I fucking love you.
I love this town. I love these mountains. I even love the people.
I’m so glad I moved here. Thanks for being awesome.
Here’s a couple recent food related anecdotes that are great examples of why I love the good people of Asheville:
• While I was buying some apricots at The French Broad Food Co-op, the cashier found a small, innocuous bug on one of them. Nothing gross, just a cute l’il ol’ bug of some kind. He brushed it into his hand, walked over to the door, and set it free. When I asked him if that was indeed what I had just witnessed, he laughed and sheepishly confirmed my suspicions. He is now my new favorite person ever.
• After that, I was in a good mood, so I decided to treat myself to Mamacitas, right across the street. As I was paying for my tamales, it started to rain like a motherfucker outside, pouring down by the bucketful. The cashier asked me if I’d ridden my bike, I said yes, and she commiserated. Then she added, “Well, the rain is the reason it’s so green and lush around here.” I couldn’t argue with that! I personally enjoy the lushness very much, and I’m not even talking about the hippie kind bud… but now that I mention it… yeah, Man, bring on that fucking rain! Thank you, Cashier Lady. Your positive mental attitude (PMA) totally rubbed off on me and kept me from being angry at the weather. By the time I finished my excellent meal, the rain had stopped.
• A few days prior to all that I got a beet salad from All Souls Pizza. It was fucking amazing. They make awesome salads there. It had butter lettuce, and big chunks of roasted beets, and other good things including a plant that I had never seen before. It was semi-succulent, juicy, and mild. It had thick pinkish stems and round, soft leaves. I loved it! I asked the waiter about it and he said it’s something called “Purslane.”
He went on to add, “It grows wild around here, all over the place, like, in back yards, and even in the cracks of the sidewalks. Nobody pays any attention to it, but the funny thing is, it’s a super-food.”
Fuck. Yes. And you are a super-waiter, my friend. I asked you what something was, and you fucking knew! You were proud and enthused to share your knowledge with me, and not ashamed at all to admit that the stuff on the salad I just ate grows in the cracks of the dang sidewalk.
A few days later I found some of this shit in my own back yard! I looked it up on line to make sure I wasn’t about to eat deadly nightshade or anything like that, and found out that it’s known by several other names, including: duckweed, fatweed, verdolagas, wild portulaca, pursley, and pussley.
I like calling it pussley.
As in: I looove to eat pussley! I’m gonna eat lots of pussley aaalll Summer long! I can’t get enough… you get the idea.
Sounds like pussy.
Here’s a review of a restaurant…
RHUBARB – Pack Square, Downtown Asheville
Speaking of locally foraged stuff, I recently ate at Rhubarb two days in a row and both times I devoured some amazing, locally foraged chicken of the wood mushrooms, lightly battered and deep fried with other veggies in a tempura style that they call Frito Misto. The mushrooms and other stuff were all local, seasonal, and awesome!
Rhubarb is one of the hot new places in town and I’ve been meaning to review it for some time. I’ve been there four times now, and for the most part I love it! I’ve had a 2 clunker dishes, but mostly I have enjoyed the food very much!
I’ll start with the clunkers, since I brought them up: The Brown Sugar-Benne Popcorn appetizer did absolutely nothing for me, and it made Dawn angry. We had high hopes for it, since we love the popcorn app at Storm, and thought it might be equally delish. We did not find it so. It was served room temp (the app at Storm is warm) and was kind of stuck together in a big lump. It was super-sweet and cloying to me, and I commented to Dawn that it was like cracker jack but without the peanuts, or prize. We gave it two thumbs down. The kale chip appetizer was likewise disappointing. It just wasn’t awesome, which is what we expect from a place like Rhubarb. But, fuck those two dishes, everything else I’ve eaten there has been fuckin’ aye good!
One of the waitstaff at Rhubarb contacted me recently, and invited me to come eat there during her shift, so I did. Her name is Jessica and come to find out, she pretty much rules. I tried to catch her at 4pm, but her shift hadn’t started. That’s when I had the frito misto for the first time. Then it started pouring down rain (yep, it’s Summertime here in A-town) and I had to chill at the bar for so long she eventually came in, saw me, and we chatted. I made a reservation for dinner the very next night.
She sat me at small table, which I liked because I am a small person, but it was really close to the kitchen so I was sweating my bag off the whole time. That’s not a complaint. Just an explanation for the really sweaty looking pictures of myself that I took while there. It was actually a good thing that I was next to the kitchen, because they were taking care of me, sending out small plates for me to sample as soon as I had finished the dish in front of me. It was a tasty parade of goodnesses galore!
Here’s what I ate, in the order I ate it in:
• House-made Saltines, with Sausage and Pickled Stuff – I love Saltines. They are one of my all-time fave foods ever. I know, I know, they are the dry-wall of the cracker family, but what can I say? I’m a fan of salt, and flour, and that’s what a Saltine basically is, right? These house-made ones were really good! They had an artisanal feel to them, and I could tell they were made with quality ingreeds. The sausage was light, flavorful, sliced thin, and went great with the ‘tines ‘n’ pickles. One of the two wee piles of pickles was sweet, and of the “bread ‘n’ butter” variety, just like my actual grandmother used to actually make. It was remarkably like hers! I loved it. The other wee pile was very savory and tangy. It all went great together, piled on those saltines, or just in little bites of each. Yum!!!
• Lobster Corn Dog & Misto Frito Mushrooms – I should say that Rhubarb seems to have a whole, “high brow / low brow” thing going on with the food. Terms like “corn dog,” “Saltine,” and ‘fried pie” are all over the menu, but everything is made with high-end ingredients, given a culinary twist, and presented in a contemporary style and setting. The lobster corn-dog is basically lobster, battered in corn meal, and deep fried on a stick. It’s got nothing to do, at all, whatsoever with hot dogs. Get that out of your head right now. It is really fucking good! I love lobster, and they do it justice here. It comes with a dish of something they call “come back sauce,” which sounds a little bit like an acid reflux disorder, or possibly a kinky sex thing, but is really a delicious creamy dippin’ sauce that is mild but tasty and goes perfectly with the lobster corn dogs. The chicken of the wood misto was every bit as good as it had been the day before. The batter was light & very crispy and the sauce that it came with was equally as tasty, if not as memorably named as the come back sauce.
• Korean BBQ Lamb Ribs w/ Kimchee – I gotta admit I’m not the biggest fan of lamb… or kimchee… but I’m game! When they brought this plate out, I figured it would be good no matter what my preconceptions were, and geared-up to tuck in and give it a try. The ribs were pretty much what I expected: a smoky, sweet korean BBQ flavor, on a high quality chop. I chewed every lamby bit off the bone and enjoyed it very much. The kimchee was very salty, and appropriately tart, which cut into the sweetness of the sauce nicely. There was extra sauce on the plate that helped me get the last bit o’ kimchee down. Kimchee makes me sweat… even more than usual.
• Octopus a la Plancha – I don’t eat a lot of 8-legged things. Squid, octopus… tarantulas… I don’t really order many of those guys. More the first two than the last, but even those are rarely on the plate in front of me. For some reason, I ordered Octopus a la Plancha the 2nd time I went to Rhubarb, and then they brought it to me again when I went as Jessica’s invited guest. It is, by far, without a doubt, the best 8-legged thing I have ever eaten in my life. Holy shit. The pieces of octopi are so tender, and smokey, and melt-in-your-mouthy that I actually find myself craving this dish from time to time. Me. Craving pi. Weird. Good job, Rhubarb, this dish is fucking stellar.
ASIDE: When I originally posted a picture of the pi-plancha on Facebook, I typed, “Best octopus I ever had. That cuke salad on top was soops salty though. It was the only thing I didn’t finish on this otherwise awesome plate of food.” But auto-correct changed “cuke” to “vile” and I didn’t notice! YIKES!!! For about a half-a-panicky-minute it said “That vile salad on top…”
• Looking Glass Goat Cheese Gnudi – AKA “Naked Rovioli” – You can look-up gnudi online to see what it’s all about, but basically it’s the insides of a ravioli, somehow magically stuck together without any pasta casing. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t give a shit. Part of what I like about eating out is that I don’t have to know how to make any of this awesome food. I just have to eat it, and hopefully love it. I frickin’ LOVED this gnudi!!! It was the super-star dish of an evening full of great food. It came with roasted shallots, locally foraged mushrooms, Grana Padano cheese shavings, nettles, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Every ingredient was totes yummers to the max, and the whole dish was savory as fuck. It satisfied every part of my mind, soul, and body. I’m not even exaggerating. Right now, as I write this, my mouth is watering, my head is reeling, and I yearn in my heart for it. The sauce it came with was thin, and oily, in the most excellent way, and was perfectly matched with every other ingredient on the plate. I was already stuffed when they brought this out to me, and I managed to pack every single bite of it into my tiny frame. The bike ride home was a challenge.
• I wasn’t done yet, though, as Jessica brought out dessert: One of those fried pies, and various frozen stuff ‘n’ berry reductions on a giant plate. I thought I might literally die from being full, but I proved to myself that I have the heart of a champion and can go the distance when I need to. There was no fucking way on Earth I wasn’t eating the entire platter of sweets in front of me. The fried pie was insane in the membrane. In case you don’t know what a fried pie is (you Yankee scumbag! Oh, wait, I’m one of those.): Imagine a Hostess fruit pie, only way way way way better, with no frosting, just some straight-up sugar all over the outside. It was fuckin’ aye, wicked, titty-ass good, Yo, and I ain’t lyin’ to ya. The frozen stuff was really good too, but I failed to take note of what the names were. One thing was made with rhubarb — hey! — and was tart as FUUUUCK, but when you mixed it with one of the super-sweet berry reduction-type things on the plate, it was perfect. The other frozen thing was really good too… refreshing-like… I wish I could remember what it was… ah, fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Shits be changin’ all the time over there at Rhubarb, so by the time you get there, it’ll be different anyways. If you order something frozen, it’ll be weird, but good, that I can all but guarantee.
So, in confuckingclusion… Yay Rhubarb!
You got me to eat things I don’t normally eat, and I loved them! You served me up some old faves, and did it with style and creativity! You gave me cravings, and you introduced me to new concepts.
Jessica was awesome, she definitely gets a Stooby Award in the category of Asheville’s Best Servers. She was friendly, professional, and attractive, as well as very smart, funny, and charismatic! She made me feel really comfortable, took great care of me, and told me all about every dish. Thanks as well to Chef John, Chef Dean, and the whole Rhubarb staff. You guys rule.
You can see pictures of all the food, as well as of me and Jessica on my Facebook page.
Rhubarb is not cheap, but I think the food and service are totally worth it. I feel that as consumers we can choose whether or not we want to eat lobster, for example, and if we do choose to eat lobster, we pay whatever the going price for lobster is that day. That’s life.
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.