Stu Helm, Food Critic, awards 2014 Stoobies to Asheville hot coffee, sammie, late night small bite


By Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

I’m soops bizwads these days, so I’m gonna skip the intro and launch right into part two of the Stoobie Awards.  Here we go…


The nominees for The 214 Stoobie Award in the category of Hot Coffee of the Year are…

CITY BAKERY – Does this surprise anyone?  Well… anyone who works at City Bakery?  I have had at least one hundred and fifty million cups of hot coffee at City Bakes this year.  Their hot coffee has a lot going for it.  First of all, it’s hot.  Like, HOT hot.  That’s good. It’s also rich, fresh, deep and delish, and it comes in a really good ceramic mug.  Plus, there is always an opportunity to add a tasty baked good to your order. Yay!  I heart City Bakes.

VORTEX DONUTS – We all anticipated  —  for a looong time we anticipated–  that Vortex was coming to town, and they were bringing doughnuts, but who knew they would also start brewing-up some of the best frickin’ coffee in town too?  I had dared to hope for good coffee during that long wait.  I even said it out loud, “I hope they have good coffee,”  and when some people responded by asking, “Are you sure they’re even gonna have coffee at all?”  I was all, like, “What?!?  Of course, they’re gonna have coffee…  I mean… right?  Why the fuck wouldn’t they have coffee?!?”  Well, yes they do have coffee  —  phew  —  and yes it fucking rules.  For realzeez.

BOMBA – I don’t stop into Bomba as often as I should, mostly because there’s a little bit of a Feng Shui issue going on there for me, so there has to be the world’s most perfect storm of weather conditions, seating availability, non-customer-clusterfuckiness at the counter, and hours of operation going on before I pull the trigger and pop in, but when I do, they always make me a glorious cup of hot coffee.  It is the fucking Bomba-diggity.

Aaand the winner is…

THE COFFEE PEDLAR!   Wha-wha-wha-whaaa??? Where’d he come from? Well, he came from West Asheville, and he peddled a 300 motherfucking pound coffee-making bicycle rig all the way to Pack Square, where he will lovingly craft you thee best fucking cup of hot coffee you have ever had in your life.  His name is Ryan, and if I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’! He’s awesome.  He’s my bicycle hero, and my coffee hero all rolled into one guy. Plus he’s super nice.  For all those reasons, The Coffee Pedlar is my dark horse, come from behind winner of the 2014 Hot Coffee of the Year Award! Do yourself a favor and go see Ryan, before he packs it in for the winter, around mid-December. Here’s Ryan:
Here’s a graphic for you, Ryan. 

Click here to download a vectored PDF version if you’d like: 2014_StoobieAwards_CoffeePedlar_(1)_pdf


While you might die of thirst in the desert, you will never die of hunger…  because of…  y’know…   all of the sand which is there.  Yeah.  Well.  Don’t forget that my other gig is creating a free paper for kids every month. Anyhoodles…  The nominees for 2014 Sandwich of the Year are…

SPICY TUNA MELT – CLINGMAN CAFE – A lot of the time The Stoobies are awarded based on frequency as much as anything else. When I sit down to think about who’s gonna get a Stoobie award, I often think “What are my Go-To items?”  You all know that Clingman Cafe is one of my Go-To jams, and when I go to Clingman’s for lunch, I almost always get the Spicy Tuna Melt sandwich. With a pickle, and chips, it’s exactly what lunch should be.

TURKEY DAY TURKEY – CITY BAKERY – City Bakes is such a regular jam for me that I have zero doubt in my mind that I have eaten more Turkey Day Turkey sandwiches in 2014 than any other sandwich.  It’s just really fucking fresh, comforting, and delicious, and sometimes  – a lot of the time  –  it is exactly what I want out of life. Smoked turkey, swiss, cranberry relish, mayo, lettuce, (hold the) red onion on French bread.  It ain’t fancy, but it gets the job done again and again. I fucking love it.

VARIOUS – ALL SOULS PIZZA – All Souls has a nice offering of sandwiches that range from a grilled cheese (spicy or mild) to a “Manhattan” made with house pastrami and awesome kraut. These are big sandwiches, that come with a big, fresh, healthy salad. They are both rustic, and kinda fancy-pants at the same time, and, of course, the bread is amazeballs to the maxwad. They can be a bit of a “mouth ripper” as they are grilled or pressed until very crispy, but just be careful and you’ll survive abrasion-free to enjoy some of the best sandwiches you’ve ever had.

Aaand the winner is…

CLINGMAN CAFE SPICY TUNA MEHHHHHLT!  Why Clingding’s? Well, in addition to the “frequent jam” aspect mentioned above, this sandwich has a super high “crave-abilty” factor for me. I crave this fucker. Like, all the fucking time. My mind turns toward this sandwich more often than it turns towards a lot of other much much much more important things in life. Plus it scores extra points with me for being hot tuna, which is not only a band I never got into, but a food prep choice that can be dicy as fuck.  Done wrong, hot tuna will do you wrong, in a baaad way. The good folks at Cling-O-Rama do it right.  They get more extra points for making it spicy.  That’s the genius part of this sandwich. The spiciness keeps it from being just an ordinary tuna melt, and brings it straight into the high crave-ability territory that it occupies in my mind. Take a bite of pickle, then a bite of sandwich, then pop a potato chip in your mouth all at the same time, and…  nom nom nom…  the perfect fucking lunch flavor/texture combo in my face hole. I want one right NOW!!!  For all those reasons the Spicy Tuna Melt at Clingman Cafe is my 2014 Sandwich of the Year!

Here’s a graphic for you, Trip and Pamela. 

Click to download a vectored PDF if you’d like: 2014_StoobieAwards_ClingmanCafe_pdf


I’m old.  I don’t stay out late as much as I used to.  Dawn and I go out to eat dinner at, like, 5 pm. Often it’s just us and the senior set…  a couple of black clouds among the blue blazers and white-hairs.  Occasionally we go out for dinner a wee bit later, and then  — because we’re insane  –  we stop someplace else for more food  – jus’ a li’l somehtin’  – on the way home. Dawn often enjoys a cocktail or two as well, and I might even have coffee in order to stay up later. It can get well past 10pm an’ shit up in here when we’s really feelin’ it. Cray-zay!

The nominees for Late Night Small Bite of the Year are…

NIGHTBELL – Er. Mer. Ferkin’. Gerd. Dawn and I have a special love in our hearts for Nightbell, and there are several small bites on their menu that we have enjoyed well past our bed time more than once. In particular, the Lobster roll comes to mind. It’s a miniature version of the traditional beachside treat that is super buttery and lobstery, and is served on a small, soft, house made roll that is perfection. Also, the service is tops, the music is good, and the atmosphere is sexy.

THE IMPERIAL LIFE – Located above Table on College Street, Imperial Life was a surprising little discovery for us. I think Dawn heard good things about the cocktails, and sure enough she enjoys them very much, as do all of our friends, but it’s the little snacks that keep me coming back. I always get the pigs in a blanket, and Dawn always gets the raw fish thingy, which changes based on what fresh fish is in the house. The service is always great, and the atmosphere is kind of edgy and stodgy at the same time, which appeals to us.

CURATE – Always a favorite of ours, Dawn and I stopped in for a nosh just the other night, simply because we were walking past and saw an open two-topper in the front. We ain’t gonna pass-up an opp to get walk-in service at Carate, and that is fact which you can take straight to the muthafuckin’ bank. Of course the small bites are incredible. The fried eggplant with honey drizzle remains a hit with us year after year, and that’s just the tip of the small bite iceberg at “Karate” (as my nephews insist on calling it). So many good things! Plus great wine for Dawn and some of the best fucking coffee on Earth for me.

Aaand the winner is…

IMPERIAL LIFE!  This was a tough choice, because it was basically a 3-way tie, and I know how much Asheville loves  a good 3-way, but I had to pick one, so I went with Imperial Life for some of the following reasons:

• Dawn can always get her raw fish on, and she says it’s the best raw fish dish in town.  She has literally said to me several times throughout 2014:  “This (raw fish dish) should get a Stoobie Award from you.  Do it!”  So, I’m doing it.  Fish: Stoobied.  Dawn.

• I can get my hot dog on…  in small, be-blanketed bites.  It’s soops cute, oh-so-snack-able, always piping hot, and it comes with a big schmear of Lusty Monk Mustard on the plate. Yom!

• Super-Handsome Bartender Guy – Not to single out individuals for public scrutiny, but I’d be lying if I tried to say that Super-Handsome Bartender Guy was not one of the reasons we frequent Imperial Life.  He is.

• People both younger AND older than us are often living the Imperial Life with us up in there.  Whoop whoop!  The oldsters are often more wild and boisterous than the younger set.  We’re not wild or boisterous at all.  Although we do laugh a lot.  At everybody else.

And those are just some of the reasons that The Imperial Life gets the 2014 Stoobie Award for Late Night Small Bite of the Year!

Sorry about the crappy picture. It’s all I had. Here’s a graphic for you.

You can download a vectored pdf if you’d like by clicking here: 2014_StoobieAwards_ImperialLife_pdf

So there you go, Folks!  Hot coffee, hot tuna, cold fish, and wee hot dogs swaddled in dough.

Next week I have some other stuff I wanna write about, so I’ll only be doing one category of Stoobies:  Deep Fried Thing of the Year.

Stay tuned!  Gotta run.

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.


Jessica December 5, 2014 - 10:33 am

Piping hot coffee! It is so hard to find! As soon as it drops in temp I need it zapped in the microwave to keep it at the boiling point I need.

love this post and all the times it made me chuckle :0)

A fan,

orlovsky November 27, 2014 - 9:55 am

The best sandwich in town is a tuna melt?

Yawn November 22, 2014 - 3:53 pm

Yawn…I’m a big fan, but it is really best when you throw restaurants under the bus. That’s what everyone wants, and the times we are living in. Please mock people publicly again so we can all laugh at them with you and Dawn. You are leading Asheville in hilarious public humiliating. You and Dawn are masters of mocking random people for fun.

Kelly November 22, 2014 - 9:02 am

This is terrible. It’s like reading the back of a box of douche.

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