THE IMPERIAL LIFE, KING DADDY’S CHICKEN AND WAFFLES, AND BUXTON HALL BBQ – by Stu Helm
You know what? The more I brunch, the more I love it. After four months of covering various brunches for Ashvegas, it has become my favorite meal of the week. I really look forward to it happening almost every weekend, and I feel genuine feelings of human excitement in my cold, stale heart when I think about it. Where am I going to eat brunch this week? Who’s got something special happening? How much food can I pack into my miniature frame before I literally burst open and spray the room with Hollandaise sauce and partially-masticated sausages?
In the month of March I ate three brunches, and two of them had live music, which you may recall from the last edition of a Month of Brundays, can result in a very unpleasant experience of extreme loudnesses, and lots of screaming across the table to your brunch mate. Live music is great, but when it’s too loud? Let me put it this way… a couple dashes of Tabasco sauce on your eggs Benny can really jazz ’em up… a whole bottle of it? Fuck no.
Speaking of Jazz…
HERE’S WHERE I BRUNCHED DURING THE MONTH OF MARCH, 2016
1) IMPERIAL LIFE – 48 College St, Asheville – Jazz Brunch
• BRUNCH MATE – Good Friend Leslie.
• FOOD – This was a buffet style brunch of fairly typical breakfasty type stuff. There were eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, collards, and — perhaps less typical, especially for Yankees — boudin balls with tomato “gravy.” The food was frickin’ great! Like, really great. I got a little bit of everything, and I was stuffed to the brim. Since it was a buffet, we could have gone back for more, and the coffee was a bottomless cup, so that’s awesome too. The sausages were particularly tasty, and so were those dang boudin balls — which are balls of dirty rice and ground sausage that are breaded and deep fried — and the collards were fucking good too. YUM!!! Every item was excellent. No clunkers, no bad bites. I was 100 percent satisfied. Imperial Life also has an awesome bar program, so if you like a drink with brunch, I’m sure they’ll make you a really good one.
• PLUS COLUMN – The Jazz music. When I was a kid in the 1970’s it seemed like Brunch was always called “Jazz Brunch,” and there was a live Jazz act doing their thing quietly in the corner, while you ate your fancy-pants muhfuckin’ brunch of eggs Benedict, smoked salmon, and other super-traditional brunch items. So, I was happy and felt all nostalgic inside when The Imperial Life announced that they’d be hosting The Roaring Lions live during their new trial run at brunch. The band was great, and played NOLA-style Jazz. I really don’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’ when it comes to Jazz music, but they where very good, and did one of those funny songs where the singer sounds like he’s crying. All “boo-hoo-hoo, wah-wah-wah” and stuff. I liked that.
• MINUS COLUMN – The Jazz music. It was fuckin’ LOUD, Yo. Holy fuck. The Imperial Life is a small room, and horns in particular are very loud instruments. Like I said, I don’t know jack shit about Jazz, but the one guy was playing a trumpet, or a bugle, or fucking vuvuzela or something… and erk-m’gerk that thing was loud. This was the second brunch during which Leslie and I had to yell across the table to each other. Afterward we promised each other “no more loud brunches for a spell.” Also, in the minus column, it would be unfair if I didn’t point out that this brunch started at Noon, which is technically lunch time. I gave The LAB some crap about that, so I gotta dish-it-out equally.
CONCLUSIONS – Chef Jacob, Teddy, and Super Handsome Jasper all hinted that this brunch was an experiment, and that they were thinking about offering Jazz brunch at least once a month. I totally want them to do that! I would absolutely go back to the Imperial Life for more live Jazz Brunches… if it’s jehhhst a little quieter. The food was awesome, the coffee was great, and the people who work at Imperial Life are tops!
2) KING DADDY’S CHICKEN & WAFFLE – 444 Haywood Rd – Sundays – 9am – 10pm
• BRUNCH MATE – Good Friend Leslie
• FOOD – I ordered a chicken biscuit, which consisted of a really nice piece of battered and deep-fried chicken, with some great melted cheddar cheese, and a piece o’ bacon on a biscuit. I also got a side of potatoes, and fruit. I asked for lamb gravy on my taters, and the waitress brought me a little metal dish of it. Good call on her part. It stayed hotter longer in its little dish and I could dole it out on the taters as I ate ’em.
• PLUS COLUMN – Those taters and gravy. Holy fuck, I could eat a wheelbarrow full of them. They were a mix of sweet and white potatoes, very well done, slightly crispy and caramelized on the edges, with awesome flavor. I had eaten the poutine at King Daddy’s before, so I knew that their lamb gravy was bangin’, and I figured it would be really fucking good on them taters. Well, ta da! I was right. The very savory gravy, mixed with the savory flavor of the taters, including the sweetness of the sweet potatoes… I’m telling you what. Gim. More. The chicken, cheddar, and bacon were all great too, and I found the biscuit to be good in flavor, though maybe slightly under-cooked? It fell apart, and I ended up removing the goodies from inside, and not finishing the biscuit. The fruit side was good and fresh, no squiffy pieces, no brown edges. I wanna give a special shout-out for the house made, beet-based hot sauce. It was really different, and really delicious. Slap a label on that puppy and sell it if you can, King Daddy’s. You’ve got a real winner there.
• MINUS COLUMN – I guess that the biscuit was the only low-light of the meal, but that’s minor. I really had no complaints, which was kind of amazing, because I was hangry and in super-grump-mode by the time we arrived, and there was a line out the door, and it was busy as fuck inside. Ugh. Hate hate hate all human kind. I was reluctant to wait in line, but drawing a blank on where else to go, Leslie and I decided to soldier-on. I’m so glad we did. The staff at King Daddy was totally on top of the sitch and the line moved rapidly. We got seated sooner than the estimated time, and our server was really pleasant and helpful. The food came out quickly, and the hot food was served hot. I thought the coffee was great, and it turns out that it’s from Dynamite Roasting Company, in Black Mountain. Ding ding ding. I love them.
CONCLUSIONS – I would absolutely go back to King Daddy’s for more of those taters with the gravy on them, well… more or less anything that they serve with that gravy on it. Can the gravy be ordered by the bucket-full? Thanks, King Daddy, you turned my frown upside down and filled my body with tasty food and beverages!
3) Buxton Hall – 32 Banks Ave, Asheville – Bluesy Boozy Brunch
• BRUNCH MATE – Just me. Stu Helm. Party of One.
• FOOD – I ordered the “little ham and Swiss rolls;” the fried house-made baloney, egg, and cheese sandwich; coffee; and a box of hot-cross buns to take home for sharing with Dawn. There were other items on the menu that I really wanted to try, but I have limited space available in my stomach, plus limited funds with which to fill that space. I did have a few regrets, wishing that I’d ordered the Buxton Bakery pop tarts, or the mac & cheese “cooked under the hog” instead of the ham and Swiss rolls, which were very similar in content and flavor to my fried baloney sandwich. My bad. Poor choices were made on the part of the customer: Me.
• PLUS COLUMN – I would eat that fried baloney sandwich for breakfast every fucking day of my life if I could. Holy fuck that thing was tasty. It was cooked perfectly in my opinion, which meant that the bread had a brown toasty crunch to it, yet was awesomely soggy from melted cheese and egg yolk in places. Yes, the egg yolk was left somewhat runny, which I frickin’ LOVE when it comes to fried-egg sandwiches. That’s the way I do ’em up at home. The cheese was very melty, because the sandwich was piping hot, and the baloney was really really really good, as anyone who’s eaten at Buxton Hall can well imagine. Also in the plus column: The live music by The All Arounders. It was at the PERFECT volume. Buxton is a huge room, and the performers were mic’d and amped, but they were not crushing us. It was loud enough to be a strong presence, but the vocals and instruments mixed in nicely with the chatter and hubbub of brunch, enhancing it rather than trying to overpower it. I didn’t have a brunch-mate to not yell across the table at, but if I did, that would have been nice.
• MINUS COLUMN – In addition to being too similar to my main dish (again, my fault for ordering poorly) the little ham and Swiss rolls were not hot enough for my preferences, the cheese wasn’t melty, and the bread was slightly dry. Again, I wish that I’d opted for the mac & cheese, or one of the other amazing sounding dishes on the menu. FAHHHK! Once you eat a brunch, you can never re-eat that same brunch. Now I’m sad. Also, in the minus column, my coffee didn’t show up until I asked for it again toward the end of my meal, and it was tepid, which was fine, because I had to gulp it and go. I’d call that a glitch in service brought on by first-time jitters or whatever for the brunch crew who were on their maiden voyage. Service is usually great at Buxton, and my server took the coffee off my bill, so it was all good. Coffee is a super-important part of brunch, though, and if I hadn’t already had several cups, I might have been in panic-mode. Freaking owwwt!
CONCLUSIONS – Like the Imperial Life, Buxton’s Bluesy Boozey Brunch was a testing-of-the-waters for them. I asked several people “are you going to do Sunday brunch from now on? Or Blues Brunch once a month?” The general consensus was “maybe.” If they do continue offering brunch, I would go back again and again, eating my way through the brunch menu like I did with their regular menu when they first opened. If they decide not to do Blues Brunch ever again, I hope they put that fried egg and baloney sandwich on the regular menu permanently. I would seriously be eating, like, a million of those.
And that concludes brunch for this month. Who won?
King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffle in West Asheviiiiillllle!
They really frickin’ nailed it on a lot of important levels, and were even able to change my entire mood from sour to sweet with their friendly, efficient service, bright, lively atmosphere, tasty-as-fuck taters and gravy, and of course that beet sauce, which really is something special. The fruit was fresh and yummy, the chicken was cooked perfectly and even though the biscuit wasn’t the best I’d ever had, I ate most of it, and I was plenty full by the end. All the ingredients of my meal were solid, and the coffee was the bomb-deluxe. Congrats, K-Diddy, you win March brunch and you are now in contention for Brunch of the Year in December! Whoop whoop! Does the excitement ever stop around here?
All three venues put great food in front of me, and I thank them all very much for their hospitality and service. I am reserving several “wild card slots” in the final round of competition for Brunch of the Year, so those venues who don’t win brunch in the month that I visit them will still have a shot at the big honors in December. That way, venues like Imperial Life and Buxton Hall BBQ, who invited me to join their very first special live-music brunch efforts, will have a chance to iron out any kinks should they choose to continue offering brunch in the long term.
So, where will I go to brunch next month? I’m seriously excited about the prospects… no, no, not The Prospect. Not unless they’ve made some big changes to their business model… or I make some big changes to my lifestyle… because y’see, The Prospect is a bar… and they don’t… I don’t… no food just booze… anyhoo. I will be hitting up Burial Beer some Sunday soon to check out what the good folks from Salt and Smoke have to offer there, and reader MK made several great suggestions in an exchange we had about brunch through FaceBook. If you have suggestions for me, please send me a PM through my FaceBook page.
I love to hear from other Brunchers!
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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.