Stu Helm, food critic, names Asheville server, chef, restaurant of the year in 2014 Stoobies


Happy New Year Asheville!

Did everybody have a nice…  y’know…  whatever it is that you do or don’t celebrate around this time of year?  My Family celebrates Christmas, Festivus, and a little bit of Boxing Day.  I was raised Christian, and I still have the Christmas bug in me, and I’m all about the tree, the gift giving, the flashing lights, the imagery of Santa, his elves & his helper Krampus, plus snowflakes, wreaths, garlands and stuff like that.  I love that shit.  Oh yeah, plus time with family, and of course the foood!  Tons and tons and tons of food.

We have at least three separate cookie baking traditions that happen on or near the holidays in our little 8 person, Asheville family unit; plus an evening dedicated exclusively to shrimp cocktail,  spreads, crackers, & pickled things;  a traditional X-mas eve dinner that alternates annually between Chinese food & an Italian “feast of the 7 fishes;” a Christmas Day lunch of “roast beast” with English pop-overs, & a bunch of hot sides…. and then, after all that, at the very end of it all, when everyone is almost ready to puke, pop, and/or die, I bake a Christmas Cake.

You can read all about the strange tradition of my family Christmas Cake on my blog, by going HERE.

There are swear words, and vulgarities, and even some useful bits of information, so I think you’ll enjoy it. I use the term “cartoon asshole shape” to describe a snow flake I made out of frosting.

Okay, enough of that, I can’t believe the year has ended already and I still have to wrap-up these dang Stoobie Awards, so let’s just fuckin’ do it…


You know what?  I had three categories planned for Stoobie Awards:  Breakfast of The Year, Hot Dog of the Year, and Taco of The Year, but then I got really bored of writing about hot dogs and tacos, and decided that I don’t eat breakfast out enough for that to be a stand-alone category, so I’m putting the kibosh on all three of those and moving on with life.

If I had to say  —  like if the CIA was torturing me or something  —  I would probably say that the best hot dog I ate all year was the Bison dog I bought at Greenlife and cooked for myself at home, the best new taco I ate was probably at Bomba, and that I really enjoy the “The Boss” sandwich for breakfast at The Clingman Cafe.  Now, in the interest of not letting these award ceremonies drag on for ever,  let’s give out the big three: Server of the Year, Chef of the Year, and Restaurant of the Year and be done with it.


As you know, I eat out a lot.  I generally find the service in Asheville to be very good.  It wasn’t always that way, and there has definitely been a ton of growth in the area of professionalism behind the bars, hostess stands, and table-sides of this town.  The good people in the service industry of Asheville are still just as friendly and relaxed as they were back in the day, but now they are much more crisp in appearance, clear in mission, concise in action, and on the ball in general.  Here are my nominees for Server of the Year…

CHAD – All Souls Pizza – Not only is Chad at All Souls an excellent server (as is everyone there!), but he totally put me at ease about a particular character flaw of mine:  I am horrible with names.  Just the worst.  It makes me a bad person and I know it.  Chad helped me to remember his name with a little mnemonic trick.  Now, when I go into All Souls, if he’s my server, I think to myself, “I’m here at All Souls,  hanging with Chad.”  Get it?  Hanging…  with Chad.  Hanging Chad.  Anyone?  Bueller?  Well, it helped me, so thanks, Chad!  You rule.

CLIFF – Cúrate – I use a twist on the mnemonic trick that Chad taught me to remember Cliff’s name (thanks again, Chad), so that when I sit at the bar to eat at Cúrate, I think to myself, “What’s the bartender’s name?  That’s a real Cliff hanger.”  I like Cliff because he totally represents a certain type of stone-faced, button-down, no-nonsense, 100% professional service industry guy that I really appreciate as a customer.

LISA MARIE – Nightbell – What can I say about Lisa Marie?  She’s been our server every single time we’ve ever gone to Nightbell, and she’s charmed the socks off both of us.  I think Dawn is crushing, to be honest.  Li’l bit?  I mean, who wouldn’t?   In addition to always being well dressed, well coiffed, friendly, and pro, she has a likability factor that’s hard to quantify.  You kinda wanna call over another server, so you can invite Lisa Marie to sit at the table.

SKY! – Clingman Cafe/City Bakery –  If you don’t  already know Sky Falzone. you will.  She’s a super-star waiting to happen.  Just look around town for the AB Tech Billboards with her awesome face on them, or maybe you saw the interview she did with Ashvegas over the Summer, or the Holiday Parade, where she was all dressed up like Ashely Buncombe, or, more likely, maybe you caught a glimpse of her…  handing you a sandwich and some coffee at the Clingman Cafe or City Bakes on Biltmore Ave.  If this was a charisma contest, Sky would win, hands down.

But it’s not a charisma contest, Sky, it’s the Stoobies, and the winner of the 2014 Stoobie Award for Server of the Year is….

CLIIIFFFFF!!! Yeah, Man!  Cliff, you are the bomb.  You are thee perfect server.  The level of professionalism that you bring to the bar experience at Cúrate is unmatched, and sets a standard that Dawn and I hold other servers to.  Cúrate has one of the few bars that we regularly opt to sit at, and we even prefer it in some ways to the table experience.  Watching the chefs, servers, runners, and managers operating behind the bar at Cúrate is like watching a well oiled ballet (Yes, I intentionally mixed metaphors because I like the visual.) and Cliff is an integral part of the operation.  Quiet, but not timid; friendly, but not unctuous; formal without being stiff, Cliff always looks great and is always always always 100% pro.  Cliff ain’t never going to lean on the bar, heave a heavy sigh, scratch his stubble, and complain to you about his day, his life, his hangover, whatever, and he’s never going to pry into yours.  He’s there to do a job, and do it well.  Very well.  Not only is Cliff just the frickin’ pinnacle of professionalism when it comes to serving, but according to Dawn, every drink he’s ever made for her has been perfect and according to me, his Americano’s never fail.  Cliff, I salute you, my man.  For the reasons listed above and many others, you are the 2014 Stoobie Award winning Server of the Year!

Here’s a graphic for you.  Yay, graphics.


Server and Chef of the Year are tough categories to narrow down, because it’s personal.  It was hard not to list every nice person I’ve met and befriended over the past year, but choices have to be made, and there’s always next year! So, without further delay..

Nominees for the 2014 Chef of the Year are…

CHEF STEVEN GOFF – King James Public House – Whether he’s prepping, cooking, and serving tongue, tripe, “the noble organ,” and other off -the-beaten-path cuts of meat, or he’s writing about his experiences and philosophies as a chef for various blogs, papers, and magazines, Steven is a very creative guy.  His approach to all of his creative endeavors is intelligent, thoughtful, and sincere, and his results are excellent.  Plus, he’s super nice and has good taste in music.

CHEF KATIE BUTTON  – Cúrate / Nightbell – Katie Button is…  um…  I don’t know…   frickin’ awesome?  I sometimes compare meeting all the chefs during this past year to meeting the bands that I used to book in Chicago.  I love what they do, I admire them as professionals, I like them on a personal level, but I am almost never star struck.  Ever.  When I met Katie Button for the first time, I was star struck.  Her food is frickin’ amazing beyond belief, and I had been eating it for years before I met her.  Then one day she approached the bar, introduced herself to us, and… we were both, like, yeah..  she’s…  frickin’ awesome.

CHEF KAREN DONATELLI – Karen Donatelli Bakery Café and Cake Design – Yay!!!  I heart Karen!  Karen is my friend.  Our friendship grew out of my love of her food.  She makes THEEE best pastries in Asheville, no joke, if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’.  Almost every single day, right in the heart of downtown Asheville, she offers an amazing assortment of the best frickin’ croissants, brioche, tarts, eclairs, cookies, cakes, and more, that will make your mouth hang open, and your eyes bug out.  When I go into her shop, I wanna say “squee” forever.

CHEF PETER POLLAY – Posana Café – Peter Pollay may have saved my life, and the lives of others, with a plate of Chicken.  One day, one horrible day, I rode Bikey all over the RAD and downtown Asheville looking for some fucking food to put in my starvation hole.  For various annoying reasons, I was denied at one venue after another after another, until I was about ready to go on a killing spree which was likely to end in a feast of human flesh.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, Chef Peter Pollay put a plate of poultry in front of me that not only turned me back into Bruce Banner, but was so frickin’ delicious that I ate ever single scrap and morsel of food on my plate, and it filled me up to the perfect level.  Ahhhhh….  Oh, and, too, also:  Every other thing I’ve ever eaten at Posana has been equally awesome.

And the winner is…

CHEF STEVEN GAWWWWWWFFFFFFF!!!  Aw, Man!  No fair!  He’s like, your buddy, Stu!  Well, now, before you get your panties all in a twist, let me tell you that I didn’t know Steven at all until 2014, when I met him as The Food Critic, then I tasted his food at King James Pub, loved it, and found out he was one of the big reasons that we’ve loved Zambra for so many years.  His cooking is just frickin’ outstanding and that’s all there is to it, but in addition to that, his attitude rules.  He’s a work horse for one thing.  You will see him working almost every single food event in this town, representing his shop, and often doing it for charity.  I got to know Steven in 2014 because I saw him at SOOO many of the events and fests that I attended, where we talked about food, food service, food sourcing, food philosophy, and I grew to admire him as a thinker as well as a chef.  Then I read his writing, and I was impressed by it.  I like good writing.  It’s not as easy as people might think it is.  You should Google his name and read some of his essays and articles, and you should def go into KJP to sample some of his food if you haven’t already.  He’s truly an artist, and like most art, his creations aren’t going to appeal to everyone, but I think those with open minds and sophisticated palates will agree with me that Chef Steven Goff is something special, and deserves to be the 2014 Stoobie Award winner as Asheville’s Chef of the Year!

Here’s another graphic.  Whoop whoop.  Graphics.


Based on my Chef of the Year nominees, no one should be surprised by my list of nominees for Restaurant of the Year, except maybe the last one.  They are…

POSANA – Even if I set aside that life-saving chicken, I just frickin’ love Posana.  The food is excellent, the service is and always has been tops, the presentation of everything from the plating, to the table settings, to the staff is aesthetically pleasing.  The atmosphere is mellow, the location is awesome, the patio rules, and the new decor is really nice.  In my opinion, Posana has been one of the crown jewels of Asheville’s food scene for a long time, and they’ve stayed current, competitive, and contemporary in one of the fastest growing and most heavily scrutinized food scenes in America.  Plus, they do it all sans gluten.  Personally, I do not avoid gluten in my diet.  I eat gluten like nobody’s biz.  So, I don’t give a shit about whether or not my food has gluten in it, I only care that it tastes good.  Posana’s food always tastes good.  Really really really fucking good.

CÚRATE – Location:  Check.  Atmosphere: Check. Food:  Check.  Service:  Check.  Everything is fucking perfect at Cúrate.  The minute you walk in the door, you are greeted by a friendly face (or three) at the hostess stand, and told exactly what’s available as far as seating goes, and how long of a wait you might expect.  The seating ranges from the elegant table area in the back, to the busy bar area and bar itself in the middle, to the hi-toppers in the front window.   Cúrate is one of the few places where Dawn and I will sit anywhere they have seats available, even letting our wee hobbit legs dangle from the tall chairs up front if we have to.  Don’t care.  Gim food.  The food has two things going for it:  It’s fucking awesome, and it’s fucking consistent.  Y’know what?  That applies to every aspect of Cúrate for me:  It is consistently awesome.

KING JAMES PUBLIC HO– — USE – Let’s put Stoobie Award winning Chef Steven Goff and his amazing food aside for a minute, and just discuss the other elements of KJP.  Two of my fave servers in Asheville work there:  Rex and Jackie.  They weren’t on my list of nominees for Server of the Year, only because it was getting too long already, and I knew I’d be mentioning them here.  Rex is pure Asheville:  Handsome, mellow, friendly, and relaxed.  He’s also super-pro as a server.  Jackie has all the professionalism that Rex does, plus an added boost of energy and enthusiasm that I personally really enjoy.  Peter Slamp, part owner, is often in-house, and is super friendly, always laughing, smiling, and saying hi to the customers.  The atmosphere is perfect for me: Darkish, cozy, and inviting, the high-backed booths are nice for avoiding the world, and the window seats are great for watching it pass by.  According to Dawn and our friends, the mixed drinks are also excellent,  and according to me, the coffee is great too: French press style.  Everything about KJP strikes a positive note with me.  Even the music is good.

CITY BAKERY – City Bakes is my jam.  It is my muhfuckin’ JAM, Yo.  They may not have a famous chef, or a James Beard award, or a Michelin rating, and when you walk into City Bakery you don’t get an ottoman for your purse, a special guy just in charge of butter, or an escort to the rest rooms.  What you do get at City Bakery, every single time you walk in the door, is:  One of the best hot cups of house coffee in town.  Some of the best and most consistent sandwiches in town.   Fresh bread baked daily.  Quick and friendly service.  A big open, sunny space to chillax in.  Clean table tops.  A great view of downtown street life.  Wi-Fi.  Outdoor seating if you want it.  Local art on the walls that often benefits charity.  Plus, maybe, depending on what’s available, a cookie that is shaped like a mustache, or an eyeball, or dachshund.   I heart City Bakes, and I wanna give them shout-outs all day long.

And the winner is…

CÚRE-RAH-TAYYYYYYYYY!  Why Cúrate?  Why is it the best restaurant in Asheville, still, in 2014?  Well, Dawn and I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it, and y’know what…   It just fucking IS.

End of story.

End of Stoobies.

If you absolutely can’t get enough Stoobies, there’s one more category posted on my Blog HERE.  It’s for “Least Annoying Music.”

Before I sign off this week, I want to say thanks to all of the chefs & owners; servers, bussers, food runners, & bartenders; food producers & providers; event & festival organizers, promoters, participants & attendees; Ashvegas, AVLGrit, Food Life Magazine; and of course, you guysMy fellow food fans, for helping to make 2014 one of the most fun-as-fuck years of my nearly 5 decade long existence on your strange and wonderful planet.  You rule.  Asheville rules.  2015 is gonna fucking rule.

Stu Helm is an artist and writer 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 restaurant reviews strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook in 2013.


Jay January 8, 2015 - 1:56 pm

Thanks for the reviews. Fun to read! I am a big fan of City Bakery.

Matt January 6, 2015 - 8:10 pm

Thanks for all the fun reviews this year, Stu. I look forward to more. There’s certainly no shortage of interesting little restaurants in this town….

Bill January 5, 2015 - 7:15 am

It’s tough to keep food reviews interesting when you basically can’t speak freely (even if it’s unconscious and the problem is structural).

Asheville is just too small and insular to be brutally honest. So there’s NO WAY to do this job right unless you stay anonymous.

But it was fun enough at the beginning…..and he’s a decent guy, so give him a break.

indie January 5, 2015 - 12:17 am

Wow, little stu only got about 5 minutes of the promised 15″ of fame. Buh bye.

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