Charred Things on the Deck…
When the weather is nice in Asheville, it’s really nice, and that brings out the hippy-dippy-deck-diner in all of us. Who wants to sit and eat outside tonight? Raise your hands… oh… no… on second thought… put your hands back down… y’all been sweatin’… and there ain’t no amount of “Egyptian Goddess” scented oil gonna help that… situation… any… hoooo…
Personally I absolutely hate the sunshine, so my idea of a nice day is more of a nice evening, spent sitting in the shadow of a large tree, umbrella, or building… perhaps a building made out of…
Yeah, Man, that’s right, Dawn and I went to the famous Smoky Park Supper Club the other night, because it was a gorgeous evening, and we wanted to sit outdoors for dinner, and I’m tellin’ you what, there is almost no place better in all of greater Asheville for doing exactly that.
Located next to the river, but far enough away from it so that the toxins won’t get on ya, and surrounded by nought but trees and nature… ignoring the looming concrete monolith / bridge to WAVL of course… the Smoky Park Supper Club is truly — all joking aside — one of the most pleasant outdoor dining experiences you’re likely to have in Asheville, and when the food is on point, it’s bangin’. This particular evening, Dawn and I enjoyed the pleasant breezes, the final late afternoon dapplings of the down-bound sun ball, and some smoked, charred, grilled, and wood fired shrimp, oysters, and mussels, or “seafood in the mountains,” as I like to say… every single time I eat seafood in the mountains.
The first dish we tucked into was a beautiful showboat of color and panache. On the menu is was listed as “Charred cucumber/poblano gazpacho” with pickled shrimp, and rhubarb oil. When I posted a picture of it to Instagram, @SunburstChefandFarmer commented, “Beautiful dish! That’s some of our micro #bullsblood beets on top!” I am a macro-fan of micro greens, so I enjoyed learning this tidbit of info. #ThankYouSocialMediaNetwork Also: #bullsblood Gross! Ha ha! I love it.
Now, Dawn and I ate the fuck out of those pickled shrimps, and they were awesome, but due to an unfortunate set of dietary restrictions / decisions on our part, neither Dawn nor I could really power down the actual gazpacho portion of this dish. Dawn is avoiding dairy these days, and I’m always trying to avoid raw garlic, which this soup seemed to have a lot of. Yeah yeah, people always wanna tell me shit like, “Stu, raw garlic is really good for you!” But you know what raw garlic doesn’t cure?
Speaking of loneliness, I ate this next dish all by myself, but I did not mind one bit. Gim! Chef Michelle Bailey herself kindly sent it out to me, and I was more than happy to eat it all. In fact, I did not care to share, thank you very much, Dawn Roe, who said she didn’t want any anyways, so I was, like, “Fine.” It was listed on the menu as “Char Grilled NC Oysters,” with Carolina Reaper creamed spinach, and carrot/cucumber relish. It was fuckin’ good, Yo, and I could have literally eaten about 12 of them. Here’s a picture…
These warm, savory, tasty oysters came with a couple of charred-up, caramelized lemon wedges, stabbed onto a tiny fork, that were really cute, and tasty too. They added a lot of bonus flavor to the dish, which overall I found to be very comforting in its smokiness, and satisfying in it’s creaminess. These oysters were great! But they are NOT my Eat of the Week this week. That high honor goes to a dish that Dawn ordered and was kind enough to share with me: Wood-fired mussels with country ham, lager broth, charred asparagus, fava beans, smoky garlic creme, and grilled ciabatta. Holy fuck. Them shits were goooood.
I’ll tell you what: It is not easy to take good iPhone pictures of a plate or bowl of mussels on the fly. They’re so dark and usually kinda heaped inelegantly in a messy pile — which is all good! — but especially in dimly lit dining halls, it can be a tough assignment. Well, I took full advantage of the natural light of the setting sun on the deck of the Supper Club, and got some very nice clear pictures of these mussels, so even though they are very similar to each other, I’m posting all four pictures here. Starting with this one…
There was a lot of amazing, deep, rich, flavor going on in this dish. I think there must have been five or six ingredients left off of the description on the menu, because… what’s that chopped-up green stuff on top? And don’t I also espy a scallion? Dunno. Don’t care. I guess I could have asked for a full description, but I’m too busy and server looked lazy… no wait! Opposite. Total opposite. I am lazy as fuck, and servers always look busy to me. Plus, sometimes when I go out to eat, especially with Dawn, and especially when we do it specifically to relax and enjoy the nice weather, I will blithely stuff food into my face, totally not giving one flying fuck about anything else in the world but the here and now. So I didn’t get the full description, but I’ll do my best, and in the meantime, here’s another picture…
Chef Bailey is, of course, a master at wood-firing stuff, because that’s pretty much what they’re doing over there at Smoky Park Supper Club. Everything they cook in that kitchen is cooked using heat and flames produced by burning wood. Well, I did see some french fries come out the door, so I’m thinking there’s also a deep fryer in there somewhere, but most of the food is wood-fired in some form, whether it’s grilled, charred, or smoked.
Okay, it’s BDT! (Basic Description Time)
The dish came out hot (yay!) and cooled down quickly in the great outdoors, so that we were able to tuck in right away. YOM! The shiny black and bright orange mussels looked beautiful, floating in the light colored, quasi-opaque, savory broth, that was apparently made from lager. Mussels are often served in a wine broth, but I had never had them with a broth of beer. Maybe that’s a thing, I’m sure it is, I dunno. What I do know is that this broth was awesome, and when the mussels and veg matter were all gone, I wanted to tip the dish up and drain the remainder into my mouth, but instead I did my best to scrape it up with a spoon. Scrape. Scraaape. Scraaaaape.
The fava beans were great! Who knew? I mean, despite their Hollywood fame for pairing well with a nice Chianti, who the fuck ever thinks about fava beans? Not me, I’ll tell you that much. But hey, after eating these bright, fresh, tasty, slightly grilled favas, I’ll be thinking about them more. I’ll be all, like, “Oh, look, Dawn, there are favas on the menu!” And she’ll be all, like, “Settle down, Spaz.”
The little bits of country ham served as more of a spice than a protein, and did not distract my mind or mouth from the mussels, the way that ham and other pork products can sometimes do. Pork products can potentially be a great addition to many dishes, but can sometimes be like rhinestones on a jean jacket, bedazzling and distracting, and kind of tacky in the end. In this case, the country ham was subtle, but present, and blended in well with the lager broth and other finely chopped ingredients, adding just the right amount of salt and porky flavor, as well as some pretty color to the plate, which contrasted with the green and black, and complimented the yellowy-orange of the mussel meat.
The understated co-star of this plate, an amazing back-up singer if you will, were the charred artichokes. I lerv artichokes when they’re cooked right. They are essentially inedible when under-cooked, and when over cooked… baby food. These artichokes were cooked perfectly! They were soft, but not mushy, and they had a really nice grilled-on sear that had its own earhty-umami-ish thing going on, and went very well with lager broth and other elements of this dish.
The mussels themselves were phenomenal. Briny, sweet, meaty, with a nice chew, and as with everything else, cooked to perfection, and instilled with the wood-fired magic of Chef Bailey’s kitchen. Each one had popped open to say “Hi, I’m totally okay to be eaten, and guess what? I taste great!!!” Dawn and I crushed the entire plate. Mussels, artichokes, favas, broth, hammy bits, chopped-up green things. None of that was left by the time I made my final scraaaaaaaaaaaape across the bottom of the plate.
The entire meal was spectacular, and when we got up to leave, Dawn pointed to empty space where the mussels used to be and said, “Now, THAT should be your…
EAT OF THE WEEK!
~ END ~
Smoky Park Supper CLub
“Scenic views of the river & an elegant dining room set the scene for American fare & cocktails.”
Address: 350 Riverside Dr, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 350-0315
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.
ON THE RADIO: wpvmfm.org