Sacre bleu, c’est la Stoobies part deux! If you haven’t read part one yet you can do that HERE, and if you don’t know what the Stoobie Awards are… yeah, it’s all explained in part one and I don’t feel like repeating it here, so either go read that, or figure it out along the way. It’s not too complicated: Basically nominees are listed below as being among the “Best of Asheville,” and an award called a Stoobie, is handed out to the best of the best by me personally. A Stoobie Award is more or less the most important and prestigious award in the history of food, if not the world. Pulitzer Prize? Bull-shit-zer Prize compared to a Stoobie. Oh, so you won a Nobel Peace Prize, didja? Whatever. None of you wankers ever cooked the Best Deep-Fried Thing, so nobody cares. Only the Stoobie Awards matter, my friends, and they matter a lot.
Anyhoobie-doobie… Let’s get this parade rolling. As I stated in part one, I have divided the Stoobies into 3 major Categories this year: Morning, Noon, and Night. We covered coffee, breakfast, and brunch already, so let’s move on to noon-ish and after-noonish type foods and meals, starting with one of my favorites, already mentioned above…
• Best Deep Fried Thing – I love this category because discovering the winner is always a *BING* no-brainer moment of complete and total clarity for me from the very second I pop it into my mouth. This year was no different. The contenders are…
- Kale Pakoras @ Chai Pani – Y’all know what a pakora is, right? Well, image one made out of Kale. Now imagine that it doesn’t taste like lawn mower clippings, but is, in fact, very delicious. There ya go, now you’re starting to get it.
- Donuts @ Hole Doughnuts and Coffee – Y’all know what a fuckin’ doughnut is right?!? Well, Hole has some the most unique and delicious yeast doughnuts in Asheville. Plus the wee little building that they make ’em in is so cute I kinda wanna squeeeee out loud until I die.
- Parsnips, et al @ Buxton Hall BBQ – I’m sure that as the seasons rotate, Chef Elliott Moss and his crew will likewise rotate through a variety of wonderful, locally grown, roots, veggies, and sundry other offerings from nature’s bounty, and then subject those little fuckers to the deep fryer. Parsnips are just the most recent item to enter my mouth hole. They use these delicately shaved ‘snips ‘n’ such somewhat sparingly on top of other dishes, like a garnish. #yum #deepfriedgarnish
And the winner is…
KALE PAKORAS FROM CHAI PANI, COME ON DOWN! YOU’RE THE BEST FUCKING DEEP-FRIED THING IN ASHEVILLE, 2015!
Yeah, Man! I went into Chai Pani a few months back, specifically to order and consume the chicken pakoras, which are excellent, and I was bitterly disappointed, yet also somewhat amused when the nice server informed me that they were out of chicken, and suggested with a straight face that I might like to get the kale pakoras instead. Yeah, sure, I thought to myself, because chicken / kale… what’s the difference? I decided to go for it, and boy was I glad I did! These seem to be nothin’ but kale leaves, dipped in some insanely tasty magic batter from the streets of India, then deep fried until they clump together into crispy, yet slightly chewy, super-flavorful hunks of deliciousness. These get a 2015 Stoobie Award, not only for being totally awesome, but for surprising the fuck out of me, and for proving that, yes, in certain situations, kale can be a suitable substitute for chicken. Well, maybe only in one situation. This one. Thanks, Chai Pani, you’re the bomb-diggity.
• Best Sandwiches – Last year a gave out a prize for the single best “Sandwich of the Year.” This year, I’m still going to do that, but I’m also giving a prize to the folks who make excellent sandwiches. Plural. Like, more than one. Many. Several… let’s say at least three. And the nominees are…
- Fresh Lunch Delivery – Hey-ey! Shout-out to my guy, Pablo! Pablo and his wife own Fresh Lunch and he’s a super nice guy. I have yet to meet her, but I’m sure she’s nice too, and she bakes some really effing good bread from an old family recipe that she and Pablo have used as the launching pad for their fresh sandwich delivery service. I had some sandwiches delivered to Food Fan HQ, and they were frickin’ great!
- Foothills Deli & Meats – Located inside of Ben’s Penny Mart on Hillard Street, Foothills fuckin’ brings it. Great meats, great sandwiches, they are getting famous for their Cuban, which is considered one of the best in town by those who love Cubans. I’ve had several sandwiches from Foothills and they’ve all been excellent! Plus, they had one named The Hat Trick, and anything Hockey-themed gets an extra point from me.
- City Bakery – I go through phases with City Bakes, as in: Sometimes I’m there, like, three times a week, other times I hardly ever go. When I walk in their doors after a long absence, it’s like running into an old lover… who makes kick-ass sandwiches. I feel comfy with this old lover, familiar, intimate, understood, accepted, at ease… plus, like I said… sandwiches!
- Buxton Hall BBQ – I have been eating my way through the Buxton Hall menu, not allowing myself to have the same dish twice until I have finished every dish on the menu. At this point I have tried all of their sandwiches, and they are all good. Chicken, catfish, pit beef, pulled pork… all on squishy white bread buns, served with a side o’ slaw. I can’t wait to attack some of them a second time!
And the winner is…
BUXTON HALL BARBEQUE YOU HAVE FILLED MY FACE AND STOMACH WITH MORE DELICIOUS SANDWICHES IN THE PAST FOUR MONTHS THAN I HAD EXPERIENCED FROM ALL OTHER PLACES COMBINED IN THE PREVIOUS EIGHT MONTHS SO I AM AWARDING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR BEST SANDWICHES IN ASHEVILLLLLLLE!
I am so frickin’ happy that Buxton Hall opened-up on the South Slope this year, just a 10 minute walk from my house, and that they don’t suck. Holy shit, no, they sure as fuck don’t suck, they RÜLE! That’s right, I’m giving them a Stoobie AND an umlaut. That’s a big deal. They can choose to display their Stoobie if they wish, and add their umlaut to their name, a la Büxton Hall, I leave it up to them.
Anyhöö… yeah, the sandwiches are frickin’ great. Simple yet delicious, trashy yet high-end, large but not a bunch of belly-busters. The pit beef sandwich pictured above was particularly awesome. Tangy, smoky, flavorful, moist, tender, somewhat complex, new to me yet familiar at the same time, it was very comforting, and satisfying. The fried chicken sandwich was perfect. Cooked perfectly, seasoned perfectly, the perfect temp (hot!), and just the most perfectly awesome piece of chicken inside of all that yummy, crispy, coating. The bread on the Buxton sandwiches is complete and total trash — soft, white, bleached, and processed — and I love it! Now, don’t everybody out there start using shitty bread for your sandwiches, because 99% percent of the time I want nice, decent, wholesome, fresh-baked bread on my sandwich. Buxton is that 1% situation when I want rashy bread, filled with amazing stuff, and hell, mang, throw some fucking American cheese on there too! Chef Elliott Moss is a master of combining low-brow and high-end ingredients into amazing food, and his sandwiches are no exception.
• Sandwich of the Year – Since you guys already know what a sandwich is… let’s just get to the nominees…
- Smoked Turkey @ Buxton Hall BBQ – It should not come as a surprise that the place with the “Best Sandwiches” would also have one sandwich that is a contender for Sandwich of the Year. Buxton Hall’s open-face smoked turkey sandwich is that sandwich. Holy shit sticks. I’ve only had it once — as per my efforts to eat everything on the menu before going back for seconds — but once I cross the last item off of the Buxton take-out menu stuck to my refrigerator door at home, this sandwich is going to be THE very first thing that I double down on.
- Chicken ‘n’ Waffle @ Sunny Point Cafe – One day I was in West Asheville, and decided to take my chances at finding a seat for lunch at Sunny Point. My fingers were crossed juuust hard enough to get the last seat at the tiny bar, and boy was I glad I took it, rather than go somewhere else that day. I ate a chicken and waffle sandwich with pimento cheese that has had me wanting another ever since.
- French Onion Soup Grilled Cheese @ Mellow Mushroom via The Mountain Cheese Fest – Yeah, yeah, I know I know: Mellow Mushroom is a chain yadda yadda, blah blah blah WHATEVER! Two young cooks from Mellow Mushroom showed up for the Grilled Cheese Competition at the 2015 Mountain Cheese Festival and CRUSHED the competition with their “French Onion Soup” grilled cheese. All three judges (I was one of them) agreed that his was the hands-down winner that day. Is it the winner today? Let’s find out…
And the winner is…
SUNNY POINT CAFE YOU GET LOTS OF NATIONAL PRESS AND ARE A FAVORITE OF TOURISTS AND LOCALS ALIKE SO YOU’RE PACKED MOST OF THE TIME AND I DON’T GO AS OFTEN AS I’D LIKE BUT THAT WAS ONE HELL OF FUCKING SANDWICH AND IT IS THE WINNER OF THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR SANDWICH OF THE YEEEAAAR!
Like I said, I was super glad that I wedged myself in-between two other human beings to sit at the wee tiny counter at Sunny Point that one day, because they informed me that it was the last day that this particular sandwich would be available. My server recommended it, and I was like, yeah, Okay, why the fuck not? To spare myself potential disappointment, I set my expectations at “whatever.”
Expectations: Exceeded. Blown out of the sky, in fact. Trounced, trumped, trashed and told to get with the fucking program. By the time I was done devouring this gorgeous creature of a sandwich, my expectations were so ashamed of themselves for not having faith in Sunny Point to deliver the goods, that I even ate the salad, just to be contrite. Actually, the salad was really fucking good too and I did not have to force it down by any means.
What can I tell you about this chicken and waffle sandwich that you can’t see from the pictures? There was a beautiful, piping hot piece of deep-fried, boneless, white-meat chicken breast. There was melty, creamy, tangy, comforting pimento cheese. There was bacon. Really good bacon. The bacon at Sunny Point is some of my all-time favorite bacon ever. And then there were waffles. Gah! I’m pretty sure there was honey involved and something spicy going on too. Maybe jalepeño honey? Don’t know. Don’t care. Nom nom, gimme som!
Of course, I haz a sad now, because it is no longer available, but I hope they bring it back, like, soon!
ATTENTION VENUES: If you would like me to try your lunch menu in 2016, please make me aware of it by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to get there.
Until then, here are the nominees for Best Lunch in Asheville f0r 2015…
- Buxton Hall BBQ – Yeah, you pretty much can’t win for Best Sandwiches AND get a nomination for Sandwich of the Year without also being on the short list for Best Lunch. The question is: Are awesome sandwiches enough to win? Maybe. Maybe not. You’ll have to scroll down a couple of inches to find out.
- Chestnut – JOE! Yeah, Okay, so my new best friend Chef Joe Scully is the co-owner and executive Chef at Chestnut, and that did influence my decision to eat there more often this year, but it did not influence my opinion of the fare, which I have always enjoyed! I think of Chestnut as a place where I can get good, solid food, made properly, and served professionally, which is exactly what I want for lunch. Joe’s crew nails it.
- Foggy Mountain Brew Pub – Two months ago, these guys wouldn’t have been on my radar for a Stoobie. Then I ate lunch there with Stephan from Dig Local, and he recommended the Chicken Alfredo, and it was the fucking bomb. I’ve been craving it ever since. It’s like Alfredo meets carbonara meets a big ol’ piece of beautiful bird meets a ton of bacon, and they all met in Wisconsin, because it’s super-heavy and creamy and not shying away from fat content at all. It is a dream come true in the form of ten million calories.
And the winner is…
CHESTNUT, YOUR LUNCH IS CONSISTENTLY FUCKING GREAT AND YOUR SEATS ARE COMFY AND YOUR STAFF IS AWESOME-SAUCE’M AND I AM GIVING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR BEST LUNCH IN ASHEVILLE!
Whoop whoop! Sound the alarms, ring the church bells, form a parade, grab a stranger and start makin’ out! It’s a day to celebrate! Did you know that Joe Scully used to hate me? True story. I wrote a mixed review of Chestnut back in the dizz-ay and said the food was great, but I had a hard time getting past the feeling that the front of the house was reluctant to let me mingle with the rest of the customers. Keep in mind that I do look like a member of — okay, the leader of — the Manson Family. Whatever! That was years ago, and it’s all behind us. Now Joe is my buddy, the front of the house is very friendly — one of the friendliest in town I’d even say — so not long ago, I decided, y’know what, I love eating lunch at Chestnut. I’m giving Joe a fuckin’ Stoobie!
Here are just a few of the reasons that I love eating lunch at Chestnut:
• Steak! – Sometimes, fairly often, I want steak for lunch, but where the fuck am I going to get steak for lunch, and not pay a ton of money for it in the middle of downtown Asheville, North Carolina? Chestnut. That’s where. Joe has a Steak Frittes on the lunch menu that is just the ticket. (see crappy picture above)
• Burger – I eat a lot of burgers. Joe’s burger is effing good, and his kitchen knows how to cook it the way it’s ordered. When I order mine medium, it comes out pink and hot in the middle, just like it should be. Also, it’s not a jaw-breaker or gut-buster of a burger, meaning, it’s not taller than it is wide, and it weighs in at 6 0z of high quality meat. Add cheese(s), bacon, lettuce, tomato, hold the onion, whatever the fuck you want.
• Lunch Menu = Lunch Portions – Even if I do want a steak, or a burger, for lunch, I don’t want to engorge myself with food. The art of the “lunch portion” has been somewhat lost in recent years, as restaurants strive to give the most “bang-for-the-buck.” That’s great for dinner, when I generally do wanna stuff my face until I pop, but at lunch, I say charge me the same or less, and give me a little less food. It’s okay, really. That 6 oz burger is perfect for mid-day.
• Newton – This guy. He’s the best. He’s Joe’s front-of-the-house guy, and I see him pretty often when I go in for lunch. He’s hilariously funny, super-friendly, and super-professional. Plus, he’s totally got Joe’s number — and vice versa — so they say the funniest shit about each other.
• Rest of the Staff – They must be happy, because they are very friendly, and they must get trained right because they are pro.
• Atmosphere – It’s a real restaurant with high-back booths and fancy light fixtures and everything! Gawwwllly! Plus lots of space, so no waiting, no crowds, no chaos.
• The other patrons – I always feel like the youngest person in the room, as well as the person in the lowest income bracket. Not that Chestnut is pricey, or for snobs! It’s actually homey, and quite affordable, as evidenced by the presence of the “blue hairs and blue blazers,” as I call them. They want the same thing for lunch that I do: Good, solid food at a good price. Plus, the older, well-to-do crowd doesn’t usually have five squalling toddlers at their hip, or a cloud of BO around them. Ahhh… I can eat lunch in peace at Chestnut. Thanks, Joe!
- Farm to Fender – We all know their burgers… and in fact that’s all I know. They make other food of course, but their burgers are so dang good, that’s all I’ve eaten from them. They brought their award winning brisket burger to the National Finals of the Battle of the Burger, and… did not take home a trophy, but they are still tops in my book!
- Root Down – I don’t eat at Root Down as often as I would like, but every time I do eat some of their food, whether at The Wedge in The RAD, or at a Food Festival, it’s always really really good. Like, really good.
- Gypsy Queen Cuisine – I always say, “Everybody loves Suzy!” and it’s true. Suzy is more than just a great cook, and nice person, she’s a force of nature, one to be reckoned with! She recently opened up her “brick and mortar” on Patton ave, and her food truck, which was one of the first in Asheville, is still one of the best! Her mobile Middle Eastern mini-kitchen cranking out some of the best food in foodtrucktopia. Is it THE best? Only scrolling down will tell!
And the winner is…
ROOT DOWN YOU ARE THE GREATEST THING ON WHEELS IN THIS WHOLE FUCKING TOWN AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED AND I AM GIVING YOU THE 2015 STOOBIE AWARD FOR BEST FOOOOOOOD TRUHHHHHHHHHHHHCK!
BALLS. Boudin balls. Plus bechemel mac ‘n’ cheese, amazing sandwiches, incredible sides, pralines, and theee best bread pudding I’ve ever had served to me from a window in the side of a truck… or perhaps anywhere. I love the food that comes out of the Root Down truck, and I am fond of telling people so. The mere mention of food trucks will set me off… “Food trucks? Root Down! Dano Holcomb is the best fucking chef in this town without a fucking kitchen and his food is to fucking die for if you haven’t tried Root Down OMeffingG check their FaceBook page forwheretheywillbeparkednext! GAHHHH!!!” I’ll border on spazzing-the-fuck-out in my efforts to impart my opinion that Dano and Root Down are making some of the best food in this town, crushing it from inside of a truck.
Dano served me hog jowls once. I’m from Boston, Man. I ain’t never ate a hog jowl in my fucking life, and I wasn’t planning to, until Dano handed me some, and they were fucking amazing. I have 100 percent full confidence in Dano’s cooking skills. That man could put almost anything in front of me, and I’d eat it. At the Asheville Wine and Food Festival he was serving “caviar” made from sweet tea. He’s a master, and I want the world to know it. I would not be at all surprised if this guy becomes the executive chef at one of the best restaurants in the country some day. I feel that strongly about the food coming out of his humble truck.
- Karen Donatelli – I have a beautiful dream, and in it I live inside of a castle made entirely by Karen Donatelli. I can eat and eat and eat the castle all day, every day, because Karen and her whole family live in the castle with me, scurrying around in their little white jackets and spiffy white bakers’ hats, constantly stirring, sifting, mixing, baking, and repairing my delicious castle as I devour this or that other rampart or flying buttress. Also, I am an all-powerful giant… and there’s a magic dragon who browns the meringue.
- Old Europe – There’s some new blood at Old Europe! They have just upped their game by recently hiring a new pastry chef, who happens to be one of my Top 5 Up-and-coming Chefs in Asheville, Katie Lynn MacDonald. Old Europe was my #1 pastry place for years, until Karen Donetelli came to town and took the belt from these former champs. Can Chef Katie Mack win it back? Only scrolling down will tell!
- Yuzu Patisserie – Located inside of a pottery shop in the River Arts District, Yuzu is one Asheville’s true hidden gems, in that it is actually hidden, and it is very gem-like. Small, precious, and brilliant are three words that could be used to describe an actual gem, as well as the space and the food at Yuzu Patisserie.
- 67 Biltmore,née Laurie’s – These guys are back on the map after the sad loss of their founder and leader, Laurie, who was not just a terrific cook and restaurateur, but also a wonderful person and a mentor to many. Among those she mentored are the current owners and workers who recently rebranded and reopened their doors, and have been cranking out great food ever since. Among their homey, well made offerings are some of the best flaky little star-shaped fruit danish (Danishes? Danishi?) in town. So cute! So tasty! So what if I almost always eat two at a time? They have fruit. They’re good for me! Leave me alone.
- Geraldine’s – FRED! I love Fred. He runs Geraldine’s and his character is as solid as his baking skills, which are fucking solid, Yo. If I lived closer to Geraldine’s I’d be in there all the time. Like, every day, and I’m not even kidding. I’d be in there buying fresh, scratch-made, affordable baked goods — everything from pastries, pies, cakes, and his famous $1 donuts to loaves of bread and specialty holiday items — every single day. I go ape-shit for specialty holiday items.
- Well-Bred – I gotta give it up to these guys. They have been rocking for years out there in Weaverville, and have made my superlative lists several times in the past. They’re still great, just as good as ever, and the only thing that has changed perhaps is that they opened another location, closer to me, in Biltmore Village. Now I go there more often, and don’t have to feel compelled to just eat my fave thing on a rare visit. I can relax, and pig-out on everything over the course of more frequent visits… aaand I plan to.
- Short Street Cakes – One word: Piecake. I heard about this legendary dessert on line, I begged the world of FaceBook to provide me with a slice, Jodi from Short Street said, “we do that,” two or three days later I had a slab in my hands, and then it was in my face. Good. Lord. What’s piecake you ask? It’s a pie inside of a cake. Duh. From top to bottom a slice of piecake goes like this: frosting, cake, pie, cake. The slice I had from Short Street was chocolate cake with an apple pie baked inside, and salted caramel drizzle. It was insane in the membrane.
- Hole Doughnuts – No list of great local pastries would be complete without Hole Doughnuts on it. When they are fresh out of the fryer, there is truly nothing better on this Earth than a Hole doughnut. That’s all they do: Doughnuts, and they do them perfectly. Is that enough to win a Stoobie for “Best Pastries?” You will soon find out.
- Vortex Donuts – SPOILER ALERT – Y’know what? I’m just gonna go ahead and give Vortex the “Most Improved” consolation prize, and leave it at that. I included them on this list because I eat and enjoy their doughnuts with more frequency than any of the other spots, but are they gonna win the “Best Pastries” award this year? Fuck no. Just look at the first name on this list. It’s Karen Donatelli for fuck’s sake.
And the winner is…
THIS IS PERHAPS A LITTLE ANTI-CLIMACTIC AFTER THE LAST SENTENCE OF THE NOMINATIONS ABOVE, BUT WHATEVER, KAREN DONATELLI BAKERY AND CAKE DESIGN YOU ARE MAKING THE BEST PASTRIES IN ASHEVILLE AND SO FOR THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW YOU ARE RECEIVING A STOOBIE AWWWAAARRRD!
I wish I had some better pictures of Karen and her beautiful, delicious pasties to show you. For some reason, I can never get a truly great shot off whenever I’m in proximity of those pastries. My hands are shaky, my eyes dart about furtively, I can’t concentrate… and I’m really self-conscious about appearing too desperate to get my face on those gorgeous food items! When I walk in to Karen’s shop on Haywood, a few doors down from Malaprops, I feel like I’m walking into an artist’s gallery, the kitchen in back being her studio. The offerings in the case are so visually appealing to me, that I wanna stare, bug-eyed, with my mouth agape, like some rube in the Art Museum ogling the nudes. It’s embarrassing!
In terms of flavor, texture, and over all quality of the food in my mouth, Karen’s baked goods are always 100% on the money. Never a dud. Never a clunker. She does every thing… every single thing… with perfection. She’s more than an artist, she’s a Master. I recommend her frangipani tartlets, and anything with fruit or almonds involved. If you’re chocolate lover, she’s got you covered, and if you just want something as simple as a croissant or brioche, she’s doing those things exactly right. Flakey, buttery, plain or with stuff.
On top of ALLL that she’s nice. Like, SUPER nice. One of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When I went into the cafe with my Mom once, Karen wrote “I love Mom” on our plate with chocolate. Now Karen is one of my mom’s fave people too, and she goes to the cafe more often than I do! She’s always like, “Karen says hi, and she misses you. You should go in more often!” Great, now I have guilt. Well, nothing relieves guilt like CAKE! A visit to Karen’s was overdue, besides I needed a really good picture to accompany this piece, so I went in recently and… yum.
…aaand that concludes the second installment of The 2015 Stoobie Awards! Yeah, man! One more to go! I covered my fave Morning jams, and handed out my Noontime superlatives, next comes “Night.” Some of the categories for Night will include:
Best Dinner • Best Late Night Bite • Best Late Night Coffee • Restaurant of the Year • Server of the Year • Chef of the Year • More!
See ya soon!
If you read part 1 of the Stoobies, you know that Asheville’s best food writer and adventurer, Jonathan “J-Dawg” Ammons is my new brunch mate! You can read about our first brunch date together on my blog. The J-Man, my teenage nephew, and I visited Chef AJ and Autumn Bomb at MojoKitchen!
Here’s an excerpt:
“I was amused to see that Mojo offers a Monte Christo sandwich, which is funny chimera of a thing, that I like to call by the English translation, ‘Mountain of Christ,’ and is traditionally something of a grilled cheese meets ham sammich meets french toast… sometimes there’s also turkey… and jam. Popularized at Disney Land in the 1960’s this freaky-deeky delight is usually associated with children, and I think I was a child the last time I ate one. Overcome with nostalgia, I ordered Mojo’s Mountain of Christ sandwich, and…”
You can read more HERE.
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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.