Stoobies Part Toobies…
Hey-ey! Welcome back to the annual Stoobie Awards, Asheville’s most… um… Prestigious? Meaningless? Somewhere inbetweeningiest… culinary awards! The Stoobies are given out once a year by little ol’ me, Stu Helm, and nobody else. This is Part Two, in which I will dole out awards for the best places to get breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and of course brunch! I love brunch.
If you missed Part One, you can read it here: “2016 STOOBIE AWARDS, PT 1: ‘THE BASICS’ Asheville’s Best Burger, Pizza, Sandwich, More!“
Just in case you don’t know: I’m a food writer, and host of a weekly radio show about food. I’m also a guide for walking food tours of downtown Asheville, so as you can probably imagine, I eat at a lot of restaurants. Like, a LOT a lot. More than most people for sure, and even more than most food writers I know. As a result, people often ask me to label stuff — meals, venues, people — as being “The Best” in Asheville. The Stoobies are me doing that!
Here are the winners of the 2016 Stoobie Awards in the following categories…
BEST BREAKFAST: 67 BILTMORE AVE.
Two years running! I don’t eat a whole lotta breakfasts, but when I do, I go to 67 Biltmore Ave, Downtown Eater + Catering. The name is a mouth full, and so is their breakfast — wakka wakka — which is fresh, healthy, and made to order from responsibly sourced ingredients, by people who know what they’re doing, and can do it quickly.
I gave them a Stoobie last year, and they basically have not moved one inch backward in my mind from being my go-to place in downtown Asheville when I want eggs, potatoes, meat, and fruit. Basic breakfast fare. If I do wanna get fancy with french toast, or healthy with house-made yogurt and granola, I can do that too. The coffee and pastries are top-notch, and I often get one pastry to eat there, and another one to go, for later.
The space is large and sunny. The seating is comfortable, with tables that are well-suited for one person, or parties up to 10 or more if that’s what you need! They might actually have the largest dining table in downtown Asheville. I’m not sure, but the table way in back is King Richard’s Fair-esque in it’s hugeness. It easily seats 10 or 12 people.
The service is always fast and friendly. One orders at the counter, pays at the register, helps one’s self to silverware, condiments, and beverages, then takes one’s seat. Breakfast appears moments later, steaming hot, and ready to go into one’s face-hole without fanfare.
I don’t wanna fuck around, or stand in line all day just to eat breakfast, and I’m also not out to spend a fortune for the world’s most amazingly fantastic dining experience. Nine times out of ten, I just want put something filling and tasty inside of me quickly, to get me through to my next meeting, or I want to stuff those tasty things into my face while actually having a meeting, and 67 Biltmore is perfect for all of that. Also, shout-out to Megan! She’s like… um, a lady who served me some food over a counter, and then one day she turned into my friend, and now she is a person that I truly love and admire for her heart and humanity. Yay! Do people make a difference in how we react to the food and venues that we frequent? Yes, they do.
Those are just a few of the reasons that I think of 67 Biltmore Downtown Eatery + Catering when people ask me “Who’s got the Best Breakfast in Asheville?”
Now… we all know… that somewhere in between breakfast and lunch…. lies…
As you may recall, I wrote an epic series about brunch for Ashvegas in 2016 ( “A Month of Brundays Parts 1-9“) in which I recounted and reviewed a total of 32 brunches at 28 venues over the course of 10 months. I awarded the title of “Brunch of the Month” to 10 venues: Ambrozia, Bhramari Brewhouse, Bull & Beggar, East Village Grille, Jerusalem Garden, The Junction, King Daddy’s, Salt & Smoke, Sovereign Remedies, and Posana, and I promised that one of those would win “Best Brunch” come Stoobies time. So… who’s it gonna be? Well, even though last year’s winners, The Junction, nearly edged them out, I have to give to this year’s Best Brunch award to…
BEST BRUNCH: POSANA
Posana won Brunch of the Month waaay back in February 2016 (“ANOTHER MONTH OF BRUNDAYS – Brunching in Asheville, part 2“) by nailing every single nail squarley on the head. From top-to-bottom, front to back, beginning to end, their brunch was perfect. Please allow me to quote myself from the original review…
“…as tight as the competition was, the decision was easy: Posana wins brunch this month! Boom. Whoop whoop! Yeah, Man. Here’s why in two words: Total Package. Posana has the total package when it comes to brunch: Food, beverages, service, decor, lighting, music… they even had the cutest plates and bowls! That wee ketchup cube was to fucking die for.”
Ah, fuck it, I’m just gonna quote myself some more, because… I pretty much said it all back in Feb…
“I ordered the doughnut holes, the avocado toast with smoked salmon and deep-fried capers, and the eggs Benedict / Florentine with taters. I also had coffee, and the house sent me out a delicious juice made out of beets and ginger and such… the juice was awesome, and so was the coffee, and all of the food.
To me, Posana is a special place. It’s beautiful inside; the food is bright, fresh, creative, healthy, and delicious; the service is super-pro, with just the right amount of friendly, and each member of the staff always looks as sharp as a tack. The decor at Posana is really, very, super nice, and the light that streams in from the huge windows on two sides of the dining room is gorgeous, and really good for taking pictures of the food. This was an extremely pleasant experience all around for me.”
Posana was one of the first really nice restaurants that I started to frequent when the food scene in Asheville began to blow up, and the first place where I decided that I would treat myself to high-end gourmet eats on a regular basis. They’ve always treated me like a VIP, even back when I was just a sweaty, hairy, bedraggled, unknown artist who would ride my bike downtown to eat and get out of my home-office for a few minutes. Now that I’m a sweaty, hairy, bedraggled, small town food writer who has to spread his money, time, and stomach around to as many restaurants as possible I don’t get to go to Posana as often as I would like, and I was bummed-out to realize that the entire year of 2015 had passed without me dining at Posana once! 🙁 So, I made a special effort to get myself there in 2016, and boy am I glad that I did!
I had so many excellent bites there this year, and their brunch fucking blew my socks off. Thanks, Posana! You win Best Braaahhhhhnnnch!
But what about lahnch? Easy…
BEST LUNCH: CHAI PANI
Once again, last year I promised myself that I would eat lunch at Chai Pani more often, and this year I ate a whole buncha lunches there, and I enjoyed them all tremendously! In fact it has become my go-to place for lunch, surpassing even (2016 Best Lunch Stoobie Award winners) Chestnut in the number of visits that I paid them over the course of the past 12 months. I like to meet people for lunch at Chai Pani, or go by myself to hide and be left alone, and I’m very happy to report that I have loved every single thing I ordered and ate all year! The menu is rock solid, and the daily specials are very much worth checking out.
I can swing veg, or meat, and I’ll basically eat the shit out of anything tasty. Chai Pani offers me a chance to forego the fauna, and have an insanely delicious all-vegetarian meal, that is as healthy as it is tasty! Or at least it seems healthy… so don’t go telling me how coconut oil or whatever is gonna kill me dead… I don’t wanna hear it! I just want to eat my fuckin’ pav sandwiches and bliss-out to the awesome Indian music, and lerv my lernch, right down to the table tops, which are almost as fun to look at on Instagram as they are in real life!
Speaking of the pav sandwiches… I gave them a shout-out in my new Eat of the Week series for Ashvegas recently (“EAT OF THE WEEK! Mumbai Style Pav Bhaji at Chai Pani“) because I had never had pav before, and it totally rocked my world in a way that the first hamburger I ever really loved rocked my world. For reals. The “pav” roll that they serve at Chai Pani is the tastiest little thing I’ve ever had, aaand… I’m kind of drooling a little bit right now just thinking about it… gah! Here’s a picture…
The food at Chai Pani is both highly-edible, as well as highly photogenic! And that it is due in part at least to the lighting, which is set squarely at “lunch” on the Joe Scully lighting-o-meter. That means bright, as in lively, as in, it’s the middle of the day and you don’t want your customers to be lulled to sleep after eating an assload of lunch! Get ’em in, fill ’em up, and moooooove ’em owwwt!
The atmosphere in general is very lunchy in the middle of the day at Chai Pani and it’s one of the few places downtown that I still enjoy sitting outside from time to time. I say “still” because of, y’know, catastrophic global climate change… which has been kind of harshing my mellow when it comes to outdoor dining. At least Chai Pani is on the shady side of Battery Park Ave and even has one of those city trees to dapple the blazing sun-ball a little bit.
Anyhoo, all those factors, including of course, the very warm, friendly, accommodating, and professional staff, both up front and in back, make Chai Pani my fave lunch spot these days, and that’s why they win for Best Lunch in Asheville 2016!
Okay, now for the last of the 3 squares: Dinner! I have to say, that there was a dark-horse, come-from-behind winner in the Best Dinner category this year, and that was…
BEST DINNER: RHUBARB
Dawn and I went to dinner at Rhubarb with friends from out of town twice recently, and both times, every single aspect of the dinner was phenomenal, including the greeting, the service, the atmosphere, the dishware, the music, the seating, the lighting, the plating, and of course, the food. The reason I would ever call Rhubarb a “come-from-behind winner” is because, up until recently, Dawn and I hadn’t really gone to Rhubarb for dinner much, but after these two most recent visits, you can bet your ass that we’ll be going back there for dinner more often in 2017.
The kitchen at Rhubarb does a wonderful job in presenting the food in a fun, unique, appetizing, and rustically elegant fashion that invites the diner to dive right in, and promotes sharing at the table. Everything looks like it’s going to taste really fucking good, and it does!
It didn’t hurt that both times we went with a group, our friends were super-impressed, and ooohing and ahhhing at virtually ever bite they took, which made Dawn and I very happy indeed! To see one’s friends truly enjoy the choices that we make for dining out is something we all feel good about. I would say that an actual wave of relief comes over me when a friend is happy with a venue that I choose. For one thing, now that I’m a food writer, there’s kind of a lot of pressure!
Well, our friends loved Rhubarb, and they are certainly sophisticated world travelers, who have eaten a delicious bite or two in their lives to say the very least, so thanks, Rhubarb for being a solid choice to impress out-of-towners with. Of course, impressing me and Dawn isn’t easy either! Dawn is as discerning an eater as I am, if not more so, and I am spoiled as fuck when it comes to eating delicious things. Believe it. I eat awesome food for a fucking living, Yo. I know when it’s good, I know when it’s great, and I know when food is on another level. Rhubarb just tipped into that “other level” territory for me this year, and then shot straight to the top of the charts in the last three months.
The lighting in Rhubarb is perfectly nice and dim at dinner time, which I love, but it’s terrible for taking pictures with an iPhone, so I actually have a very limited number of pictures of the food, and those I do have are slightly grainy. I think that the two above, one of head-on shrimp, and one of hen of the wood mushrooms, might give you some idea of how amazing this food looks when it shows up to your table. Below is a celery cake dessert that I ordered because it sounded weird, and when it showed-up, it looked a little weird too!
Although it was beautifully presented, the beige-ness of this dessert was… unexpected, let’s just say.
I was skeptical, but after one bite… whoa. I was converted. It. Was. Delicious!!! Holy fuck. I couldn’t believe how good this thing was. Later, as I looked at the photo, I realized it was actually a gorgeously subtle homage to its own beige-ness. The kitchen had worked with the bland color, rather than against it, so that — from one side of the plate to the other — it was proudly, unapologetically, unabashedly beige. I found that to be quite daring, actually. Like a lot of contemporary art, it took me a minute to get it, but.. yeah.. that dessert was phenomenal in every aspect, including the beige pallet.
I’ve gotten to know Chef/Owner John Fleer a little bit this year, and the fact that he’s really nice, and genuine, and humble, and generous with his time and resources when it comes to the community at large and the culinary community in particular did not hurt his chances at being considered for a Stoobie this year.
Yes, it makes a difference — to all of us, not just to me and Dawn, but to you too — how we feel about the people who are running the places we choose to eat, and spend our time, money, and energy supporting. It matters to me that I like the owner, the head chef, the server at the take-out window, the person at the hosts’ stand. It all matters. It’s a big-picture thing, Yo, but it’s also as simple as a pimple…
I bump into Chef John Fleer. He’s a nice person. I want to eat at his restaurant.
That’s how shit works, and that’s exactly how that happened. As I got to know John more, I wanted to eat at Rhubarb more, and as I dined there more often, I got to know the food better, but also grew to truly admire the decor, notice the music, interact with the staff, and eventually come to think of it as not only a great place to have dinner, but THE great place to have dinner.
If you have visitors from another part of the state, country, or world, take them to Rhubarb. It’s a unique, local gem, located in the very heart of downtown, that reflects and embodies the essence of the area, by presenting Appalachian inspired food, in a high-end, highly skilled fashion that is respectful of its origins, and is sure to impress both you and your guests with every bite.
Yeah, Man! Rhubarb: 2106 Stoobie Award for Best Dinner in Asheville!
Okay, and that’s the end of the 2016 Stoobie Awards, Pt Two, “3 Squares (+1)” The winners were:
67 Biltmore Downtown Eatery + Catering
“Downtown Asheville’s best Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner on Biltmore Avenue from 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Saturday. Offering Local and Gluten Free options.”
67 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 252 1500
“Seasonal American cuisine featuring local, sustainable ingredients served in a spare, refined space.”
1 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 505-3969
“Indian chaat (small plates) plus home-style platters (thalis) in a snug storefront space.”
22 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC
Phone: (828) 254-4003
“Rustic-chic bar & eatery offering farm-to-table fare, plus a weekly family-style Sunday supper menu.”
7 S Pack Square, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 785-1503
CATEGORIES TO COME…
BEST FOOD TRUCK
MEAL OF THE YEAR
SERVER OF THE YEAR
CHEF OF THE YEAR
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
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.
ON THE RADIO: wpvmfm.org