stuhelmthefoodcritic_logo_2014_72DPIBy Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

Well, I took some flack from some commentators on Ashvegas last week because I enjoyed the hospitality of two local restauranteurs (Anthony Cerrato from Strada/Social Lounge and Katie Button from Curate/Nightbell) and then I gave a positive report on that hospitality.

Our good friends from Orbit DVD, way over there on the other side of the river in WAVL, posted a legitimate question, and did it without being jerks. They basically wanted to know if I can remain objective while rubbing elbows and taking selfies with the chefs and restaurant owners of Asheville. Is my status as a “critic” compromised if I’m friendly with the same folks I’m reviewing?

I wrote what I thought was an appropriate response to their Q in the comments last week, but here’s some bullet points on the subject for everyone, including those who were less unjerky about it:

• I have not taken a sacred oath to be a secret food spy.

• This is a small town.

• I’m a friendly person.

• I’m gonna meet chefs, I’m gonna become friendly with some of them.

• I’m always going to strive to tell it like it is when I write my reviews.

• If Katie Button had served me a turd of a dish, I would have let you know. She did not. Trust me.

My mission with these columns is to entertain and inform, in that order. I’ll leave the assessment of the entertainment value up to you guys, but I think I did a pretty dang good job of informing you about the food at both the Social Lounge-catered event and at Nightbell.

This week, I have reviews of three cafes, a missing fig spread, and flavored condoms for you. I am not friends with any of the owners or manufacturers.

EDNA’S -­ Merrimon Ave, North Asheville

I like Edna’s. Dawn’s not a fan, but I can sometimes get her to go there. Here’s what I like about it:

• The coffee is really good – It’s always strong, and rich, and hot, and awesome. I think it’s among the best in town. I really do.

• The chocolate chip muffin is good too – It’s big and solid and sweet, but not overly sweet, and has lots of chocolate chips. I get it every time. I love it. The general consensus at Food Critic HQ is that the rest of the pastries do kinda sorta suck, unfortch, and that’s why Dawn’s not a fan. But I don’t care! Gim muff.

• There’s a theme -­ I enjoy themes. At Edna’s the theme is pug dogs. Like most people with a human heart, I find pug dogs to be insanely cute. There are tons of pictures and paintings and statuettes and such of pug dogs all over Edna’s. So CUTE!!!

• Almost everything comes in a bowl ­- Get it? Like a dog bowl! I would normally HAAATE this, and be all like, ­”A muffin in a bowl?!? No. Dumb.” But since it ties in with the pug dog theme, and I find pug dogs to be so insanely cute, I can’t help but smile when I tuck into my bowl o’ muffin.

“Woof woof! I’m a little pug dog too!”

• It’s bright and roomy, and I like the decor – There are floor­-to­-ceiling windows on two sides and it’s one big, airy room with regular, hi-­top, and coffee table seating. There’s even a couch.

• There’s also outdoor seating – It’s slightly blazingly hot out there when the sun is touchin’ on ya, but still, ya gotta love outdoor seating!

Here’s something that I don’t like about Edna’s

• At least the last time I was there, they were still allowing cigarette smoking in the outdoor seating area. So GROSS!

I fucking hate that. A lot.

Part of the fucking point of outdoor seating is to enjoy the outdoors, right? Things like sunshine, warm breezes, and, oh I dunno… FRESH AIR?!?

How can I enjoy the outdoors when some fucknut in the corner is producing toxic fumes that are wafting my way? Why don’t you just dump some coal ash on me while you’re at it?

What’s up with smokers anyways? Haven’t they heard the news about smoking? It smells bad.

WORLD COFFEE CAFE – Battery Park Ave, Downtown Asheville

Speaking of smoking in outdoor areas at cafes… holy shit. I love New World, but it is one of the last human ashtrays in Downtown A-ville, and I fucking HATE that you have to walk through a cloud of smoke to get in the front door. The outdoor seating is totally ruined by the fact that EVERYONE is smoking. Ugh!!!

Horrible.

So, what do I love about World Coffee? (More bullet points!!!)

• They have coffee. I love that about them.

• They stay open late. Late night coffee? I love that too!

• The last time I checked, you get two free refills. Yeah, Man!!!

• The indoor seating is good, especially the two window tables that I gave a Stoobie award to last year for “Best People-Watching” in A-town.

• The staff is friendly, professional, and attractive. They come and they go, but the service has been consistently good over the course of the many years I’ve been going there.

• They get slammed from time-to-time, so the line can be long, but fear not: They’ve got their system down. You’ll get your coffee.

• The atmosphere is good. I like the decor, which is in a sort of hippie / world-traveler motif.

• The music is interesting enough, in keeping with the decor, and at a good volume.

• It smells like a 1970’s head shop in there for some reason. I love that smell.

• The sweets are good, especially the chocolate-chocolate-chip muffin.

• They’ll heat-up any sweet for you in a convection oven. Fuck microwave ovens, Man. Convection. Way better.

• They’ll usually throw a dollop of real whip cream on the plate for ya too.

• The savory food menu is decent.

I won’t lie to ya. I don’t get all jazzed-up about the savory food at The World, but when I do eat it, I always enjoy it. Let’s just say that everything I’ve ordered there was well-made, had quality ingredients, and tasted good. You know what? I’m getting kinda jazzed-up all of a sudden! It’s actually pretty good! Sandwiches and what-not, in a kind of European vein. Okay, now I’m saying that the savory food is pretty dang good.

There you go! Hold your breath on your way through the smoke cloud, and inside you’ll find one of Downtown’s mainstay cafes, with good coffee, good sweets, and good food for all.

TRUE CONFECTIONS – Page Avenue, Downtown

Okay, I actually do know Carol, the owner of True Confecs — just from going in there so many times over the years — and I’d say, yes, we’re friends. It’s not like we hang out ‘n’ shit, but I like Carol and she likes me. We’re both all smiles when we see each other.

I don’t think that should preclude me from telling you this:

Carol makes a home-made “Twix” bar that’s so fucking good you’ll wanna die, and then rise from your grave, so you can eat more of Carol’s home-made Twix bars, then die again, rise again, die, rise, die, etcetera etcetera infinity forever.

That Twix bar is my current fave new afternoon treat in Asheville, and all of Carol’s sweets are fuckin’ aye good, Yo! (Sorry, Carol, I know you don’t like the swearing!) Her pies are particularly awesome, and everything she bakes is very well made from quality ingredients, with care, skill, and excellent technique.

Here’s some bullet-pointed highlights of True Confections: (Gawd, I’m really bullet-pointing it up this week.)

• Along with the regular-sized snacks, she offers very tasty small things for $1 or less. I get her rugelach and/or shortbread on the regs to go with my afternoon coffee. It’s just the perfect little bit of sugar to keep me from loosing my mind, but not so much food as to make me overly stuffed with sweets in the middle of the day.

• When you order coffee, she hands you a cup, and you pour your own from the carafes on the counter. I like that because it gives me more control over my life, and the option to go for decaf without having to bare the weight of judgment from some barista or fellow customer. Yes: I drink decaf sometimes. So fucking shoot me.

• Outdoor seating: No Smoking. YAAAAYYY!!! Thank you, Carol.

• Nobody cool ever goes there. That whole part of downtown is like a no-hipster zone for some reason, and I fucking love it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a hipster hater — they’re adorable with their cute little trucker hats, hideous sneakers, and super-tight short-sleeve plaid shirts — but sometimes… I dunno… I guess I just wanna hang out with the squares. The real squares. Oldsters. Tourists. Rich people. People who dress like dorks, but not on purpose. I sometimes find the out-crowd far less aggravating to my misanthropy than the in-crowd.

Carol also serves savory food, like sandwiches, soups, quiche and what-not, and it’s likewise good and made from quality ingreeds.

True Confections is an affordable and pleasant place to grab a bite, rest for a bit, and do some people-watching of a different kind. Not as much freakish Asheville “street life” to gawk at, but there’s a steady stream of MILFs, office workers, and people walking their small, amusing dogs.

Oh, and AS ALWAYS: When I say “shoot me?” That is an expression. Do not, under any circumstances, for the love of God, shoot me.

FIGCOCO ­ – Formerly everywhere, now seemingly nowhere.

I love me a good cheese plate! Fresh fruit, nuts, high-­end cheese ‘n’ crackers, and a delicious spread.

Figs go good on a cheese plate, and so does chocolate. Combine them into one delicious spread, and holy fuck­a­moly… yeah, Man. That’s good shit.

It was called Figcoco, and I loved it.

We all loved it.

“We” meaning me and every single other person on Earth who ever put even one molecule of this deliciousness anywhere near their mouth hole. It was GOOOD. Let me tell you what.

It was sweet, but not too sweet. There was no added sugar or high fructose corn bullshit. It was basically a thick, dark brown paste made out of figs and cocoa powder. Nothing else. Simple, even kinda healthy in it’s own way. The cocoa wasn’t overbearing, and the figs weren’t cloying like figs can tend to be. It wasn’t anything like Nutella, or that horrible jelly stuff they’ve got over there in the jelly section. This was high end eats at about $7 for an 8 oz jar, if I recall.

I used to get it all the time from Greenlife and Earthfare, where it was ­­ appropriately kept in the cheese section. Right next to the plain ol’ Fig Spread and The Sour Cherry Spread, you’d find the Figcoco. I friggin’ loved that name too. I was coo­-coo for Figcoco!

I write in the past tense because I haven’t seen it anywhere for months and months now.

At first I was like, “Oh, they’s just out of it.” But then I started to feel like it was never coming back, and now, in my mind, it’s a thing of the past.

Like, “Remember when there used to be polar bears, honey bees, and Figcoco?”

“No, Grandpa, you’re boring.”

Now I haz a sad.

I do like Sour Cherry Spread, and I totally recommend it with any cheese plate you might throw together, but the plain old Fig Spread can go fuck itself. Booo! You’re not FIGCOCO!!! Impostor.

The jar of spread that I currently have in my fridge is called “Braswell’s Select All Natural Chocolate Tart Cherry Preserve.”

Well la­-dee­-fuckin’­-da.

It’s the closest thing I’ve been able to find to Figcoco, and it is pretty good. A little too sweet though, and not enough of the chocolate flavor comes through, but it did come packaged in “European Glassware,” which is hilarious to me. When I’m done with the spread, I’ll have the world’s fanciest jelly-jar juice glass. I’m pretty sure I had one with Elmer Fudd on it when I was a kid.

Anyhoo, yeah, I just reviewed a ghost­-food that no longer seems to be available in Asheville. Sorry about that. If you have any leads on where I can find Figcoco, please let me know!!!

FLAVORED CONDOMS -­ Anywhere

Banana, chocolate, coconut, strawberry, and vanilla are ice cream flavors.

Not.

Condom.

FLAVORRRRRRRRRRRS!!!!!!!!!!!!

So gross.

ONE LAST THING – The Food Critic Facebook Page

If you wanna have a vicarious drool-fest, please go to my Facebook page.

Click “photos” and then “albums.”

There’s starting to be an awesome collection of pictures of food over there, and I’ve started categorizing them by venue.

Oh, and thanks for the positive feedback, everyone! Even my waiter from Wicked Weed came up to me in City Bakes the other day and was soops friendly! Yay!!!stu_helm_2013

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38 Comments

  1. Edna’s drive through is quick and easy and they ALWAYS have dog biscuits for my pups – i appreciate that!

    Great reviews, Stu!

  2. Janet Long says:

    In regards to World Coffee, I have never received professional or friendly service the numerous times I have been there. The baristas, time and time again, make you feel like you are inconveniencing them by doing something as simple as *gasp* ordering. You’re in it deep if you ask for your pastry to be warmed and yes, they do use microwaves. I have never been offered to have any pastry warmed by a convection oven.
    As for the food itself being well-made with quality ingerdients, I strongly disagree to that as well. Multiple times I have seen the ‘artisan fresh, baked in the club’ boxes in the pastry cases under the trays, which is an obvious tell that their pastries are from Sam’s Club. If people want ‘good sweets’ downtown, I can think of several other places that serve pastries which aren’t premade from a bulk grocery store.

    • boatrocker says:

      Uh oh…Who is going to cite their sources first like a real journalist? One says convection, one says microwave.

      World Coffee- Beyond the Re-heat Your Cute Pastry Dome!
      One customer enter, one customer leave!

  3. True Confections has the best lemon bars anywhere. They also used to have really great decaf hazelnut coffee (normally I don’t go for hazelnut or decaf) but that was many moons ago. Sadly, I don’t go as often because it’s hard to wade through the Atlanta tourists at the Grove Arcade (why do tourists love Carmel’s so much?!?) but you’ve inspired me. I’m going. Thanks, Stu!

  4. Type. Read what you type. Reread. Hit send.

  5. I HATE walking through a smoke cloud to enter a food establishment. Could there be a more unwelcoming entrance?

    • boatrocker says:

      I hate unwashed hipsters with tacky neck tattoos who act the ‘say the “fuck” word sychophant type for free food’, but I don’t get no sympathy. Oh well.

      I gladly inhale free ciggy smells for trying new food when I can afford it. Waaaah to those who complain. Stay home and eat off your yoga mat.

      Give me American Indian (real natives- ahem) tobacco smell (the Great Spirit and the Circle of Life) vs.
      toxic patchouli, armpit warriors and train hopping types any time for venturing out of the house to let another cook for me.

      For real, the female other half complains about it and all I can do is say “They painted a bird on it”, (she gets it) but she wastes a clean outfit on said new place other than hanging at my place to cook. I guess it’s cooking at my place for a night in until local foodyholes get over the whiney thing.

      Decaf sucks too, by the way. Wahhh. Brew that in the privacy of your own home.

      • boatrocker says:

        I’m on a complaining about complainers rant recently so yes the logic may escape some. Even so, in this one review I’ve seen has complaints about smokers, fans, Sam’s Club, bagels, decaf, patchouli(my pet peeve) etc. In my dream restaurant, smokers would be welcome outside, but anyone on any electronic device would have to join them outside.

        Much as a scientist tries to control all the variables of an experiment, I guess diners do too. In the end, the best new restaurant may still be “Your House”.

        On the flip side, I’m pleased to hear of human food places that allow pooches. I’ve heard conflicting stories over the years about what constitutes legally bringing a pet into a place that serves food- some say only outside, some say not at all, I dunno what to believe. Can my dog smoke outside, or does she need to be in the designated dog smoking area?

  6. Check out the VERY BEST iced coffee at Allgood in Weavervile. Really. The owner will tell you how he makes it. It’s an art form.

  7. What I don’t like about Edna’s are the fans that they leave on above the seating area where anyone who wants to relax and read a book sits. You know, the area with the soft chairs and couch? That’s where I always sat because that’s why I go to cafes…to drink coffee (and yes I drink decaf) and read a good crime/mystery thriller. I stopped going to Edna’s because of the fans which make it too cold to sit in the comfy chairs.

    My big complaint about cafes in Asheville is that if you drink decaf you cannot get a medium roast. They all serve this heavy dark stuff full of acid that give you a stomach ache…hey, did it ever cross anyone’s mind that decaf drinkers have a genuine reason for drinking it and they don’t need that heavy dark gooey stuff to pretend it is caffeine…maybe they like decaf and like medium roast like Brazilian, Peruvian, or Mexican…forget that stuff made in Leicester it is really acidic and rots the stomach.

  8. As a smoker I appreciate the handful of places that are left for us. That said the Edna’s porch is set up in such a way that no one has to walk through it to enter the establishment, this separates it from alot of other establishments that allow smoking by the door. I appreciate the fact that non smokers prefer to stay away from places where they are too exposed and i always try to respectful of non smokers when I walk by them, so as to not blow smoke in their face but you guys gotta give em somewhere to go.

    • Your well written and even-tempered comment is much appreciated, Matthew. Especially since I was less gracious in my rant above. 🙂

      My friend Tom is a smoker and the other day he said to me, “Just make it illegal and get it over with.” He’s tried to quit twice since I’ve known him and several times before that I believe. He hates it as much as I do.

      I was a smoker for 10 years, Matthew! I friggin’ LOVED it. You know you gotta quit some day. Do it for your own sake, My Man.

  9. The other great thing about Edna’s is that they bring your dog a bowl of water and a dog biscuit – on the house! The downside is that you and your dog and the bowl of water and the dog biscuit have to sit outside … with the smokers. I wish they had two outside patios: one in front for non-smokers and doggies and one in back for smokers (and if you’re a smoker with a dog you shouldn’t be making the poor thing breathe in that stuff anyway.)

  10. i appreciated your smoking rant. seriously smokers, you are disgusting, how do you not realize that?! i wish more places banned the outdoor smoking!

  11. I’m hungry

  12. A+ for True Confections, particularly for being so affordable. They also make good iced coffee.

  13. Last time I asked, Edna’s bought all of their meat (and baked goods?) from Sam’s Club, and their bagels from Bruegger’s. That gives me the impression that Edna’s is selling their atmosphere and location more than actual food, which is probably worth mentioning in any review of said food?

    • Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, I have to ask you: Is it true? Who did you ask about it? What did they say exactly? Do you have proof? Is your source reliable, and are you a reliable source? Perhaps your a competitor, or a disgruntled employee. How do I know?

      “Last time I asked…” you wrote above.

      How many times have you asked? Are you expecting a different answer some day? Do you pull off the road into Edna’s just ask, and once you get the standard “Sam’s Club” answer do you leave in disgust, only to come back and try again another day?

      Now I’m way more interested in your story than this Edna’s / Sam’s Club rumor mill that’s sweeping Asheville.

      I’m not a food reporter, JJ. It’s not my job to hunt down the truth behind the scenes, ask the tough questions, and expose ulterior motives. I’ll leave that up to you and Geraldo Rivera.

      I go. I eat. I write about my personal experiences.

      That’s all. Simple as a pimple.

      Also, you may have noticed that I didn’t exactly review the food at Edna’s, so much as I reviewed a muffin, the coffee, and the venue itself.

      Aaand finally… I personally don’t see anything wrong with a business “selling their atmosphere and location.” Those things matter too, and you gotta go with what your strengths are.

      Know what I mean?

    • boatrocker says:

      I’m curious to know how anyone comes by this information about local restaurants in general. Do they stake out a restaurant early in the morning waiting for a delivery truck to arrive or is it a deeper more insidious conspiracy among restaurant owners?

      • Miss Daisy says:

        I walk to work sometimes at the butt crack of dawn. I have often walked past the Sysco truck dropping off gigantic orders to the alley between Farmburger and Salsa. Always makes me wonder just how much either place sources locally.

        • A Sysco truck?? For shame, for shame!

          How much do you source locally, or any of us for that matter? Seriously, percentage wise? Year round? Running a restaurant and feeding hundreds of people or more every week requires a massive amount of food and kitchen supplies. A lot of that does come from big Agri via Sysco….but that doesn’t mean they aren’t taking huge important steps to tap local agriculture. Running a restaurant and making ends meet is a serious task.

          • I source a shit ton locally. The majority of the food I eat at home is from the local markets. And I eat a lot of meals at local restaurants. I rarely have trash to take out, mostly just compost. But I also have an unnatural ability to eat the same foods that are in season over and over.

            My point is that lots of places say they source locally, and some clearly do so more than others. Many say ‘locally sourced when feasible.’ Feasible sometimes seems like it might have more to do with making payroll than what is in season.

            Sometimes I eat crappy mass produced food from national companies. But when I eat at a farm to table restaurant, I kind of hope that most of the food will be farm to table. And I expect to pay more for it. There should be some kind of standards for places that claim they source locally.

          • Hector has his own farm so it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever can be local and fresh at Salsa is.

  14. I have a 4 yr old little boy who LOVES “Ms. Carol’s” chocolate mousse. It really is wonderful!! He will not share it either!!

  15. luther blissett says:

    It’s called Ficoco, and you can order it online.

    • Dang it! I am the world’s worst speller, and I didn’t run this one past either of my two usual awesome proof readers. Thanks for catching that. Yes. Ficoco.

      And I did see on their website I could end my own Ficoco-drought-misery by ordering it on line, but I’m just not that kind of food shopper. If a product isn’t on my local grocery store shelf, I’m moving on to other products. Chocolate cherry tart foo-foo spreads and what-not.

      I know. I’m an idiot. I admit that.

  16. My wife just thinks that I’m jealous that you got the royal treatment from the Curate folks. She’s right.

    • Ha ha! If it hadn’t happened to me, I’d be jealous too! I’m still kind of reeling from the experience. Gushing to everyone I see about those f•cking lobster rolls for one thing. Oh my gawd, and those grilled cheese sandwiches. I want one right now. Hungry.

  17. entertaining- oh yes! what does objectivity have to do with critical observation?
    Friendliness is going to do a lot more for world peace than objectivity!
    Eat and write on(pun intended)

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