COPPER CROWN, THE MARKET PLACE, EAST VILLAGE GRILL, ASHEVILLE FOOD TOURS – by Stu Helm
Funny how things work out, right? Like, one day you don’t have any plans for Sunday brunch, and then the next day you have too many plans for Sunday brunch, so you move your previous brunch plans to Saturday, to accommodate your new brunch plans, and then those brunch plans get cancelled, so you’re back to having no plans for Sunday brunch! Gahd! Right? Can I get a witness?
…wind blowing… crickets chirping… a dog howls in the distance…
Nuthin’? No one? No witnesses. Okay, so maybe I’m slightly obsessed with brunch these days. I think about it all the time. I look forward to it all week. When I hear the word “brunch,” my ears prick-up, my eyes glaze over, and I start to salivate. It’s very Pavlovian. There may even be some out-of-control tail wagging involved. So far I have not peed on the carpet. Yet.
HERE’S WHERE I BRUNCHED DURING THE MONTH OF APRIL, 2016
1) COPPER CROWN – 1011 Tunnel Rd, Asheville – Sat & Brunch
• BRUNCH MATES – Good Friends Stef and Dave.
• FOOD – I got a burger. I don’t usually burger-it-up for brunch, but at Copper Crown they offer a thin double-patty, with a slice of American cheese, which always makes my heart swell with patriotic pride, so I had to have it. The kitchen also sent out an order of Brussels sprouts, and a dessert for the table to share. Aren’t they nice! The sprouts were cooked well-done, griddle’d ‘n’ crisp on the outside, and garnished with sweet syrup, pickled carrots, and crumbled cheese. The dessert was called a “mango water-cake” and was the craziest, most unique-looking dessert I’ve seen… maybe ever.
• PLUS COLUMN – The Brussels sprouts were most definitely the highlight item, we all agreed that they ruled, and the nice man who brought them to the table let us know that they are a favorite of the regulars, and that most people who try them make remarks about how good they are. Go to Copper Crown, try those Brussels Sprouts, and see for yourself how good they are. The rest of the food was good too: The burger was exactly what it should have been, and the fries were delicious, and house-made, not frozen from a bag. The mango water-cake was thee weirdest muhfuckin’ dessert I had ever eaten in my life… well… 2nd weirdest, but that’s a whole other story. The Copper Crown water-cake looks like a ball of clear jello, but the consistency is much more delicate, and it breaks down, into a cool, sweet, watery substance when you pop it in your mouth. It was garnished with molasses, toasted coconut, and peanut butter powder, which is a really awesome ingredient that I have been looking for in Asheville’s creative cuisine! I had a jar of it at home once, and it’s really great stuff, get some. In the meantime, go to Copper Crown and try this fucking water-cake for yourselves. It’s a show-boat of a dessert, and I found the flavor and consistency to be both surprising and refreshing. Stef and Dave were less into it than I was.
• MINUS COLUMN – None, really. The service was the bomb. Old Friend Jaime was filling in at the Host’s stand, so it was nice to see her, and the rest of the waitstaff was friendly, timely, knowledgeable, and efficient. The decor is really nice inside, and made me think, “I wanna design a restaurant and have it look as fucking cool as this looks.” I guess the only small minus would be that my burger was slightly dry, but not so dry that I was like, “This is too dry.” Another minus might be that I can’t walk there from my house, which sucks for me, but I don’t take points off for that.
CONCLUSIONS – Oh, Hell yes. If I could walk to The Copper Crown, I’d be there all-the-fucking time. For reals. Brunch, lunch, dinner. I’d be eating my way through their menu, trying everything at least once, like I did with Buxton Hall when they opened up in my hood. Maybe I should take points off for not opening their dang restaurant in my neighborhood! I’ve got a giant front yard if you wanna relocate to it, Copper Crown.
2) THE MARKET PLACE – Wall Street – Sunday Brunch
• BRUNCH MATE – Solo.
• FOOD – I ordered coffee, and steak ‘n’ eggs.
• PLUS COLUMN – The steak was cooked very nicely, it was tender and tasty, easy to cut and bite into, it had a good sear on the outside, and was warm, juicy, and perfectly done on the inside. Delicious over all. The house-made ketchup it came with was good too. The atmosphere in The Market Place is pleasant, very big and open, with plenty of space between you and the next table. The lighting is good, and the coffee mug and creamer were very cute.
• MINUS COLUMN – Okay, I hate to be dissin’ Chef William Dissen (Thanks for that one, Dawn!) but I gotta be honest: Apart from the above mentioned, this meal was a bit of a tank for me, and kind of an odd experience, from beginning to end, and even beyond. I’m gonna have to bullet point it.
• Let’s start with the coffee, which was tepid, seemed burnt, and was about twice as strong as it needed to be. To me, it tasted suspiciously like the end of a pot of kitchen crew coffee, which is generally twice as thick as customer coffee, and tends to sit on a hot plate from prep until opening. I was one of the very first people to sit down for brunch, and I don’t know for sure, but it really tasted like kitchen crew coffee to me, and even if it wasn’t, it was still tepid, burnt, and twice as strong as it needed to be. Good coffee at brunch is crucial. This coffee was a bummer.
• Toast. Who doesn’t want a piece of toast for brunch? Especially with steak and eggs, especially if the eggs are poached, and even more so if they are poached sous vide style, which leaves them runny as fuck. To find out more about this method of cooking, it may be worth checking out sites like Sous Vide Tools and see what it’s all about. When it comes to the food industry, there is so much to learn! Anyway, I was not provided toast, and it soon became apparent that I was running a deficit on the solids-to-liquids scale, and would certainly need either a piece of toast or a straw to finish my eggs. When I asked if I could please have “a piece of toast,” my server looked unsure, and gave what seemed at the time like the strangest answer I’d ever heard in my life, and I quote: “Hmmm… I’ll ask the kitchen and see what they can do.”
See what they can do? It’s toast. If a kitchen can’t produce a piece of toast… during brunch…
Well, needless to say, some toast was produced, as well as some raspberry jam. Unfortch, it was a decidedly odd choice of bread — like, a dinnery bread with either garlic, onion, or perhaps bits of ramps on the outside — I dunno for sure, but it was odd in my opinion, plus not entirely toasted, and it definitely did not go well with sweet raspberry jam, like, at all. By the time it arrived, my egg puddle was stone-cold anyways, so I pushed my plate away, and still being hungry, I decided to load-up on carbs, and at least be full of toast if not entirely satisfied with my meal, but the bread was so dang off-putting that I couldn’t even do that, so I asked for the bill, and was thoroughly annoyed to see that they charged me a $1.50 for the toast.
You’re gonna serve the worlds most runny-ass motherfucking eggs on the planet, with nothing but a tiny portion of sweet potatoes to sop them up with, and then charge a sucker for toast. Booo. I left hungry, and unhappy, and I haven’t even told you everything about the eggs…
• As I said, they were cooked sous vide style, which is also known as the “63 Degree Egg,” or the “Perfect Egg.” Orrr, if they’re not ezzackly perfect: Raw eggs. These sous vide eggs were like, one Nth of a degree away from being perfect, which meant that they were basically, mostly raw, and pretty much at room temp, or even slightly cooler. I’m 100 percent confident in my assessment that these eggs were under-cooked, because I’ve had sous vide eggs before, and found them to be warm, yummy, and good to go. With these eggs there was a 3-digit ick-factor for me, and I was only able to eat maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of them before I gave up. Bottom line: I couldn’t bring myself to eat these eggs even though I was still hungry.
Afterward, wanting to be sure that my understanding of a sous vide egg was correct, I looked it up on line, where the general consensus seems to be that the albumen (whites) on a 63 degree egg should be “set.” Borderstan.com states it plainly “With a 63-degree egg, the whites are a bit runnier [than a 64 degree egg] although still custard-like and the egg yolks are gooey and rich, but fully cooked.”
The reason I’m tweaking out about these dang eggs, is that the strangeness of this experience didn’t end when I left the restaurant. It continued on social media, when I posted the picture below on Instagram, and one of my readers commented “Eggs look a little underdone.“ I responded “good eye. They were.“ That’s when someone from The Market Place decided to do what God forbade: They argued with a customer. Here’s their comment:
I always consider it to be a bad idea for any restaurant to argue with customers, especially on social media. For one thing, there just ain’t no convincing any customer, after the fact, that a meal they didn’t enjoy was actually good, let alone “perfect.” That’s simply never gonna happen, so why even try? I would advise a venue to either not respond at all to negative criticism from customers in public forums, or simply write, “sorry you didn’t enjoy your meal, please come back,” and move on.
I couldn’t help but feel slightly condescended to — again, I think any customer would — as if the restaurant was telling me “Oh, Jethro, you just don’t know what fancy eatin’ looks like.” Nahhht a great way to relate to the public in general, but, not for nothing, I’m no fucking novice over here. I’ve eaten a lot eggs in my day, and what-the-whaaat?!? Some of them was even served up soo-veedy style!
In the end, the person commenting on behalf of The Market Place did apologize, and we agreed to disagree on what a 63 degree egg should be like.
“stuhelmfoodfan @market_place_avl Should any part of the albumen of a sous vide egg be clear? As in completely transparent because it is uncooked. And should any part of the albumen, or yolk be at room temperature? If you answer yes to those two Q’s then we have different ideas of what a perfectly [cooked] sous vide egg is and should be.”
I’m trying to set up an “Egg Summit” with Chef William Dissen, who suggested that we get together to “pontify egg cookery,” which sounds fun! I like Chef Dissen, though I’m not sure he’s still gonna like me after he reads this review. I’ll let you guys know if Egg Summit happens.
CONCLUSIONS – I was obviously disappointed in this meal, and part of my disappointment was based on expectations, which in turn were based on the restaurant’s reputation, branding, press, and many years of doing business. I wanted to love this brunch, and I really thought I would, so I was excited to eat a great meal, but in the end I felt let down on more than one level. I could assume that this experience was an aberration, and that The Market Place is able to serve a great brunch most of the time, but consistency — or lack thereof — is the number one complaint that I hear from you guys, the readers and eaters out there, about the Asheville food scene, so I have to take that into consideration when I report on my dining experiences. Maybe I’ll return to The Market Place before my Month of Brundays series ends, and give them another shot at glory, but maybe not, and I think any customer would feel exactly the same as I do if they had the experience that I had. Unless a restaurant is brand new, they truly can not count on me, or anyone else to give them several tries to get it right. Eating out costs money, there are a lot of choices out there, and we all have our faves. New customers are won or lost with a single experience every day all over the country, in every business, that’s a reality. I want The Market Place to be bumpin’ for brunch, and for them to be hugely successful, so I’ll just say this: Please go try them for yourselves, maybe you’ll love it, but I truly can not recommend the steak ‘n’ eggs.
3) East Village Grille – 1177 Tunnel Road – Sunday Brunch
• BRUNCH MATES – My Sister and Bro-In-Law.
• FOOD – Of course I ordered the steak ‘n’ eggs, Yo. I wanted to see what a down-home family style tavern could do for me with this classic breakfast dish, one that I first ate and learned to love at a classic Chicago diner called Steak ‘n’ Egger. I have certain expectations of tavern food, and at The East Village Grille, my expectations were met 100%.
• PLUS COLUMN – The food was good. I ate it all. I was full and happy. THIS is what I call steak ‘n’ eggs, My Friends. Look at the picture above. The piece of steak is hanging over the edge of the plate. There are lots of delicious taters, with nice caramelized onions. There are three perfectly cooked over-easy eggs. And toast. TOAST!!! Egg yolks require toast. It’s the law. Well, it should be and it will be when I’m elected mayor of Foodtopia. Anyhoo, the food was all good and even the coffee, which was nothing special, was good enough.
TRUE STORY: When we first got there, I ordered coffee, and the server said “I’ll make a new pot. The only thing we have back there is for the kitchen crew, and they make it twice as strong as we do for the customers.” I am not even kidding, ask my sister and b-law. I had just finished telling them my own theory of kitchen crew coffee minutes prior, so we all laughed out loud at the time.
• MINUS COLUMN – I thought that $3 was a little steep for the coffee, but they might have free refills, and I stopped at one cup, so if I had ordered two refills, I would have been like, “the coffee was a bargain at three bucks!” So, whatever. No real minuses for East Vill Grille. All good all around, My sister and brother in-law enjoyed their meals too. As I said: Expectations met. Full. Happy.
CONCLUSIONS – Much like the Copper Crown, I would absolutely got to the East Village Grille for brunch often if I lived closer to it, and I’m sure that their regular customers appreciate them greatly for what they do.
4) Asheville Food Tours – Saturday Brunch Tour
• BRUNCH MATES – Lucy from AIR, plus a bunch of other people, and Tour Guide Paddy.
• FOOD – We went to Chorizo, The Chocolate Fetish, Chestnut, Strada, Blue Dream Curry House, and The Bee Charmer. We had a variety of small plates, bites, pieces of chocolate, and samps of honey. There were no bad bites for me on this tour and I enjoyed every single thing we ate along the way. I even ate Lucy’s shrimp ‘n’ grits, because she doesn’t do shrimp.
• PLUS COLUMN – This walking food tour had lots of pluses, including Paddy, who was a great tour guide. The other people on the tour were nice too, and it’s always fun to be a local (and a food writer!) on food tours that are mostly made up of tourists, or locals who are new to the food scene, because you start having all kinds of fun convos about where to eat and what’s good all over town. I could talk about food forever, and I enjoy the camaraderie of a walking food tour, and this one was FFI: Fun, Filling, and Informative. The small plates offered by Chorizo, Chestnut, Strada, and Blue Dream Curry were all excellent. The best, and most well received by the people on the tour was probably from Chestnut. Chef Joe Mitchel really crushed it with a perfectly poached egg, root veg hash with English peas, topped with herb gravy. The shrimp and grits at Strada were also superb, and I’ll go back for a full portion on some other Brunday. Another “go-back-for “ dish was the curry from Blue Dream. It was really effing goood. It’s been a while since’t I ate there, and it seems to me like these guys have really dialed in the flavors. I’m craving it right now as I write.
Click on the pics below to see larger versions…
• MINUS COLUMN – I guess I could complain about having to walk all over the place, up hills, in the hot sun, and being around other human beings, especially those dreaded tourists, and how it took all fucking morning, blah blah blah, but honestly none of that bothered me one bit! I had a blast, ate great food, gabbed, laughed, saw old friends, made new ones, and it all went by really fast. I’ll tell you a secret: I’m not as misanthropic as I pretend to be. Shhh!
CONCLUSIONS – Like I said, walking food tours are fun, and Paddy with Asheville Food Tours does a great job! I enjoyed this one so much, that by the end of our tour, I wanted to work for them!
And that’s another month of Brundays! Who won?
It’s a hard call again this month. Copper Crown really outdid theyselves with that water cake, and East Village Grille hit every nail on the head, but how can anyone compete with a frickin’ tour of SIX local food vendors? I guess we know who didn’t win, but picking one winner from the three remaining venues is tough, tough, tough… buuut… I choose…
EAST VILLAGE GRILLE! They just really met all of my expectations and provided me with a true, authentic, barroom brunch that reminded me of my old fave Steak ‘n’ Egger meals back in Chicago. As far as highfalutin eats, E-Vill Grille can’t compare with Chestnut, or even Marketplace, but in terms of customer satisfaction, they scored an A+ with me, and two members of my family unit, by doing everything ezzackly right, and keeping it real.
And giving me toast.
Congrats East Village Grille, you nailed April Brunch, and 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:
Wildcard candidates will be culled from the list of all the places I’ve been to so far which, in addition to those listed above, includes the following:
The Barleycorn Pub
Mojo Kitchen and Lounge
Buxton Hall BBQ
and Isa’s Bistro
I’ve already missed one weekend of Brunching for the month of May, so I’m in a bit of a panic to get some under my belt soon! Plans, plans, gotta make plans… Gonna hit Jerusalem Garden soon, and go back to Strada for a proper portion of those shrimp ‘n’ grits, plus I heard that Shaky’s is hosting a Brunch Truck on Sundays these days. Whaaat?!? Yeah, Man!
That’s an exciting concept to me.
— 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.