Stu Helm, food critic, on Bomba, Ben’s Penny Mart, French Broad Food Co-op in Asheville


By Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

Yay, Fall! I love Fall, it’s my fave time of year. Here’s the top three reasons why I love Fall:

1) Hoodies! – I just don’t feel right unless I’m swaddled in a black, pull-over hoodie.

2) Halloween! – I start celebrating that shit in mid-September, and I don’t stop until it’s time to take down the Christmas tree.

3) FOOOD! – Er. Mer. Ferkin’. Gerd. Fall means pies, and roasts, and soups, and root medleys, and squash, and butter, and cream, and cheese, and nuts, and bread, and cookies, and cakes, and food food foooood! Good God, I love food.

Speaking of which…

BOMBA – Pack’s Square, Asheville

Bomba has one of THEE best locations in all of downtown A-Ville. It’s a location that I’ve seen at least two or three other businesses fail in, but I think Bomba is going to make it. Every time I go there, I see more & more people ordering food to go, or sitting in their tiny little patio area.

Here’s what I like about Bomba:

• Tacos! – They make great tacos! I’ve had the steak tacos and the chicken tacos, twice each. They’re full-to-spilling-over with fresh, flavorful filling (I a-love alliteration!), and come with extra tortillas, so you can use the spillage to make an extra taco. Plus there’s a reasonable amount of chips and salsa on the plate, so you get a fare amount of bang for your buck. Four stars out of four for these tacos.

• Snacks – I’ve had lemon pound cake and a fresh, deep-fried, guava/apple empanada at Bomba and they were both great, although slightly on the super-sweet side.

• COFEEEE! – They make an awesome Americano at Bomba and their drip coffee is likewise excellent. Very strong and rich and deep and layered. Sip sip ahhhhh! I love it.

• Service – The counter people and cooks are always very friendly, fast, knowledgeable, and professional. You order at the register, then take a seat or loiter until your food is up. If you’re seated they will bring it to you. The last time I was there, a beautiful woman came up behind me and offered me more coffee. I was stunned into momentary silence and then I think I said something like, “Yes, please.” She took my cup and returned with more hot coffee, cream already added. It turns out she is one of the co-owners. An unsolicited free refill and table service from the dang owner? Fuck yes. Four stars again for the service at Bomba.

• View – Okay, if you have no other reason to visit Bomba, go for the people watching. Best ever. I repeat: BEST people watching in all of Downtown Asheville. Plus a picturesque view of the Pack monument, Asheville’s penis.

Bomba also serves beer and wine and they are open until 9pm on weekends. They still close at 3 pm on weekdays, which drives me fucking nuts, but the inside poop is that they might expand those hours too if they feel it would be financially worth it for them, so please, go to Bomba and encourage them to do my bidding with your dollars.

BEN’S PENNY MART – Hilliard Street, Asheville

Sometimes, for no real reason, I like to say things wrong, and — again, for no reason — I like to say them with a (horribly bad) New Zealand accent. That’s why I have been referring to Ben’s Penny Mart as “Bin’s Spind a Pinny.” Mostly in my head.

What can I say? I’m a weird person.


Bin’s Spind a Pinny is a new, cute, strange, awesome, odd little convenient store type of thing that’s wedged right in between Ben’s Tune Up and High Wire Brewing. They sell stuff, rent tubes for the river, and serve coffee & donuts. There’s even a limited amount of counter seating, so I stopped in one AM on my way to the bank just to check it out.

I was greeted by a soops cute little dog, and a handsome, smiling, bearded gentleman named Harrison. I ordered my coffee “for here,” and Harrison had to hunt down a mug for me. He could only come up with a small glass one, which was adequate, but I do prefer drinking coffee out of ceramic, which is superior to glass in every way when it comes to hot beverages. Ceramic keeps the shit hotter longer and protects your fingers and lips from the searing heat better than glass. It’s all about temperature retention vs dispersal, based on the physical properties of the material used, and the actual thickness of the walls of the mug, and circumference of the opening, and, well… I could go on and on… and on… but, I’ll stop now… After I just say that also, too, and in addition to those thing, coffee in glass mugs generally has whiskey in it and whipped cream on top, so it feels kind of, exactly like, a bar-cup.


As I was paying for my coffee, I noticed squirrel nut zippers (hey now!), Geraldine’s Bakery donuts, and Asheville Flyer for Kids all available on the counter! Whoop whoop! Yeah, man, I took a picture and bought a donut to go with my coffee.

The donut was fucking excellent! Mmm… Geraldine’s makes a very good, old school, heavy-duty, doughy, delicious donut. The coffee suffered from the inferior vessel, and was also on the stale and tepid side. Most unfortch, but I won’t give up on it just yet.

I like the concept of The Spind a Pinny, and I like the people who run the whole Bin’s complex, so I’ll keep going back, just for more of those delicious donuts, and to see what improvements might be made on the coffee service.

Stay tuned!

FRENCH BROAD FOOD CO-OP – Biltmore Ave, Downtown Asheville

I love the French Broad Food Co-op.

I’ll admit that it took me a while to get used to the limited selection there, especially after living so close to the sprawling and expansive Greenlife/Wholefoods/Trader Ho’s/Harris Teets food compound up there in North Asheville for so long.

As you may know, I find the grocery store sitch in my new hood of the SFB/RAD/SoSlo area to be lacking, but I have come to count on, appreciate, and even love the good ol’ FBFC.

I used to be kind of aggro when I went in there. Grumbling to myself that they didn’t have this-or-that other thing or whatever-the-fuck specific product I was fixated on.


Now I look forward to stopping in, and I shop with a smile as get my FBFC staples: Fresh ground peanut butter, a piece of fruit, something bready. Bulk nuts. I frickin’ love it!

My change in attitude is just that: A change in my mental attitude towards the FBFC. I’ve stopped thinking of it as an inadequate alternative to the big, fancy grocery stores, and have instead started thinking of it as Asheville’s best, healthiest, friendliest, and most thoughtfully well-stocked convenient store.

Ever since I lived in Chicago, I’ve believed that healthy convenient stores could be a positive element in neighborhoods with no grocery stores. Instead, most convenient stores are the opposite: greedy purveyors of junk food, soda pop, alcohol, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. They are, in many ways, a huge detriment to any neighborhood they occupy. (#hotspot)

When I lived in NAVL, I realized one day that I hadn’t been inside of the closest convenient store for months and months on end. As I searched their shelves for the thing I needed that they didn’t have (AAA Batteries) it dawned on me that the reason I hadn’t been inside for so long was simple: I’d quit drinking.

I also don’t smoke cig, or blunts, or gamble, and since most of the junk food I eat is organic, I hadn’t had cause to visit my local death and vice merchant for ages. Yay! Fuck them.

FBFC is the antidote to all of that bullshit. They sell every genre of junk food that I love: chips, ice cream, candy, and pastries, all made from healthy, quality, usually organic ingreeds. Plus, they sell fresh, often locally grown, fruit & veggies, great health-care products, oils & incense & other hippie-stuff, great bulk goods, and they even have a hot bar, a salad bar, and a small amount of fresh, local meat available in a cooler.

I’ve tried various things from the hot bar, all good, no clunkers so far! The produce gets two thumbs up from me, and extra points for teaching me about Surround, a white powder made from Kaolin clay that protects apples from bugs and rot all-natch style. Look it up. It’s neato! The meat in the cooler is from Hickory Nut Gap and Apple Brandy Farms, both of which I love! I was also highly amused when one of the cashiers held my ground beef purchase between her thumb and forefinger, at the very tippity-tip of the corner of the plastic packaging, like one might hold a dirty diaper. I’m guessing she was vegan. Ha ha! I loved it. Sorry! I eat animals. I know I’m gross.

One of the things I really love about the Co-op is the extreme, unapologetic hippie vibe that it’s got going on. It’s as if olde-school Asheville still lives within it’s walls. It looks, smells, and feels like the kind of hippie health food store I started shopping at way back in the 1980’s. Mmmmm… I frickin’ LOVE that smell.

Gosh, I’ve used the word “love” in this review a lot so far… the truth is, I think I’m falling in love with the French Broad Food Co-op. And you know what? I think it loves me too. Squeeee!

I genuinely feel like The Food Co-op gives an actual shit about my health and well-being. Shopping there has even helped me to clean-up my diet a little bit. Offering fewer, healthier choices has forced me to eat crazy things like apples, pears, and even a pomegranate. Whoa. Come to find out, I love these teeny-tiny miniature pears they had there for a while. They were locally grown, but seemed exotic at the same time! And I nearly forgot how much I love fresh cilantro. Ooh! And you can buy asparagus by the spear! I love that!

Love love love! I love love!

Thanks FBFC for restoring my faith in humanity and filling my heart with the purest, glowing, white, hippie love light every time I stop in to buy a giant-sized thing of organic 1/2 and 1/2 and some fresh ground fair trade coffee.

You = the best.

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.


Matt September 30, 2014 - 7:03 pm

And don’t forget about the Co-ops apothecary! They’ve got a stellar selection high quality herbs n’ natural supplements. – I regularly see people who come from far away just to restock on hard to find medicine.

Also, if you’re lucky, you can catch them when they are closing down the hot bar and the food is half off.

Boob Dick September 30, 2014 - 6:14 am

“if you want a good review of your joint just suck me off behind the sears at 4 am and keep those giftcards coming” -stu helm Food Critic

Helen Hyatt September 27, 2014 - 7:40 am

Seriously, if you are telling me Bins Pinny is great, I will never believe another word you write about being a food critic.
And if you tell me Bins is good, I am done with your column. Their space is stunning, but I have eaten there 4 times over a year. First time when Moss was there it was awesome bbq. 2nd time was winter, cute atmosphere blankets heaters cosy, very dark could not see the food and it was something really weird and mainly a huge bowl of rice with slushy stuff on top. 3rd time summer again I did ramen noodles, I tell you I may as well have gone to Incredible Stalethings and bought the stryo foam mug and burnt myself like usual. There were exactly two slices of carrot and a ton of salty water, it was terrible. My husband did hot dogs, as he though who could possible mess up a hot dog, and anyone who has dogs on the menu must be doing something good, well they were dried up buns lousy tube steaks and nothing on them. Once again decor was awesome we sat inside. 4th time music dragged us in there and we sat outside ordered our beverage, dude did not listen poured what he wanted and just said well sorry about that, and so we just took it. Unfortunately no sooner had we sat down and started to drink what we had not ordered, than the band packed up and left, oh well. Bins food is just sucks balls (now thats a N Zizzer official term), I hope they hire someone soon who can cook so I can go back and enjoy their amazing space.

Stu Helm September 30, 2014 - 6:29 am

Et tu, Helen?

People who threaten to be “done with” my column crack me up.


But before you do anything drastic, my friend and neighbor, Helen Hyatt, please take a closer look at the piece above and make note that:

• It is NOT a review of Ben’s Tune Up, but of Ben’s Penny Mart.

• I harshly criticized the coffee cup they gave me,and described the coffee as “stale and tepid,” so if anything, you could say this was a bad review of the Penny Mart.

• But it isn’t even really a review of the Penny Mart, so much as it is a mention that it exists and a recounting of my first visit there.

• I did say that the doughnut was great, but also that it was from *** Geraldine’s Bakery on Merrimon Ave.***

• And I did state that I like the people who run the Ben’s “complex,” (and by that I do mean Ben’s Tune-Up as well as Ben’s Penny Mart) which is an absolutely true statement: I do like the people who run Ben’s. They are nice. No crime in me liking nice people is there?

So… in conclusion… why you buggin’?

I’m glad that Ben’s opened the Penny Mart, and I was happy to see it FULL of people when we drove past the other night. I’ll just have to see how it shakes-out in terms of the coffee situation there.

As I said at the end of that section of my column above: “Stay tuned”

Or not. That is, if you’re truly done with me.

robyn September 26, 2014 - 2:17 pm

You surly have a way with words. Ashevilles penis- , oh yeah!
Gracious of you to admit your change of heart over the coop. Ithink I left a comment back when you badmouthed it, so I’m grateful too!
You just might be second best!

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