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DIAL “M” FOR MMMMMMM!

Hi Asheville! It’s been a little while since’t I wrote something for Ashevegas, eh? The COVID shit storm kinda interrupted my flow, but let’s skip all that and talk about Avenue M instead.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself right now, “…of all the things to write about after seven months of radio silence, you pick Avenue M, Stu? Why?” Well, I’m tellin’ you why! Read-on, MFers.

One day my GF Dawn asked me if I saw Felix Meanna’s Instagram post about Avenue M. After feigning a lack of knowledge in the platform, “Insta-what-now?” I copped to the fact that had not seen said post, and she said, “Well, apparently there’s some new chef there, and Felix says he’s amazing.”

Just in case you don’t know: Felix Meanna is co-owner of Cúrate, along with his wife, Chef Katie Button and her family, so, okay, this was interesting to me.

Avenue M has been around for a long-ass time. Like, forever. I went there when I first moved to Asheville in 2005, and I’ve always enjoyed it. I have to admit that I had not been in years, as it’s just a little bit outside my walk-ability circle, and since I had kinda been there and done that, I’d moved on mentally, and was busy keeping up with the rest of the exploding food scene. 

Then, a day or so after Dawn told me about Felix’s Instahoozy post, I received an ancient form of communication from an old friend, Chef Patrick O’Caine (Gan Shan West), who sent me an email, basically telling me that, as a meat-eater, I gotta check out the new chef at Avenue M, a gentleman named Chef Andrew McLeod

Huh.

First Felix, now Chef Patrick, who I don’t think has ever written me an email out of the blue recommending a restaurant before. He asked me if I wanted him to put me in touch with Chef Andrew. “Yes, please,” was my answer.

Connections were made, and before I knew it, Chef Andrew was inviting me to come in and try his new menu, on the house. Hot damn! #foodbloggerdreamsdocometrue 

I responded to his kind offer by rejecting it.

LOL Just kidding, kind of, because my standard response these days to invitations of all kinds goes something like, “I’d love to, but I’m still doing social distancing, partly because I spend a lot of time with my mom, so I can’t risk any exposure. As a food blogger, I’m concentrating on take-out and delivery these days. Are you offering either of those options? Thanks!”

Chef Andrew’s response might earn him an honorary position in my family, because he responded by essentially saying, “You and your mom can swing by any time, I’d love to bring out a meal for both of you to take home.”

I fucking love this guy already, and more importantly, so does my mom.

Of course I announced all this on Facebook as it was happening, and when the day came for my mom and I to go meet Chef Andrew and pick-up our food, I received yet another message from another great local food luminary, Chef Ryan Kline from Zambra, who texted me to very enthusiastically tell me I was in for treat with his friend Chef Andrew’s cooking. It was clear from Chef Ryan’s words, that he has a ton of respect for Drew.

Man. This guy’s got some juice! 

And he was nice as fuck, kept his mask on, was super-polite to my mom, and handed us a virtual SHIT-FUCK-TON-AND-A-HALF of food.

All of which was amazing. Halfway through our meal, my mom called him a “genius.” True story.

So here’s what-all we got…

ABOVE: Yardbird, Catfish ‘n’ Grits, Hop’n John, Cheddarwurst, Sweet Taters, Pickles, Grilled Choi, N’duja Cavatelli, Agnolotti, Kale Cappelletti, Okra Romesco, Squash Gremolata, Miso Mustard & Grilled Ciabatta, Heirloom Tomato.

There was also Charcuterie, which consisted of 6 different cured meats, including calabrese, finocchiona, summer sausage, genoa, n’duja, and guanciale wrapped around fresh grilled peaches.

Aaand there were three desserts (which unfortch I didn’t get any good pictures of), but they were Blackberry Clafouti, and two different flavored Iced Cream Sandwiches.

That’s a grand total of 17 different dishes, 10 of which have names that end in vowels, representing an almost 50/50 split between Italian dishes and otherwise. (I’m not including “Grilled Choi” as an Italian dish, even though it ends in the letter “i.”) Let’s start looking at pictures of food now…

Believe it or not, even though there was basically a giant cheese-filled hot dog involved in this meal, as well as grits, fried fish, and chicken, all of which are among my all-time favorite things on Earth, this grilled choi was one of the highlights of the meal for me. I love grilled green things. Grilling them almost makes up for the fact that they’re green things. The grilled choi had a great savory sauce on it, and was cooked just right. It was awesome. Now chicken…

The Yardbird was basically half of a BBQ’d chicken, and it looked like ^^ this ^^ so I fucking loved it. Nuff said,

The rest of the non-Italian fare likewise skewed Southern, which makes sense, because Chef Andrew is from Asheville, and has recently returned after a notable career that included stints in Greenville, Nashville, and San Francisco, before coming home to WNC and taking the culinary reins at Avenue M.

The fried catfish ‘n’ grits were perfect. The fish was light and crispy, the grits and sauce were just the right texture and had a deep and satisfying flavor. Excellent. Some of the best I’ve ever had. Mom agreed.

The hop’n John was excellent as well, and I enjoyed it very much. I don’t have a lot of experience with hop’n John, I’ve only had it a couple of other times, and this is the only time I have ever said “The hop’n John was excellent,” or “I enjoyed it very much.” I seem to remember being bored out of my mind with it the last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. Basically, I was like, “meh,” when I saw the words ”hop’n john” written one of the packages Chef Drew gave us, but then I was like, “erm?” when I opened it up and saw the bright yellowy-ness of the sauce, then I was like, “fuck yes,” when I ate it. Not boring at all. Different. Excellent.

The cheddarwurst was the Cheddar-best!

And I should give-up writing altogether after such a shit joke, but I shall ford on. This is the “giant cheese-filled hot dog” that I mentioned earlier, and you can see from the picture it’s a whole lot more than that. It was frickin’ great. Snappy casing. Savory and salty inside. Unique toppings, grilled bun. It was on point. I recommend it very highly. 

The sweet taters were so fucking good I wanted to fight my mom for possession of the leftovers when it came time to divide them up after sating ourselves. But my mom is 80 years old, and tough as nails, so I didn’t want to risk getting hurt. She kept the taters. I got the rest of the cheddarbest.

Hmm, did I forget anything southern? Ummm…the pickles and bread, I guess. Pickles is pickles and we like pickles. Gim pickles. These pickles were good. The bread was likewise made entirely out of bread, so it was all bready and good. Both went well with the charcuterie, so let’s go there now…

MEATS and plenty of it. Lots and lots of salty, savory, fatty, meaty things, my favorite of which was probs the guanciale wrapped around fresh grilled peaches. Jimminy fuck nuts, that shit was good. Super thin-sliced cured pork, from the cheek of the pig, wrapped around warm, succulent peaches. Fuck yes. I made my mom eat one. She was a little afraid of the fat at first, but I was like, “it’s so thin, eat!” And she ate, and was glad she did! 

BTW I had to look up “guanciale,” because I wanted to make sure I got it right, also had to look up “n’duja,” because WTF is that word?!?  According to wiki, “N’duja is a particularly spicy, spreadable pork from Italy [that] is typically made with parts of the pig such as the shoulder and belly, as well as tripe, roasted peppers and a mixture of spices.”

Dang it, did they have to say “tripe?” I’ll just erase that part from my memory banks. And… mmmm… spicy. 

From this point on I pretty much had to look up every dish.

N’duja Cavatelli – Well, we just learned what n’duja is, and cavatelli are small pasta shells made from eggless semolina dough that look like “miniature hot dog buns” (I wish I could say I came up with that, but it’s a direct quote from Wikipedia). It was spicey and dank and frickin’ good!

Agnolotti – Another type of Italian pasta, made with small pieces of flattened dough, folded over a filling. This dish was creamy and savory and had an “mmmm” factor that both my mom and I experienced and expressed. The corn kernels added a sweet little pop to every bite, and the okra kept it real. 

Kale Cappelletti – I think you know what kale is. I hope so, anyways. Cappelletti literally means “little hats” and they are generally a meat filled pasta. Obvs not in this case. This dish was bright and refreshing, and quite filling for a vegetable dish.

Squash Gremolata – The squash was Summer or Yellow Squash (depending on where you’re from) and gremolata is a tangy green sauce made of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. It is most often served on steak, but here again it has been given a vegetarian treatment. This was the punchiest flavor, probably as a result of the lemon zest.

Okra Romesco – Okra ain’t no joke-ra… is a joke I can’t not say or write every time I see or hear the word “okra.” Romesco is a tomato-based sauce that is usually made from roasted tomatoes, garlic, peppers, toasted nuts, and olive oil. Close your eyes and imagine what all those things might taste like together. That’s what it tasted like. Fuckin’ good in other words. 

Miso Mustard & Grilled Ciabatta is the bread I mentioned above as being bready and good, the mustard was kick-a-pow.

And I actually didn’t have to look up what a Heirloom Tomato is. Because I am familiar. Yay for me. This one was delish. I don’t usually eat large, fresh tomatoes. They just don’t do a lot for me. But this one did! You can tell from the picture that it’s something special. Recommend.

As said, I didn’t get good pictures of the desserts, which is a drag because they were great! There was a bit of a rush to get the food out of the boxes and onto our plates before it cooled down too much, so I just plain forgot to take pictures. 

The Blackberry Clafouti was like a tart meets a flan, kinda. I dunno, but it was frickin’ good. The ice cream sandwiches were huge, we ended up eating them with spoons, for, like the next four days. True story.

After we were stuffed, my mom and I split the food, and then we shared it with various loved ones the next day, and the next. I think all totaled, six people got to enjoy this food over the course of about four days. It all reheated fantastically, BTW, which is such a crucial element to this new take-out and delivery heavy world we live in.

As I hope you can tell from the words and pictures above, this whole meal was incredible. From meeting the chef, to discovering what surprises lay inside he many boxes he gave us, to sharing each and every eye-rollingly delicious flavor experience with my mom, and then later with my GF Dawn. All of it was just wonderful.

More about my mom: She’s a fuckin’ rock star scientist, and a PHD ‘n’ shit, so when she calls someone a “genius,” you best listen to that.

So, yeah, go check out Avenue M under the leadership of Chef Andrew McLeod, try the things I’ve reviewed here, or anything else on the menu, really. I can all but guarantee that it’ll be great! 

 

 – END –

Stu Helm is a writer, blogger, and social media personality living and working here in Asheville,NC.
Please follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and his own blog, StuHelmFoodFan.com

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