Stu Helm, Asheville’s Facebook Food Critic, on All Souls Pizza, Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder, Pack’s Tavern


The latest from Stu Helm, Asheville’s Facebook Food Critic:

All Souls Pizza – Clingman Ave, Asheville

Everything was awesome, except the price. We had Smoked Chicken and Rice Soup (SO yum!), Basil, mozzarella pizza, local pepperoni pizza, and home made ice cream & cookies for dessert.

All of it was super-duper delicious, but the pizza and ice cream were both a little pricey for the portions. We agreed that lowering the prices, not increasing the portions, would make this place just about perfect.

We’ll be back to All Souls for sure!

7 Sows – Biltmore Ave, Downtown, Asheville

Just because food is served on a “board” does not make it special.

I’m going to say that this place is strictly for the tourists, who want to try some low-brow Southern food, without having to rub elbows with actual low-brow Southerners, or pay less than $100 for the experience.

I had the “BBQ Board” which consisted of some very fatty pork, some very run-of-the-mill cole slaw, boring fried okra, and three slices of generic white bread. Nothing special about any of it. The BBQ was just about on the level of Luella’s, the rest was straight-up trashy. Not one thing on my “board” was worthy of the price or the pomp that accompanied it. The “chicken cracklin’s” I ordered for an appetizer were nothing short of totally disgusting.

The desert was not unforgettable. In other words, I forgot what we had for desert. Ice cream or some such.

We will not be back to 7 Sows.

Pack’s Tavern – Downtown Asheville

I can give this place a four-star review using only three words:

Chicken Tender Plate.

There’s other stuff on the menu, I’m pretty sure, but I do not care.

Chicken. Tender. Plate.

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.


Davyne Dial December 5, 2013 - 2:03 pm

We are not NY or SF…we are Asheville. We are podunk, but with good food…and some not so good food. Stu-reviews are pure Asheville.

Jen December 5, 2013 - 9:51 am

Asheville doesn’t know true food criticism. Try reading some Michael Bauer, SF Chronicle or Ruth Reichl, NY Times. Real writing with true knowledge of food, technique, & palate.

Katherine December 5, 2013 - 8:53 am

I think (for me) the real issue here is the overwhelming use of profanity by the author as well as subsequent posters. There’s an expression, “profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully”. While I appreciate that the author intended for these reviews to be a “gas” for his friends on Facebook, the reality is that he is now in a larger, open arena. If he intends to have even a modicum of success then I would suggest toning down the use of profanity. I think he would be taken more seriously if his reviews were written a little less colloquially.

As for his reviews, I believe he has every right to call it like he sees it. Reviews are just that – one person’s experience. I appreciate his “non-foodie” approach to reviews. I just wish they weren’t served with a side of profanity.

julie December 5, 2013 - 9:43 am

stu doesn’t care if people take his food reviews seriously or not. and profane words are just words.

i am thoroughly enjoying reading the reviews (and comments) simply for entertainment purposes. i am not reading them to make a decision on whether or not i should go try a restaurant or a certain dish. for me, it’s pure entertainment.

Anne December 4, 2013 - 4:27 pm

I truly hope no one values your opinion. As a food citic clearly you have no taste buds. As an ashevegas writer it should be your goal to support local and constructively critique any local business not barate it due to one bad experience. Any try citic would know one visit doesn’t make a full experience…. I hope you’ve got a second job.

chris December 4, 2013 - 8:59 pm

“I hope you’ve got a second job.”

He lives in Asheville. ‘Nuff said.

Orton December 4, 2013 - 10:59 pm

So you go back to restaurants you’ve had bad experiences at?

Sean December 5, 2013 - 4:05 am

Yes…by all means, Anne. We sorely need another news source around here that does nothing but grovels at the feet of “foodies” and hipster risk-taking chefs, as long as they’re LOCAL.

In case you didn’t sense my sarcasm, stick to the Mountain Xpress. They have just what the doctor ordered for you.

Jesus. People like you never cease to amaze me.

Mike December 5, 2013 - 9:18 am

What part of Stu’s response that “…My reviews are based on my own personal experiences…” did you not understand?

And at where did you ever get the idea that this is his job?!? Do you REALLY think that Ashvegas is raking it in and therefore has staff writers?!? While Ashvegas is a better run and more professionally put together website than Mountain Xpress and Citizen-Times, it is just a blog (read the “About” section if you need a little enlightening).

Your idea that anyone should “support local and constructively critique any local business” is cute. Naive… but cute. There is already a newspaper that this appears to be their business model, it’s called Mountain Xpress (as long as the local business pays for advertising space).

Melissa December 5, 2013 - 11:06 am

He has taste buds that don’t like what yours do, so his opinion doesn’t matter?

And you might want to spell check before you try to take someone else down. It sure wouldn’t hurt!

Justin Cider December 5, 2013 - 11:43 am

He’s a food “critic”. Not a restaurant ass kisser.

KJ December 5, 2013 - 1:02 pm

He needs to be more politically correct though, don’t you see? Now, thanks to him, millions of Ashevillians are going to go to chain restaurants instead of supporting the local food scene.

Justin Cider December 5, 2013 - 2:03 pm

Oh yeah, you are right… 🙂 he should definitely tread lightly then. Are there millions of Ashevillians? They must be populating very quickly…

Foothills Dweller December 5, 2013 - 5:06 pm

Ha! Yeah, like Gremlins – all the rain over the summer made the Ashevillians multiply into the millions!

KJ December 6, 2013 - 12:19 pm

I’m glad you see it my way. A facebook food critic can’t just take his job too lightly. I mean have you seen how many likes his posts get. We’re not just talking mom and some college buddies, we’re talking random high school friends like those posts too.

And as for the millions of Ashevillians, I’ve never actually counted, I’m just assuming. I mean have you driven down Patton Ave. at rush hour? Let me tell you, it’s crowded.

Jason W. December 9, 2013 - 10:54 pm

No restaurant reviewed in this article was a chain restaurant.

Orton December 4, 2013 - 10:50 am

I love all these douchey foodie responses – chicken tenders are apparently crude but y’all have no problem sniffing your own asses.

doghaus28815 December 3, 2013 - 9:33 pm

please,,,,stf. food review. really…back off girls.

PeterPee December 3, 2013 - 9:10 pm

All this chicken tender talk has me craving a Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack review. Best chicken tenders in town and I should know because I’m a kid at heart.

smytty December 4, 2013 - 10:50 am

Does the chicken there have thicker skin? Seems to be the hot topic today.

Stu Helm December 3, 2013 - 5:28 pm

You guys get so upset! It’s only food, and humor. Lighten the fuck up.

My reviews are based on my own personal experiences. My experience at 7 Sows was straight-up AWFUL, and I stand by my review of it. It would be dishonest and pointless for me to report it as being otherwise.

If your experience differed, that’s great. It is not my aim to convince anyone not to go somewhere, or to convince you that your opinions are wrong. I only write these to amuse my friends on Facebook, and in turn some of you on Ashevegas.

I don’t mind if you disagree, but to people like JJ — who called me a clown — I have to say that I love or hate the foods & experiences that I love or hate, and I write about whatever I want to write about, without spending one second of my life worrying some fuck named JJ thinks of me. It’s the only way to live!

As for the chicken tender plate at Pack’s Tav: don’t knock it ’til you try it, Haters!

I’m 47 years old, BTW, and I’ll eat the shit out of a chicken tender plate any motherfuckin’ day of the week… if it’s good! It ain’t on the kid’s menu, Doug S, and that is for a reason.

PS – The day I call myself a “foodie” shoot me in the head.

chris December 3, 2013 - 8:56 pm

Dude, again?

You tell people to “lighten the fuck up”, yet you go on to call JJ a “fuck” for calling you a clown.

This makes me wonder, “WTF are you doing writing restaurant reviews in a public forum?”

This just gets more sorry by the minute. If you wanna be taken even half-seriously, you need to up your game, and/or grow some thicker skin. Because right now, it’s so thin I bet you absorb your meals directly through that gauzy membrane.

danielle plainview December 3, 2013 - 10:23 pm

Stu, don’t respond to these monkeys! Do what you do. Chris and JJ’s pussy hurts cause you popped the bubble of the imaginary world they live in. They probably work in the same taco-truck together when there not discussing the nuances of craft beer. Looking forward to reading more reviews.

Doug S. December 4, 2013 - 8:38 am

Next time you go out, be sure and order some thicker skin.

Nancy December 5, 2013 - 5:50 pm

I lived in Asheville 2009-2013. I have gone back to my house on a tiny island in the Bahamas, where I lived for 15 years prior to Asheville. Stu’s column is killing me, laughing so hard at all of it. Stu, we got two beach bar type operations out here on Geeat Guana Cay, Abaco Islands, The Bahamas. You are welcome to come anytime to review. Everybody else, settle the eff down. So much for Asheville being chill.

Plastic Paddy December 6, 2013 - 9:34 am

I like pie.

Scott December 3, 2013 - 4:04 pm

Pack’s Tavern is always underwhelming at best. Every single time, without fail.

Big Al December 3, 2013 - 5:09 pm

You just didn’t drink enough. Booze makes boring food taste better, the same as it makes ugly women seem prettier.

Or so I am told.

Harry December 3, 2013 - 9:03 pm

I have found that booze does in fact work with ugly, or fat women. However, I have been unable to drink enough to bring Pack’s food up to even the level of an Applebee’s or Chili’s. I always chuckle if I happen to drive by on a weekend and see people crammed in there like sardines. God love ’em!

Jason W December 5, 2013 - 2:14 am

Hate all you want on Pack’s Tavern, but they’re about as local as it gets, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better Thanksgiving, or Easter Buffet.

Sean December 3, 2013 - 2:11 pm

I’m shocked. The “foodies” (I abhor that word…I can think of several substitutes for it that aren’t fit to print) here are in a tizzy because an honest guy that writes about his restaurant experiences on Facebook didn’t like one of their hip and cool favorites. Get over yourselves, people. You can be a smug prick like JJ and applaud “risk taking chefs” while disparaging the local media and Stu, or you can say “Wow. I guess we have a difference in opinion.”

I’m 35, and I appreciate a good chicken tender as much as the next guy. And I second Stu’s review of the ones at Pack’s. They are the closest to the holy grail of tenders….McGuffey’s.

danielle plainview December 3, 2013 - 3:01 pm

Sean….you took the words out of my head. I have had some great meals at Seven Sows, but sometimes the “hipster chefs” go too far and mess up something like a pork plate. It happens. It is funny to see how upset the foodies are! Stu wins again!

Nate December 3, 2013 - 1:30 pm

Stu’s writing casual reports about his own dining experiences, not attempting to write comprehensive or “fair” reviews of restaurants, and it’s not clear why anyone is expecting anything different. The dismissive comments of some of the responders here say a lot more about their own snobbishness than they do about the actual restaurant they’re trying to defend. How *dare* anyone have different tastes or priorities, or (shudder) actually enjoy a pedestrian food like chicken tenders!

Orbit DVD December 3, 2013 - 12:52 pm

It’s funny. You can recommend great movies to customers for years. They will come back again and again, tell you that they loved them, and then ask you for more recommendations. Eventually, there will be the ONE movie that you suggested that they hated, and then your name is mud. They will quit asking for your opinion, and will always bring up the one film that they did not like.

not tastie December 3, 2013 - 2:05 pm

<3 right on

Davyne Dial December 3, 2013 - 10:43 am

Chicken tenders just reeks of “off the Sysco truck.” I don’t do Sysco well.

JJ December 3, 2013 - 10:09 am

As Asheville grows and improves due to the hard work and risk taking of great chef’s like Mike Moore, it’s a real shame that all media outlets in Asheville are such low quality. Its time for local media to improve, as Asheville improves you should too. Stu is a clown, he should fit right into the circus

Stu Helm December 3, 2013 - 5:03 pm

I see these comments, JJ.

chris December 3, 2013 - 6:13 pm

After some of the reviews you’ve written and the trash talk you’ve dumped on restaurants, you deign to take offense at some trash thrown your way? Seriously?

Perhaps you should go back and read some of your reviews. JJ’s comments don’t even compare.

Nate December 3, 2013 - 8:41 pm

You really don’t see the difference between describing your actual experience at a restaurant in unflattering terms and straight-up insulting someone just because you disagree with them?

chris December 3, 2013 - 8:59 pm

So, insulting someone’s work and livelihood (not critiquing, mind you, but insulting, because we shouldn’t be calling Stu’s reviews “critiques” by any means) in hateful and condescending ways somehow trumps a direct insult?

Tell me how that works.

Nate December 4, 2013 - 6:11 pm

(responding here since it won’t thread further than your last response)

I guess we’ll just have to disagree on where the exact line between “insult” and “critique” should be drawn, but I’m a little confused about what you don’t understand about the distinction I was making. When a chef (or an artist, or a writer, or any other creative professional) puts work out in the marketplace, critique of that work (even unflattering or insulting critique) is something that’s going to happen. If you want to say Stu’s comments are poorly written, or that he missed the point, that would be totally in line. When you Stu IS a jerk or a clown or whatever, in my opinion it crosses the line from critique to straight up insult because you’re no longer talking about the work, you’re making assumptions about character and identity.


chris December 4, 2013 - 8:58 pm

So, when Stu calls JJ a “fuck”…

I read that, and found it right in line with the rest of his “reviews”. Knee-jerk, insulting, condescending.

Harry December 3, 2013 - 9:08 pm

I bet JJ is the head Reuben chef at the Green Sage.

Wha? December 3, 2013 - 7:38 pm

So you’d prefer hagiographical advertisements posing as food criticism ala Mountain Xpress?

ali December 3, 2013 - 7:55 am

Just lost me too! Seven Sows has been fantastic the times I’ve been. I dream about their brussels sprout dish with egg and bacon. It’s amazing!

Pack’s Tavern….basic bar fare bordering on fast food.

burnsey December 3, 2013 - 2:05 am

I will agree with you concerning All Souls, after many trips, I still find it not a value, and hesitate to return. Let’s see how they do once the opening honeymoon is over.

Gmbh000 December 2, 2013 - 11:02 pm

I mean… chicken tenders? Really?

Look, I’ve thought some of the reviews were funny, but getting 7 Sows so off and then reviewing a restaurant solely on the basis of a chicken tender plate crosses the line from “amusing” to “my reviews are for humor purposes only.”

Never, ever trust a good critic who goes anywhere and orders chicken fingers. What’s next, a review of Curate based on the flavor of their tap water?

Foothills Dweller December 3, 2013 - 4:14 pm

Stu ordered the chicken tenders because he loves chicken (re: Bull and Beggar review). And I supposed you missed his Oct 29th review of Curaté

BTK December 5, 2013 - 11:05 pm

Re: Curaté, it was a mocking joke.

And I don’t care what he loves—a review of any restaurant where the only words are praise of chicken fingers is a laughable embarrassment.

Brent December 2, 2013 - 10:43 pm

I have been reading some of your reviews and some parts I find humorous. I was glad to see that this time you didn’t need to use vulgarity to substitute adjectives in a review. However I think all credibility just flew out the window after reading the 7 sows review. I have dined there multiple times and have had great food as well as brought my out of town foodie friends who enjoyed the menu. Seven sows is doing something different for this town and I applaude their creativity. Stu, sounds like you might need to stick to reviewing the chicken tender joints.

Food Nerd December 2, 2013 - 8:31 pm

Dude just lost me. I’ve never, ever had bad meal at Seven Sows, Packs Tavern is the tourist pit of tourist pits and is meh on every level. Welcome to the land of try-too-hard Stu.

The Blunder Years December 2, 2013 - 8:01 pm

Love the chicken tenders at Pack’s, you’re right on the money!

As for Seven Sows, I haven’t eaten there, but I don’t think his expectation of BBQ presentation is unreasonable considering how much he probably paid for that dish. Not exactly Little Pigs…

shawn December 2, 2013 - 3:35 pm

Packs Tavern, really?!?!? Me TOO!! I especially like the Soup du Jour (of the day (en englais)).

Doug S. December 2, 2013 - 12:47 pm

1. BBQ pork should have some fat on it. This gives people the option of easily cutting it off, if desired, or leaving it on for more flavor. 2. Plain white bread is the standard accompaniment for BBQ. 3. Fried okra is boring. It’s pieces of okra that are fried. Maybe the exciting world of boiled okra is what he is looking for.
Disclaimer – I have no connection with 7 Sows and have never even eaten there, but the reviewer’s expectation for BBQ preperation might be a little too high.

I’ll just have to trust his rave review of the chicken fingers at Pack’s Tavern, since that is not something I would ever think to order after the age of 16 and I don’t plan on entering Pack’s Tavern until after the age of 46.

Big Al December 3, 2013 - 5:05 pm

Plain white bread is the standard accompaniment of BORING BBQ. When we make BBQ at home, or eat in a place that knows BBQ, cornbread is always an option.

I also never entered Pack’s until I was 44 and ate 1/2 a plate of my friend’s chicken fingers (he wasn’t hungry) and they were excellent.

JML December 2, 2013 - 11:06 am

wowwww, Our 7 Sows experience was amazing

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