The Night Time Stoobies are here at last! If you haven’t read about The Morning and Noontime Stoobies you can do that HERE, and HERE, and if you STILL don’t know what the Stoobie Awards are, here’s the basic scoop: I give out some “Best of Asheville” accolades to food and beverage venues every year, and because my name is “Stu,” I call them the “Stoobies.”
Why not the “Stubies?” Well, as I once explained to Jason Sandford (AKA Ashvegas), the word “Stuby” is jehhhst a little too close to the word “stubby” for me. Keep in mind that I am only two feet tall, and about a foot and a half wide, so, yeah…
Here’s the nighttime Stoobies.
• Best Late Night Bite – Y’know what I mean by “late night bite”, right? Like, when you’re out at night, after the dinner hour, mostly having cocktails and social interactions, but you want some food — jus’ a li’l sumthin’ — to soak-up the booze? Or in my case, when you’re out with your friends who are having cocktails and social interactions, but you don’t drink, and you’re half-deaf so you can’t hear jack-shit, and you’ve already had a 15 cups of coffee that day, so your very last pleasure in life is food… thank fucking god the late night food is fucking good at the following places…
And the winner is…
Seriously. Living in the same town as Chef Katie Button is like living in the same town as some young, genius musician, who plays a show for the locals every night, and as the young musician grows professionally, she also grows creatively, and as she gains national recognition for her talents, she remains rooted in her home town, playing for her adoring home crowd night after night. Chef Katie Button makes culinary music for us here in Asheville, not just at one venue, but two: Curate remains a top-notch downtown restaurant, and The Nightbell has likewise become one of the crown jewels in the ring of eateries that make-up the downtown dining scene. When people ask me where they should go out with friends for a cocktail and a late night bite, I will recommend all four of the venues nominated above, but I will advise them that The Nightbell is a particularly unique treat, and a special experience. Like catching Blondie at CBGB’s in 1979.
Not only is the food at The Nightbell incredible, as one might expect, but as she did with Curate, Katie has surrounded herself with some of the best of the best in terms of kitchen and front-of-the-house staff. Anita Elliot, sommelier Joe, and 2014 Server of the Year nominee Lisa Marie, along with the rest of the bar crew and servers, keep the front running like a clock, and Katie’s kitchen is one of the calmest, most efficient, fastest, and smoothest in town. They serve a full menu of apps, entrees, and desserts these days, but this Stoobie Award is specifically for their small bites, served late. They also make excellent coffee, and the pastry chef, Carmen Vaquera is one of Asheville’s very best. Dawn and others will confirm that they also make really tasty cocktails and serve great wine.
• Best Dinner – If I tried to list all of the places in Asheville that are serving great entrees for dinner, the scroll-bar would be a million miles long. There’s too many, and they’re all doing such a great job, it’s actually totally literally completely and utterly impossible to say who’s doing it best, in the general sense, so I’ve tried to narrow it down to some special dinners and dinner specials…
And the winner is…
For months on end I having been telling everyone I know that there is something super-special going on at Sovereign Remedies every Sunday night, in the form of Farmer Sunil’s Indian Supper. I give credit to my GF, Dawn, for kinda forcing me off my ass one Sunday night, a night that I usually sit, smoke grass, catch up on Z-Nation, Days of Our Lives, and UFC Fight Nights while I slowly melt into my couch. Almost nothing could pry me from that position… except food. Amazing food. Really fucking terrifically good and amazing food that’s only available one night of the week, which happens to be Sunday night. I went somewhat reluctantly the first time, but now, it’s almost a tradition for us, and I feel like I’ve missed out on something special if we skip a Sunday.
Farmer Sunil’s food is made in part with stuff that he grows himself, with his Patchwork Urban Farms programs (which is awesome and you should Google it) so it’s super fresh, and bright, and packed with nutrition as well as flavor. I sometimes lose track of nutrition in the pursuit of flavor, but with Farmer Sunil in the kitchen I don’t have to think about it, it just happens.
Oh, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Farmer Sunil’s Indian Supper is… Indian food. Thali, Vindaloo… saaaaaaahhhg… stuff like that. I’m a big fan of Indian food, and Sov Rems is not only serving the best Dinner of 2015, but some of the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. Also: great drinks and coffee, a great staff all-around, and a really pleasant atmosphere all make Sov Rems a really nice place to be on any Sunday evening. Now, if I can just talk them into cranking up some UFC on the big screen! Punch, punch, kick, take-down, arm bar, tap out!!! Just kidding.
• Meal of the Year – This is a Stoobie for the single most impressive meal that we ate all year. By “we” I mean me and my GF, Dawn. There is no way I’m enjoying any meal alone as much as I do with the GF, so all of the meals nominated below include her, at the very least, and a few other special people as well. As is often the case with “best meals” they are based on good memories as much as good food…
And the winner is…
I wrote an extensive review of our 10 year anniversary meal at Vue 1913 for Ashvegas that you can read HERE. In that review, I broke it down, item by item, describing every dish, as well as the decor, ambiance, level of service in detail, even the mountains and sunset, so I’m reluctant to do all of that all over again here. Please go read that review if you want the B.I.D. because it’s still relevant, as the Chef — James Lumely — remains the same, and so do the mountains and daily rotation of the sun.
If you don’t want to read that review… for whatever reason… you can just take my word for it here: When you have a super-special, once in a lifetime occasion to celebrate… do it at the Vue 1913 and you won’t be disappointed in any way shape or form. Of course, book your date ahead of time and let them know that it’s a special occasion. Don’t be a dumb-ass. They ain’t gonna write “Happy Anniversary” in chocolate on your plate of complimentary truffle cubes if they don’t know it’s your anniversary.
• Server of the Year – I realize that the title of “server” is inadequate by a long shot to describe what these folks do, as they are also likely to be mixologists, baristas, students, and professionals in other areas. For the purposes of this Stoobie Award, however, the title of “server” refers to those awesome people in this awesome town who bring me awesome things to eat and drink. Also, I decided that last years’ nominees and winner in the Server of the Year category are not eligible this year. Cliff from Curate, Chad from All Souls Pizza, Lisa Marie from The Nightbell, they still rule, of that there is no doubt. Sky moved to the West Coast. Bye, Sky! This year we have all new contenders, and they are…
And the winner is…
I once told Ben that Sov Rems has the “best water in town.” He looked at me for 1/10th of a second, a tiny glint of confusion in his eye, and then a slanted, half-of-a-smile-type-thing skewed across that graven face of his for the other 9/10ths of the second, before he composed himself and responded with a polite nod and a, “thank you,” before walking away. Ha ha ha!!! That killed me! This guy KILLS me. I have to admit that I was slightly intimidated by Ben at first — tall, handsome, 100 percent pro — I loved him as a heathen might love a wooden idol: With trepidation and wonderment. Once I started warming-up to his dead-pan style, and his wry sense of humor though, I came to regard Ben as one of the great “Personalities” of the Asheville food scene, and I don’t hand out accolades like that lightly.
Add to the mix, the fact that he is an excellent mixologist and tender of the bar in a joint that is mostly bar, and yeah, Ben rules. He makes some of Dawn’s fave cocktails in town, as well as styling me out with the occasional mock-tail, and he knows that I’ll drink as many Americanos as it takes to get me through any given night of socializing. Ten PM? No probs. Ben asks me if I want another. I say yes. He doesn’t bat an eye.
Ben is super on-top of his game behind the bar and on the floor, never seeming to let life get out of hand, and never showing a bead of sweat. Whether he’s making drinks, taking orders, running food and flatware to tables, or cashing you out when you’re ready to leave, Ben never makes you feel ignored, unseen, or unwanted, and he never makes you wait. He’s the best. Simple as that. Thanks for all the great drinks, and service over the past year, Ben, and thanks for the hugs too. (I always make Ben hug me.)
• Chef of the Year – This Stoobie is always very difficult for me to decide, because there are soooo many wonderful cooks and chefs working in Asheville! In order to narrow the playing field, I come up with a lot of “criteria” in my mind that I factor into my decision making process. I could list those criteria for you, but… that sounds really boring and time-consuming to me… so here are the nominees…
And the winner is…
When I asked Dawn her opinion about who I should give my Best Chef award to she said, “Why not Elliott Moss?” Well… no duh, right? Why NOT Elliott Moss? I mean, here’s a guy who helped to put Asheville’s food scene on the map, and then he was kinda “homeless” (restaurant-wise) for a while, but continued to stay vibrant and viable here throughout 2015 with pop-ups, and special events, taking part in this or that other culinary adventure, all the while working on the monumental task of starting his own restaurant, in the as-yet-untested market of the South Slope, and with the power of the Chai Pani group (and I’m sure a lot of other people) behind him, he was able to open a beautiful joint, with a massive kitchen, that is on full-view for the public to see the magic happen while we dine, and he crushes it every dang day of the week, serving a truly wonderful array of food that is creative-yet-traditional, with an inherent authenticity that is hard to match anywhere.
When I was hungry and mopey last Summer at the ReHappening art event in Black Mountain, a plate of Chef Elliott’s food lifted my spirits and made me feel whole and human again. When I brought my mom and her friend to Burial Beer for one of his pop-ups, Chef Elliott smiled and was nice to them while dishing-out some home cookin’ that the old ladies loved as much as I did. He once served Dawn the “best chicken pot pie ever.” His candied yams are… like… I can’t even… So yum…
I eat at Buxton Hall more often than anywhere else in Asheville. Part of that is proximity for sure. Buxton is the closest great restaurant to my front door, especially at lunch time when The Junction is closed. But believe me, I wouldn’t be there as often as I am if location was the only thing they had going for them, and I wouldn’t be eating my way through their menu if the food was anything but awesome. I go to Buxton Hall BBQ because Chef Elliott’s cooking is special, and unique. It tastes great and is made with great ingredients. It’s presented with style, and always cooked to perfection. I believe Chef Elliott Moss is a great chef living and working among us, and this was the year that it all came together for him, and that’s why he is my 2015 Chef of the Year!
• Restaurant of the Year – The last time I tried to iterate a list the best restaurants in Asheville out loud, Dawn said to me, “Well, that’s basically all of the restaurants in Asheville.” Yeeeah… I’m kind of a slut. I wanna make-out with every eatery in town, and tell every single one, “You’re the best.” Of course, there can really only be one “best,” and I’ve narrowed it down to one of these three nominees…
And the winner is…
There you go. The big one. The 2015 Stoobie Award for Restaurant of the Year. What does that mean? For one thing, it means that when people ask me — as they do — “What’s the best restaurant in Asheville?” I will reply “All Souls.”
All Souls was originally slated to win in a category I decided to eliminate this year. At one point they were going to be “Most Improved,” but then I was, like, “That’s such a shitty, back-handed-compliment of a category, and seems entirely inadequate to describe All Souls, which is truly one of the best, if not thee best restaurant in Asheville,” and then I was, like, “What did you just say?” And I was, like, “I said it might be the best restaurant in Asheville.” “Might be?” I asked. “Is,” I replied. Here are some of the reasons that the voices in my head were able to agree…
• Food – I already described the dinner specials, and how frickin’ delicious they can be, but I didn’t mention that All Souls is one of the best, and most authentic farm-to-table restaurants in town. The ingredients are ever-changing, based on season and availability, grown, sourced, smoked, prepped, cooked, plated, and served with knowledge, skill, and style. And it all tastes friggin’ amazing. From salads and sandwiches, to fancy-pantsy polentas and such. I ate their pot roast with root veggies, like, twice a week while it was available last Winter, and I made a super-sad face when it was taken off the menu, but y’know, Mother Nature dictates at All Souls, and it was time for Spring and Summer fare.
• Service – Let’s start with… you know what to do when you walk in the door at All Souls, because there’s a hosting stand right there, and there’s always a person standing at it to greet you. There’s never a “should we” moment. As in: “Should we seat ourselves?” or “Should we order first and then sit down?” Even the newest newbie, out-of-towner, bridge-and-tunnel, tourist would know exactly what to do two seconds after walking in the door. Once you’re seated, the level of table service can’t be beat. Friendly, attentive, knowledgeable, and familiar. They seem to have locked-in some very good front-of-the-house people at All Souls, quite a few have been working there since the start.
• Location – Not quite downtown, but not NOT downtown, it’s kinda sorta but not really part of the River Arts District, and is almost like its own free-standing, autonomous zone down there on Clingman Ave. It’s easy to get to on foot or by car from either side of the river, and it has plenty of parking, plus a huge open field next to it that hosts the RAD Farmers Market during farmers market season.
• Atmosphere – It’s casual, but not pizza-joint-casual, it’s nice inside, and comfy. They have enough space that you can go ahead and hunker-down with friends and not worry about taking-up a table. They offer seating at the bar, at several hi-tops, regular dining tables, and they have great outdoor seating that is set way back from the street and is far far removed from the noise, smell, and irritation of traffic. Also, there’s a pasture for children to graze in, again, far far away from me.
• Dessert – Be sure to leave room for dessert at All Souls, because, wow. We’ve had more home-run, high-end, top-notch, filling, delicious, homey and just plain goood desserts at this so-called pizza place than just about anywhere else in town. They make creative in-house ice creams, and some of the best bread puddings I’ve ever eaten in my life, no exaggeration. They use bread and other baked goods from Farm and Sparrow, which is always killer, and they make a chocolate croissant bread pudding that I would literally walk over broken glass for. I mean, I’d keep my shoes on of course, because, y’know — ouch! — but still, that crunching sound of broken glass underfoot is so annoying… I’d totally endure that annoying, crunching, broken glassy sound for this amazing bread pudding. 100 percent true story.
All Souls, I’ve been eating your food since the week you opened, and I ate there for the billionth time just last week, and not only are you truly the Most Improved, but you adjusted your game until it was fucking perfect and that’s why you are my 2015 pick for Restaurant of the Year!
So, there you have it, Folks! Those are the 2015 Stoobie Awards! Just in case you need things to be super B.I.D. here are the bare bones basics:
• Pour-Over – The Coffee Pedlar
• House Cup – Vortex Doughnuts
• Specialty / Espresso Drinks – Vortex Doughnuts
• Local Roaster – PennyCup Coffee Co.
• 67 Biltmore née Laurey’s
• The Junction
BEST DEEP-FRIED THING
• Kale Pakoros @ Chai Pani
• Buxton Hall BBQ
SANDWICH OF THE YEAR
• Chicken ‘n’ Waffle Sandwich @ Sunny Point Cafe
BEST FOOD TRUCK
• Root Down
• Karen Donatelli
BEST LATE NIGHT BITES
• The Nightbell
• Farmer Sunil’s Sunday Indian Supper @ Sovereign Remedies
MEAL OF THE YEAR
• 10 Year Anniversary Dinner @ Vue 1913
SERVER OF THE YEAR
• Ben @ Sovereign Remedies
CHEF OF THE YEAR
• Chef Elliot Moss
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR
• All Souls Pizza
— END —
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster 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.
Great list, even though I don’t agree with all of them.
Congratulations to Stu for giving All Souls Pizza his best restaurant award. By the way, all that great food at All Souls is primarily the work of head chef Brendan Reusing who obviously should have at least made your top chef contenders.