snobby as fuck, so when Stu Helm and Dawn Roe show up at your fine dining establishment, you better be on your A-motherfuckin’-Game!

High Cotton gets high marks on venue and staff. It is a huge space, with seating on at least three levels as far as we could tell, and a spectacular view of the river-walk, and parks. Some of the best urban restaurant views I’ve seen in fact. Greenery, rushing water, a scary looking suspension bridge, and lots of people-watching all through the giant floor-to-ceiling windows. I’m telling you, Greenville has done some really nice work down there on the West Side, and High Cotton offers a very nice look at it.

We got there so early that we had to sit at the bar until the dining room was ready. We know. We suck. Dawn had a lavender blackberry cocktail that she really liked a lot, and we split a “picnic plate,” that had a hard boiled egg, some paté, pickled stuff, cheese, and various other bites. It was really good! The bartender was very natural and human. No phony baloney pretenses, just friendly, and professional. She seemed like one of us.

When our table was ready, our waiter was good too, but he took a little too long telling us the specials, and then describing several of his favorite items on the menu. He basically pointed to four or five things, and recited the menu descriptions almost word-for-word from memory while we read along. Very impressive. On the Ed Sullivan show. In 1952. But in today’s fast-paced world, it was a little boring. Oh, he was fine, and very pro, and we appreciated that he seemed to know and care about the food. We were just really hungry is all. Low blood shoogs is always an issue with us. Hell, we’s grumpy anyways! When we’re hungry, you might loose a fucking finger pointing it at the menu! “Chomp! Gnaw! Growl! Mmm… that’s good waiter-finger.”

Anyhoo… There was a lot of weird shit on the menu that sounded good, so we tried something that neither of us had ever eaten before: Ox Tail Soup. The idea of eating an ox tail was anathema to me until the very moment we decided to go for it. I mean, up until then, every ox tail that I’d ever seen in my life was attached to an ox’s ass and covered in ox shit, and ox-shit-flies, so… yeah… no. Thanks, but I’ll pass… or not! Yum! It was really good! It came with potato gnocchi, roasted vegetables, and a thick, rich sauce that tasted like it had some wine in it. We both really liked it, and ate every bit! I’ve been craving it ever since.

Our main courses weren’t all that, to be honest. Dawn got the “lasagna,” which came with an explanation that the word “lasagna” is in quotes on the menu, because there’s no pasta. When it arrived it was basically a layered stack of veggies and stuff with sauce. It was weird and sweet, too sweet in fact, and had absolutely no right to call itself lasagna, quotes or no quotes. It’s like me saying I’m an “NBA star,” but the quotes are there because I’m actually a tiny 47-year old white guy with a jump shot comparable to a tree falling over. It was a blatant abuse of quotation marks. Watch out, High Cotton, you could get a Peevey Award for that!

I ordered Shrimp ‘n’ Grits, my all-time favorite Southern Dish. It was Okay. I mean, it was good. Pretty good. The grits were good. The shrimp was slightly undercooked (I fuckin’ hate that) and the sauce was just mediocre. It had a lemony flavor to it that was bright and enjoyable at first, but started to bug me after while. Maybe a little lemon zest, rather than a lemon sauce would have been better. When it started to taste like Shrimp ‘n’ Furniture Polish, I stopped eating it. I reheated it the next day and it was better, because the shrimps were cooked more and the Lemon Pledge sauce had toned itself down over night. In the end I ate it all.

I’m telling you, me and Dawn are two fussy-ass motherfuckers. We eat out a lot, and we have super high standards, especially when the price tag is large. Plus, we’re totally spoiled by eating at places here in Ashetown like Curaté, Storm, Isa’s and King James Pub. We’re fuckin’ lucky to be surrounded by so many great chefs and venues, and we know it! The Shrimp ‘n’ Grits at Sunny Point have set the bar so high, I don’t think anyone can beat them. Ever. In fact, I challenge the world to make better Shrimp ‘n’ Grits than Sunny Point. Any takers? Anyone? Bueller?stu_helm_2013

Stu Helm is an artist and writer 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 restaurant reviews strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook in 2013.

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15 Comments

  1. Stu…your best line thus far…..”But shit, Fuckers, we know good food, we’ve eaten a shit-ton of it, and we’re snobby as fuck, so when Stu Helm and Dawn Roe show up at your fine dining establishment, you better be on your A-motherfuckin’-Game!”

    You had your A-Game rollin’ on this write-up (and I have read all your stuff) Fo Shizzle!

  2. Ox tail soup – in my experience – is so gooooood. They sell Frozen Ox Tail at Earthfare and Greenlife. Just cook it for a few hours and you’ve got some rich tasting broth and some really good meat on those vertebrae. Then you get the added bonus of being all hipster cool about eating something obscure.

  3. mountaingoat says:

    “…with a jump shot comparable to a tree falling over”
    thanks for that!

  4. I laughed out loud for several seconds in at least three places.
    Great review. You actually say what you think about the food. What a concept!
    thanks

  5. Definitely go to Soby’s! It’s great. Also my husband is a shrimp and grits lover. He said the ones at Buffalo Nickel were some of the best he’s ever had. It was a special so might make sure it’s offered before you go.

  6. Amy Brown says:

    Great read, Stu! And I hear ya with the oxtail soup. A visiting German friend made that for me years ago when I lived in Mexico. I tried it out of duty, even though the very thought of it was barfy. LOVED it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since. And that was, like, eight years ago! Thanks for exploring G-ville too! I ventured there with the fam last weekend and was seriously impressed! (Did you hear about the greenway from Traveler’s Rest into downtown?? Nothing makes food taste better than having to bike to it!)

  7. Try The Lazy Goat next time. It’s practically next door to High Cotton, and the food’s better. Soby’s has a good and ridiculously copious brunch. It’s not cheap, but it’ll give you enough calories to last a week. The Trappe Door has really nice fancy pub fare, but it might not be for you because its real attraction is its crazy-ass Belgian beer selection.

    • Great tips, thank you! I’ll totally eat in a pub if the food is good… and they ain’t tryin’ kill me with giant-sized TVs in every corner… so we might try the Trappe Door, thanks again!

  8. SuckItMcGee says:

    Another recommendation: Chicora Alley is our go-to lunch spot down there, very yummy shrimp burrrritos!

  9. Next time you are down there hit up Coffee Underground. Far better coffee and a very unique basement environment that was done in a comfortable way. There are lots of good coffee shops in Greenville and while Spill the Beans isn’t terrible it is certainly one of the more mediocre. If you try Coffee Underground you will prob opt for there instead of the bucks next time.

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