I have eaten a LOT of wings off of various different birds in the week or so. I had duck wings from King James, quail wings from Seven Sows and a face full of chicken wings from 9 different venues at Asheville Wing Wars! Also: I watched some Red Wings hockey. (Hey, Mike Babcock!)
3RD ANNUAL ASHEVILLE WING WARS – Asheville Music Hall – Downtown Asheville
This was one of the all-time best things to happen to me, period, ever, in the history of the world, now I can lay down and die, because I was a judge in a gott-danged wing ding contest!
Holy shit, it was fun.
There were nine competitors, and 18 different kinds of wings in two categories: Traditional Buffalo and “Specialty,” which is kind of a wild card category. The People voted on ballets that were placed in a bucket and tallied at the end of the night.
The five judges were given a color-coded ballot sheet, and we conducted a blind taste-test, rating the wings on a scale of 1 to 5, five being best. We did not know who’s wings were which, we simply rated them by color. The buffalo wings on the ORANGE tray were my fave, for example, I gave them a 5… and they won!
The Winners Circle:
Buffalo – The Barleycorn
Specialty – Cheerwine Habanero from Creekside Tavern
Buffalo – Moe’s Original Barbecue
Specialty – Jamaican Jerk from Charlotte Street Pub
If seems like I’ve been having a love affair with Barleycorn it’s true. First they sent their siren, Briar, over to tempt my tummy to be shipwrecked forever on the rocky cliffs of their rarebit. Now it’s their buffalo wings that have me blindly steering my stomach towards the craggy coastline of… I’m already tired of this metaphor… Them wings was GOOOOOD!
For me, they had the exact right amount of sauce on them, and that sauce was hot, but not so hot that it masked the flavors (#jaysiltzerknows). The flavors were both immediate and subtle, as well as intense and complex. The chicken was cooked perfectly, and the piece I ate had no nasty bits.
The Cheerwine Habanero wings from Creekside were the BOMB. I don’t think I even need to describe them to you, do I? I mean, they were made out of fucking Cheerwine and habanero peppers, Yo. Figure it the fuck out. That shit was good.
It was actually a numerical tie between those and the duck wings from King James Pub, but we all took a second wing ding, and opted for PINK, which turned out to be Creekside. I had never heard of that venue before, but I’ll be going for sure!
The People’s choices were likewise delish, but I’m going to leave it up to The People to tell you why they chose them. I think there were, like, 250+ wing eaters there (do NOT quote me that) so you should be able to find someone to tell ya what’s what in wing world.
Anyone reading this, who was there, please use the comments section below to spread the gospel about your own faves.
I did not sample the beer, but I’m sure it was good, because people seemed to be REALLY enjoying it, if you know what I mean. My hostess was named La La, and she was great. She had awesome hair and kept the water and paper towels coming my way.
Thanks, Kelly Denson for producing such a wonderful event for the benefit of Asheville and MANNA Foodbank, and for inviting me to be part of it! And thanks to all of the restaurants — great job all around — and to my fellow judges, Becky, Cammy, Mackensy, and Duane. Go team!
KING JAMES PUBLIC HOUSE – Charlotte Street, North Asheville
Dawn and I went to King James Public house with our adorable little friend Sebastian… but it was too crowded so we went and had a wonderful meal at Bull & Beggar.
Then Dawn and I went back to The King James on our own… but I had gotten their hours wrong and they were closed, so we went and had a wonderful meal at Barleycorn.
THEN, last week, Dawn and I met our awesome friend Ursula at the King James pub, and although we were still too early (WHY, Stu?!? Read those fucking hours and get it right!) we waited outside like THE most annoying customers ever, and got the choicest of seats in the whole house when they opened! Whoop whoop!
Our server was named Rachel and she was great. Even though the kitchen wasn’t quite ready, she got us started with cocktails and coffee, and then came back to let us know that the kitchen was all good to cook us some of their famous buffalo duck wings. Yeah, Man. Gim.
They came out piping hot, and looking really tasty! The buffalo sauce passed my color test. Bright red buffalo wings make me shudder. A good buff sauce has to have an orangey-ness to it that comes from the butter. Gawtta have buttah. These had buttah.
I’d never had duck wings before. I expected them to be a bit greasier than chicken wings and they were, in a very awesome way. The duck grease mixed all in with the buff sauce and the ranch dressing, and was super yummy. It came with a really nice garnish of shaved celery, radishes, and carrots, and a small pile of crushed peanuts topped with cilantro. The cilantro was a fucking genius touch.
By the time we got done with those the kitchen was rockin’ so we ordered Cheddar Tempura and the Beef Tenderloin.
The cheddar tots were awesome! They were solidly in the realm of Bachelor Chow, so I ate most of them, while the ladies concentrated on the Brussels spouts that came with. The spouts were prepared in a unique way, that was like, kind of shredded, and then roasted, maybe? I’m not sure, but they were salty, and crispy on the ends, and very flavory and good!
The tenderloin was, like… something I would imagine a really really rich person might eat. Not because of the price so much as because of the thing itself. There’s a picture of it on my Facebook page. You kinda gotta see it to believe it. Actually, you pretty much gotta eat it to even comprehend it.
It’s topped with grilled foie gras, for fuck’s sake.
Now, I’m just a lowly serf, and I ain’t never et no foie gras before, and maybe that shit is as common as dirt on Wallstreet or whatever, but for me, this was like eating Dick Cheney’s lunch. Not because foie gras is evil, which is always up for debate, but because this meal really and truly seemed like something that an incredibly rich & powerful person would eat. And yet, there we were, three li’l ol’ artists, chowing down on this truly amazing food. That rules.
The tenderloin also came with some delicious Brussels sprouts, and a very comforting and tasty potato-y thing underneath everything else. It was like a little square pad made out of really nicely cooked slices of potato, . The meat was cooked perfectly, and was very tender and good. The sauce was savory, and rich, and dark, and pretty much totally fucking awesome.
That foie gras was intense. For real. Like nothing I have ever eaten before. It was tasty, for sure, and might even be the kind of thing that I could really learn to love some day, but I was a little overwhelmed by it to be honest. We all were. It was the only thing, out of the entire meal we shared, that we did not finish. But that wasn’t based on flavor, just on a kind of “good gawd” factor. It was very very very rich.
We had floats for desert. The girls split a beer float and I had a cheerwine float. I enjoyed mine — except for the Cracker Jacks floating in it… ew — and Ursula seemed to like the beer float a lot, but Dawn said that she would be good never drinking beer with ice cream in it ever again.
I had met the head chef and co-owner Steven Goff just a few days prior, and he visited our table with a nice “flight” of their in-house vinegars for us to sample. Yeah, Man! I had never heard of such a thing, so he had to explain to me that I should sip them. He described the various ones, and told us how much he loved to ferment stuff. He said that they were going to start using his hand-crafted vinegars in the cocktails soon. Coolio! The ones we sipped were tasty as fuck, and I could totally imagine that they might be very yummy in a mixed drink. Thank you, Steven!
Speaking of mixed drinks, the ladies each had two and they loved them. They were all like, “Ooooh, these are gooood,” and at one point Ursula was all, like, “Guys, I’m getting kind of drunk.” Ha ha! She’s so awesome.
Anyhoodles, King James Public House: Fuck yeah!
SEVEN SOWS (REVISTED) – Biltmore Ave, Downtown
I stopped into Seven Sows and ate a wonderful meal served to me by a really nice waitress named Catherine.
You may or may not recall that early on in this Food Critic biz, I gave 7 Sows a very bad review. Very harsh. I went for the jugular with my jokes, and was pretty much a right prick about the whole thing.
Well, the owner wrote me a really nice note after he read my hateful screed. He was apologetic for the meal I had described, and made offers to refund my money or comp me another meal. I declined both offers, but promised him I would go back to try again. He was really really nice, and I felt like a jerk.
So I finally did go back, and with Catherine as my guide, I had a great experience that all but erased the first one, and has put 7 Sows back on the map for me.
I ordered coffee, and it was excellent. A small French press, filled with Brown Bean Roasters coffee, from Brevard. The cream was served in a cute little cow-shaped pitcher. I like stuff like that.
I decided on two pork dishes. I figured I’d pork-it-up while I was at a place called 7 Sows, so I ordered the Chicken Fried Pork Collar and the Pork Bellies with Pimento Cheese Grits, Peanuts & Pepsi. Yeah, Man, peanuts and Pepsi! I used to put peanuts in my Pepsi sometimes when I was a kid, so that was a throwback.
These days, I never know if people know that I’m “that Food Critic guy” or not, but the jig was up when I received a dish of quail, gratis, from the hostess, with the kind words “We thought you might enjoy this.” Getting comped really awesome food is a brand new experience for me. It is both slightly awkward and totally fucking awesome at the same time.
I mean, I used to get a lot of free beer back when I was cool, and I could eat all the free ice cream I could stomach when I worked at that ice cream factory that one Summer, but having a pretty lady sidle-up to my table with a plate full of fucking quails? On the hizzouse? Yeah. No. That’s new.
Anyhoo, the food:
CHICKEN FRIED PORK COLLAR – Two nice, juicy pieces of pork, lightly battered, and crispy on the outside. The meat was cooked perfectly for me, and had a really great texture. Plus, there was a fried egg on top! That’s my fave new thing, and it seems to be popular these days. The plate had some kind of aioli sauce on it too, but I’m kind of over the whole aioli thing. Too mayonnaisey. Pretty soon I’m sure I’ll be over the whole fried egg thing. “Too eggy,” I’ll say in the future, but for now, egg me! This dish was delish.
QUAIL w/ roasted cauliflower, grapefruit sections, hazelnuts and a “shaved salad.” I had never eaten quail in my life, but I’m a gamer, so I was all like, “Cool. Quail wings. Gimme.” But then, when I picked one up, it wasn’t a just wing… it was like, a whole half of a teeny tiny wee little bird! Gah!
After I got over my initial amusement / shock and horror at the thought of eating this cute little critter, I tore into it with my teeth and claws, and Maaan, that shit was good. It was pretty much like eating an itty-bitty chicken, but with a slightly different flavor and color to the meat. There was a surprising amount of meat on these li’l fellas too, and they had a sort of rub or something on ’em that was nice and salty, with a subtle flavor of French curry. My sherpa Catherine told me the difference between French Curry and regular curry, but I can’t remember. She also told me that the cow-shaped pitcher “pukes out cream.” She was kind of awesome that way.
PORK BELLIES – The Pepsi and peanuts I’ve mentioned already, so I’ll just add that it was actually a Pepsi redux or sauce of some sort as far as I could tell, and that the peanuts were semi-soft, in a good way, almost like a boiled peanut, but not quite.
To me the grits were the star of this dish and the pork bellies & sauce enhanced but did not overshadow the experience of the grits. They were the heartiest grits I’ve ever had. Very coarse, and very substantial. The texture was unique and the flavor had depth. The peanuts mixed with the coarseness of the grits very well, and the fat from the pork bellies was all seared, and hot, and melty, and added moisture and a smoky/porky flavor to the grits. There was also some pickled something-or-other on top which was the exact perfect cool, crisp, tangy opposite of the warm, creamy, greazy grits. To me, everything in that dish was there for the grits. I <3 GRITS!
DESSERT – Too full. Too many quails. No dessert for me.
Okay, well, there you go. Seven Sows. They now have a record of one and one with me.
Both their fail and their win were spectacular, and while I’m inclined to think that the first visit was probably a fluke, they definitely rolled out red carpet for me on my 2nd trip, so I’ll have to go back for a third try.
Maybe I’ll wear a disguise next time, so I won’t get any special treatment. And I’ll speak in a high-pitched voice. With a foreign accent. I’m real good at foreign accents.
“I vould like to ‘ave zee ‘ooshpoopies, pleaze.”
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.