The Final Countdown

WARNING: The following blog post contains adult language.

Alright folks, let’s fuckin’ do this! Let’s get through the final categories of the 2019 Food Fan Awards (née The Stoobies), and then we can have ourselves a party on the 27th to announce the winners and eat our faces awwwwfffff!!!


Physical awards will be handed out at a LIVE ceremony! Tickets available HERE!


JANUARY 27TH, 2020
• V.I.P. Admission – 5:00PM
• General Admission: 6:00PM
• Awards Ceremony 7:00PM – 8:00PM
• Evening Ends at 9:30PM
@ Asheville Beauty Academy

Asheville Masonic Temple
80 Broadway St, Asheville, NC 28801

To have fun, while paying tribute to the great people who make up the amazing Asheville Food Scene!

Produced by: Stu Helm Food FanShay Brown Events, & Ashvegas.com

Click HERE or on the “Buy Tickets Now” button below

Reminder: These are my own top picks, based on my own personal experiences and opinions. Your experiences and opinions may vary. Also, I go out to eat often, but I can’t get everywhere and eat everything. If I missed you in 2019, I’ll try to get to you in 2020.

And here are the final categories and nominees…

Most days I skip breakfast, but on the days that I don’t skip it, I need it and I need it bad. If I have a meeting early in the morning for example, I’m gonna need breakfast, so you’d better just go ahead and make it a breakfast meeting, and you better be prepared to watch me eat like a vacuum fucking cleaner. Especially if I had to walk to the meeting. I had to walk to several early morning meetings in 2019, so I ate several breakfasts, and these are my top three nominees for the Best Breakfast award…

Benne on Eagle

Most of the top notch dinner restaurants in town are not open for breakfast, and a lot of them aren’t even open for lunch. Benne on Eagle, one of the top notchiest eateries in asheville, serves breakfast daily, and it’s the fuckin’ bomb. I especially recommend their biscuits ‘n’ gravy which are among my absolute favorites in town, and their “eggs Benne” are a hearty and familiar dish, with a slight twist, and real Asheville charm. The breakfast crew at Benne has to be there to serve the hotel guests anyways, they’ve got a real “since we’re already making eggs, come get breakfast” attitude, and I like that! Downtown Asheville has surprisingly few choices for breakfast, and the locals know them all, along with approximate wait-times for each and every one, so I just want to make sure that all downtown breakfast-eaters are aware that they have another choice with Benne, and it’s great!

Sovereign Remedies / OWL Bakery

The daily breakfasts that happened at Sovereign Remedies w/ OWL Bakery for a good part of the year were intensely yummy, and involved some of my favorite food experiences, not just of 2019, but of all time. For example: Best. Yogurt. Ever. That will probably never be an actual category for an award, but if it was, the house made greek style yogurt with olive oil, local fruit, and edible flowers would win hands-down. It was phenomenal. Have I ever used the word “phenomenal” to describe yogurt before in my life? Nope. Not even once. Until now. And the yogurt is just a single facet of the breakfast menu offered by Chefs Susannah Gebhart of OWL and Graham House and his excellent crew at Sovereign Remedies. I don’t get in to Sov as much as I’d like to, but I hit these breakfasts with Dawn a couple of times and once on my own, and they were something special. Dawn and I also hit a taco night at Sov Rems. Also very fucking great.

The Rhu

What tha?!? John Fleer best Breakfast double down? Hell yeah. Chef John Fleer has three establishments in town these days, and he’s fuckin’ great at errthin’ he does, so of course his establishments get a lot of attention from me. (Just wait. There’s even more to come.) His places are all headed-up by awesome cooks, bakers, and chefs, and each venue has its own identity, as well as commonalities of course. Of the three, I think The Rhu might be the one that I spend the most quiet-time with. What I call my Stu-time. Just me. A crossword. A coffee. A galette. That’s all I need in life, especially first thing in the fuckin’ morning. As I said, I’m not the most breakfasty person alive, and most mornings I’m working at home eating cup after cup of coffee, but when I’m out in the world early for some reason, and I do eat breakfast, it’s just as likely to be a pastry as anything else. When it comes to breakfast pastries, almost nothing in this world beats the galette at The Rhu. They are sweet, or savory, depending on what’s in season and what’s in the house. I particularly love the sweet ones, because they are not too sweet, and there’s usually a tartness to the fruit filling as well. So, while it’s not exactly steak ‘n’ eggs with hash-browns, this simple, elegant and tasty AF galette with a primo cuppajoe from The Rhu is one of the best breakfasts in town. One of the three best, in my opinion. 

Lunch is my jam. I’ll be eatin’ more lunches over the course of any year than any other meal. I skip breakfast most days, and while I do eat supper, sometimes I’m eating lunch for supper. As in, whatever part of my enormous lunch I didn’t finish, I’m heating up in my trusty toaster oven and crushing at, like, 10pm. Either that or I’m ordering a burger or sandwich or other very lunchy item to be delivered for dinner, so yeah, me and lunch, we’re friends. Good friends. Here are my three nominees for the Best Lunch, 2019!


Holy fuck, Y’all. If I ever hear anyone say “I’m tired of small plates,” I’ll just say “Bomba.” My go-to dish: A half a chicken and two sides. That’s right, I said A HALF A CHICKEN. And two sides. The sides are killer, and filling as can be: Potatoes au gratin, mac ‘n’ cheese, a whole avocado. Yes, you heard that right too, a whole avocado, and since my nurse practitioner tol’ me to eat more avocados, I’m getting a whole avocado to go with my HALF A FUCKIN’ CHICKEN. The food at Bomba is delish, and comes in very plentiful portions. Bring a friend, you gonna need help.

12 Bones

My mom is one of my frequent lunch partners and she loves her some 12 Bones, so I think we went to the Bones at Foundy more often than almost anywhere else in Asheville last year. I’ve eaten my way around their menu, and I remain a big proponent of their smoked turkey plate, but this year I also tried and got stuck on their brisket for a few months. Whew, I ate a lot of 12 Bones brisket and it was fucking great. I’m relatively new to brisket, so I’m trying it here, there, and everywhere and finding out that it varies a lot from place to place. I had some great brisket in 2019, I also had some strips of blubbery rubber that were inedible as far as i could tell. I might add “Best Brisket” to my awards next time around, and 12 Bones could be a contender for sure, but in the meantime, for being consistent AF, for that turkey turkey, for the brisket, for all the awesome sides (shout out to my Sides People, y’all!) and for making my mom happy since she first moved to Asheville many years ago, 12 Bones is my second nominee for Best Lunch in Asheville, 2019!

Green Tea Sushi

I eat too many hamburgers. I know that. And yes I am aware that fried chicken is not a great substitute. My cholesterol is a little high, so I did try to eat a little healthier in 2019 than in previous years. So, when my mom wanted to grab some lunch one day, and I suggested sushi, she suggested Green Tea. I’d never been there, so I was game, and I am so glad we went! We’ve been back since, and it’s just one of the greatest lunch experiences available in Asheville. The atmosphere can’t be beat, the service is very pro and charming, the price is right, and the food is excellent! I had the sashimi special on my first visit, which I consider a bold move on my part. Raw fish for lunch at a place I’d never been to? I dove in with both feet, and it was sooooo good! The fish was fresh AF and the species included were particularly enjoyable. A sushi expert I am not, and I’m so new to sashimi that I could literally count the times I’ve ordered it in my entire life on one hand, but this sashimi was so good, that I’m gonna have to branch out to my other hand real soon. The location is tough for me, out on Patton Ave, but whenever my mom was game, it was one of our favorite lunch spots!

Even though I do it a lot, going out to dinner is still a really special thing for me. I don’t take it for granted, and I try to recognize what a privilege it is to have other people cook and serve me dinner, and even clean up after I’m done! When selecting my Best Dinner nominees, I consider the whole ball of wax. Service, food, plating & presentation, quality of ingredients, creativity across the board, even the music, lighting, noise levels, everything right down to the wobble-factor of the tables can make a difference. No joke. This town has a wobbly table crisis that may require federal funding to solve.

Note to young entrepreneurs: “Asheville Table Shim Company.” You could make a million bucks.

Bull & Beggar

When Dawn asked me what I wanted to eat, and where I wanted to go on my birthday, I replied “Steak, and I don’t care where, I’ll even go to Ruth’s Chris’d if that’s the only option.” Well, Dawn swears a lot too, and I think her response to that contained at least one eff-bomb, maybe more, and went something like, “Oh fuck that, we’re not going to Ruth’s Chris. And it’s not pronounced ‘Ruth’s Chris’d,’ I don’t know where you get that from, but I’m sure we can find a fucking steak at one of these fucking restaurants around here.” Well, she sure did! Not far from our house, right in the River Arts District, at Bull and Beggar they have an intensely good fillet mignon. It was possibly the best steak I’ve ever had in my life no kidding. It came with bone marrow, and taters au gratin, and I didn’t give a shit if I had a heart attack right then and there, I crushed every bite, because there was no way on Earth I was going to subject that perfectly cooked steak to a reheat at home the next day. I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere at Bull and Beggar and they have some of the best, and most pro servers in the city. This meal was outstanding and is my first nominee of Best Dinner of 2019!


Hooooboy. I’m telling you what. Dawn and I had an epic meal at Zambra with our nephews. I think we ate 85% of the menu. And every single thing was fantastic. Everyone was so into it. The plates would hit the table and a feeding frenzy of hands and forks would erupt. I had to be all, like, “Hey! Settle the fuck down. I need to take a picture!” about a hundred times. The sharks were circling as soon as the server was in sight. If you think I’m an eater, you should see my nephews. They are literally twice as tall as me, for one thing, and they had each other to contend with growing up. Plus their Dad. In other words: You’d better eat this entire watermelon, before your dad or brother does. Anyhoo, all that is just to say that this meal was an immensely pleasurable experience for all of us and one of the greatest we had in 2019. The atmosphere in Zambra is totally unchanged and as awesome as ever, the service was beyond great, and the food was just a non-stop freight train of awesomeness. Chef Ryan Kline and grew are knocking out plate after plate of some of the best, most exciting, and interesting food in Asheville. Most of you probably already know that, but just in case you didn’t, now you do.   

Smoky Park Supper Club

Dawn and I had dinner with friends at Smoky Park Supper Club as often as we could get over there (and get in! It’s hella popular now, so make reservations!), and wow, every bite was we had was totally awesome. Their mussels are always in Dawns’ top three, I love the burger, and everyone enjoys the shit out of all the other things we’ve ordered like squash salad, kale salad, heirloom tomatoes, iron skillet brownie etc etc, the list goes on and the menu changes so it will continue to grow. We go to Smoky Park Supper Club and we eat a shipping container of food (bah-dum-pah) and we always love it! The location is a little hard for me, it’s straight-up impossible to walk to, so as I said we go when we can, and I recommend it highly to everyone who asks, so I hope to see you there more often in 2020. Until then, they are my third and final nominee for Asheville’s Best Dinner 2019!

Bonus: Chef Michelle Bailey usually comes over to our table to say hi! She’s a super-nice person, with a great attitude, and very charming demeanor, as well as being a kick-ass chef who cooks almost exclusively with FIRE!

Last year I gave Sunnypoint Cafe a “Lifetime Achievement” award for their shrimp ‘n’ grits, which are and always have been theeeee best in Asheville, if not the country. If you haven’t had them, get them. This year I decided to give a lifetime achievement award for being “The Best of the Best at Everything the Effin’ Do,” to one venue in town, and picking the winner was an easy decision for me.


I have been a fan of this place for a long time. Pretty much since it opened. I used to live not far from the OG location, and I right about the same time they opened, I was just starting to allow myself to spend more of my income on the delicious food that was becoming available all around me, as the restaurant scene was exploding. I was still an artist back then, with a small income, so it was a tough decision, but I was suffering from some serious food FOMO, so I bit the bullet… and then everything else in sight…  including the dishes at Homegrown. I’ve eaten there so many times, that I have no idea, and I’ve tried just about everything on their regular menu (might have missed a salad or two) and have been known to hit up the daily specials as well. My favorite thing is the fried chicken with taters, gravy, and broccoli. Extra gravy please. They nail it every fucking time and they have done since the first time I ever got it, to the most recent time I had it which was just three days ago as i write this. The original location remains virtually unchanged. Decor, set-up, ordering system, parking situation, all the same since day one. You know what to expect at Homegrown, and in this fucked up world, that’s kinda helpful. The level of the service and the quality of the food has remained consistently and reliably excellent as well. When there’s a line, the line goes fast. The fare is Southern / American / Hippy-Asheville style, which means you can go healthy or decadent with your choices at Homegrown. I try to shoot the middle. And usually fail. #extragravyplease Anyhoo, yeah, Homegrown, thank you for being there for us, and for being our friends, and no kidding, being like a second home for some of us when it comes to good old fashioned food and comfort. You are the Best of the Best at Everything You Effin’ Do, and I know for a fact that I speak for a large number of local eaters when I say so. We appreciate you!

This category is a catch-all for the people who are an important part of, and major contributors to the local food scene, but don’t fall into any of the other categories. They’re not cooks, or chefs, or makers, or bakers, or food truck owners, or servers or any of the usual labels that we all use to describe ourselves and others in the culinary, hospitality, and general food world. There are tons of them, and I wish I could draw attention and give accolades to them all, but that would make for a LOOOOOONG post, so here are my top three nominees for 2019 Food Person or People of the Year!

MANNA Foodbank

Hunger Sucks! Big time. Little kids going to bed hungry, that sucks even more. Nobody wants that, and yet it happens right here in America, right here in WNC every night of the week. It’s terrible. I eat like a fucking king, and I am aware of that. It was not always the case, however, and as a working artist for 20 years, I did have some skinny times, where my food security was tied directly to my ability to also pay my rent and bills. I feel extremely lucky now to eat like I do, and hopefully nothing will stop me from being able to continue, but in the meantime, I also try to support organizations that feed hungry people as much as I can, with actual donations of actual money (please also do that yourselves!) and by asking my 5,000 Facebook followers to do the same. First and foremost on my list of food networks that I support is MANNA Food Bank, who collect, store, warehouse, and distribute food to accredited nonprofits throughout 16 counties in Western North Carolina. They bring literal truckloads of food to people who might not otherwise have access to it with a tremendously well-oiled and highly functional system that managed to deliver close to 20 million pounds of food in the past fiscal year. Their mission is to feed hungry people, and that’s what they do. The people who work and volunteer for MANNA are local heroes, I love and respect what they do, and they are my first nominees for Food People of the Year!

Chowchow Organizers

You can read my write-up of Chowchow HERE, and look at tons of pictures that should help to explain what it was and why I felt it was so important and successful. The organizers, collectively, are my second nominees for Food People of the Year, because they did something really special for our food scene this year. They kicked it up another level. The branding. The set up. The quality of the experience was like no other food festival this town has ever seen, and I’m not exaggerating in the least. There was more food, more good times, more things to do than any other food event I’ve attended in this city in the 14 years I’ve lived here. Plus it seemed like the entire local food community, or close to it, turned out for this one, and showed their love and support for each other. I’ll be honest, Chowchow’s stated goals were ambitious, and I wasn’t sure if they could pull off everything they took on, but they went above and beyond my expectations and rocked it the fuck out. From the giant paella, to the cheese sausage, to the speech by Jose Andres, the whole thing was delicious and even had a “magical” quality to it. For finally giving Asheville the food festival it deserves, the organizers of Chowchow are my second nominees for Food People of the Year!

Mother Ocean

Fish! When I first moved to the mountains of Western North Carolina, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get any good seafood anymore, and for someone born and raised in New England, that was a sad prospect. Then I realized, duh, fresh fish is being brought up here daily from the coastline, which really isn’t all that far away, and the seafood around these parts can be trusted! You really need to “trust” seafood more than a lot of other major food groups. One of the most trustworthy, stalwart, friendly, and enthusiastic fishmongers in the area is Mr. Sam Kosik, who runs Mother Ocean Market, along with his partner Chef Greg Kilpatrick. Q: Would I normally eat a raw oyster offered by two bearded guys in overalls on North Lexington Ave? A. No, I would not normally do that. Unless those bearded gentlemen are Sam Kosik and Chef Greg! “Hey, Stu, you wanna try this oyster?” Um, Hell yes. Gim. Crack crack slurp chew chew chew gulp! Fuck that’s good. Mr. Kosik’s passion for fresh seafood and his undying dedication to getting it to us poor, land-locked, mountain folk is worthy of praise, and I suggest that you to seek him by checking his Facebook page and web site regularly. Sam and Greg are both graduates of AB Tech, and Sam been a food distro guy in our area for many years. Recently, they followed their hearts and started Mother Ocean Market, and together they are committed to bringing insanely good seafood to us here in Asheville. YAY FISH! They are my final nominees for 2019’s Food Person / People of the Year! 

I introduced this category last year because while chefs tend to seek out, attract, and deserve a lot of attention, there’s a shitload of super talented and hard working people in this food scene who call themselves “cooks” who deserve recognition too. I know from experience that calling a cook a chef will cause them to respond by saying, “I’m just a cook.” The word “just” is misplaced in my opinion, because, straight-up, this town would cease to fuckin’ function without all the great cooks in the kitchens of the restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and carts all over downtown and the surrounding hinterlands. These are three cooks that cooked me a lot of food last year, and I think deserve my thanks as nominees for the 2019 Cook of the Year award…

Erika Villaney / Bomba

I have featured Erika in some of my writing in the past, and I have certainly eaten a ton of her cooking over the years. Maybe not literally a ton but close to it. How many pounds are in a ton again? I’ll do the math later, but yeah, I have certainly enjoyed the food that Erika prepares at Bomba, through all the changes, the various menus, and identities, the crazy hours, the highs and lows, Erika has been there, cooking up a storm and crushing it completely. When the menu turned into its current incarnation of rotisserie chicken, I started going in more often than even because chicken is my favorite animal to eat. (So far.) As usual, there was Erika, and her support crew, banging out dish after dish after dish of delicious chicken and sides, along with all kinds of breakfast and lunch specials and standards that I just mind-blowingly tasty and rock solid in execution. Erika has been there for at least 6 years, and is the center of that establishment. And just so you know, when I asked her via Facebook PM, “Are you a chef or a cook?” She responded without hesitation that she is a cook.

Corey Willis / Manicomio

One of my favorite pastimes is jus’ hangin’ with the crew at my favorite pizza place, Manicomio. When I have a few minutes to kill before a food tour, or in between meetings and meals, I’ll often find co-owner Mike sitting either alone or with half the staff, and I feel honored that they always wave me over to join them. The first question Mike asks, “How’s your mom?” They frens now. The next question, always, “You hungry?” Depending on my answer to that 2nd inquiry, the next words from Mike’s mouth might be, “Corey! Put together a (fill in the blank) for Stu!” Then Corey deftly, expertly, and without question or complaint does what his uncle Mike tells him to. It’s no secret that I friggin’ LOVE the food at Manicomio, and just in case you hadn’t guessed, I also love the people! All of them. There are no turds or duds among the staff. The pizza makers are the bomb, and they deserve accolades as well, but I’m singling Corey out for a Cook of the Year nomination because it seems like it’s always Corey who puts together my (fill in the blank) at Mike’s instruction, and since I eat there so often, it’s like he cooks half my fuckin’ meals. Now, just in case your thinking, “Stu, this guy probably slops some cold pasta into a bowl, opens a can of SAUCE from Sysco, and microwaves that shit.” Nope. You’d be 100,000%* wrong about all of that. Mike’s entree recipes are unbelievably good, they take time and skill to prepare, and they are, simply put, some of the best dishes in downtown. Not just Italian dishes, but dishes, period. All props to Mike, Jon, and everyone at Manicomio, but especially for Corey who cooked more meals for me than than my own mother, and that is why he is my second nominee for 2019 Cook of the Year!

*That’s a lotta percent!

photo © 67 Biltmore Downtown Eatery and Catering

Martha Misenheimer / 67 Biltmore Ave

Martha has been cooking at 67 Biltmore Ave Downtown Catering and Eatery since day one. Which means she’s been there since it was Laurey’s. Which means she’s been executing the recipes of the late, and much beloved Laurey Masterson, who’s wonderful, healthy, delicious, home-style cookin’ has been making Ashevillians happy since 1990. That’s 30 years, Yo. That’s a long-ass muhfuckin’ time. Martha is the epitome of a great cook, as far as I’m concerned. She comes to work, executes the dishes with love and skill, contributes her own creativity to the menu, and does it all with consistency and dedication to quality and excellence, then she goes home, and shows up the next day to do it all over again. If you don’t already know the story of Laurey’s, and how it became 67 Biltmore Ave, you can read about it HERE and HERE. As one of the folks that connects Laurey’s to 67, Martha is a living history of our downtown food scene. She connects us all to the years before the BIG food explosion in Asheville, to a time when a handful of loving, caring individuals started cooking high quality, very tasty food for us. Martha feeds Asheville, she has done for decades, and for that I am grateful to her, and she is my third and final nominee for 2019 Cook of the Year.

Honorable Mention: AUX Crew / AUX Bar
Now, to be honest with you, I have no friggin’ clue who’s a chef and who’s a cook in the AUX Bar kitchen, but I do know for a fact that each and every single one of those folks are some of the hardest working MFers in the food biz. For one thing, AUX has some of the most expansive hours in downtown, being open from 11am – 2am, 7 days a week, and the kitchen never stops serving food during any of that time. (FYI – Neither does the bar.) On top of serving their regular customers, and what seems like half the F&B Industry, they also host thousands of people on food tours every year, not only for the company I work for, but the other two food tour companies as well! They also work with local delivery services, so that’s even more food for them to prep and cook and box up and stuff. Basically, Chef Steven Goff works harder than a Stakhanovite and is tougher than Grond, and the crew at AUX has to keep-up with that hard core motherfucker, and they do it with style, a sense of fun, and unwavering professionalism. Grond! Grond! Grond! Grond! 

Chefs are busy people, and I try not to bother them too much, but I’m lucky enough to spend a little bit of time talking face to face with some of them, and I do pay attention to their social media, PR, press mentions, and accolades in an effort to stay up-to-date on all of their achievements and such throughout the year. When I consider who might be my nominees for a Chef of the Year award, I try to think of Chefs who’ve had a great year, or a tough year that they overcame, or just rocked out hit after hit off the fucking charts. Personality counts, as does humanity, but of course, it’s kinda sorta a little bit also about the FOOOOOD. The following three nominees for 2019 Chef of the Year are hella impressive in all the areas outlined above, and more….

Ashleigh Shanti / Benne on Eagle

Pressure. It’s not a fun thing to deal with for the most part. We’ve all felt pressure, and we all know it pretty much kinda totally sucks. Well, I can only imagine that any pressure I’ve felt in life has to be tiny compared to what Chef Ashleigh Shanti must have felt when she moved here last year to cook in “Foodtopia,” under James Beard award nominee Chef John Fleer’s brand new restaurant, Benne on Eagle, in the historic African American neighborhood of downtown, as a young, black, female chef, and then almost right out of the gate, Time fucking Magazine calls Benne one of the “World’s Greatest Places.” I mean, HOLY SHIT. Attsa alotta presh. Remember a minute ago when I said I could imagine it, well, I can’t. I would frickin’ wilt under that shit. Most of us would. Not Chef Shanti, though, who has taken it on, and done it with determination, humility, and of course, a ton of skill, knowledge, and talent in the kitchen. Chef Ashleigh has really brought something special to our food scene with her unique and delicious dishes, and even just her presence! I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a decent amount of time chatting with her while visiting Benne on food tours, and she expressed to me that at times she really was feeling that pressure, but from where I’m standing, she never let it get to her. I admire her very much, and she’s my first nominee for 2019 Chef of the Year!


Chef Steven Goff / AUX Bar

Chef Steven Goff is an amazing human being, along with being one of the best chefs I’ve ever met and had the pleasure of getting to know. This year, I’m not doing “favorites,” as I have in past years, I’m sticking with “Bests” and “of the Years,” but if I was to have an award for favorites, Steven would win in several categories. He did win a bunch of competitions in 2019 including the Wing War, the Taco Takedown, and Punk Rock Hot Dogs, as well as being named Chef of the Year by the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association. He runs a restaurant, a catering business, and a food truck. AUX bar has one of the best burgers in Asheville. Some of the best po’ boys I’ve ever had anywhere. Soups to die for. Those duck wings. The pork and porridge that’s up for an award already, along with his pickles. I mean, jesus fuck. This guy is an unstoppable juggernaut of culinary will-power. We are lucky as a city of eaters to have Chef Steven Goff living and working among us. When he was gone, I had a sad. I’m psyched he’s back, and that AUX Bar is solidly placed to become a pillar of our food scene.

Bonus Points: He has similar tastes in music to mine. Abba 4-eva! 

Chef Rakim Gaines / Capella on 9

Chef Rakim Gaines is local, born and raised right here in Asheville. He got his start in the pro cooking world as a CHILD, volunteering at a neighborhood restaurant! By the time he was in his teens, he was in the kitchen of the Lobster Trap, one of Asheville’s best and most consistent restaurants, where he rose in the ranks from oyster shucker, to cook, to chef. Still a young man by my standards, Chef Rakim is now the Executive at Capella on 9, where he has really taken control of the menu and made it his own. With his background at The Lobster Trap, Chef Gaines’ seafood dishes are awesome, and his expertise in that area is very apparent. I ate from the original menu when the hotel and restaurant first opened, it wasn’t entirely Rakim’s menu back then, and while it was good, I wasn’t as excited by it then, as I am by the food he’s making now. He seems to be solidly in the driver’s seat up there, and it shows. One of the true tests of the power of any chef, is whether or not their kitchen runs well without them, and if the quality of the food remains the same, no matter what. That is certainly the case at Chef Gaines’ restaurant as I write this. Some of the most delicious bites of food I’ve had all year have been from Capella on 9, and he hasn’t always been in the house at the time. That says a lot about where Chef Gaines’ is in his career, one I’ve been watching for a few years now, and one that has earned him a spot on this very short list of nominees for my 2019 Chef of the Year award! 

One of the most frequently asked questions I get all year long is, “Stu, what’s the best new restaurant in Asheville?” Well, as you know, there are a virtual fuckton of new restaurants opening every year (and yes a few also close) so it’s actually kinda hard even for me to keep up. I do my best however, and I think I was able to hit up something like 80%of the new establishments that opened their doors in 2019 at least once, if not multiple times. Of course, the ones I can walk to are the easiest for me to get to, and the ones that are far away might take me longer to find. As always, delivery helps, so new venues please consider teaming up with our one and only local delivery service KickbackAVL. In the meantime, here are my three top nominees for Asheville’s Best New Restaurant of 2019…


Do you guys remember how much I loved The Nightbell, right? Well, one of the things I loved about it so much wasn’t a thing, it was a person! Chef Eric Morris is one of the most creative and enthusiastic chefs I’ve ever met, and he was the Chef de Cuisine over at Nightbell, and he’s now one of three great local chefs working at Cultura, along with Chefs Jacob Sessoms and Ben Hester! Those three minds have melded… and been fermented… and the food there is fantastically good! As far as I’m concerned, we may have lost Nightbell, one of the crown jewels in the downtown food tiara (whaddup Yamile!) of top echelon restaurants, but Cultura is here to fill that void. Oh, and it’s one of the only restaurants in town to offer an amuse bouche. Fuck yeah. I like that very much. The service and atmosphere are also great, and the hallway leading to the bathrooms is epic. Actually, the bathrooms themselves are some of the nicest in Asheville, something else Cultura has in common with the long-gone Nightbell. I don’t wanna make too many Nightbell comparisons, because Cultura definitely its own thing, with its own style and philosophy. I went in a handful of times, with Dawn or on my own, over 2019, we were both as impressed as could be with it each time. It’s familiar, yet different, and as Chef Morris knows, that’s something I really like in life, and it’s definitely one of many reasons why Cultra is my first nominee for Best New Restaurant, 2019.


Fuckin’ Aye! Northern eats! Hey-ey, I’m from up North, Y’all! I know I don’t sound like it anymore, but I am, and although I love me some Southern food, there’s things they do up there that just don’t get done the same way down here and I do miss those Northern ways! And while the South is certainly known for comfort food, the North has its fair share of it as well! News Flash: Northerners need comfort food because, not kidding, it’s FUCKING COLD UP THERE! They need to wrap theyselves in stuffed cabbages to get through those long Winter nights, and days, and mornings. Giant buckwheat pancakes make for a nice comforter. For real, some of y’all think they dust and twigs up North, but there’s some damn fine cookin’ that comes from the Northern States as well as from our frozen neighbors with the big red pot leaf on their flag. I’m very grateful to Chef Dan Silo and his team for bringing the dishes and flavors of my youth to Asheville, and serving some of the most interesting, homey, delicious, stick-to-your-ribs fare this Yankee ate all year. I also brought my Mom there, and she was swept back to her days as a young child in Canada by some of the food on Dan’s menu. The cookin’ is excellent, so the service is perfect, and the faces in both the front and the back of the house are friendly and familiar.  Also, there’s the maple eclair. Gah! If this place was just a little closer to me, I think I might be in there several times a week. As it is, I get out there when I can, I enjoy it tremendously when I do, and they are my second nominee for Best New restaurant 2019!

Noble – The Greenhouse

I tell this story every week on food tour. I was invited to the press opening for The Greenhouse, and it was a personal nightmare for me. I showed up hungry, as did the rest of the local press core (jackals) and because I am both stupid and impatient, I only got two itty-bitty teeny-weeny bites of food. Both of those bites were so fucking good, though, that I contacted Greenhouse the very next day as asked them if they would be part of my food tours. Two bites, and I was a fan. That’s never happened before. Chef Gavin Baker blowed muh mihhhnd on press night, and has done so with every bite his kitchen has served me and my patrons, friends, and family every time I’ve gone in ever since. Baked, stuffed, whole cauliflower, Betches. Light, delicate wheat gnocchi. Some of the best brisket I tasted all year, and a goat cheese cheesecake that was one of the singularly most delicious desserts I ate in the entirety of 2019. In addition to great food, I love the atmosphere, and the people are friendly and knowledgeable in front of the house, and hardworking and serious back in the house. The place is owned by Noble Cider, so of course there’s a wonderful selection of their hard apple cider, as well as mead, wine, beer, and cocktails. I immediately placed Greenhouse in my top tier of Asheville eateries, I look forward to eating there many times in the coming years, and it is my third and final nominee for 2019’s Best New Restaurant award!

I write this category last. It’s the biggest deal in my opinion. Yes, I love my Sandwich of the Year category, and the world goes crazy over Burger of the Year, but it’s Restaurant of the Year that’s the king shit of all honors when it comes to Stoobie Awards. As I have stated many times, I go out to eat more often than just about any other person I know, and I have extensive restaurant experience as a customer, eater, tour guide, writer, fan, and friend to the food makers around town. I have a lot of love in my heart for our restaurant scene, and plenty of room in my stomach. It’s not easy to pick just three nominees for any of my categories, and this one is the toughest of them all. Still, choose I must, so here are my top three choices for a 2019 Asheville Restaurant of the Year Food Fan Award…


Last year’s Best New Restaurant and Restaurant of the Year winners are back this year, in an unprecedented run for a second shot at Restaurant of the Year! Vivian is a fucking treasure. For real. What the Hell other tiny little town in Appalachia has a world class classic French / European restaurant located down by the river? None as far as I know.  Shannon and Chef Josiah McGaughey have taken our food scene to another level. If Curate is one of the “most important” restaurants to open in Asheville (an assessment I agree with) then so is Vivian. The food is excellent, otherworldly in some cases, and they have served me some of the best bites, snacks, and meals I have ever eaten in my life, not just in Asheville, but anywhere. I don’t know whether or not the James Beard Foundation or the folks from Michelin have discovered Vivian yet, but if Shannon and Chef Josiah continue doing what they’re doing, that seems almost like a forgone conclusion to me. In 2019 they introduced their “Viv’s Nibs” menu, featuring smaller versions of their regular and seasonal fare for a lower price at the bar, an innovation that made it possible for more folks to enjoy their food, and it livened-up their bar, making it one of thee places to be when dining out. They also hosted a series of special dinners, pop-ups, and collabs that looked and tasted amazing. I could only look at most of them, but I did attend their “Sausage Party” collaboration with Chef Dan Silo from Sawhorse, and it was fucking awesome! So many sausages! Vivian is a culinary gem of the highest quality in my opinion, and I’m happy to say that they are my first nominee for a 2019 Restaurant of the year award!


Someone (Dawn) said to me, “But they’re a cafe and not a restaurant,” to which I said, “Yeah, but they have excellent food, and table service, great hours, a full bar. Plus, The Underground Cafe is a technically a cafe, but they were one of the Restaurant of the Year nominees in 2018.” We had a whole conversation about it and tah-dah: Here’s Waterbird on my list for Restaurant of the Year 2019! If you haven’t been yet, you gotta go. Every single fucking thing I have ever eaten there has not only been great, it’s been outstanding! The whipped feta dip. The olives. The shrimps. The biscuits ‘n’ gravy. The mac ‘n’ cheese. The “Charlie Parker” burger. I had some crawfish toast there over the Summer that I’m still craving right now. Good fucking god. The folks in the kitchen at Waterbird are killing it, as is the front of the house, which is made up of some of my favorite folks from other venues around town. Waterbird is owned and operated by the local powerhouse known to us all as Kris Kraft, so I had high hopes from the very beginning, and the cafe had a good year in 2018 when they opened, but in 2019 I feel like they really dialed it the fuck in, and found their true food identity. The deliciousness factor on their food is very high, the quality of ingredients matches the level of flavor, the plating and presentation are cute and stylish. I love this restaurant! North Charlotte Street is lucky to have them in the neighborhood, and I’m proud to nominate Waterbird as my second contender for 2019 Restaurant of the Year!

Foothills Butcher Bar West

Okay, so it should be clear to everyone by now that a restaurant don’t need to be fancy in order to be eligible for any of my awards, up to and including my Restaurant of the Year award. Foothills is decidedly not fancy. It feels like a diner. And I like that. I’m old, and to me the Foothills Butcher Bar in West Asheville feels like an old school diner from either a much bigger city, or a much smaller town. Now, despite being simple, it’s nice inside. Really nice in my opinion. Very clean, and classic,and well designed. The tables and chairs are great, the big windows provide natural light for lunch, at night the electric lights are bright enough to see and get great pictures of the food, yet not so bright they detract form the dinner-time feel. The service is always fast and friendly, and the food… the foooooooooood! I’m crazy about their food! The mains, the sides, the specials, the burgers, the hot dogs, the mac ‘n’ cheese, fuck me, it’s all so fucking good I wanna dive into vats of it right now! The best brisket I ate all year long (pictured above) was at Foothills. The best broccoli too. And that’s not something I usually say, but no joke, that was some damn good broccoli. Yes, it’s a butcher bar, so meat in on the menu, but they also feed me healthy, fresh, local veggies which they do just right, but either cooking them to death, or leaving them still a little snappy, depending on the vegetable itself. I don’t get over there as often as I wish I could, but when I do, I always have the best experiences at Foothills, and I think they deserve all the attention they can get, so I’m happy to announce them as my third and final nominee for Asheville’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year Food Fan Award!

Aaaand that’s the end of part three, and the final round of nominees for a 2019 Asheville Food Fan Awards!

The winners and actual physical awards will be given out in th LIVE ceremony on January 27th at the Asheville Masonic Temple!

Prt 1
Sandwich of the Year • Burger of the Year • Best Pickled / Fermented Thing • Best Use of Fungus • Best of Blood & Guts • Pork Product of the Year • Best Sweet Treat

Prt 2
Cafe / Tea Room of the year • Food Truck of the Year • Fancy Meal of the Year • Best Efiin’ F.O.H. • Food maker of the Year • Farm / Farmer of the Year / Baker of the year

Prt 3
Best Breakfast / Best Lunch / Best Dinner / Best of the Best at Everything the Effin’ Do / Food Person of People of the Year / Cook of the Year / Chef of the Year / Best new Restaurant / Restaurant of the Year


Tickets are available NOW!

Click HERE or on the “Buy Tickets Now” button below

JANUARY 27TH, 2020
• V.I.P. Admission – 5:00PM
• General Admission: 6:00PM
• Awards Ceremony 7:00PM – 8:00PM
• Evening Ends at 9:30PM
@ Asheville Beauty Academy

Asheville Masonic Temple
80 Broadway St, Asheville, NC 28801

To have fun, while paying tribute to the great people who make up the amazing Asheville Food Scene!

Produced by: Shay Brown Events with Stu Helm Food Fan & Ashvegas.com

Cocktail and Beverages presented by The Urban Gastronome, and provided by Cultivated Cocktails & Dalton Distillery, Nantahala Brewing, Hillman Beer and Catawba Brewing, Bottle Riot (formally District Wine Bar), South Slope Coffee, Twisp Southern Hard Cider, Devil’s Foot Beverages

Food presented by Shay Brown Events and Stu Helm the Food Fan, and provided by Sunny Point, Aux Bar, Curate and Button’s Bagels, Underground Cafe, Sandhill Kitchen, Sunshine Sammies, The Worthy Baker, 50 Fifty the Art of Desserts, Rosa Bee’s, Manicomino Pizza, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Buxton Hall, Sovereign Remedies & Bottle Riot, Golden Fleece and Mtn Madre and MORE!

CBD Lounge by Franny’s Farmacy!

From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

1 Comment

Scott Duncan January 27, 2020 - 1:21 pm

My personal preferences only matter to me, but the frequent F bombs ruin this all for me, as I imagine there will be teenagers or maybe younger readers. Not impressed. Calling it “adult language” doesn’t make it cool.

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