Stu Helm: Food Critic on Ambrozia, Biscuit Head, Finding Asheville, Friends Against Butts


Hello, Asheville!

Have you been enjoying the warm weather? And then freezing your asses off the very next day? WTF?!?

I don’t mind the cold, but I’m not a huge fan of the sunshine, so this crazy weather pattern has me all effed up. One minute my eyes and skin are safely protected by a layer of clouds and gloom, and the next minute the fucking sun is burning its way through all three layers of my black cotton outer-coating, to boil my flesh alive in its own savory patchouli-scented juices. A short walk to Clingman Cafe the other day turned into a Tatooine death march for me, as I struggled my way through the glaring daylight, confused and enraged, clawing at the sunlight, like some kind of Frankenstein Monster loosed upon an uncaring world. It was horrible.

Then I left my dang sunglasses on the counter at Clingman’s and my walk home was a marathon squint-fest the likes of which the world has never seen… Did I mention that I’m not a fan of the sun?

Who cares that it makes plants grow?

Anyhoodles…  FOOOD!!!

AMBROZIA – North Asheville

Well, Dawn and I finally made it aaalll the way out to Ambrozia, and fuckin’ aye, it was good! Like, really good. Like really really really fucking awesome and good.

I’m joking about it being “aaalll the way out” there, of course, because it’s only just up there in North Asheville… Past the Ingles on Merrimon Ave? On the opposite side of the street? In that little group of storefronts up there?  Right across from Cecilia’s Kitchen and up the road a little bit. Yes! Right there. Phew. Why’s it so fucking hard to explain to people where Ambrozia is? I’ve done it a hundred times, even to people who live right up near it, and they’re always like, “Next to the Ingles?”  “Near Edna’s?” “Didn’t Dancing Bear used to be up there?”

What is with people who ask for directions these days anyways? It’s called Ambrozia. It’s located in Asheville. That should be enough info to get anybody where they wanna be.

“Is it where Marco’s is?” No.  It’s where GOOGLE is.


Although we’d never properly eaten at Ambrozia, Dawn and I had already had the pleasure of meeting Chef Sam and tasting his food at several events, including the Blind Pig / Pig Lebowski Dinner at Sky-Lanes Bowling, the Wine and Food Festival, and the Battle of Burger. We’ve always enjoyed his food at these events, and Sam himself has always been a very friendly, upbeat, and likable guy towards us, so we immediately took a shine to his cooking, as well as his personality. We’d been looking forward to going to his venue to have the Ambrozia experience for a long time and we were not disappointed.

Let’s just say right up front: They saw us coming. Literally. There’s a giant plate glass window that allows the kitchen staff to see right outside into the parking lot, and the patrons to likewise see in. Chef Sam spied us, and came outside to greet us. We asked him what he recommended that night, and he let us know without hesitation: The lobster pot pie, and the lamb chop.


Everyone knows that lobster pot pie is three of my favorite things on Earth, and the way Chef Sam described the lamb chop convinced us that it was his baby. Dawn’s brother Bob is an amazing cook who ran the family restaurant for 20 years, and he told us “When you go someplace nice, get the chef’s special. They take pride in it.” Following Bob and Sam’s advice made it easy for us to decide on at least two items for our dinner, and it was nice knowing some of what we wanted to eat before we even walked in the door.

In addition to the pot pie and lamb chop, we had an amuse-bouche, some small bites, steak-frite, several sides, drinks, coffee, excellent service, an attractive decor, pleasant atmosphere, and music that was totally not annoying. It was all great and our evening at Ambrozia is now a contender for best over-all meal of 2015 so far. For realsies.

Here’s the BID:

Let the amoozing of the booshes begin!

AM– — USE-BOUCHE – The amuse-bouche was particularly amoozing, as it was a high-end take on the typically and decidedly not-high-end Suburban party special called “ambrosia.” Now… normally… I would eschew such a dish, but in the capable hands of Chef Sam, I had confidence that it would rule. And it did. First of all: No mini-marshmallows. Instead there was a cube of house-made marshmallow with a little bit o’ sear on the outside. YUM!!! Fuck all mainstream, commercially manufactured marshmallows. I was in my 20’s before I learned that a marshmallow is a flower, and not a form of plastic. I was stunned to learn that one could make awesome, delicious marshmallow treats right in one’s own kitchen, using all natural ingredients… if one enjoys picking flowers in a marsh, and making a giant mess at home… which I don’t, so I ‘ll leave the marshmallow making up to the kitchen at Ambrozia. The rest of the salad consisted of the usual ingredients for ambrosia — citrus and cherries — and was likewise delish.

FYI – I asked the server (who was really awesome) if all the patrons would receive an amuse-bouche that night and she said, “Yes!” So, there you go, motherfuckers. If you want an amuse-bouche, go to Ambrozia, and save your complaints about how I get special treatment for another time…

…like right now…

Long, white, and covered in sauce, just the way I like it. What? I’m talking about my PLATE OF APPS! Perverts. Gahd.

KITCHEN’S CHOICE – The kitchen sent out a small assortment of things for us to try, because… (Insert drama sting here)… they wanted us to try them. No big whoop. There were six small items lined-up on one of those long rectagular white plates that stuff comes lined-up on these days, and here’s what-all was on there:

• Two “trout nachos,” consisting of smoked NC trout, a bread ‘n butter pickle, sprouted things, and Sriracha aioli on a wonton chip. Maaaan… this li’l guy was so fucking good, I could have eaten a plate of them. I don’t even really like smoked fish all that much… or Sriracha aioli… or wontons… WTF? This had all the makings of a bite that I would regret biting, but it was fucking awesome. I love when that happens. I highly recommend this appetizer to anyone who either loves or hates all those ingredients. I’m craving it as I write this.

• Two deviled eggs, with bacon jam, and a deep fried sage leaf poking out the top. Deep fried leaves seem to be trending right now, and I personally dig the trend. This sage leaf was cute to look at, fun to eat, and added a nice crunch and subtle sage-y flavor to the taste. The bacon jam? I want to find the person who invented bacon jam, drop to one knee, kiss their signet ring, and pledge my loyalty to them forever. It’s the most bomb-titty-ass-bombest fuckin’ thing ever created, and whaddaya know, it goes good on an egg.

 Two country ham and artichoke fritters. One of the things I love about the South is that there’s 73% more frittering going on down here than up North. You crazy MFers — oops, I’m sorry — Y’all will form anything you can into a ball, deep fry the fuck out of it, and call that bitch a fritter. Thanks, Dixie! Does a deep-fried ball of country ham and artichokes, dipped into a savory, spicy “fermented hot sauce” appeal to me? Fuck yes. It sure does.

Pot pie or not pie? That is the questio… chomp! Who cares. Gim.

LOBSTER POT PIE (with chorizo) – You know you’ve had a great meal when the one and only questionable aspect of the whole experience is the name of something. Upon taking our order, our awesome server said, “We”ll get that lobster bisque started,” after which I inquired, “Do you mean Lobster pot pie? She corrected herself, but took the time to describe the lobster pot pie, which indeed sounded more like, and pretty much was, a lobster bisque with a crust on top.  Make no mistake, it was de-fuckin’-licious, but our server was wise to explain it to us ahead of time, as we might have otherwise been, like, “WTF? This ain’t no pot pie.” Instead we enjoyed it for what it was: A thick, creamy, smokey lobstery, chorizo-y bisque, with a biscuity, flakey, crust afloat on top. It was awesome.

Gittin’ lamby wid it.

CHEF’S SPECIAL: LAMB CHOP w/ Shepherd’s pie and eggplant – Okay, so first of all, this lamb chop instantly became the number one best lamb chop I’ve ever tasted. That’s right: Best ever.  Start here: It was tender. Let that settle in for a minute. It. Was. Tender. That is so fucking important when it comes to lamb, and I’ve had so much not-tender lamb in my life that I kind of shy away from it on the menu, but again as it was the chef’s special, we tried it and we were both really glad we did. The flavor was just as awesome as the tenderness, and the sauce that it came in was perfect. A plumb or pear sauce or some such. At first we were both, like, “why shepherd’s pie with a lamb chop?” Basically lamb with a side of lamb. Then Dawn said, “Actually, it’s great. Like two very different treatments of the same protein on one plate.” She was right, as usual, and this pairing was very satisfying and delish. The eggplant scored high marks on the Three T’s: Texture, temperature, and taste. Not one bad bite on this whole plate.

The bag o’ frites were awesome, and added a surprisingly fun element of low-brow presentation to this high-brow experience.

STEAK FRITE – Steak-frite is a Belgian term that basically means steak with fries. Butter and black pepper are key ingredients when cooking the steak, and Chef Sam’s frites were smoky, and had a bacony quality to the flavor, plus they came in a brown paper bag, which was fun. I sometimes hate this kind of ironically low-brow prestation in high-brow venues, but this was working for me. WARNING: Dump your fries from the bag fast or they’ll get sogged-out in there. I requested that my steak be prepared “medium,” and Dawn asked, “Don’t you mean medium rare?” Good catch, Dawn, but I’d recently decided to switch-it-up. Our server said the medium steak would be hot all the way through, but remain pink in the middle. I said, “Perfect,” and it was. The Ambrozia kitchen cooked it perfectly for me. Ordering “medium” steaks is dicy as fuck, because if they take it too far… she’s a goner. The chefs at Ambrozia took it just as far as it needed to be taken. It was great. There were also two sauces and some slaw involved. One sauce each for the steak and frites, and a nice, fresh, subtle, tender Brussles sprouts slaw that went very well with the smoky fries and umami-y beef. Yum!!!

DESSERT – We skipped dessert. We were stuffed, plus my chocolate allergy is like a big wet blanket at the pastry party. When you go to Ambrozia —  and I am recommending right now that you go to Ambrozia — try the dessert and let me know what you think.

Dawn had a cocktail and some wine, both recommended by our server, and both were excellent according to Dawn. I took pictures, but they came out terrible. You’ll just have to try those for yourself too.

I had the coffee and it didn’t blow my socks off, but it was good and hot and it did the trick.

So…  for those of you that need the BID to be broke down even further…

  • The food was awesome.
  • The service was great.
  • The best lamb chop I’ve ever tasted.
  • The pot pie is more of a bisque, but still delish.
  • 4.5 stars out 5 for this entire experience, which is in contention for a Best of 2015 Stoobie Award.
BISCUIT HEAD – Biltmore Ave
I know I already gave a review of this Biscuit Head location, but I just wanted to report that I went back recently with my sister and my oldest nephew, and we had an awesome breakfast, the highlight of which for me was the “gravy flight” that I ordered with my biscuit!  I chose three flaves from their list o’ gravies, and each one was more savory and yummy than the next. Plus, the whole concept amused the fuck out of me. A gravy flight? Are you kidding me? That’s pure comedy.  Pure, delicious comedy.
Also, the interior of the Biltmore Biscuit Head is really nice.  Very homey and warm on that cold February day, and service was friendly, despite the crush of customers.  Thanks, guys!
Here are some pictures from our meal…

There was a long line, but it went fast and we got to check out the menu while we waited. This is where I first spied the gravy flight. I knew I had to have it, that it must be mine.

Hard at work behind the counter at Biscuit Head on a busy Saturday morning.

I found this mustache cup to be amusing. I still like the mustache icon, even though it’s overly popular these days.

Here’s my gravy flight! I ordered pork gravy, chicken gravy, and… of course… red eye espresso gravy. They graciously brought us an extra dish of their crawfish gravy. All four were excellent, and the espresso was my fave of the bunch. That’s my nephew’s dish in the background. I forget what he got, but he chowed it down like a pro. It looks like the brisket biscuit to me… not sure.

Welcome to another episode of EXTREEEEEME CLOSE-UP! Featuring: Gravy Flight with cat-head biscuit.

Wait, did that specials board say “Cheerwine” was the bacon of the day? Yes it did. Did I order me some? Oh hell yes I did. Was it fucking awesome? Well, just look at it, Honey, and tell me WTF you think.

An over-the-table shot of my sister’s food. I kinda hate the tin plates at Biscuit Head, but the food on top has been nothing short of amazing on both of my most recent visits. That bacon was fucking GOOOD!

There you go!  Biscuit Head on Biltmore. Gravy flight.  Awesomeness.
I was recently interviewed by Nathan Miller of who does hour-long in-depth interviews with one person every week.  I was #77.  Nathan is a super-smart guy, who obvously did his research on me, so we talked about everything from my artwork, to my dad being a minister, to the time I got sued by Kraft Foods International.

Left: Stu Helm. Right: Nathan Miller

Go HERE to listen to the interview, and if you only want to hear the part about food, skip ahead to 1:00:35.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview, which has a lot of swearing:
Nathan Miller – “This is on the internet, so..
Stu Helm – “Ok. Nobody gives a SHIT on the internet!”
NM – “Nyeah..  Well, some people…”
SH – “Well, fuck those people.”
NM – “Well, most people give a shit…”
SH – “Nuthin’ they can do about it.”
Here are a few minor corrections / clarifications to the interview:
  • I am the editor and creator of Asheville Flyer for Kids, my partner Tim Arem is the publisher.
  • My mother has an ScD (Doctor of Science), not a PhD (Doctor of Philosohy)
  • I bought my nephews a PS2, not an X-box
  • I was sued by Kraft International Foods for something called “tarnishment,” not for copyright infringement.
I conducted a brief interview with a young gentleman that I met while I was eating/working at the Grey Eagle Taqueria. His name is Rowdy, and he’s with a company called “Friends Against Butts.” He was delivering a big, brand new trash can to the GET for collecting all of the “cigarette waste” that is generated by the smokers in the patio area, so that it can be shipped to New Jersey, and recycled into industrial plastics for reuse. I had just been noticing that there are a million cigarette butts out there, so I was happy to meet and talk to Rowdy. You can check out the video I shot of our conversation HERE. This video is part of my “Food Fans, Asheville” series.

Talkin’ Butts with Stu and Rowdy

 ### END ###


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 about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook 

External links:
 THE FOOD CRITIC [channel]
• Food Fans, Asheville: an impromptu interview with Rowdy from Friends Against Butts
• Food Fans, Asheville: Before and After an interview for finding Asheville
• Food Fans, Asheville: My Good Deed for the Day
• Food Fans, Asheville: Brief interview with Chris Cunningham of Blue Dream Curry House
• Food Fans, Asheville: West Village Market & Deli (deli counter interview only)
• Food Fans, Asheville: West Village Market & Deli (full video)
• Indoor Gas Grillin’ Prt I
• Indoor Gas Grillin’ Prt II
• 5 Q’S w/ Chef Mike Moore of Seven Sows & Bling Pig Supper Club
• 5 Q’s w/ Dano Holcomb of Root Down Food Cart
• 5 Q’s w/ Russel Keith of Grey Eagle Taquaeria



Foothills Dweller March 13, 2015 - 4:00 pm

I like all of the pictures you included. Makes me definitely want to give Ambrozia a try when I’m up there – it all looks delicious.

Big Al March 13, 2015 - 7:12 am

Gravy flights are a good idea, especially when the biscuits at BH had the consistency of bricks the last time I ate there. Kinda reminds me of how 18th and 19th century soldiers and sailors made their hard tack edible by soaking them in the lard that was boiled off from their salted beef.

Stu Helm March 13, 2015 - 7:30 am

I’ve been to biscuit head three times, had two great meals and one clunker. Never have I had the experience you described. If you like biscuits in the first place, you might wanna give them another shot. Or not. Whatever.You seem very difficult to please, Big Al.

Big Al March 13, 2015 - 2:05 pm

I ate there three times within a few months of the grand opening in West Asheville. While the rest of the food was OK (not spectacular, mind you), the biscuits got harder with each visit.

The last time, they appeared to have been baked in a large pan and cut out in squares, a method which lends me to believe that they were more interested in quantity than quality. This made some sense with lines out the door most days, BUT I do not think it is too much to ask for a business with “biscuit” in their name to be known for having good biscuits. I will give them one more try, just to be fair.

I LOVELOVELOVE a good biscuit for breakfast, but BH failed me big time. The best biscuits I have had in Asheville are at Moose Café. The biscuits at The Med downtown were also a pleasant surprise. I do not know of any other place downtown that serves biscuits. They all seem to think that biscuits are too common to bother with.

indie March 12, 2015 - 11:17 pm


Stu Helm March 13, 2015 - 7:28 am

Ha ha! Are you still around, Indie / Indy? Still reading my column… every… single… time I post one, and then pretending that you hate it? You are hilarious! It’s obvious to me, and everyone who reads your comments, that you’re crushing on me big time, but sadly, you don’t know how to express those feelings in a positive way, so you lash out at the object of your romantic desires (me) in a way that you hope will punish me for not loving you back. Soops sad, and a classic case of negative attention seeking. Well, I have a girlfriend, so your SOL in that department, sorry, I know that’s a hard pill for you to swallow, but I think it will be easier for you in the long run if you know: I will never love you the way you love me. Try Craig’s List or eHarmony. I’m sure there’s a hideous troll just like you out there, and that the two of you can make each other miserable.

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