Well, Folks, it’s that magical time of year again, when all the world anticipates wonderful gifts doled out by a jolly white guy, with a big ol’ beard, and a fat sack full of fun… that’s right it’s time for me to announce the contestants and winners of the muhfuckin’ 2015 Stoobie Awaaarrrds!!!
Yeah, Man! As some of you may know by now, every year I hand out Stoobie Awards to the people, places, things, animals, vegetables, and minerals of the local food scene that I consider to be the Best of Asheville! I even make a fancy graphic for each winner, that they can proudly display, or completely ignore, as they see fit. Last year, my guy The Coffee Pedlar printed his Stoobie out and taped it his cart, and when I saw that, I was like, “Fuck, YES!”
This year, as I do every year, I’m swicthin’ things up a little bit, by adding some new categories and such, just because doing the same thing year after year is boringsville, Man.
As always, please keep in mind that these kinds of “best of,” listy type things will always be incomplete, and subjective, and in some ways completely meaningless. I’m just a guy, who eats out a lot, but is not able to get to every place in town, or eat every deep-fried item available, and I’m certainly not aware of all the great coffee and fantastic foods available outside of my own little experience-bubble. I leave it up to you, my fellow Food Fans to comment below, or join me on FaceBook to let me and the world know who’s really got the best stuff in Asheville! Your opinions matter as much as mine, so please share them. Unless you’re a complete jackass, then please keep your stupid opinions to yourself.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get started! I’m breaking the Stoobies up into 3 Major Parts this year: Morning, Noon, and Night. Each part will be made-up of several categories that fit into those time slots. Let’s start with…
COFFEE – I’ve decided to expand my coffee awards this year, because the local Coffee Scene itself is expanding, and if it’s the not the most rapidly growing sector of the AVL Food Scene, it is certainly one of them.
• Best Pour Over – My first Coffee category is The Pour-Over, which might be the most self-explanatory method of coffee brewing, and if it’s done with care, it is, in my opinion, the best method of extracting, coaxing, encouraging, and creating the most flavor from a single scoop of ground-up, roasted coffee beans. The title of “Asheville’s Best Pour-Over” is uncontested.
RYAN THE COFFEE PEDLAR, YOU ARE THE UNDISPUTED KING OF THE POUR-OVER, AND WINNER OF YOUR 2ND ANNUAL STOOBIE AWARD IN A ROWWW!
I’m telling you what. If you haven’t already paid a visit to my guy The Coffee Pedlar, on the NE Corner of Pritchard Park right in the middle of Downtown Asheville, do yourself a fuckin’ favor, and go get one of his amazing pour-overs right now. Well, actually, not right now, because you can’t, because he’s packed up his fabulous, fantastical, pedal-powered bike-cafe, and headed South for the Winter, but he told me before he left that he’ll be back in April, so be sure to seek him out at that time. He’s the Champ, the King, the A-#1, undisputed All-Powerful Potentate of Pour-Overs in Asheville, bar none. He uses super high-quality beans from Dynamite roasters, he grinds them just right, and takes his time with the extraction process… aka pouring hot water over the grounds. He’s a master in our midst. My coffee hero. Aaand kind of a hottie.
• Best House Cup – When I say “house cup,” I mean, when you walk in the door of the establishment, and you order a “cup of coffee,” they (ask, “dark, medium, or light roast?” and then) pour you a cup of coffee. Bah. Dah. Bing. Simple as a pimple. No steamed milk, no foam, no chocolate sprinkles. Who’s got the best one of those?
- City Bakery – My hands-down fave last year, and the year before, will City Bakes take home another Stoobie Award for 2015?!? Pins! Needles! Excitement galore! Their dark roast coffee is consistently excellent, always the right temp, and always fresh and tasty. It’s a winner, but is it THE winner?
- PennyCup Coffee Co. – The new kids on the block… were a terrible boy band in the 1990’s who have forever ruined that particular cliche for me, and probably for the rest of the world too. Did I say they were terrible? I think they’re still around. Good gawd. Save us from middle-aged boy bands. Anyhoo… yeah, PennyCup Coffee Co. has been roasting coffee for Hole Doughnuts and BattleCat Cafe for over a year, right in my hood, and last Summer they opened their doors to the public in the form of a small cafe that serves their own fresh roasted beans. Mmm-mm! That’s good coffee.
- Vortex Doughnuts – When I go to Vortex for a cup of coffee, they always politely ask me which kind I’d like to have, and I always reply with the same answer: “Whatever you’re having.” They serve 1,000 Faces Coffee at Vortex, so it rules no matter which kind you get, and the folks who work there are coffee experts — and I don’t use that word lightly– so, yeah, whatever coffee they’re having, that’s what I’m having.
And the winner is…
VORTEX DOUGHNUTS YOU HAVE THE BEST MOTHERFUCKIN’ HO– — USE CUP OF COFFEE IN ASHEVILLE AND I AM GIVING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD IN THAT CATEGORY WOO-HOO FUCK YES!
Holy shit-sticks. Vortex Doughnuts really upped-the-ante in the AVL Coffee scene, like, a lot. They threw down the gauntlet, and said to me, you, and every coffee drinker, and other coffee shop in town, THIS is how coffee should be treated, and served. When I walk in and get the house cup at Vortex, I know that my mouth is going to go through an arc of experience… first a little bit of shock, that gives way to surprise, and then delight. And then I roll over on my back and let the coffee rub my tum-tum while I wag my tail. The first sip is always an adventure, and can have tones and flavors reminiscent of everything from grapefruit to dark chocolate to the forest floor. Once I get past the initial “whoa factor” it’s the best fucking thing on Earth. The coffee servers at Vortex have truly introduced me to the wonderful variety of flavors that can be extracted from the wee, but all-powerful coffee bean. I kind of think of my coffee drinking experience as being split into two distinct periods of time: pre-Vortex and post-Vortex, and that’s not only a true story, but no fucking joke. My hat is off to them.
• Best Coffee – Local Roaster – The competition in this area is as stiff as a shot of espresso on a cold winter morning! Wakka wakka. There seem to be local coffee roasters popping up all over WNC, and I’m unfortunately not aware of, nor have I tasted the beans of every local roaster. Roasting is an area of the Coffee Scene that I’d like to get to know better, and report on more regularly, but in the meantime here’s the short-list I do know and love…
- Dynamite Roasting Co. – Their beans are ground, brewed, and served by the fucking Coffee Peddlar, AND City Bakery, so, y’know, what can ya say? Them’s good beans. Dynamite is the first local roaster that I became aware of when I realized that City Bakes was making the bomb-titty-ass bomb of all dark roasts, and the manager told me proudly that they use Dynamite. Then the Dynamite delivery person told me, “City Bakery makes it right. They way we taught them to.” A million cups of City Bakes’ Dynamite in my gullet later, I still love their product.
- PennyCup Coffee Co. – Does being located literally right around the corner from my house and filling the very air I breathe with the intoxicating aroma of fresh-roasted coffee help to get you on the short list of Best Local Coffee Roasters in 2015? Um… fuck yes it does. Holy shit, I love these people. When I follow my nose into the cafe on any given Roasting Day, it smells like heaven. When I walk back in the optimal 3rd day after Roasting Day, I can drink a cup of that aroma in liquid form.
- Bean Werks Coffee Co. – I don’t know a lot about Bean Werks, since it’s away over there in yonder West Asheville-town, where I don’t get very often, but I do know that they’ve been around for a long time, they also fill their neighborhood with the wonderful aroma of their product, and it seems to me like every time I take note that the coffee at this or that other restaurant in WAVL is really fucking good, they tell me “it’s from Bean Werks, right up the street!”
And the winner is…
PENNY CUP COFFEE COMPANY YOU WORKED YOUR WAY INTO MY HEART THROUGH ALL OF THE MAJOR HOLES IN MY FACE AND I AM GIVING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR ASHEVILLE’S BEST LOCAL COFFEE ROASTERRRRRR!!!
Of course, full disclosure demands that I inform you that I do work for PennyCup. They pay me in cash and coffee to update their Instagram and FaceBook pages. You guys should know by now that when I choose to work for one of the food or beverage venues in town, it is always one that I endorse wholeheartedly. My understanding with my own conscience and with you guys is that I only work for vendors whose food and beverages I frickin’ love. So, when it comes to handing out these über prestigious Stoobie Awards, I don’t think it would be fair to those venues if they were disqualified from contention, or barred from winning. So, PennyCup, you wiiiiin!
PennyCup Coffee Co. is my fave place to buy… earn? Get… coffee, brewed or in bean form. Make no fuckin’ mistake, even if I had to pay for it with my money rather than my time, I would still be getting my coffee there. It’s a terrific little neighborhood cafe, but co-owners / master roasters Amber and Bill will tell you they are primarily a coffee roaster. The smell of their carefully sourced beans being roasted, the taste of the finished product by the “cup, bag, or bucket full,” the genuine smiles and friendly banter that greet every customer who walks in the door, have made this my fave new cafe, and given me — and any other customer who is there on a roasting day — a chance to see Amber and Bill work their magic and explain the roasting process. They are awesome. Their coffee is awesome. I’m giving these guys the 2015 Stoobie Award for Best Local Roaster, not because I work with them, but because they roast some of the best fucking coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life. Another thing I like about them: They took a chance on opening their doors on the South Side, or what I call the “lonely side,” of the River Arts District, and have enlivened that neighborhood with their presence.
• Best Coffee – Espresso / Specialty Drinks – For many thousands of gallons, I was basically a “house cup” guy, and didn’t venture out into the magical, mystical world of espresso and “specialty” coffee beverages. That all changed last year when I decided to start taking this shit more serious, and pay some close attention to the burgeoning coffee scene here in Asheville. Here are my own picks for superlatives. They may differ from your own. I am a novice.
- Vortex Doughnuts – The baristas at Vortex coffee are like the “Geek Squad” of caffeinated beverages. Not that they are geeks… well, not that they’re not geeks… I mean… their relative geekiness is not the point of my comparing them and a crack squad of technical experts… type of thing… They’re good at what they do… is the point of my… NEXT!
- French Broad Chocolate Lounge – I don’t go to FBCL all that much, because… well… too many other people go there, and basically, and I don’t like other people all that much. I do like the way the chocolate lounge makes their espresso drinks however, so whenever I notice, through the big windows in front, that it’s only 1/2 full of humans inside (the optimist in me sees it as 1/2 empty) I’m likely to pop in for a latte. The baristas who work at French Broad Chocolate Lounge must get trained-up right from the time theys young’uns, because despite the fact that it’s a bit of a tourist trap, and something of an assembly-line, I’m always really happy with the beverages they make for me. The chocolate on the other hand sucks. Just kidding. It rules. We all know that already.
- High Five Coffee – Now, I used to drink the shit out of some High-Five’s house cup, not the espresso as much, and I haven’t even been there hardly at all since I moved away from up there in North Asheville, and unfortch, I’ve only been to their new jam on Rankin a couple of times, so I’m fully UNqualified to pass any sort of judgement on their espresso drinks, BUT: Dawn got one of their specialty drinks one time that blew her effing mind, and has her forever trying to replicate it anywhere, everywhere else she can. It involved soda water and espresso. Or cold press coffee. I don’t even fuckin’ know, but when a specialty drink impresses Dawn Roe that much… yeah, it gets a nod.
- Double Decker Bus – Let’s set aside the unfortunate nickname of “Double D’s,” and just concentrate on how fucking CUTE that thing is. I mean, ferrealzies. It’s a muhfuckin’ double decker bus, Yo. And it’s got coffee inside! Good coffee, even. Well, I like it, anyways. Let the judges judge and the haters hate, but it’s the only place in town where I always get an espresso drink, never just a house cup, because I’m, like, “I’m drinking coffee on a double decker bus. Why the fuck wouldn’t I order a Latte Breve?” I mean, when shits be crazy, I get REAL crazy. I think the baristas at… ._. Double D’s… do a great job!
- Me! – That’s right, in the tradition of former Vice President, Darth Cheney I’m nominating myself for a Stoobie Award! Actually, if I win this award (fingers crossed! Pleasepleasepleaseplease) I’ll have to give most of the credit to Lindsay Lee at the Counter Culture coffee education center on Broadway Ave downtown. Y’see, Lindsay taught me everything I know, and without her, I never would have made the world’s most perfect latte. I met Lindsay at the free weekly “Ten O’Clock Tastings” that Counter Culture offers, and then I took a class from her called “Fundamentals of Espresso.” At the end of the class we all got on the machines and made lattes! Mine was fucking perfect, and I got gold star on my forehead.
Aaannnddd the winner is…
VORTEX DOUGHNUTS, YOU GORGEOUS GROUP OF WILD ANIMALS, YOU HAVE WON TWO STOOBIE AWARDS IN ONE YEAR BY TAKING HOME THE TROPHY FOR THE BEST ESPRESSO AND CAFFEINATED SPECIALTY DRINKS IN ASHEVILLE FOR TWO THOUSAND FIFTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!
As I said above, I live in a post-Vortex coffee world now, and that’s not only because their house cup changed my life, but their espresso and specialty drinks are also out of this fucking world. And, too, also… they pair them shits with mini-doughnuts, so… YOM! Serious, Yo, every day at Vortex Doughnuts (I like to pronounce it “duff-nuts”) they are making and selling the best effing cappuccinos, lattes, espresso shots, and what not in town, as well as these crazy-fantazy concoctions with… I don’t even know what-all… coffee and stuff… going on. I’m so new at this, I don’t wanna make an ass of my self taking pot-shot guesses as to what goes into all the many various drinks they concoct at Vortex, all I know is that they bust ’em out, pair ’em with two mini-donuts, and… gah! Yeah, Man. Oh! And they are one of the first and few places in town to have cold brew on tap, and it is the absolute best cold press Ive ever had. I don’t even like cold brew all that much, because it seems like most places let it get wicked bitter before it makes its way to the consumer, but this “on tap” shit is like… wugga wugga… and I’m not even kidding.
So, Vortex Doughnuts, you get two Stoobies this year. All props to you guys. You frickin’ rule.
• Best Breakfast – You know what they say: Breakfast is the least important meal of the day. Typically I’ll drink five or six cups of coffee and smoke a bunch of marijuana for breakfast, and don’t eat anything solid until it’s way past lunch time and I’m about ready to keel over from hunger. When I do eat breakfast, it’s just as likely to be a piece of cake or bowl of ice cream as it is to be a fried egg or sausage patty. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried eggs, and sausage patties, and hash browns, and a side of fruit, with toast, juice, milk, and Trix, but I don’t have time to make and eat all that business every fuckin’ morning, right, who does? I always say that I would eat breakfast every day if someone else cooked it and served it to me, like, at a restaurant, specifically a type of restaurant known as a “breakfast joint.” The trouble is… there’s just not a lot of great breakfast joints in this town, and the ones that are great, like Sunnypoint, Early Girl, and Over Easy, are typically too busy to grab a quick breakfast, and let’s face it, a bit too pricey to visit as a daily jam. I can’t even remember the last time I tried to eat breakfast — in the actual morning time — at any of those places. I have been dropping hint-bombs left and right to every cook and restaurateur I know that a no-nonsense, bacon-and-eggs, “destination breakfast joint” in the RAD would fucking crush it, but so far, no takers. Anyhoo, on that rare occasion, when I do go out for breakfast in the morning, here’s where I go:
- 67 Biltmore Ave – née Laurie’s – These guys started offering breakfast recently and I’ve had it there twice. Both times it was excellent.
- Rise ‘n’ Shine – Located way up on Merrimon Ave, R ‘n’ S has got yer basic eggs ‘n’ taters ‘n’ toast ‘n’ protein type of breakfast menu. No lines out the door, no fancy pretenses. Just good solid breakfast. I like the pancakes.
- Clingman Cafe – My neighborhood jam, the closest place to my house that’s open the earliest. I go there often enough that I got super duper tired of the everything bagel which was the only kind of bagel they had available for ages and ages, until the new owners introduced various flavors like Plain, Asiago, Sesame… Pumpernickel… Thank fucking God for pumpernickel bagels. I never wanna eat another everything bagel for as long as I live.
- Tod’s Tasties Cafe – When people ask me where I wanna go for breakfast, sometimes I say “How about Tod’s?” That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but really it is. There are a lot of places that I never suggest, but sometimes I do suggest Tod’s. The food is always really well made at Tod’s, and always full of flavor, and it has a decent amount of breakfasty heft to it. As in: You feel like you ate breakfast. They make a serious, heavy duty duff-nut at Tod’s for one thing, plus the coffee is kick ass, and the fact that it’s not usually so insanely crowded that you can’t find a seat is also a bonus. “Hey Stu, where do you wanna go for breakfast?” How about Tod’s?
And the winner is…
67 BILTMORE AVE, I MAY HAVE ONLY EATEN YOUR BREAKFAST TWICE, BUT IT WAS SUFFICIENTLY IMPRESSIVE THAT I’M GIVING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR BEST BREAKFAAASSST!
The first time I ate breakfast at 67 Biltmore, they styled us out with a lot of small samps of a bunch of stuff from their new menu, so I actually have tried a lot of different dishes, and everything was really effing good! I was particularly impressed with their house-made yogurt and granola with fresh fruit (above), and the quinoa veggie bowl (below). Neither dish would be typical for me to order, but since they brought them and put them in front of me, I ate-’em-up-yum, and enjoyed them tremendously. The other really nice dish on the menu is the french toast, which goes very well with the yogurt and fruit on top. The coffee is good, the service is great, the pastries are really fucking good, and the space is big, bright, and comfy. The world at large hasn’t discovered breakfast at 67 Biltmore Ave just yet, so there are still seats, and tables, and room to move, and breathe in there when you show up to eat actual breakfast in the actual AM. I recommend it highly.
• Best Brunch – Who doesn’t love brunch? My GF Dawn, that’s who. So, I don’t get to go to brunch as often as I’d like, because, if Dawn isn’t going to brunch with me, who am I going with? I recently posed this very question to a group of friends at Sovereign Remedies and Jonathan Ammons raised his hand and said, “Me!” So, look for me and J-Dawg Ammons out there in Brunch World in 2016! I hope to eat brunch at many more places, and to have a really comprehensive handle on who’s doing what and how good it is all over the area. In the meantime, I did eat brunch — sans Dawn — a few times in 2015, and here are the nominees, three brunches of note…
- The Grey Eagle Taqueria – Because their brunch happens on Saturday and Monday, the Greagle calls it “Industry Brunch,” (as in the Food Service Industry) but anyone is welcome to participate of course. Hell, I’m only quasi-Industry, or perhaps Industry Adjacent, but that don’t matter, the let me in just the same as anybody, and it’s great to be able to get some well made, very tasty, filling, fresh, satisfying, hot Mexican inspired dishes and desayuno standards for Brunch on a Monday. I friggn’ love the food at the Grey Eagle, and their brunch menu is affordable and delicious.
- The Junction – Truly one of Asheville’s best, yet perhaps most unknown and under-reported-on restaurants is hidden down at that Lonely End of the RAD I mentioned earlier. They serve amazing apps, salads, entrees, and desserts 4 nights a week, and on Sundays they serve a truly amazing brunch. Chef David Van Tassel is one of my top 5 up-and-comers, and his brunch is one of the many reasons that I am a fan.
- Buffalo Nickel – Chef Ryan Kline at Buff Nick is another one of my top 5 up-and-comers. Recently, on the AVL Food Fans Podcast that I do with Chef Joe Scully, I casually said that Ryan is a “good cook.” That might sound like faint praise, but it is actually some of the highest praise I can give. A “good cook” knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. They know what flavors go well together. They know how long to cook things for and at what temperature. A good cook can make an excellent gravy. They know how much salt is too much salt, and they know that a mealy tomato has no place on any plate. Chef Ryan knows all of those things, and more. No one can be a great chef, without beforehand they was a good cook, y’knowmsayin’? I’ve had Rayn’s brunch a couple of times, and it was excellent both times. The chicken and biscuits are awesome, and come with a salad. I love that!
And the winner is…
THE JUNCTION YOU ARE NOT ONLY A BONA FIDE HIDDEN GEM, BUT YOU SERVE ONE HELLUVA BRUNCH SO I AM AWARDING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR BEST BRUNCH IN ASHEVILLE!
I worked for the Junction a wee bit over this past Summer, and one of my jobs was to promote the brunch. As I stated above in regards to PennyCup, I only work for places that I feel can endorse in good conscious, and I absolutely love the food at the The Junction. I am a big fan of Chef Van Tassel’s cooking. He is truly creative, and genuinely whimsical in his approach, while also having that solid “good cook” status I admire so much. His brunch is a particularly special treat in my opinion. Down home, Southern fare, prepared and presented exquisitely, using nothing but the best, fresh, seasonal, and — whenever possible– locally sourced ingredients. Chef Van Tassel is not afraid to throw a little bit of fun “trash” into the mix too, showing his unique sense of humor. The house-made pop tart topped with actual Fruity Pebbles cereal is a classic example of the Van Tassel wit at work, and it is, in fact insanely delicious.
All of the food at The Junction is outstanding, and I have enjoyed many incredible bites inside this warm, cozy, family owned venue, that is right in my own neighborhood. The dinner fare is well worth the ticket, and if you haven’t ever had their brunch, it’s something you’ll want to do soon, and then with regularity. The menu is ever-changing, and based on what’s fresh, what’s available, and what’s going on inside the mind of the Chef and his cohorts in the kitchen, so I won’t go into detail about what I’ve eaten there. Just go check it out for yourself!
That was only the first installment of The 2015 Stoobie Awards! Whoop whoop! More to come! I covered all my fave “Morning” jams above, so next comes “Noon,” and then “Night.” Some of the categories for Noon will include:
Best Deep Fried Thing • Best Counter Service • Best Lunch • Best Pastries • and Best Food Truck!
See ya soon!
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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.