Why I Loved the 2016 Taste of Asheville (and think you should too)


According to Me, the 2016 Taste of Asheville was the place to be for eaters last week.

One of my favorite stories to tell could be titled “A Friend of Jane’s.” It’s a true story about how I showed up late and ticket-less to the Taste of Asheville one year, and while standing in an enormous line with the high-end VIP ticket-holders, waiting for the doors to open, an employee of The Venue (yes, the venue is called The Venue) came down the line checking tickets. When he stopped at me, I smiled, shrugged and said “I don’t have a ticket,” then meekly followed-up with, “I’m a friend of Jane’s?” He pulled me out of line, marched me to the front door, right past everyone, then told three more people that I was a “friend of Jane’s,” and I was in like Flynn. Now, keep in mind that I look sort of like a combination of Thrain meets the Uni-Bomber, and the image of me being whisked past all of the blue bloods, blue-hairs, and blue blazers in the VIP line makes for an even more amusing story to me. I only wish that all of life could be so easy.

“You’ll have to remove your shoes before boarding the plane, Sir.”

“I’m a friend of Jane’s.”

“Step right this way to your first class seat.”

Anyhoo, just in case you don’t know, “Jane” is Jane Anderson and she really is my friend  — hi Jane! — as well as the executive director of the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association (AIR). Taste of Asheville is the annual AIR event, and it features nothing but local, independently owned restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and food vendors. In other words: Everything I fucking live for.

For the past several years, Taste has remained one of my favorite annual food-related evenings, and I pretty much look forward to it all year. This year I showed up early, ticket in hand, and was one of the very first people through the doors. I was in hog heaven. A kid in a candy shop. A professional eating machine let loose on Sample City, USA.

Here are some of the reasons that I love the Taste of Asheville…

  • The Venue! The generic name doesn’t do much for me, but the space itself is one of my favorites downtown, with three levels, and a balcony, it’s spacious and comfortable, and in my opinion, a real classy joint.
  • Jane / AIR! Jane and her crew always look like a million bucks, and it’s hugs all around when I walk in the door. Yay, hugs! They do a great job of putting on a party, so I know I’m in for a good time when AIR is charge.
  • Sweets! The Taste’s floor-plan is always well-designed, with the sweets near the entrance, which prompts everyone to bypass them for the savories in the back and upstairs. In terms of crowd control, it’s pure genius, because it prevents the front of the event from clogging-up, and prods the herd to eventually flow back to the front and out the door after filling up on savories and coming back for sweets. I love a good plan.
  • Coffee! This year I was super-stoked to see my friends Jay and Emily from High Five Coffee, dressed to the nines, and serving a delicious caffeinated beverage. Food events often neglect a coffee option, so I appreciated this very much.
  • Food! After I took as many pictures as I could, went back around and ate some food. Fuck. Yes. I shoved a bunch of different things into my facehole and didn’t really keep track of what was what. A lot of people asked me which was my fave, and the best I could do was say “sweets!” through a mouthful of cake.
  • People! Everyone who is anyone in the food scene is at Taste, from top chefs like Mike McCarty of the Lobster Trap; to food-media types like Tennille from Edible Asheville and J Dawg Ammons & Gina Smith from Mountain X. It’s a great chance for me to see some of my fellow eaters like Dave & Kim and Rick & June and I must have gabbed with a hundred people or more. I always see some of my absolute favorite human beings at the Taste, and usually bond with a stranger or two while sharing a hi-top table. I’m not saying you’re not cool if you weren’t at Taste this year, but I am saying you are cool if you were.
  • Opportunities! – I’m telling you what, if you’re in the food biz in any way, shape, or form, you really don’t want to miss this event. It’s the first place that I met, made connections, and solidified relationships with some of the nicest, most sincere, well-know, and hard-working people in the local food scene. It’s almost like a convention and a festival combined, but much more intimate than either. To me, it’s the food event that I think of when I think of local networking on a fun and casual, yet condensed and intensified level. There’s a LOT of people there that I enjoy chatting with, and I never get to chat with them all.
  • Comfort-Zone! – This entire event is comfort-zone city for me. I feel 100% free to talk about food, take pictures of food, and then eat food with both hands. If you’re an attendee of the annual Taste of Asheville, you will also be free and unfettered to gab with friends & strangers about food, take pictures of it without someone saying “Oh, gawd, do you always have to take pictures of your food?” and then eat your face off until you wanna die. The Taste is a safe-place for Food Fans.
  • JUICE! – Every year I run into Medea from Medea’s Real Food Cafe, and I drink tiny cup after tiny cup of juice while she tells me alllll of the health benefits of juice. Medea really wants me to do a juice cleanse, because she knows I eat deep-fried cheeseburgers for a living, which is literally killing me, and I’m always like, “yeah, yeah, sure thing, Medea, juice cleanse… gulp gulp… I like juice… guzzle quaif… it’s good stuff… slurrrp, ahhhhh! Got any more?” Since I don’t drink booze, this year I got super-jazzed on juice at The Taste!
  • Being Me! – I also snuck outside and got pretty jazzed on marijuana about 1/2 way through the night.
  • Ice Cream and Hugs on the Way Out the Door! – As I said, the Taste is always set up so that you can hit the sweets on your way out the door, and my absolute #1 perennial fave stop is Ultimate Ice Cream, where co-owners Lucia and Kevin are always working their own table, dishing out equal amounts of ice cream and love. These two awesome people and their delicious product really embody the Asheville food vibe to me.
  • Location Location Location! – Since it’s right downtown, next door to Sovereign Remedies, some of us shifted over to there at the end of the event. Im sure other folks filled-up the other hot spots in the area. I fucking love downtown Asheville, and I don’t give a shit if it’s full of tourists. Bring ’em, I say! It’s still our town, always will be, and nothing exemplifies that for me like the annual Taste of Asheville. True stories, Yo.

Aaand there ya go, a quick and incomplete list of things that I love about AIR’s Taste of Asheville. This year they added the element of some of the best and most well-known local buskers to the mix, thus the new title of Taste and Tunes, so that was fun too. Also, the staff at The Venue is very good. They are professional, and sharp looking.

The Taste of Asheville is truly an event for Asheville by Asheville, and I personally think it’s a wonderful opportunity for anyone who is interested in the local food scene to hang out with old friends, make new ones, meet talented and influential people, have lot’s of food, try some various things that you may not have tried before, and learn a lot about what’s going on in the indie restaurant world of little old Asheville North Carolina!

I love it, and I hope you do — or will – too! Thanks for inviting me, Jane!

And now here’s an assload of pictures.

Asheville Independent Restaurants
“AIR is an association of local, independent restaurants dedicated to keeping Asheville’s food scene eclectic, authentic, interesting, fresh and flavorful. In our vibrant mountain city you will find the flavors of Spain and the Caribbean, India and France around the corner from Southern Appalachian Mountain favorites.”
P.O. Box 2254 Asheville, NC 28802

The Venue
“The Venue provides Wedding Ceremony & Reception Venue, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner Location in North Carolina”
21 N Market St, Asheville, NC 28801
Phone: (828) 779-8546


From left: Chef Jacob Sessoms of Table; Chef William Dissen, The Market Place; Chef Steven Goff, Standard Foods; Chef Katie Button, Curate; Chef Joe Scully, Chestnut and Corner Kitchen; Stu Helm; Chef John Fleer, Rhubarb; Chef Karen Donatelli, Donatelli Bakery; Chef Peter Pollay, Posana Cafe; and Chef Matt Dawes, Bull & Beggar./ Photo by STEWART O’SHIELDS for ASHVEGAS.COM

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.


External links:

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BLOG: stuhelmfoodfan.wordpress.com







1 Comment

mrzeau November 28, 2016 - 8:30 pm

Enjoyed seeing you there as always, Stu! It’s also one of my favorite events of the year.

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