The first installment of Stu Helm’s annual Food Fan Awards! See the 2020 nominees for Burger, Sandwich, Chicken, Brisket, and Deep Fried Thing!
Alright, you miserable fucks (and I include myself solidly in that category) let’s have some fun in 2021. Or at least something approximating fun, that is slightly less un-fun than not even trying to have any fun at all. Let’s do the “Stoobies!”
Back in March of 2020, when the world first shut-down, I talked with Shay Brown, my co-conspirator on the LIVE Asheville Food Fan Awards ceremony (aka The Stoobies), about our plans for the 2020 party. It was slated to be our third and biggest event yet! But with this new COVID thing heading our way — and both of us being fully aware that Trump would probably fuck shit up even worse than it was already predicted to be — we were just checking in to ask each other whether or not we would even do them, come January 2021.
Answer: Of course we will! Even if it has to be smaller, different! We’ll tweak it, we’ll make it happen, we’ll fuckin’ do them shits on fuckin’ Zoom if we fuckin’ have to, by Jimminy!
But, yeah, no. 9,000 excruciating months later…
This is the best I can do…
I switched from black and white graphics to full-color, because I thought we could all use some fucking color in our lives.
So, I let Shay off the hook, she busy, and I am reverting to my old-school format of just writing and posting the nominees and then the winners here on Ashvegas. There will be no live ceremony, and no solid, tangible awards this year. Sorry, winners. You can print and frame the graphic I email to you. Yay!
Next year, solid gold statuettes for everyone!
Anyhoodles, let’s dive in with Part 1, Comfort Food, and let’s have some fun while doing it! And by “fun” I mean swears. Lotta lotta swears.
I’m starting out with Comfort Food, because if there’s one thing we needed in 2020, it was comfort! Food hugs. Here are the nominees…
BURGER OF THE YEAR
Burger of the Year is based on creativity, surprise-factor, flavor, satisfaction levels, and a certain “gah” thing that’s hard to define. I have never given this award to the same burger twice, as far as I can recall, because what’s the fucking point of that? All of these burgers have gah out the wahzoo…
Rosabee’s – Loco Moco Burger
Loco Moco is a Hawaiian thing. It’s basically a burger patty, no bun, on top of a pile of sticky rice, with gravy, bok choy, and an egg on top. I’d never fucking heard of such a thing until Chef Melissa Gray opened up her Hawaiian inspired restaurant in the River Arts District, Rosabees, where she also does a burger called “The Big Kahuna” that’s worthy of note as well. The loco moco concept itself was so new to me, however, and so unique among my burger experiences throughout the year, that there was just no way this delicious burger wasn’t getting a nomination for Burger of the Year!
Post 25 – Jalapeno Popper Burger
Jam on it. Jam on it. Ja-ja-ja-ja-jam on it. One night I got all jazzed-up to order a burger for delivery, and I decided to try the Jalapeno Popper Burger from Post 25. I don’t get much opportunity to eat from P25, so I was excited, but also setting my expectations on “whatever happens happens,” because this burger has jam on it. Not bacon jam or onion jam, but JAM jam. Sweet, made outta berries jam. You’re familiar with it, I’m sure. British people eat it on scones. Literally no one eats it on burgers. Except at Post 25 apparently. Sounded weird to be honest, but, fuck it, I no longer cared. I’d try anything for a change of pace, and I’m glad I did! It was fucking juicy, spicy, cream-cheesy, savory, sweet, and de-fuckin’-licious, and it is my 2nd Nominee for Burger of the Year!
Curate / La Bodega
The Hamburguesa Ibérica from Curate is, like… I dunno… imagine you’re a huge fan of comic books, but you’re also an equally huge fan of fine art, and then one day someone shakes up the snow-globe of life, and when the flecks all settle, your all-time favorite fine artist is doing a comic book, and even though you love this artist, there’s always a chance they could over-think it, make it too fancy for it’s own dang good, or just miss the point entirely, but then it turns out, that DUH, of course, it’s a fucking GREAT comic book, because this artist is after all, a fucking great artist. That’s what this burger was like,and that’s why it’s my third and final contender for 2020’s Burger of the Year award!
WHOLE CHICKEN DINNER OF THE YEAR
I love chicken! It is my favorite animal to eat. (Shhhh… don’t tell the other animals.) To me, there is almost nothing on this earth more comforting than a whole chicken dinner, with sides. Here are my top four contenders for Whole Chicken Dinner of the Year, in 2020…
Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack
In the early days of the shut down, while the rest of y’all were hoarding toilet paper like the end of the world was coming, I started hoarding chicken… like the end of the world was coming! I started to get whole chicken dinners, meant for whole families, all for myself, and divided them all up into portions, that I froze, like a TV dinner. Then, whenever I needed comfort, I’d just pop one of those happy little fuckers in the toaster oven, and yom! It was like the best thing ever during the shittiest times. I ordered more than one whole chicken dinner from Rocky’s Hot Chicken in those early weeks, and man-oh-man, they sure are fucking goooooood! Rocky’s has some of the best sides ever, and their mac ‘n’ cheese is the very picture of comfort. Not kidding. Here’s a picture…
So, yeah, Rocky’s whole chicken dinners really got me through some hard times, and for that, as well as just sheer fucking comfort and deliciousness, they are my first contenders for 2020’s Whole Chicken Dinner of the Year award!
One of the best things to happen to me during 2020 was that, thanks to my friend Luis from Descubre Asheville, I got to meet Chef Paty Saenz and eat her amazing food from Pupuseria Paty Asheville. I have loved everything I’ve eaten from this chef so far, and have also enjoyed her enthusiasm and personality, both online and in real life. Chef Paty is a rising star in my opinion, and although there is a pretty hefty language gap between us, I’m happy to say that we’re becoming friends, and as such, she sent a whole chicken dinner to my household for Christmas over the holidays!
Holy… I can say with all honesty that Chef Paty’s Pollo Navideñas was one of the most tender, juicy, delicate, and delicious chickens I have ever eaten in my entire life. No joke. If Im lyin’, I’m dyin’. It is also unique in Asheville, as far as I know! It is the only whole chicken dinner prepared in the Central American style. Luis confided in me that these chickens were as good as his own mother’s (Don’t tell his mom!) and Dawn and I just rolled “can you believe how good this is?” eyes at each other, while we first attacked it straight outta the pan it came in, and then, like civilized human bings, on a plate.
The chicken came with all the fixin’s and a really special ground beef stuffing that was like no other stuffing I’d ever had before. So, yeah, different, but homey, expertly prepared, flavorful, balanced, and completely delicious. For all those reasons this chicken is my second nominee for Whole Chicken Dinner of the Year, 2020!
Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken
Boom. Straight out the gaaaaaate! For me, when it comes to the brand-dandy new Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken it was love on first site. First of all: Their graphics are very cute and appealing. Next: I like a limited menu. I really do. Big menus are good too, but I gotta give it up for all the small menus of this world. You’re awesome. Nani’s is one the most limited in town, but it’s a powerhouse. Chicken. Flat bread. Salad. Sides. Done.
Nani’s has two kinds of chicken, “herbs d’province”, and they get extra points for introducing me to this thing called “piri piri.” When I heard they were open, I got super food FOMO, bordering on panic, and as soon as I had a chance to, zip-bam-pow, I got the family dinner: Whole chicken, four sides, bread, and salad, all very reasonably priced in my opinion. Are you kidding me? So frickin’ good.
Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken is kind of exactly what this town needed, like, I said, for me it was love at first sight, and my third nominee for Whole Chicken Dinner of the Year!
Early on in the shut-down, we ordered a whole chicken dinner with sides from Vivian, which is in a whole different category of restaurant from the others on this list. Vivian is fancy,Y’all. Straight-up. It was also my Restaurant of the Year last year, AND the year before. In the thick of the shit of 2020, Dawn and I were slightly desperate for something, anything, special. We were tired of cooking, but also sick of take-out. Vvian to the rescue, with a prepared meal at a set price. Pick it up, take it home, finish off in the oven, eat. It was beautiful from beginning to end.
Not kidding, this meal saved our sanity and raised our morale during a very dark and uncertain time. It was like having a personal chef for the night, and is probably as close to that as I’ll ever get. Everything was perfect, and just like we had been hoping, it made us feel better.
Here’s another picture of it, all plated-up and ready to eat. It was insanely good, high-quality food from one of my all-time favorite chefs and venues. A little bit of the “before-times” on plate, that was comforting on several levels, which is why it is my fourth and final nominee for Whole Chicken Dinner of the Year!
On to our next category…
BRISKET OF THE YEAR
I’m relatively new to brisket, but I’m already, like, a super-fan. I ate a shit load o’ brisket in 2020, and um tellin’ you what, there is a very wide gap between good brisket and bad brisket, and in my opinion, very little brisket can actually be called “good” or “bad.” It’s either fucking great or fucking awful. It’s either done right, or not, and if not, nuhuh. Nasty. But if yes then fuck yes. I’ll let you figure out who has shit brisket around here, for now, here are my nominees for Brisket of the Year 2020!
On the day before the shut-down back in March of last year, I took a field trip to Chef Steven Goff’s home, where his food, Brinehaus truck was parked, and he let me try some of his brisket, straight of of the smoker. Like, I watched him pull it out, let it sit for a bit, and then he sliced it up, and we ate it, and it was fucking amazing. Like, it melted in my fucking mouth.
Holy fuck, I miss the before times.
Steven and I knew that the COVID was coming, and I can see and hear our anxiety in the video we shot that day. Chef sold me a pound of this beautiful beast to take home with me, and the very next day, the world turned upside down. I ate the shit out of this brisket, and was so sad when it was gone. It was crispy on the outside, juicy ion the inside, and had incredible smoked but not smoky flavor, and was an early contender for, and my first nominee in the category of Brisket of the Year 2020!
Black Bear BBQ
Sometimes, it’s awesome being me. Other times it sucks, so don’t be too jelz, but I totally give you permission to be jealous about these two hunks o’ brisket that Chef AJ Gregson from Black Bear BBQ laid on me one day. One fatty, one lean. I like both, and always judge a brisket based on both. If the lean AND the fatty are both great, then that’s some great brisket. This is some fucking great brisket. Chef also brought me some burnt ends, which is kinda like when your weed dealer brings you an extra nug, all in its own cute little crack-baggie, separate from your usual zipper, and says, “This is what I smoke at home.” Hell yeah.
As usual, Chef AJ crushed it. The brisket was everything brisket should be, and the bowl of burnt ends was some of the dankest food ever. AJ has won quite a few awards from me in past years, including Chef of the Year, and so it’s no surprise that his brisket would be my second nominee for 2202’s Brisket of the Year award!
Doc Brown’s BBQ
On a different day, I took a wee little road trip out to visit Doc Brown in the Western Hinterlands of Asheville, past the Prancing Pony, with my good friend and former boss Paddy from Asheville Food Tours. I was mostly there to get the Award winning Southern Sloppy that was on his menu back then, but as we sat.. INSIDE… (ahhh, the good old days) Doc approached us with two slabs o’ brisket on a bright red plate. “One fatty, one lean,” he said. Good man. You can see right here in this picture that the fat on fatty slab of this brisket literally looks like butter. My mouth is watering right now just looking at it. These were truly some of the best slabs of meat I’ve ever had, and an easy contender / nominee for Brisket of the Year 2020!
Oh, Green House. It’s not there anymore. It was new, and just starting to find its audience, and I loved it, and I’m super sad that it’s gone. I fear that I shall never taste this brisket again. It was special. It came apart at the touch of a fork, it had meatiness to it, and a little crunch, the fat was there, but so subtle, and wow, just an unforgettable flavor. This small plate was part of a wonderful meal that my GF and I had with two friends. They moved away right around the time COVID became a thing, and we haven’t seen them ever since, so, there’s a lot of melancholy emotions cooked into this brisket for me personally. At the time, my mind was blown by this delicate yet homey treatment, and while it would be easy to disqualify venues that are no longer around from any nominations or awards, it would be a shame not to include this incredible take on one of my favorite cuts as a contender for Brisket of the Year, 2020.
On to our next category…
SANDWICH OF THE YEAR
There are many great sandwiches in this town, and I didn’t get to nearly 2% of them, I’m sure. I’d have a LOT of sandwiches to eat if I’m gonna try them all! I’ll keep trying, but since I can’t judge sandwiches I didn’t eat, below please find the nominees for 2020 Sandwich of the Year selected from the sandwiches that I did eat.
Sandwich Trio from Session Cafe at Citizen Vinyl
So, one day, I was all like, “Maaaan, my friends in the food industry keep inviting me to come out to see them and try their food, and I gotta let people know that I’m really not going out to eat anymore, and that I’m sticking strictly with delivery until I can get The Shot, and it’s safe for us all to get out there and mingle again.” So I made a Facebook post on that very subject and not but a few minutes later, Chef Graham House, currently working at Session Cafe send me a PM asking if he could bring me some sandwiches. I don’t recall my exact response, but it was “Fuck, yes.”
A day or so later I had three of THEEE dankest sandwiches I’d ever eaten in my life delivered right to my door. Pastrami and gruyere, pork shoulder Italian, and grilled cheese with thick cut boloney, all on bread from OWL Bakery. This was like being in heaven for me. A place I might see soon, if I keep eating like this! Wakka wakka. Not kidding. These sandwiches weren’t fucking around. They were like, “Hi I have calories. Eat me.” I did. I loved them, and they are — collectively — the first nominees for my 2020 Sandwich of the Year award!
Brisket Philly from Little Louie’s Pop-up
I could have put this one in the Brisket of the Year category, but I liked it better over here in Sandwiches. Personally, I frickin’ LOVE a good Philly, as well as a good cheesesteak, and I like a sandwich that knows the difference. I got this Brisket Cheesesteak from the Little Louie’s Pop-up that started up in December of 2020 at Buxton Hall Barbecue. The menu, like Louie himself, is little, but awesome, and consists of NBHCSF (nothing but hard-core stoner food), in my opinion. This brisket cheesesteak, for example (which had the good sense not to call itself a Philly) was as delicious as I was blazed when I ate, and that’s pretty fucking delicious! It was like eating the most tender and savory sandwich ever, made entirely made out of bacon that’s made entirely out of beef. It. Melted. And then I melted. This sandwich made my knees buckle a li’l bit. I had my expectations set on “I bet this is gonna be pretty fuckin’ good,” and it blew those expectations out the water, and that is why it is the first nominee in the category of Sandwich of the Year for 2020!
Grilled Boloney from Sweet Southern Funk Food Truck
About three bites into this sandwich, I paused and texted Chef Witt Pinkerton, “If this boloney sandwich doesn’t make you famous, the world is wrong and bad.” Dafuck, Yo. Soft roll, pim cheese, fried green tomatoes, pickled onions, and a thick-ass slice of grilled boloney. Chef Witt was born and raised, and is currently located in Candler,NC, and this sandwich is just about as “Witt” as it gets.
He delivered it to me along with a bunch of other insanely delicious Witt-food that included corn dogs, hot dogs, chicken strips (see below) and a fried chicken sandwich, all of which was fucking excellent, but this one? This glorious creature that you see split open before you in the picture above? Yeah, no, special. A unicorn made out of boloney. (Waiiiit a minute! Is that where boloney comes from?) Probably not, but one thing I know for sure, this boloney-unicorn is my third and final contender for Sandwich of the Year 2020!
Let’s get to the next category, the final one in the “Comfort Food” section…
DEEP FREID THING OF THE YEAR
This is one of my all-time favorite categories, that I introduced way back in 2014. I love deep fried stuff. You could deep fry almost anything, and it would be better than it was before you deep fried it. A Twinkie? Better deep fried. Catfish? Better deep fried. And old tire? Deep fry that fucker, and I’ll give it shot. That being said, you’ll notice that two out of three of my nominees below this year are chicken. I know that’s boring, but the third is an alligator, which is fun! Right?
Little Louies’ / Buxton Hall Barbecue – Saucy Chicken Strips / Kids Chicken Nuggets
I’m sorry, y’all, I know I nominate the and he laid some brisket on us that was like… fucking manna from heaven. folks for a lot of stuff, but A) They absolutely deserve and earn it every time, and B) Like many of yours, my world shranked-up in 2020. Lotta places closed down. I stopped going out to eat. I only got take-out from restaurants I could walk to, or get delivery from. I even cooked at home. A lot. Buxton Hall is right in my neighborhood. It’s my JAM. I love it. I cried when they closed, and cried again when they reopened. This place means a lot to me personally, and they’ve been there for me when I’ve needed them in hard times. So, I hope you will understand and excuse me for nominating these mother-fucking Saucy Chicken Tenders for a Deep Fried Thing of the Year award, because, good fucking gahd, I loved them very, very… very very much. Excellent high quality chicken expertly breaded, fried and sauced, with ranch AND blue cheese, and of course, crudite. Gotta have the crudite. These shits where insanely good, and not for nothin’, I’ve also been trying various kids menus around town to report on, and Buxton’s kids chicken nuggets (below) have been my favorite thing I’ve had from any Kids Menu in town so far. Your kids will love them.
Sweet Southern Funk – Chicken Tenders & House Made Sauces
See what I mean about how my world got shranked? Here’s another nomination for Chef Pinkerton, again, well earned and very well deserved. And yes, yawn, more chicken, but I’m not lyin’ to you when I tell you that I find chicken to be the most comforting of proteins, and I needed some goddamn motherfucking comfort every shit-tastically long-ass day of nineteen-hundred-and-2020. No joke. I lost my job, I watched my friends lose their jobs, and their businesses, and the whole industry just shitting the bed left and right, the fucking country falling the fuck apart apart. If I could have wrapped myself in twenty layers of deep fried chicken tenders, I would have. I still might. And if I do, they gonna be these chicken tenders, because holy fucking fuckity fuck fuck fuck they was good. Like perfect. Plus the house made mustard sauce was really something special, and the house made ranch might have temporarily turned me Southern. I’m from Boston, in case you didn’t know. Anyhoo, these chicken tenders gave me allll the calorie hugs that I was craving and they are my second nominee for Deep Fried Thing of the Year, 2020.
Storm Rhum Bar – Gator Tail and Grits
Chicken, chicken, gator is the name of a game we used to play growin’ up in Florida. Just kidding. I made that up entirely. I told you, like, two seconds ago that I’m from Boston. And as such, I was not afforded much opportunity to eat gator as a child. As far as I could tell, gator tail was something eaten by cartoon bears with only one strap of their overalls fastened, or maybe Jethro Clampet’s even MORE country cousin. Yep, 1960’s and 70’s TV made me prejudice again Southerners. Now I’ve lived in Asheville for longer than Boston, anywhere else, and while I’ll never be considered truly local, I can at least say I’ve ate alligator now. Twice. Once at a restaurant that shall not be named, because it was truly bad, awful, trashy bullshit. But when I saw “Gator ‘n’ Grits” on the menu of Storm, and I had to try it. Chef Jay Medford is a master at making exceptionally delicious “trashy” cuisine. I mean, some of his food is just straight-up fancy, but he ain’t afraid to cook with Spam® neither. You can see from the picture above that there was no shortage of gator tail in the bowl, so much that you can’t hardly see the awesome grits and sauce underneath. Every bite was sooo tasty, satisfying, and filling, different but familiar, and comforting as all get out. I said in my original Facebook post that it was “my second time eating gator tail, and my first time enjoying it,” and that’s part of why it is my third and final nominee for Deep Fried Thing of the Year!
Okay, that’s that for Part 1, I know it was a looooooooong scroll. Thanks fro scrolling it! You can nominate your own picks in these categories in the comments section if you’d like. Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!