This week’s column has a random theme of Lobster and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. There are pictures with captions on my Facebook page.
MOJO MAC – Mojo Kitchen, Downtown Asheville
I’m just gonna say it: there’s something about the space currently occupied by Mojo Kitchen that I find off-putting. I hadn’t been there since it was Stella Blue. I’m sorry to report that never stopped into the One-Stop, even once, when that was there.
I probably would have passed by Mojo Kitchen forever as well, except that people keep telling me it’s really good, so I finally took the plunge and went into the cave-like entrance to eat some lunch.
I’m really glad I did!
The chef was working the whole place on his own, and he was very friendly, and enthused about his food. I like that. I asked him to point out some of the best items on his menu and without hesitation his finger went straight to the Mojo Mac ‘n’ Cheese, and he said, “Anything with the word ‘Mojo’ in front of it it is a house specialty.” He pointed out a few other “Mojo” items, but when a chef points to their Mac ‘n’ Cheese first? Before everything else? Yeah, I going for that Mac ‘n’ Cheese.
It was really great! High quality ingredients, including black beans, goat cheese, fresh green onion, and chorizo, made it into something special, and I told the chef that I thought he could win competitions with this dish.
The portion was great, the flavor was great, the mac was cooked right, not too mushy, not too dry. It was creamy, and comforting, and was served piping hot in a bowl. It also came with some corn chips, which were really good too! House-made, I think.
I’ll be back to Mojo Kitchen fer shizzle, and I’ll be trying everything on the menu with the word “Mojo” in front of it… and then I’ll move on over to the taco section. Mmm… tacos.
MACARONI GRATIN – Fig Bistro, Biltmore Village
Fig is awesome. If you haven’t been there, you gotta try it. The room is really nice, the staff is very pro, and the food is to fucking die for.
It’s very popular (mostly with the over 100 crowd) so you sometimes need a reservation even for lunch, but if you can squeeze yourself in-between the blue-hairs and baldies, DO IT!
And you gotta get the Macaroni Gratin.
First of all, before we proceed with this review: It’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese.
Gratin? Yeah, right, Fig. You ain’t foollin’ anyone!
It’s a cut above regular old Mac ‘n’ Cheese, of course, and is made with the best possible ingredients as far as I can tell. The texture was excellent, very creamy, and slightly oily and congealed here and there, in the very good way that expensive cheese gets when you heat it and then let it cool a little. There are four cheeses involved, as well as some very high-quality applewood bacon, that has absolutely no nasty bits on it, at all, ever. The whole dish has flavor coming out the wahzoo. Plus it comes with a “simple green salad,” which is very basic and healthy and has a very light dressing that I enjoyed very much. Side salads make me smile.
My mom and I hit up Fig together when we can. She gets to feel like the youngest person in the room, and I get to stuff my brat-face with Mac ‘n’ Cheese! Nom nom!
We dig Fig.
LOBSTER POT PIE – Chestnut, Biltmore ave, Downtown Asheville
Here’s how it went in my head one day, as I walked down Biltmore Ave:
“Uh, hungry. Hamburger. No! Too many hamburgers. Chestnut? City Bakes?”
More random thoughts as I proceeded in the direction of those two establishments:
“Mmm… Marble Slab. Good ice cream. Cute girls.”
“Huh, check it out… what’s the hubbub? Coolio! The new White Duck is gonna open in a few days. Nice signage. Good logo. Take a picture.”
“WTF happened to Circle in the Square? Mystery.”
“Uh, Barley’s. Always a smoker or five sitting in front of Barley’s. Like guardians of the gate. ‘Do Not Enter.’ Heh. Gotta work that into my food column somehow.”
Then I arrived at Chestnut, where the sandwich board said “Lobster Pot Pie.” and I said, “Sweet! Three of my favorite things!”
Sorry, City Bakery, I’ll be back another time, you know I will.
I was surprised to hear from a reader recently that she thought I didn’t like Chestnut. Let me clear that up right now: I frickin’ love Chestnut! It’s just that I used to feel like the front staff at Chestnut would prefer that I dine at Barley’s instead, but that was not the case on this day! The hostess was smiling and happy to see me, and she even asked if I’d prefer a table, a booth, or the bar. In the past, they only asked if I wanted the bar, which kinda rubbed me the wrong way, so this was much better. I took a tiny two-person booth. Yay! My fave!
The waitress, Ashley Nicole, was super friendly and pro, and since I knew what I wanted — lobster pot pie, a glass of water, and a cup of coffee — our interaction was quick and pleasant. My beverages arrived immediately. Chestnut makes good coffee. It was nice, and rich, and strong, and roasty. Sip sip, ahhhh!
Then my food arrived. It was a small, good looking pot pie, in a little round dish, with a crispy crust on a top, and creamy contents that included lobster, peas and carrots. I also thought I tasted some Sherry or Vermouth? I’m only guessing. It came with a very nice little side salad that was a mix of greens, cukes, and teeny tiny tomatoes, with a very light lemon and oil dressing. CUTE!!!
The lobster pot pie was out-fucking-standing. Holy shit-sticks. Yummy, comforting, flavorful, rich, creamy, delish. The vegetables were very fresh and tasty, and a little al dente. I like that. The lobster was just fucking right. Exactly perfectly cooked, and exactly the perfect amount of it.
I grew-up in New England and I was eating lobster as soon as I was old enough to crack a leg and suck out that sweet meaty goodness. One of my earliest memories is my mom saying “He’s going to be an expensive date!” when I was chowing on lobster as a toddler. I know good lobster. I know shit lobster. I know when it’s not fresh. I know when it’s been over-cooked. You can take my word on this: Chestnut does their lobster exactly right.
Their lobster bisque has been a fave of mine for a long time, and one of things I like about it is there’s lots of lobster chunks. It tastes like, and has the fucking texture of lobster. They don’t just wave a lobster claw over the pot and call it done. They don’t scrimp. The same is true of their pot pie. There was plenty of meaty chunks, and I was 100 percent satisfied with the amount of lobster I ate.
The whole experience was great!
See? I don’t hate Chestnut! And they don’t hate me… I don’t think so anyways.
Gosh, I hope not. Chestnut? Are we all good?
LOBSTER EGGS BENEDICT – Blackbird, Biltmore Ave, Downtown Asheville
Like a lot of the food at Blackbird, the lobster Benedict was almost great.
But just not quite.
All the ingredients used on the Benedict part of my plate were good, and seemed to be of a high-quality, so no complaints there.
There was a goodly amount of lobster, but it was just a little over-cooked, and was rubbery as a result. Rubbery lobster is a stone-cold shame. The flavor of the lobster was good though, so that saved the day, somewhat.
The eggs, spinach, tomato, and biscuit were all very fresh and good, but were slightly room-temp. I prefer my food to be served really hot. That’s one of my things, Man. Hot food’s gotta be hot.
The Hollandaise sauce was well executed, but was also not entirely hot, and had stiffened a little already when it arrived at my table.
My biggest complaint, however, was the potatoes, which were basically cubed and deep fried, which to me is just trashy, and they trashed up the whole plate. They would have been right at home on my plate at a cheap diner and I would have been fine with that, but here? On this plate? With lobster? No fucking way.
I enjoyed this dish, despite it’s flaws, but it really could be something very special with a few minor adjustments, especially the temperature, which is an easy fix.
Also, the inclusion of spinach and the exclusion of ham would technically make this Lobster Florentine. Not Lobster Benedict. Florentine has spinach. Benedict has ham. Jus’ sayin’.
That’s not a complaint!
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.