Stu and friends go fooding around Asheville, eating some of the best that the town has to offer, including Fish Stew to the Rescue!
File this first section in the “It’s the Least I could Do” file, because buying and consuming two bowls of delicious Fish Stew to raise money for victims of Hurricane Matthew in Eastern NC was truly the very least I could do. A chef named Vivian Howard started this thing where you buy fish stew, and money goes to Matthew victims. It’s pretty awesome, you can read more by searching on line or clicking HERE.
First I went to visit my friends at Grey Eagle Taqueria, where I asked for a small portion of their fish stew offering, and a borracho chicken taco. The stew was a house Cioppino, made by new-hire Michael Hunter who told me he learned how to make Cioppino at Corner Kitchen and then added his own touch. Cioppino is an Italian “feast of the 7 fishes,” and my GF Dawn makes a killer version of it every other X-mas, so I’m spoiled, and will admit that I was somewhat bracing myself for disappointment when it came to this taqueria version. Wellllll….
It was fucking awesome and I ate every drop! It had seven fishes for realz, including a few different kinds of shellfish, which is key to a good Cioppino. The flavor was deep, and sort of multi-layered, revealing itself slowly as it sank into my consciousness. It had that “taste of the sea” that you look for in a stew like this, but was not “fishy” in any way. The bread it came with was perfect. The cook told me that it takes a long time to make, and he’ll probably run out, and have more to put back on the menu this weekend.
The taco was also great. I still maintain that Grey Eagle has the best traditional tacos in Asheville, but I haven’t made it out to Tacos Muños yet, which everyone tells me is the best. That part of Patton Ave is tough for me to deal with because I don’t drive. I walked it once. Nightmare.
Aaaaanyhoo… the next fish stew I had was from Chai Pani…
Chai Pani is one of my fave lunch-time jams these days, so I popped in there this week to grab something to eat, and was reminded that they are also participating in the fish stew fundraiser. Again, the least I could do would be to order a delicious, decadent bowl of Indian awesomeness, and stuff my face for a good cause. The soft-boiled egg that came cut in half, on top was fucking great! It might have been my fave part of the meal! The rest of the stew was awesome too, being full of big pieces of fish, and lots of tangy curry. The “pav” style bread that it came with is one of my favorite new things that I’ve been served this year. I had never heard of it until a month or so ago when some came with my lunch at Chai Pani and was part of my Eat of the Week. Now I dream about it! It’s soft and buttery and grilled and… drool… so good.
So, do the least you can do, and get out there and get some fish stew at one of your local restaurants! The money goes to helping our friends and family in the Eastern part of the state.
I’m not sure if this one technically counts towards the Fish Stew dealio, but Dawn and I split an amazing dish of mussels from Buxton Hall Barbecue the other day. Good lord, anyone who still thinks this place is “just a BBQ joint” needs to venture into the sides, specials, and appetizers at Buxton. Truly world-class food in my opinion.
The mussels were cooked perfectly, they had just the right amount of “chew” to them, and tasted great. The broth and the miscellaneous stuff floating around in it were the bomb-titty-ass-bomb of all bombs. I had already ate TWO hotdogs, but I gladly grabbed the rest of the bread that it came with these mussels, and sopped-up every molecule of that broth. So full afterwards. Dying. Sweet death. Take me while I’m happy.
I ordered a pair of house made hot dogs during that same visit to Buxton, and holy fuck. So insanely good. They came topped with hog hash, which is not for everyone, but I happen to think is pretty fucking good. There was also house made mustard BBQ sauce on top. I asked to hold the raw onions, because I’m not into that, Man, BUT I can see that having them on there would have made this a lot like a southern version of a traditional Flint Michigan Dog, so I respect that.
Hog hash, in case you don’t know is a sort of brown meat slurry made out of… not sure… lotta pig stuff. It has a real iron-rich flavor, so… you know what that means: Organ meats. All I know is that Chef Elliott Moss says it’s good, so I tried it, and I like it, and I like it even more on a hot dog! The mustard sauce is the fucking best at Buxton, and was also perfectly suited for the dog ‘n’ hash experience.
Stuffed in a natural casing (that means pig intestine) and boasting a strong pork flavor, these two dogs had a lot of integrity, and they might in fact be the best… no they ARE the best hot dogs I’ve ever eaten in my life. What-the-what?!? That’s right. Bold statement. I’ve eaten a lotta dogs, these were hands-down the best ever. Lord knows when they’ll be back on the menu there, but if you see them, get them!
I had eaten two other hot dogs that week, one from the take-out window of The Vault, which I gave my Eat of the Week last week, and a chili-dog at Isa’s Bistro.
This Isa’s dog didn’t impress me as much as those at The Vault or Buxton Hall, but… with that same meal I ordered a plate of trout that was REALLY good, and did impress me, and has prompted me to think about doing a series about the trout in all the various restaurants around town. Every menu seems to have it! The Isa’s trout was really tasty and well cooked in my opinion.
When trout is served skin-side-up, it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s an indicator from the cook that you are intended to eat the skin. That can be a dicey proposal if the skin’s not cooked just right. And by “just right” I mean jehhhhst right. There’s very little room for error. Isa’s trout was served skin-up, and it was cooked perfectly. The skin was crisp, and salty, and the flesh was moist and flaky and flavorful. It came with microgreens, what seemed like a yogurt-based sauce, and some seasoned, dry-roasted hazelnuts. The sauce was cooling element, and lent a tartness to the dish that complimented the subtle, almost buttery flavor of the fish. The hazelnuts were a really nice touch, and were light and crunchy. I enjoyed this trout very much!
Next on my list of various seafood items that I ate last week is a humble yet elegant crab cake sandwich from Table. Table has been one of my frequent lunch-time jams lately.
I’ve been hitting-up Table for lunch more these days for a few reasons that include the fact that the menu, price, and portion size are all slightly different and smaller than the dinner menu. Lunch is a great opportunity to try some of the best restaurants in town — including Table — and sample the fare without breaking the bank or busting a gut.
The food at Table is some of the cleanest, freshest, most responsibly-sourced, and deftly prepared food you’ll find in the area, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve been enjoying it lately. This crab cake sandwich was plump, crabby, crispy, and delish. It came with a lot of fresh green leafy things, and house-made pickles and some raw onions. As usual, the raw onions were the only thing left behind on my plate by the time I was done.
As I was writing this last night , I got super-hungry and ran out the door to go grab more fish stew downtown. I stopped in to see my good friends at The Lobster Trap, and enjoyed a bowl of their insanely rich, homey, and delicious creamy fish stew. It reminded me so much of New England, where I grew up, and it really hit the spot. If you haven’t been eating fish stew all week, do yourself, and the victims of Hurricane Matthew a favor and go get some! There are over 20 Asheville area restaurants participating, including The Nightbell, Curate, Ambrozia, and other top-notch venues.
So there you go… That’s some of what I encountered while Fooding Around Asheville in the past week or so. Is that ALL of the food I ate? Fuck no. Not by a long shot, Yo. That doesn’t even include dessert, coffee, snacks, a trip to Curate that I’m going to write a separate review of, and the Eat of The Week, which was amazing and will be revealed on Friday!
A couple of weeks ago, Dawn and I turned to each other and marveled at the quality of the food that we eat on a regular basis here in Asheville. It’s truly remarkable, and unique, and special, and we take full advantage of it as often as possible. If I was you, I’d do that too. But that’s just me… pretending to be you… doing what I would do. Whoa. That gets complicated… just go out to eat, Yo!
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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.
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