Stu Helm, Asheville’s Facebook Food Critic, on Sunny Point, The Bywater and Vinnie’s


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

SUNNY POINT – West Asheville Like anybody needs me to tell them that Sunny Point fucking rules. We all know it. I know it. You know it. They know it. I’m sure that Anthony fucking Bourdain knows it, so who the fuck am I to write a review of this beloved West Asheville mainstay? What can I possibly add to the conversation?

Maybe this: Sunny Point has the best mother-effing-fucking shrimp ‘n’ grits in the known Universe.

True story. I’m a shrimp ‘n’ grits fan. I’ll try it here and there and just about anywhere, and some places do it better than others. Some venues fail miserably, while others are happy to be mediocre, and a few have everything perfect, save the portion, the price, or a nasty-ass piece of bell pepper, or some-such other small detail. Sunny Point nails it to the wall with a 10 pound hammer. (I almost wrote “rock hard boner,” but then I thought, ew. Cast your vote: Ten Pound Hammer or Rock Hard Boner? Or make up your own! “Sunny Point nails it to the wall with a ____ ____ _____.” )

I’m from Boston (oh, BOOOO to you too) and I had never eaten shrimp ‘n’ grits until I moved to Asheville in 2005. My very first bite of this regional favorite was at Sunny Point, and wow. It was love, Baby. L-U-V. But this is not a case of my first love being so imprinted upon my heart, that no others will ever compare. I’m always willing to taste something better than something I’ve tasted before, and I’m happy to give other suitors a chance to win my hand.

So far, Sunny Point simply has the best shrimp ‘n’ grits ever. Here’s why…

• The wine sauce is creamy, mildly mustardy, and it has a shit-ton of flavor going on. Whatever secret combo of magic ingredients the chef is using in that sauce? Yeah, Man. Gim.

• The shrimp are big, fresh, thoroughly cooked (please, for the love of God, no translucent shrimp!), and there’s just the right number of them.

• The chipotle cheese grits are perfect. This yankee loves him some fucking grits and these fucking grits are fucking perfect.

• Then there’s the bacon on top. I can’t even describe how good this bacon is, so I won’t even bother. It was HNG the last time I checked. It also comes with a side-salad, which I think is really cute.

The Shrimp ‘n’ Grits portion is large, and the price is fitting. This dish is on my top 10 list of things I want to eat at all times, and that’s really saying something. I want to eat it with a shovel. Backhoe that beautiful stuff directly into my face right now. Have I convinced you that I like it? Well, I do.

The atmosphere is very bright, bustling, and breakfasty at Sunny Point, even at night. The staff has always been friendly and professional to me, and seems to be mostly (entirely?) women. I like that. There is a person in the kitchen who whistles… a little too much. It makes Dawn crazy. She hates whistling. She cranes her neck up and looks around, all angry and such. “Who’s whistling?!?” Ha ha ha!

Yay Sunny Point! It’s the best. But then, you probably already knew that.

THE BYWATER – Riverside Rd. – Asheville

So, we finally went to the Bywater the other night to celebrate Chloe Rothwell’s birthday, Carrie Faye Harder’s birthday and, like, two or three other birthdays that seemed to be all clustered-up together. I had avoided the Bywater despite the rave reviews because it features some of my least favorite things: Sunshine, people, and good clean fun.

“You can bring your own meat and cook it on their outdoor grills” was never a selling point to me, and “it’s great for families” pretty much sealed the deal. I thought I might bypass the Bywater forever, until this birthday clusterfuck happened.

Well… I had a great time! The sun was behind some clouds, the people were either cool enough, or way over there very far away from me, and the good clean fun was totally optional! The best part though — and the whole reason for this food review — was the free burger I got from the Teaufood cart! It was AWESOME. Like, really effing good. All of their food is free, you’re just encouraged to leave a tip. I left a $7 tip. It was a smallish burger, with some ruffled potato chips on the side, so I felt like $7 was fair, and the guy seemed pleased.

The meat tasted really fresh and delish, it was cooked perfectly, had some “tiger sauce” on it, a little shredded cheese, and was served on a small, soft bun. I don’t need a lot of bun with my burger. In fact, I don’t really require a lot of food. I just need a reasonable amount of high-quality eats, and that’s ezzackly what I got from Teaufood!

It was so good, I might even go back to the Bywater on a sunny day, just to get that dang burger!

VINNIE’S – Merrimon Ave.

Asheville I had the steaming pile of dog food, and Dawn had the enormous plate of sour yuck.

We won’t be back.

UPDATE: People are telling me I have to go back, and give Vinnie’s nother chance, but I’m reluctant. I don’t wanna waste one calorie on crap Italian food, know what I mean? But… maybe, possibly, perhaps… if someone offers to drive me there, pay for my lasagna, and owe me dinner if it still sucks, I’ll reconsider giving it a second try. Throw in a trip to Yolo afterwards, and I’m yeah, okay, I’m there.

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.


Amanda February 20, 2014 - 9:53 am

Stu, lease go to Wasabi! I LOVE that place & I honestly believe it’s the best sushi place in town! I got there all the time & would love to hear your take on it! Thank you for your all your food reviews, they are awesome.

Stu Helm, Asheville's Facebook Food Critic, on 12 Bones, City Bakery November 19, 2013 - 9:49 am

[…] recent Stu Helm reviews here on Sunny Point, Bywater and Vinne’s; and Bull & Beggar and Bojangle’s; and Tod’s Tasties and […]

HPS November 16, 2013 - 2:13 pm

This just proofs any idiot can be a “food critic”!!! Hope you go back to Boston….

Stu Helm November 19, 2013 - 6:56 pm

You misspelled “proves,” and any idiot knows that punctuation should always be on the inside of quotation marks. (ie: “food critic!!!”) I hope you go back to remedial grammar class, Smart Guy.

Foodie November 14, 2013 - 10:02 am

I agree that some knowledgeable, well-written restaurant reviewing would be welcome. On the other hand, Ashvegas is probably increasing his readership and his “clicks” with Stu Helm’s Animal House style, if the comments are any indication. But how will those page views translate into revenue for Ashvegas? Seems like the blog has just killed any chance of getting restaurant advertising.

doghaus28815 November 13, 2013 - 8:58 pm

servers at spd, hmmm…not friendly, food….not all that…waiting for a table….they need to work on that. scale of 1-10…4. me coming back…..o

Adrienne Crowther November 13, 2013 - 4:02 pm

I’m a regular reader of the Ashvegas Blog, and look forward to reading the latest scoop about developments in our beloved town. I also enjoy many of the local restaurants here, and am interested in how others perceive the fare.

However, I do not appreciate reading unprofessional, offensive, and non-constructive trashing by your food critic, Stu Helm. While I am a discriminating food consumer (and by discriminating, I mean having or showing refined taste or good judgment), I don’t enjoy reading his reviews, and find them to be unsophisticated and childlike.

I would greatly appreciate local food reporting from a more cultivated and reputable source.

Thank you!

Stu Helm November 13, 2013 - 9:43 pm

I want to remind everyone that I look at these comments. When you post one here to Ashevegas, you are essentially writing it to me. I appreciate your feedback and opinions, but I just want everyone to be aware that I’m not a fictional character or anonymous content generator. I’m one of you! In fact, we have over 20 friends in common on Facebook, Adrienne. Real friends too, not just Facebooky friends! Please take my reviews for what they are: humor. And please try the things I rave about, as well as the places I pan! It’s all just for fun!

Ten Inch Tiger Slug November 13, 2013 - 10:08 pm

Wow. Get a load of Miss Daisy all up in my boy’s grille. Come on lady, lighten up. How much did it cost you to read the blog? That’s right: NOTHING. Thanks for the lecture, Prude Polly.

Miss Daisy November 19, 2013 - 4:16 pm

I just re-read the entire article and comment thread to see what I did wrong.

Jason Sandford November 19, 2013 - 4:25 pm

Y’all be nice to Miss Daisy.

Ginger Man November 14, 2013 - 8:21 am

No one is forcing you to read it.

Doug S. November 14, 2013 - 8:50 am

I somewhat agree, these reviews are really what places like Yelp are for, but this guy seems to have his fans. It would be nice to have two food critics; one who is more experienced and mature, and then still have this guy reviewing things from his perspective as well. It would really be great if they went to places together. Kind of like a food critic Odd Couple.

Foothills Dweller November 14, 2013 - 4:29 pm

I like the fact that Stu’s keeping it real. I don’t want to read restaurant reviews where I have to get out the dictionary to figure out what they’re talking about, dancing around with fancy, flowery words and not even getting down to the nitty-gritty of their meal.

Z November 13, 2013 - 5:46 am

We send the tourists to Tupelo Honey, Green Sage, Corner Kitchen, City Bakery, Early Girl, Biscuit Head and Sunny Point for breakfast. In that order. There are many players in the game but few winners.
And good luck finding food that isn’t Sysco brand! It’s everywhere cause its cheap. Once Tupelo started expanding outside NC, you could tell the product changed too. Tourists don’t give a shit. They’re hungry and just want to say they ate there once.

burnsey November 12, 2013 - 12:49 pm

Sunny Point? Really, no better than anyone else in town, they capitalized on the “We grow everything locally” early in the game. I put it in the category of OK, but not worth waiting more than five minutes for a table.
Let’s face it, food is subjective. Too salty for one is not enough for another.

Plastic Paddy November 12, 2013 - 10:26 am

I’d love to try Sunny Point again the huevos were brilliant but the rancid smell of rotted patchouli (it has a shelf life ladies), the matted armpit hair creeping out of my server’s near sleeveless shirt reaching for my plate like kudzu reaches for the sun and the overwhelming need for the fine women of the West to shove a teat in their whelp’s mouth every time they have an audience can be a bit off-putting for us non-west Asheville inhabitants.

luther blissett November 15, 2013 - 11:45 pm

The J&S Cafeteria values your custom.

Plastic Paddy November 19, 2013 - 1:21 pm

wait, what…

tolerant chicken lover November 12, 2013 - 12:34 am

FUCK chick fil a!!!

realfoodplease November 11, 2013 - 7:21 pm

I agree, Sunny Point is way over-rated. Any place that serves sysco croissants can’t be the best.

Lindig H November 11, 2013 - 6:57 pm

re: Vinnie’s.

I’m with you. I do out with a small group on a regular basis and we’re always looking for good new places to try. I talked them into trying Vinnie’s. None of us was pleased with the food or the ambiance (and I had a fabulous meal when that building was Savoy, so it’s not the place). I even asked to try a dab of their bolognese sauce, the acid test for an Italian kitchen — blech (it was orange — orange! –and too thick and not very tasty).

I will say, however, that the tiramisu was excellent (and a large portion, too). Sometime I’m going to get just that for takeout. We will not be dining there again.

robyn November 11, 2013 - 5:56 pm

Thanks for being real about Vinnies. I have people tell me they have great vegetables at the Moose- Seriously?
I’m often served food at a restaurant I don;t want to waste the calories on- maybe there is nothing wrong with it- it;s just not food I want to eat.
If they serve in foil wrapped Sysco butter- I’m out of there.

Foothills Dweller November 12, 2013 - 3:38 pm

The Moose Cafe sucks ass – we went one time over a decade ago and haven’t been back.

Jason W. November 11, 2013 - 4:59 pm

The Magnetic Field had some tasty Shrimp ‘n’ Grits in it’s time.

Free Market Artist November 11, 2013 - 8:11 pm

Totally agree!

mindtonic November 12, 2013 - 1:21 pm

House cured tasso!

LiriodendronDiva November 11, 2013 - 4:57 pm

As an employee at Sunny Point Café (yes it’s true, I’m one of those “women” that work there) I’d like to say thanks for the article.

Just celebrating its tenth year (woohoo!) in business, the SP, as we call it, has come a long way during its stay on Haywood Rd. And yes, if you try to go for breakfast, it’s guaranteed to be effing busy out the wahoo. But hear me out on this: Why are people, for the love of GOD, do you ask, willing to wait 45 minutes to eat “just breakfast food”? Maybe it’s because it IS fucking good. Maybe it’s because we try to source local ingredients as much as humanly possible. Maybe it’s because of the 85% female hotness employee factor.

Or, also, maybe it’s because, while a large percentage of our evening returning customers are locals, (hey, EVERYONE loves our Wednesday $2 drafts, or our half-off bottles of wine on Saturday, throw some bacon in there and you got yourself a goddang DEAL.) the vast majority of our weekend/breakfast demographic is (big surprising drumroll please..): TOURISTS.

Yea, I get it. And I feel ya. Sometimes you just really with that this town was at all points in time just that: YOUR town. But let’s be brutally honest here: the people that come in for breakfast are the same people that come to this town to enjoy everything else wonderful we have to offer. And they bring money. And I don’t know about you, but they pay MY bills. So while it’s unfortunate that you had a bad experience, everyone else deserves the right for their own experience there as well.

My guess is perhaps you tried to come in on a weekend during peak hours, and had to wait too long before sitting down and became supremely “hangry” as I like to call it. For that, I am sorry. Maybe you did have to deal with someone who was your server and in a bad mood. For that, I am also sorry. (It could have been a bad day for them, you never know- even as a server, if I get shitty service I don’t take it extremely personal.)

So here’s my advice, and take it with a grain of salt/sand/whatever you want: Give it another shot. Come for dinner. We have most of the best breakfast items on our dinner menu, and dinner entrees that show off our amazing chefs’ true potential. If your expectations are not met, it’s an outright SHAME if you don’t provide positive and effective feedback. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves positive, effective communication from people that are unhappy, for us to have a chance to change or make something better.

If you aren’t willing to give it another shot, or still feel unhappy after THAT, then I hear (and know for a personal fact) that Biscuit Head has counter service, biscuits the size of cat heads, and really dank breakfast food too. Oh, and a mimosa to wash down your criticism.

Murphy November 11, 2013 - 7:58 pm

Not trying to get in a pissing match with you, but just spending a few minutes browsing the reviews of your “fucking good” restaurant on several different online review spots reveals that even folks who rave about the food often comment on the “pace of service” as slow, unattentive and even rude…

10/30/13 “4 Stars” … Great food, slow service. This place is very popular, even on a weekday. Service was slow but overall good food. TA.

08/23/13 “4 Stars” … “Great Food… Slooowwww as H$ll” … TA.

04/12-12 “Likes it” … “We all agreed that the food was great, but the service was lacking.” Urbanspoon

06/12/13 “5 Stars” … “Food was spectacular!! Service was a bit slow.” Yelp

8/26/10 “4 Stars” … “Service wasn’t great, but the food was” Yelp

08/15/13 “3 Stars” … “Why only three stars, you may ask? Well, the service is slow. I mean really slow.” Yelp

07/23/2103 … “If you want great food, please don’t hesitate to check this place out, but be prepared for a long, totally worth, the wait. Also know that you will be treated as if you are really putting the FOH staff out for having to serve you, and they will be insulting, offensive, and rude as a result; not once, but five times now. What a shame…” Yelp

Free Market Artist November 11, 2013 - 8:27 pm

Actually, I did give SPC a second chance, and they blew it just as badly the second time as they did the first.

And, to be clear, my 40-minute wait wasn’t just waiting for a table. It was about 10-15 minutes waiting for a table, and about 25-30 minutes waiting for my food to be served. A half-hour to cook breakfast? Really? And, have it served COLD once it comes to the table?

and it was a weekend that I first tried it, but a weekday the second time.

Bottom line is that I heard all of the hype before I went to SPC the first time, but wanted to have “my own experience”, as you state. I had it. It sucked. But I tried again, due to all of the hype I continued to hear, despite my bad first impression. And it sucked again.

The place is totally over-rated, and from what I see of your comment, and of the snotty attitude of my servers during my visits, there is an arrogance about the place — one that need not deserve a third chance.

Fact is, there are so many other quality eatery options in Asheville that I have no need to try yet again. You’re more likely to find me venturing out to the Stoney Knob where there are 100% FRIENDLY female wait staff, larger food portions, faster service and, yes, HOT food. Oh, and SPC’c shrimp and grits couldn’t hold a candle to the same dish at SK.

PS: If i get shitty service when I go out to eat, I do take it personally. I’m paying for that service! If a waitress can’t check her attitude at the punch clock before she starts work, then she shouldn’t be in the business, and certainly shouldn’t expect a tip.

Foothills Dweller November 13, 2013 - 3:31 pm

I have got to try Stoney Knob – it’s not far from my brother’s house in Weaverville and he’s told me a couple times that we should go. If they’ve got killer shrimp and grits, I’m there.

Free Market Artist November 11, 2013 - 3:07 pm

I went to Sunny Point once and waited over 40 minutes for my breakfast, and it was served COLD.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and went back a second time, and got the same shitty service (long wait and COLD food).

I haven’t been back since.

Sunny Point is, by far, the most OVER-RATED eatery in Asheville.

I don’t give a shit how good their shrimp and grits are. If I have to wait 40 minutes for it, and it arrives cold (twice), then I’m going elsewhere. It’s not like there aren’t countless other kick-ass shrimp and grits options in this city.

SuckItMcGee November 11, 2013 - 5:50 pm

Wow, I’ve never had to wait that long for my food after ordering, and I don’t blame you if I had the same experience.

That being said, I’ve been there dozens of times (always for Sunday brunch – extremely busy) and it has always been fantastic. The service can seem kind of rushed, but that’s true about any restaurant that gets as busy as Sunny Point yet doesn’t take reservations.

Knows The Difference November 11, 2013 - 6:39 pm

The problem with a small town is that you have to turn to a blog like this for real criticism of any kind. If the Mountain Xpress were to write real food reviews, they would lose half of their advertisers. Kudos to your for your honest and humorous observations. I sincerely hope that your writing will shine a light on the great culinary adventures in Asheville and douse the flames on the stoves of pompous and exorbitant restaurants that need to just go ahead and die.

Sunny Point nails it to the wall with a flaccid translucent crustacean. They are without question the most over-rated restaurant in all of Asheville. The service there is terrible, and god-forbid you actually have some sort of issue with your meal. They will verbally berate you for even questioning the “greatness” of their “restaurant”.

They are the quintessential example of what the over-blown, over-priced and over-arrogant Asheville food scene has become. Just because you have a “foodie menu” doesn’t mean you can charge “foodie prices”. There are stellar exceptions to this statement, but for the most part, there are a lot of restauranteur wannabes clogging the arteries in this town. Want proof? Spend a night or two dining in another “food mecca” and you will find a restaurant scene where the quality has truly been elevated to a level that really requires talent to execute and maintain.

Z November 13, 2013 - 5:49 am

No, you don’t have to turn to a blog to find honest reviews. Go friggin’ try something yourself and form your own opinion!
Since you’re the expert and “knows the difference” feel free to peruse this list and lemme know which ones you’ve tried in Asheville.

Knows The Difference November 13, 2013 - 4:51 pm

Does 10 out of 11 restaurants on the heat map satisfy you?

My point is that there is not enough open criticism of the restaurant scene, and we can’t expect it to be provided by any of the papers that rely on advertising.

Stephanie November 11, 2013 - 2:19 pm

Please go to Plant! I wanna hear what you have to say about it!

Stu Helm November 12, 2013 - 12:54 pm

I haven’t been to Plant yet, but I’m looking forward to trying it. I’ve heard good things.

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