Holy shit. Part seven?!? This is the most epic fucking adventure I’ve ever been on in my life, and the year is only half-over! So. Many. Brunches.
Word has gotten out that I’m hunting brunches in bunches, so I keep hearing about more and more of them. “This place is doing brunch.” “That place is doing brunch.” “Oh, Stu, have you tried brunch at the Hot Spot on Ashland and Hilliard?” Here. There. Everywhere. Look out! There’s one behind you now!
At one point I actually thought that I had literally been to every single brunch in downtown Asheville. HA!
Not even close. Restaurants, cafes, diners, and dive bars be adding brunch to their schedules left and right, and totally trying to capitalize on the burgeoning popularity of this once-maligned meal. Well, I guess some people still malign it, but fuck those people. Anyone who talks shit about brunch has weird personal issues, is what I’m sayin’.
I mean, I’m no psychiatrist, but WTF? It’s brunch. If you don’t like it, you’ve got your head up your ass.
That is my professional opinion.
HERE’S WHERE I BRUNCHED DURING THE MONTH OF JUNE, 2016
• BRUNCH MATES – Solo.
• FOOD – I ordered the Full English Breakfast, plus a soft omelet, and the kitchen sent me a baby Dutch pancake. I also ordered coffee, and every brunch that day came with a seed cake amuse bouche. I ordered something called bubble and squeak too, because… well, because it’s called bubble and squeak. I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t care, I just knew that I wanted something called “bubble and squeak.”
• PLUS COLUMN – The food! The service! The food and service! Food food food! Service service service! And decor and atmosphere too. Holy fuck I love Bull and Beggar. They do everything just right. They honor tradition, while bringing innovation, and they never skimp on quality or flavor. The English breakfast was a perfect example of how and why Bull and Beggar gets things right. It was very authentic, and contained every single crucial element of a proper English breakfast — baked beans, blood pudding, grilled mushrooms, grilled tomato, ham, sausage, egg, and brown bread. In addition to all that, there was bone marrow, and chopped fresh herbs. Holy fuck. All of it was cooked perfectly of course, and presented in a very classic, simple yet elegant style, that looked as good as it tasted. There was even a special utensil just for the bone marrow. Nice! The bubble and squeak was great, as was the baby Dutch pancake. The former is basically potatoes and cheese, cooked and served in an iron skillet, that comes out hotter than fuck, and tastes as savory as can be. It’s heavy duty stuff. The pancake was enormous, but light, and crispy, and tender, and sweet, and mmmmm…. I want one right now. It was kind of a cross between a pancake and fried dough.
• MINUS COLUMN – Nothing. Not one thing. I can’t even take points off for not being in my neighborhood, because they are in my neighborhood. It takes me five minutes to walk from my back door to their front door. If I wanted to find something negative to say about brunch at The Bull and Beggar, I would have to go all “Minority Report” on them and punish them for the future crime of being too popular, and completely packed at brunch, with a line out the door, a long wait for a table, and no private skybox just for me. Bahhhht, I ain’t gonna do that. Perfect score, Bull and Beggar. No points off. Nothing in the minus column.
CONCLUSIONS – Go ahead. Go to Bull and Beggar for Sunday brunch. See if I care. Fill every seat and crevasse with your human bodies, create long lines, eat all the food. Fuck you. I know it’s gonna happen, so just go ahead and make it happen and get it over with! I kept telling everyone I know how fucking awesome their Monday night burger is, and now Mondays are PACKED. It’s my own fault, and of course, I want that same thing to happen for their Sunday brunch, because it’s fucking great, and the crew there deserves lots of recognition and reward for what they do. They always do everything right, in my opinion, and they are one of my top five restaurants in town. They took on brunch, and nailed it.
• BRUNCH MATE – Solo… unless you count the room full of people that I know.
• FOOD – “Chicken fried steak fried chicken fried steaaaaak!” It is impossible for me to order chicken fried steak without singing those words in my head. “Chicken fried steak fried chicken fried steaaaaak!” Yep. Anyhoo… yeah, I ordered that, with eggs and taters and gravy and toast. I also had coffee.
• PLUS COLUMN – Nom nom nom. Nom. Nom nom nom nom! Slobber grrrrrrr… Can’t talk. Eating. This grub was fucking GOOOD and I ate every single molecule of food that was in front of me. It was conceived of and cooked-up by one of my favorite “Ronin chefs,” of MG Road, Chef Alyssa Mikas (aka Papaya Valdez). She has been responsible for sooo many good bites going into my facehole during her various pop-ups over the past couple of years, and this brunch was no exception. The chicken fried steak was homey, and had a very nice texture, and flavor. It wasn’t tough, greasy, dense, or heavy like some other chicken fried steaks I’ve had in this town. It was easy to cut, and slightly chewy, in the good way, while remaining tender. The taters were deep fried blocks of potato, Yo. Simple as a pimple. The eggs were perfectly fried over-easy, the gravy was creamy, and savory, and mild, yet distinct and delicious. There was also awesome retro-country music being played the whole time by DJ Lady Pennyface. It was a good fucking time all around.
• MINUS COLUMN – Like I said, I was eating alone, but in a room that was full of people I know, and that’s because this was a rare “Monday Brunch,” which is generally considered to be an “Industry Brunch,” meaning the food industry. So everywhere I looked I saw the dapper gentlemen of Imperial Life and other friendly, familiar faces from the food industry. I saw Mikey and Kathleen and Chef Meherwan from the Chai Pani group. Alex of PBR Fame was there, and so was Kipper of… Kipper fame! Yay, Kipper! Gosh, all of this sounds like a plus, Stu, so why is it in the minus column? Well, imaginary Voice in my head, it’s in the minus column because it illustrates the fact that this was a one-time only pop-up brunch that MG Road did as a treat of sorts for the food industry people, and there are currently no plans to do it again. I asked at least three people, and the answer was more or less “no” each time. In other words: The fact that I can’t eat this exact same brunch again is the only minus I can think of.
CONCLUSIONS – I feel lucky to have been there, and if you missed it, you’re plain shit-out-of-luck. So, what’s the point of writing a review of something that the readers and eaters can’t enjoy too? Well, Voice, despite what I was told, I am sure that brunch will find it’s way back into the MG Road pop-up mix again, and when it does, I want all of you to know about it and go, because I love these pop-up thingies and I think you will too. They are a truly fun and unique aspect to the Asheville food scene, and no one does it better than MG Road and Chef Papaya. Not just for brunch, but for lunch, and dinner too. Look for her name when they advertise the pop-ups. She makes some high quality eats!
NOTE: Special thanks to Erin, who assured me a seat, weeks in advance, because I became panicky that I might miss this brunch!
• BRUNCH MATES – My Nephew
• FOOD – I ordered the ricotta flap jacks, and the nephew ordered a Philly cheese steak. The kitchen also sent out an order of breakfast poutine, and I had coffee.
• PLUS COLUMN – That poutine. Holy. Fuck. That shit was gooooooooooooood! Ermerferkin’ gerd. A bed of waffle fries, covered in cheese, and egg, gravy, some kinda red sauce, and fresh radishes, scallions, and such. I was surprised by how fucking good this poutine was, and I want it again right now! Good lord, I can not recommend it highly enough. If you like poutine, and who the fuck doesn’t like poutine, go try the poutine at Strada for brunch. It crushes. My ricotta pancakes were also really good, and very filling, and my nephew reported that the cheese steak was “the best” he’d ever had. He said that with a lot of authority too, like he knows a good Philly cheese steak. He’s 14. He skates. He’s bad-ass. I’ll take his word for it.
• MINUS COLUMN – Presentation. I’ll be giving Joe a hard time about this very thing in the review of Chestnut’s brunch below, but yeah, this food deserves better presentation. The flap-jacks were inelegantly tossed on a plain white plate with two ugly metal ramekins of butter and real maple syrup. Butter and real maple syrup should come in nicer vessels in my opinion. Look at the picture below. Those ramekins might as well contain margarine and Mrs. Butterworth. My nephew’s sandwich — as tasty as it may have been — was so ugly, I couldn’t even post the picture I took on Instagram. The poutine was much more artistically presented, and made for a great picture, but the flapjacks also didn’t make the Instagram cut. Why is that important? Well, Voice, for one thing, the way human psychology works means that prettier food is more enjoyable to eat, but also, Strada had one picture instead of three on my Instagram feed that day, so their food, brand, and message reached fewer of my followers. I posted all of my Strada brunch pics to FaceBook, so people saw them there, and could see for themselves that the dishes didn’t look all that great. I reiterate: Everything tasted awesome, my only complaint is presentation. I think that in a day and age when so many customers are taking pictures of their food and posting them on social media, a restaurant would do well to make sure their food looks as good as possible. Social Media is like word-of-mouth, with pictures.
CONCLUSIONS – When I heard Strada did brunch, I was skeptical. How’s an Italian restaurant gonna pull-off such an English / Southern/American meal? Then I tasted Strada’s shrimp and grits on Asheville Food Tours, and it was really good, so I knew I had to go back, and I’m really glad I did, because I’m very happy to report that brunch at Strada is solid, tasty, and very nicely done. I’d go back any time, and I really recommend that breakfast poutine. And those flapkacks were effin’ good too. Yeah, Man. Strada for brunch. Who knew?
• BRUNCH MATES – Jonathan Ammons, Tony Kiss, Dan Peschio, and Tracey Johnston-Crum
• FOOD – This was a media brunch, and let’s just say, the big guys can afford to do these things up right, so of course, the Grove Park Inn did it up right. They trotted out a good number of dishes for us to try, so that we’d each get a taste of several items from their brunch menu. They even brought out 2 plates of every dish: One that was divided-up into four small portions for us to eat, and one that was whole for us to take pictures of. We ate oysters, French toast, a brunch burger, an “egg slut” sandwich, and a breakfast empanada. I ate the fuck out of everything.
• PLUS COLUMN – The food and the company! I always enjoy a meal with my fellow-food writer, Jonathan Ammons, and GPI rep Tracey Johnston-Crum is a pleasure to be around. I had never officially met Tony Kiss, and I found his dead-pan persona to be very amusing, I enjoyed trying to make him smile. Photographer Dan Peschio was a stranger to me until that day, and he was interesting and fun to be around. Some writers don’t enjoy these media meals, but I fuckin’ love ’em. I ate a TON of food! Holy shit. Highlights were definitely the burger made with wagyu beef, the French Toast with local peach compote, and the “egg slut” sandwich. I’m not sure why it’s called an egg slut sandwich, but we all thought that was pretty dang funny at the time. Later, when I told someone else, and they gave me a look, like, “WTF?!?” I thought it was less funny. It was delicious however, and super decadent and buttery and baconny and melted cheesey… and yeah, I did kinda wanna make-out with it in public all morning, so maybe I’m the slut in this scenario?
• CLICK ON THE PICS BELOW TO SEE LARGER VERSIONS •
• MINUS COLUMN – I mean… the things that are in my minus column would probably be in other people’s plus columns… like: It was hot and sunny on the porch, and I couldn’t give less of a shit about the beer that was being paired with this brunch. It’s a new Oskar Blues beer, and I love those guys because… food trucks… but the beer part of this Beer Brunch was just whatever to me. The only other minus is that the empanada could have been a little crispier for me. Other than those very minor things, this brunch fucking RULED.
CONCLUSIONS – Oh fuck yes. Go to the GPI website and scope out when the rest of these Beer Brunches are happening and get in on one. The food is great, and despite what you might think, Edison and Vue 1913 at the Grove Park Inn are two really great Asheville spots, for locals and visitors alike. They are both totally worth going to. On a cold, wet, overcast day, I even like the porch.
• BRUNCH MATES – Kim and Duncan the Plumber
• FOOD – I had the Biltmore Chicken, which was three pieces of deep-fried, bone-in chicken, with grits, collards, and a biscuit. Duncan got French toast, and Kim made her own omelet, as per the instructions on the menu. I made a poor call when ordering mine — I’m not a huge fan of bone-in chicken when dining out… too much work — and I immediately had brunch envy for Duncan’s French toast.
• PLUS COLUMN – The food. Joe cooks everything just right, and I happen to know that he flogs his kitchen staff with a… flogger? Well, he beats them mercilessly until they know how to do everything just right too, so even if Joe’s not in the kitchen, Chestnut’s food is always cooked perfectly. In fact, it is the most consistent restaurant in Downtown Asheville, in my opinion, and the brunch was spot-on. Although the chicken was a hassle for me to pull off the bone and stuff, it was of course, great! And the collards were great too. The grits were slightly stiff, but once I added butter, they were better. I just… I really wish that I had ordered that fucking French toast is all. Dunc-nuts gave me a bite of his, and it was fan-frickin’-tastic, and I was all-ate-up inside with jealousy and regrets! Kim said that her omelet was also perfect. I’m sure it was. I wanted that French toast!
• MINUS COLUMN – Presentation. Straight-up, Yo. Joe makes some of the best effing food in Asheville, but sometimes he doesn’t give it the presentation it deserves. Take a look at the three side dishes below. A scone with house-made Devonshire cream and blueberry compote; a fancy-pants, fork ‘n’ knifer doughnut; and a cinnamon sticky bun with bacon, whipped cream, and some kinda drizzle. All awesome, house-made things that were cooked perfectly, with skill and care, and then just sorta plopped unceremoniously on a plain white plate, with crazy, uneven, non-artistic drizzle patterns, or cheap, ugly metal ramekins, which I found out are called “silver bullets” in some kitchens. Like the brunch at Strada, I think this food deserves better presentation. When I pointed it out to Joe, he seemed a little annoyed at first, but eventually texted me, “You’re right.” Because Joe is my friend, and we talk often, I know that he wants for Chestnut’s brunch to be the BEST brunch in downtown Asheville. Not one of the best, but thee best. I told him that with so many great brunches being served, it’s a game of inches, and even the cuteness of the ramekins can make a difference. Correction, the cuteness of the ramekins WILL make a difference.
Click on the thumbnails below to see larger versions…
CONCLUSIONS – What can I say? I frickin’ love Joe, so I’m probably biased, but part of what I love about this guy is the way he runs his restaurants. The food and service are always spot on, and I never leave hungry or unhappy. Chestnut’s brunch is great, so go in, try the new menu, and see for yourselves. I’ll be back for that French toast fer shizzle. Anyone who asks me about Chestnut will hear the same thing: It is one of the most consistent restaurants in Downtown Asheville, I love it, and I eat there all the time. Even back when Joe hated me, it was one of my go-to places, and it still is. Brunch is no different. Go-to brunch at the ‘nut. You won’t regret it.
I ate a LOT of good bites at brunch last month, but…
From the the amuse bouche, to the bubble and squeak, to the cool bone marrow tool, to the giant-sized baby Dutch pancake thingy, this brunch was the bomb-titty-ass-bomb of all the totally bomb-ass brunches I ate last month. I had no bad brunches, but this was the best of them all. Also, look how fucking CUTE that shit looks in the picture above. Cuteness counts.
Congrats to Bull and Beggar, you guys have impressed me time and time again, and as you can tell, I loved your brunch a bunch. You’re now in contention for Brunch of the Year when the Stoobie Awards come around in December.
Here are the other contenders so far (listed alphabetically):
Wildcard candidates will be culled from the list of all the places I’ve been to so far, which includes the following (asterisks indicate ranking):
Chestnut – *****
The Barleycorn Pub – *****
Isa’s Bistro – *****
Bull & Beggar – *****
Strada – ****
MG Road – ****
Asheville Food Tours – ****
Curate – ****
Buxton Hall BBQ – ****
Edison / Oskar Blues Beer Brunch – ***
Mojo Kitchen and Lounge – ***
Copper Crown – ***
Imperial Life – ***
Rhubarb – ***
Sovereign Remedies – ***
Misty Mountain Bakeshop – ***
Love You a Brunch Truck – ***
Local Provisions – **
The Market Place – *
— END —
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.
I’m so excited that I got a shout out. DJ Lady Pennyface is my wife and the ladies of country brunch was in part her concept and her solo DJ debut!
Can’t wait for you to come to our Yacht Rock brunch at The Southern with Chef Joe Marple at the helm, and me on the decks.