Hello Asheville… AND BEYOND!
Y’know what? I’m a colloquial type. I think very very locally. Like, within 10 blocks of my house. I sometimes forget that my food columns are read by people from outside of Asheville, who might be interested in visiting our little city in the mountains, and want some tips on where to eat while they’re in town. So, when I say “Hello Asheville,” at the beginning of each of my columns, what I really mean is, “Hello awwwll y’all motherfuckers all over the worrrrrrld!” So if you don’t live here, don’t feel left out. I’m talking to you too!
Anyhoo… with that in mind, below please find four short reviews of four brunches that I attended in December. Now, I guess that some super-cool motherfuckers have been makin’ fun of brunch, calling it a hipster thing, and generally talking shit about it, but let me tell you what. I love brunch and here’s why:
Despite my avid lerv of brernch, I had not yet been to many of the venues around town offering it, mostly because my own GF, Dawn, doesn’t do brunch. WTF, Dawn?!? It kills me. I was bemoaning this tragic fact out loud at a party once, when several volunteers stepped up to say, “I’ll brunch with you, Stu!” Yay! Brunch-mates!
Since that party, I have been a’brunchin’ four times, with a viority of brunch-mates, some from as far away as Scotland! I think that even Dawn got jealous of the funch I was having at brunch, because she booked and joined in on the fourth Brunday of the munth!
HERE’S WHERE I BRUNCHED DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, 2015
• BRUNCH MATES – Food Writer and Adventurer Jonathan Ammons, and my teenage nephew, Asa.
• FOOD – I ate a Monte Christo sandwich with grits. The sandwich was very good, made with high quality ingredients, the grits were slightly bland, until I added butter, salt, and pepper and then they were perfect. The coffee was fresh and hot and tasty. I had a bite of my nephew’s brunch, and it was so good I want to go back just to order it for myself. I was definitely disappointed when I saw that Chef AJ wasn’t in the kitchen that morning, because he’s one of the best in town, and I was looking forward to his personal touch being part of my flavor experience, but his kitchen staff is well trained.
• PLUS COLUMN – I hate sunshine, and not a drop will touch you inside of the Mojo Kitchen and Lounge, ever. The coffee was in a self-serve carafe, so it was easy to refill. Service was quick and courteous. Order and pay at the counter, then they bring it to your table, eat, drink, bus your own shit, and you’re outta there. I like that!
• MINUS COLUMN – There was a persistent smell of cigarette smoke, both fresh and stale, but I have a feeling that the city is about to clamp down on sidewalk smoking, so this issue could be eliminated in 2016.
CONCLUSIONS – I would absolutely return for brunch at Mojo Kitchen, but only if they are able to deal with the smoke sitch, and especially if I thought Chef AJ would be cooking in the kitchen.
• BRUNCH MATES – Jonathan “J-Dawg” Ammons and Naomi at the Bar.
• FOOD – I had “Toad in a Hole,” which is a term that I’ve heard applied loosely to any number of dishes, ranging from a bunch of sausages and gravy in a bowl made of pastry, to an egg cooked in a hole cut into a piece of toast, a la “camp toast.” The version I got at Sov Rems was “camp toast” style, and was made with Farm & Sparrow bread and other high quality ingredients, including ham, cheese, eggs, and a lot of fresh greens.
• PLUS COLUMN – Those greens! My dish, as well as Jonathan’s, came with a salad, made with really fresh and unique fixin’s, most likely from Farmer Sunil’s Patchwork Urban Farm. Mine was delish, and probably very healthy, which is not a word I usually associate with brunch. Also, eating at the bar with Naomi was a treat! She’s a very fun person to chat with, and seemed like she was hosting brunch, rather than just workin’ it, y’knowm sayin’?
• MINUS COLUMN – You guys know that I love Sov Rems, partly because of the atmosphere, so it pains me to say that the atmosphere was not great on the Sunday that I had brunch there, but the two issues I perceived are super easy fixes. First, it was really quiet when I walked in, so much so that I wondered if I was too early, or too late for brunch. Second, the air was somewhat stale, in a “night before” way that some brunch places who are essentially bars the night before can have. It was a beautiful day, so opening the doors would have solved that problem, and crankin’ some jams would have solved the first. I heard they’re adding some outdoor seating, so that will rock.
CONCLUSIONS – I would definitely return to Sov Rems for brunch, with hopes that the two small issues I mentioned above are not part of their permanent brunch MO.
• BRUNCH MATE – Good Friend Leslie!
• FOOD – We split two dishes: Scrambled eggs with fried oysters and caviar, and quail with waffles. Both dishes were prepared and presented with skill and artistry, and seemed to have the freshest and most high-quality elements and ingredients. This was some high-end brunch, muhfuckers. I mean, c’mon, there was fuckin’ quail… and caviar.
• PLUS COLUMN – The scrambled eggs with oysters and caviar were amazing. Definitely something special. The eggs were, like, whahhht? How’d they get so fluhhffy? All of the flavors on both dishes were excellent. Also, the coffee was served in a French Press, which is perfect for splitting between two people. The service was quick, courteous, and professional, the atmosphere was bright, airy, and comfortable.
• MINUS COLUMN – I was hungry afterwards. There’s no other way to put it. After brunch, I thought, “Maybe I’ll hit up Vortex on the way home and grab a doughnut.” Y’see, the truth about quail… is… well… it is a teeny tiny bird with very little meat on its wee bones. After gnawing on its itty-bitty carcass poised neatly upon a likewise diminutive waffle, I felt like I could have eaten the rest of the flock. Or at least some roasted potatoes, or something. The same was true of the eggs with oysters y caviar. It was a small portion for brunch, and when it was gone, I was still hungry for some toast or a bagel or grits, or something.
CONCLUSIONS – Local Provisions is brand-spankin’ new — they opened their doors only a few weeks before I went in for my brunch with Leslie — so I’m going to give them room to grow before I pass any real judgements. The food tasted fantastic, it was presented with an eye for design that I truly admire, and was served with smiles and professionalism, so my only real gripe was how much of it was available to fill the bottomless pit of my brunch-time stomach. Stay tuned, or better yet, try it yourselves and report back to me.
• BRUNCH MATES – Dana and Dave from Scottland (by way of Florida) and Dawn! She finally came out for brunch, and in fact she booked this one, based on the strong recommendations we’d heard from other people.
• FOOD – Holy fuck. So fucking good. And so fucking much of it! Chef Sam can cook, and he is not stingy when it comes to sharing his talents. I ate a miniature house made muffin, a scone, a piece of biscotti, and a tiny croissant, followed by granola crusted French toast with rum butter and apricot syrup; fried chicken and biscuit with ham gravy and chili honey; all topped off with beignets and something called “coffee cream,” that was like a mousse type of thing, plus lots of actual coffee. Dawn had a cocktail. By the end I was ready to pop, and I know that every one else felt the same way.
• PLUS COLUMN – Every aspect of this brunch was a plus. Food, atmosphere, service… all good. All very good. Chef Sam Etheridge was there, on the premises, cooking and over-seeing brunch, visiting tables and saying hi. That’s always a plus, in my opinion. Brunch ain’t just breakfast on Sunday, y’know, it’s something special, and in my opinion, Chef Sam being there is one of the things that made our brunch at Ambrozia special.
• MINUS COLUMN – The only minus I can think of is that this brunch is not located closer to my own front door. Ambrozia has always been a difficult place for me to frequent, because it’s way up on North Merrimon, near the Ingles, which is too far for me to walk, and a giant pain in the balls to bike to. Oh, I guess another minus, if I’m looking for them, is that the music is sometimes kind of lame at Ambrozia. Since I’m partially deaf, I can’t hear it most of the time, but rely instead on Dawn to tell me what’s up. She’ll get a look on her face like she just bit into a lemon, point up to the speakers, and say, “Eagles.” Ewwww!
CONCLUSIONS – Ambrozia wins! Holy fucking shit, this was the best brunch so far by far. I mean that. The other brunches, as tasty as they were, couldn’t match, let alone beat Ambrozia. In terms of flavor, plating, atmosphere, & service, Ambrozia was great, great, great & great. In terms of portion sizes and that crucial element of “viority,” Ambrozia fucking crushed it.
After we finished stuffing ourselves with everything from mincemeat hand-pies to hollandaise, Chef Sam came up to the table to say hi and ask how everything was. During our conversation he used a phrase that exactly sums up how I feel about brunch. He said, “I want to bring the buffet to the table.” Perfect. That is fucking perfect.
I love all the choice and abundance that a buffet offers, but I hate the idea of having to get up and go to it, and wait in line while other people use their grubby muhfuckin’ hands to serve themselves food with the same utensils I’m about to use to serve myself food with. Gross. Bringing the buffet to the table is the perfect solution. Thanks, Ambrozia!
Thanks to all four venues, and the various cooks and chefs, owners and staff, as well as all of my awesome brunch mates, you guys rock. Look for me and my posse out there in brunch-land on Sunday mornings and afternoons, and occasionally on Mondays too, for what’s known in the food industry as “industry brunch,” because people who worked brunch on Sunday can have their own brunch on Monday. All are welcome of course, so I do go to industry brunches from time-to-time.
See you there!
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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.