“DON’T PANIC. I’M JUST HERE FOR LUNCH.”
Now that I lead food tours, there are certain restaurants where the staff might be triggered to panic when they see me walk in the door unexpectedly. Their first thought might go something like, “Oh fuck! Did I forget there’s a food tour coming?!?” Followed by “Holy shit, 16 hungry motherfuckers are about to walk in behind this guy with nothing but eatin’ on their minds.” Sometimes, that’s true — there actually are 16 hungry motherfuckers behind me that the restaurant forgot about — but, sometimes, it’s just li’l ol’ me, and I’m just here for lunch.
Such was the case last week when I walked in the front door of The Blackbird with one thing on my agenda: A nice, hot, comforting Reuben. I bring two tours a week into Blackbird, and I always tell my tours about my fave things on their menu: Hot brown, shrimp ‘n’ grits, avocado toast (called “Nicas”), and their amazing Reuben. When I hype a sandwich as much as I hype the Reuben at Blackbird, I have to eat one every once in a while in order to make dang sure it’s still good, so my plan that day was to sit at their bar, and chow one down for lunch, simply to re-affirm its awesomeness in my mind, heart, face, and stomach.
Upon entering Blackbird, I was surprised to see Chef Mike Reppert standing behind the bar, so there was that awkward moment when two professionals look at each other and wonder what the fuck the other is doing. Not helping matters, I showed-up with Paddy Riels, the other Asheville Food Tour guide, who also brings tours into Blackbird, so the panic on Mike’s face was mixed with pure confusion… I thought I even detected his left eyebrow questioning reality itself. Thankfully, we got it all sorted out quickly: The regular bar-tender had called-in, so Chef Mike was workin’ it until a replacement showed up, and Paddy and I were just there for lunch. Phew! Reality restored, we ordered our food, and it arrived shortly thereafter. I forget what Paddy got. Didn’t care. Still don’t. Reuben.
Fuck yes, it’s true, I still love the Reuben at Blackbird.
Here’s what makes the Reuben at Blackbird so good: The rye bread is house-made, hearty, wholesome, and crisped to perfection; the sauerkraut is scratch-made and adds just the right amount of true soury-tang without being a musty mouthful of jarred bullshit, the Swiss cheese is melty as fuck, and the thousand Island dressing is perfectly creamy and subtly sweet. Here’s what makes the Reuben at Blackbird fucking great: The meat.
The meat on the Blackbird Reuben is special. Instead of the traditional corned-beef, Chef Mike and crew use a fresh, house cured, smoked pastrami, and it is effing perfect in every way. Whereas corned-beef is the meat of choice for a Reuben in authentic Jewish delis across NYC, and is considered the most traditional preparation, smoked meats are more popular in the excellent Jewish deli’s of Montreal, Canada, which has a large Jewish population, with traditions of their own. The Reuben at Blackbird is more like a Montreal sandwich, and therefor it is special in my opinion. It is also entirely fucking delicious, so there’s that. It comes with a fresh, snappy, house-made pickle, and a cute little side salad that is just the right size (tiny). It also comes on a cutting board, which I like, and it was cut in half and turned inside-out, which I love. Here’s another picture…
In my opinion, cutting a sandwich in half, and turning it inside-out, is an old-school courtesy, and a very thoughtful culinary detail that not every kitchen observes, but is always a good move. Why? Because — especially with a hot sandwich — by cutting it in half and turning it inside-out, the kitchen is showing the guest, with confidence, that this sandwich is done right through and through. A Reuben in particular has to be hot and melty in the middle, and if it ain’t, the cooks will know as soon as they cut it in half and turn it inside-out. That way they can correct it before it leaves the kitchen, and disappoints a guest. A Reuben that is cold in the middle with un-melted cheese is a crime, and a shame, and will totally give me a case of the sad ‘n’ grumpies. Chef Mike and the kitchen at Blackbird know what they’re doing, and when it comes to these old-school touches, they are on the ball.
So, for the perfect bread, for the house-made ingredients, for the Montreal experience, for the old-school deets, for the teeny tiny salad, for the damn good pickle, for the fact that I was full as fuck after I ate every spec in front of me… and didn’t have to bring any home or carry a fucking “doggy bag” all day… for all of those reasons, the pastrami Reuben at Blackbird Restaurant on Biltmore Ave located right in the heart of Downtown Asheville is my…
EAT OF THE WEEK!
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“Refined Southern choice serving creative upmarket plates in minimalist surrounds with a full bar.”
Address: 47 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 254-2502
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.
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