Sacre bleu, c’est la Stoobies part deux! If you haven’t read part one yet you can do that HERE, and if you don’t know what the Stoobie Awards are… yeah, it’s all explained in part one and I don’t feel like repeating it here, so either go read that, or figure it out along the way. It’s not too complicated: Basically nominees are listed below as being among the “Best of Asheville,” and an award called a Stoobie, is handed out to the best of the best by me personally. A Stoobie Award is more or less the most important and prestigious award in the history of food, if not the world. Pulitzer Prize? Bull-shit-zer Prize compared to a Stoobie. Oh, so you won a Nobel Peace Prize, didja? Whatever. None of you wankers ever cooked the Best Deep-Fried Thing, so nobody cares. Only the Stoobie Awards matter, my friends, and they matter a lot.
Anyhoobie-doobie… Let’s get this parade rolling. As I stated in part one, I have divided the Stoobies into 3 major Categories this year: Morning, Noon, and Night. We covered coffee, breakfast, and brunch already, so let’s move on to noon-ish and after-noonish type foods and meals, starting with one of my favorites, already mentioned above…
• Best Deep Fried Thing – I love this category because discovering the winner is always a *BING* no-brainer moment of complete and total clarity for me from the very second I pop it into my mouth. This year was no different. The contenders are…
And the winner is…
Yeah, Man! I went into Chai Pani a few months back, specifically to order and consume the chicken pakoras, which are excellent, and I was bitterly disappointed, yet also somewhat amused when the nice server informed me that they were out of chicken, and suggested with a straight face that I might like to get the kale pakoras instead. Yeah, sure, I thought to myself, because chicken / kale… what’s the difference? I decided to go for it, and boy was I glad I did! These seem to be nothin’ but kale leaves, dipped in some insanely tasty magic batter from the streets of India, then deep fried until they clump together into crispy, yet slightly chewy, super-flavorful hunks of deliciousness. These get a 2015 Stoobie Award, not only for being totally awesome, but for surprising the fuck out of me, and for proving that, yes, in certain situations, kale can be a suitable substitute for chicken. Well, maybe only in one situation. This one. Thanks, Chai Pani, you’re the bomb-diggity.
• Best Sandwiches – Last year a gave out a prize for the single best “Sandwich of the Year.” This year, I’m still going to do that, but I’m also giving a prize to the folks who make excellent sandwiches. Plural. Like, more than one. Many. Several… let’s say at least three. And the nominees are…
And the winner is…
I am so frickin’ happy that Buxton Hall opened-up on the South Slope this year, just a 10 minute walk from my house, and that they don’t suck. Holy shit, no, they sure as fuck don’t suck, they RÜLE! That’s right, I’m giving them a Stoobie AND an umlaut. That’s a big deal. They can choose to display their Stoobie if they wish, and add their umlaut to their name, a la Büxton Hall, I leave it up to them.
Anyhöö… yeah, the sandwiches are frickin’ great. Simple yet delicious, trashy yet high-end, large but not a bunch of belly-busters. The pit beef sandwich pictured above was particularly awesome. Tangy, smoky, flavorful, moist, tender, somewhat complex, new to me yet familiar at the same time, it was very comforting, and satisfying. The fried chicken sandwich was perfect. Cooked perfectly, seasoned perfectly, the perfect temp (hot!), and just the most perfectly awesome piece of chicken inside of all that yummy, crispy, coating. The bread on the Buxton sandwiches is complete and total trash — soft, white, bleached, and processed — and I love it! Now, don’t everybody out there start using shitty bread for your sandwiches, because 99% percent of the time I want nice, decent, wholesome, fresh-baked bread on my sandwich. Buxton is that 1% situation when I want rashy bread, filled with amazing stuff, and hell, mang, throw some fucking American cheese on there too! Chef Elliott Moss is a master of combining low-brow and high-end ingredients into amazing food, and his sandwiches are no exception.
• Sandwich of the Year – Since you guys already know what a sandwich is… let’s just get to the nominees…
And the winner is…
Like I said, I was super glad that I wedged myself in-between two other human beings to sit at the wee tiny counter at Sunny Point that one day, because they informed me that it was the last day that this particular sandwich would be available. My server recommended it, and I was like, yeah, Okay, why the fuck not? To spare myself potential disappointment, I set my expectations at “whatever.”
Expectations: Exceeded. Blown out of the sky, in fact. Trounced, trumped, trashed and told to get with the fucking program. By the time I was done devouring this gorgeous creature of a sandwich, my expectations were so ashamed of themselves for not having faith in Sunny Point to deliver the goods, that I even ate the salad, just to be contrite. Actually, the salad was really fucking good too and I did not have to force it down by any means.
What can I tell you about this chicken and waffle sandwich that you can’t see from the pictures? There was a beautiful, piping hot piece of deep-fried, boneless, white-meat chicken breast. There was melty, creamy, tangy, comforting pimento cheese. There was bacon. Really good bacon. The bacon at Sunny Point is some of my all-time favorite bacon ever. And then there were waffles. Gah! I’m pretty sure there was honey involved and something spicy going on too. Maybe jalepeño honey? Don’t know. Don’t care. Nom nom, gimme som!
Of course, I haz a sad now, because it is no longer available, but I hope they bring it back, like, soon!
• Best Lunch – I eat an ASSLOAD of lunch. I eat lunch at least once a day, sometimes twice, and I try to spend my lunch money all around town, at various venues, so that I can experience as many different lunch offerings as possible, and, y’know, “spread the love.” I am somewhat limited by the fact that I don’t drive a car, so keep that in mind when reading the following. I am sure that I’m missing out on some fan-fucking-tastic lunches out there in the hinterlands of lunch world. I don;t get out to Patton Ave, East Asheville, Woodfin, and beyond very often, so with that in mind:
ATTENTION VENUES: If you would like me to try your lunch menu in 2016, please make me aware of it by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll try to get there.
Until then, here are the nominees for Best Lunch in Asheville f0r 2015…
And the winner is…
Whoop whoop! Sound the alarms, ring the church bells, form a parade, grab a stranger and start makin’ out! It’s a day to celebrate! Did you know that Joe Scully used to hate me? True story. I wrote a mixed review of Chestnut back in the dizz-ay and said the food was great, but I had a hard time getting past the feeling that the front of the house was reluctant to let me mingle with the rest of the customers. Keep in mind that I do look like a member of — okay, the leader of — the Manson Family. Whatever! That was years ago, and it’s all behind us. Now Joe is my buddy, the front of the house is very friendly — one of the friendliest in town I’d even say — so not long ago, I decided, y’know what, I love eating lunch at Chestnut. I’m giving Joe a fuckin’ Stoobie!
Here are just a few of the reasons that I love eating lunch at Chestnut:
• Steak! – Sometimes, fairly often, I want steak for lunch, but where the fuck am I going to get steak for lunch, and not pay a ton of money for it in the middle of downtown Asheville, North Carolina? Chestnut. That’s where. Joe has a Steak Frittes on the lunch menu that is just the ticket. (see crappy picture above)
• Burger – I eat a lot of burgers. Joe’s burger is effing good, and his kitchen knows how to cook it the way it’s ordered. When I order mine medium, it comes out pink and hot in the middle, just like it should be. Also, it’s not a jaw-breaker or gut-buster of a burger, meaning, it’s not taller than it is wide, and it weighs in at 6 0z of high quality meat. Add cheese(s), bacon, lettuce, tomato, hold the onion, whatever the fuck you want.
• Lunch Menu = Lunch Portions – Even if I do want a steak, or a burger, for lunch, I don’t want to engorge myself with food. The art of the “lunch portion” has been somewhat lost in recent years, as restaurants strive to give the most “bang-for-the-buck.” That’s great for dinner, when I generally do wanna stuff my face until I pop, but at lunch, I say charge me the same or less, and give me a little less food. It’s okay, really. That 6 oz burger is perfect for mid-day.
• Newton – This guy. He’s the best. He’s Joe’s front-of-the-house guy, and I see him pretty often when I go in for lunch. He’s hilariously funny, super-friendly, and super-professional. Plus, he’s totally got Joe’s number — and vice versa — so they say the funniest shit about each other.
• Rest of the Staff – They must be happy, because they are very friendly, and they must get trained right because they are pro.
• Atmosphere – It’s a real restaurant with high-back booths and fancy light fixtures and everything! Gawwwllly! Plus lots of space, so no waiting, no crowds, no chaos.
• The other patrons – I always feel like the youngest person in the room, as well as the person in the lowest income bracket. Not that Chestnut is pricey, or for snobs! It’s actually homey, and quite affordable, as evidenced by the presence of the “blue hairs and blue blazers,” as I call them. They want the same thing for lunch that I do: Good, solid food at a good price. Plus, the older, well-to-do crowd doesn’t usually have five squalling toddlers at their hip, or a cloud of BO around them. Ahhh… I can eat lunch in peace at Chestnut. Thanks, Joe!
• Best Food Truck – I said last year that I would try more food trucks in 2015, and I did! Not a ton, mind you, but enough of them that they can have their very own category of Stoobie now! The nominees for best food truck are:
And the winner is…
BALLS. Boudin balls. Plus bechemel mac ‘n’ cheese, amazing sandwiches, incredible sides, pralines, and theee best bread pudding I’ve ever had served to me from a window in the side of a truck… or perhaps anywhere. I love the food that comes out of the Root Down truck, and I am fond of telling people so. The mere mention of food trucks will set me off… “Food trucks? Root Down! Dano Holcomb is the best fucking chef in this town without a fucking kitchen and his food is to fucking die for if you haven’t tried Root Down OMeffingG check their FaceBook page forwheretheywillbeparkednext! GAHHHH!!!” I’ll border on spazzing-the-fuck-out in my efforts to impart my opinion that Dano and Root Down are making some of the best food in this town, crushing it from inside of a truck.
Dano served me hog jowls once. I’m from Boston, Man. I ain’t never ate a hog jowl in my fucking life, and I wasn’t planning to, until Dano handed me some, and they were fucking amazing. I have 100 percent full confidence in Dano’s cooking skills. That man could put almost anything in front of me, and I’d eat it. At the Asheville Wine and Food Festival he was serving “caviar” made from sweet tea. He’s a master, and I want the world to know it. I would not be at all surprised if this guy becomes the executive chef at one of the best restaurants in the country some day. I feel that strongly about the food coming out of his humble truck.
• Best Pastries – After I posted my “MORNING” Stoobies last week, I received a very valid and thoughtful question from my fellow food writer, and editor of Food Life Magazine, Tiffany Welsh, who inquired: “What? No Best Donut?” I told Tiffany that I had thought about it but decided in the end to hold donuts over for the NOON Stoobies, and lump them in with both Best Deep-Fried Things and Best Pastries. That in mind, the nominees in the latter category are…
And the winner is…
I wish I had some better pictures of Karen and her beautiful, delicious pasties to show you. For some reason, I can never get a truly great shot off whenever I’m in proximity of those pastries. My hands are shaky, my eyes dart about furtively, I can’t concentrate… and I’m really self-conscious about appearing too desperate to get my face on those gorgeous food items! When I walk in to Karen’s shop on Haywood, a few doors down from Malaprops, I feel like I’m walking into an artist’s gallery, the kitchen in back being her studio. The offerings in the case are so visually appealing to me, that I wanna stare, bug-eyed, with my mouth agape, like some rube in the Art Museum ogling the nudes. It’s embarrassing!
In terms of flavor, texture, and over all quality of the food in my mouth, Karen’s baked goods are always 100% on the money. Never a dud. Never a clunker. She does every thing… every single thing… with perfection. She’s more than an artist, she’s a Master. I recommend her frangipani tartlets, and anything with fruit or almonds involved. If you’re chocolate lover, she’s got you covered, and if you just want something as simple as a croissant or brioche, she’s doing those things exactly right. Flakey, buttery, plain or with stuff.
On top of ALLL that she’s nice. Like, SUPER nice. One of the nicest people I’ve ever met. When I went into the cafe with my Mom once, Karen wrote “I love Mom” on our plate with chocolate. Now Karen is one of my mom’s fave people too, and she goes to the cafe more often than I do! She’s always like, “Karen says hi, and she misses you. You should go in more often!” Great, now I have guilt. Well, nothing relieves guilt like CAKE! A visit to Karen’s was overdue, besides I needed a really good picture to accompany this piece, so I went in recently and… yum.
…aaand that concludes the second installment of The 2015 Stoobie Awards! Yeah, man! One more to go! I covered my fave Morning jams, and handed out my Noontime superlatives, next comes “Night.” Some of the categories for Night will include:
Best Dinner • Best Late Night Bite • Best Late Night Coffee • Restaurant of the Year • Server of the Year • Chef of the Year • More!
If you read part 1 of the Stoobies, you know that Asheville’s best food writer and adventurer, Jonathan “J-Dawg” Ammons is my new brunch mate! You can read about our first brunch date together on my blog. The J-Man, my teenage nephew, and I visited Chef AJ and Autumn Bomb at MojoKitchen!
Here’s an excerpt:
“I was amused to see that Mojo offers a Monte Christo sandwich, which is funny chimera of a thing, that I like to call by the English translation, ‘Mountain of Christ,’ and is traditionally something of a grilled cheese meets ham sammich meets french toast… sometimes there’s also turkey… and jam. Popularized at Disney Land in the 1960’s this freaky-deeky delight is usually associated with children, and I think I was a child the last time I ate one. Overcome with nostalgia, I ordered Mojo’s Mountain of Christ sandwich, and…”
You can read more HERE.
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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.
You are so cool because you say “fuck” so often
why give any credit to the opinions of this guy?
I LOVE buxton hall!
Have you tried the Thanksgiving sandwich at Moe’s BBQ yet? Still my favorite in Asheville, though they used to serve it only on Thursdays (not sure if that’s still the case).
How about a “Toad Stoo” award list of the, ahem, not so stellar, needs improvement, gone downhill, can’t believe they’re still open variety?
The grub at Buxton Hall is excellent but in a town with pretty shitty service; they are the top of the food chain (pun absolutely intended).
sadly this is true, the service is slow and disorganized. Stu probably never experienced this since his column affords him rockstar treatment because he has eschewed anonymity