I always say that people essentially crave only two things in life:
Something Familiar and Something Different.
Whether it’s art, sex, religion, or… lunch!
That’s the reason that things like plaid Chuck Taylor’s and computer-generated Mr. Peabody even exist, and it’s the reason why I got a Rueben at Woolworth Counter, and Shrimp ‘n’ Grits at Tupelo Honey. Two of my favorite meals, at two places I’d never had them before!
TUPELO HONEY – Downtown Asheville
Shrimp ‘n’ Grits is my all-time fave southern dish, and even though it comes from South Carolina, I associate it with Asheville, because the first place I ever ate it was at Sunny Point, over there in WAVL.
You may recall that I said Sunny Point’s Shrimp ‘n’ Grits are the best ever, and I gave them a Stoobie Award last year. They are the undisputed Champion, bar none, all others take a back seat. Mother. Fuckers.
I’m always willing to give contenders a chance, though, and more than one friend has said, “Oh, you gotta try ’em over at Tupelo Honey’s. THEY are the best!”
Well, ye ol’ change jar was full, so I rolled them shits up, put some in the bank, invested some in household items that I needed, and the rest went straight into my belly. I decided to give Tupe’s Shrimp ‘n’ Grits a title shot, a chance to challenge The Champ for the belt, inside the squared circle… of my mouth.
I hadn’t eaten at Tupe’s for years — too crowded — but it was the middle of the day, the middle of the week, and crappy weather, so I was one of four or five diners in the whole place. Score! Empty restaurant. Fuck other people.
The dude at the hostess stand gave me the hairy eyeball, like I was possibly too drunk to realize that I wasn’t in Tall Gary’s anymore, but the young woman was friendly. I think she may have recognized me — not as the dreaded Food Critic — but as that nice paperboy who delivers Asheville Flyer for Kids every month. Yay for the paperboy!
The same young woman was my waitress and she remained polite, professional, friendly, and attentive, from greeting to goodbye. Yay for her!
The Shrimp ‘n’ Grits? I’ll give ’em a good solid 8 stars out of 10, with Sunny Point being the perfect 10… and STILL the undisputed Champion of the World!
Here’s the blow-by-blow of the Tupe’s tilt for the title …
• Their shrimps were big, fresh, nice, and cooked to perfection. Zero complaints there.
• Their sauce was excellent, but I found it to be a little spare. More sauce is always better to me than less sauce. What’re you, hoarding sauce for the end times back there? Sauce me up, Man!
• Their grits were creamy, and cooked well, although slightly stiff and a little bland, which more sauce would have helped… on both counts… just sayin’.
• It came with roasted red peppers on top, which I am not a fan of, but that’s just me. No points off for that.
• It also had goat cheese on top, but, in my opinion, not enough. One point deducted.
The price tag was also higher than Sunny Point by about $2, and at SP you get awesome bacon and a li’l ol’ side salad with your Shrimp ‘n’ Grits. Bacon never hurts (unless we’re talkin’ about heart disease, which we are not) and the side salad is just so dang CUTE!!!
Great fight, Tupelo Honey, but not good enough to take the belt from The Champ.
WOOLWORTH WALK / WOOLWORTH COUNTER – Downtown Asheville
I was walking down Haywood the other day, and it was like this inside my head:
“Uh… Hungry… Oooh, Woolworth’s! Hot dog. Wait, Reuben? NO! Hot dog.”
I got the Reuben.
It was heavy. In all senses of the word.
It weighed a ton when I picked it up, it made me feel all full and tired and groggy afterward, and it was a little emotionally heavy too. As in: sort of serious, and kind of a downer, the way that one hippy might say to another hippy, “Whoa. That’s heavy, Dude.” Y’know, after Pigpen died, or whatever.
I powered my way through the whole Rueben, when all of my senses told me to stop at half. By the time I was done, it felt like I had eaten a stick of butter, a barrel of sour kraut, and an entire cow. Plus I put away the wee bag o’ Lays potato chips that it came with, and half of the pickle. Good gawd.
I didn’t feel positive feelings about myself afterwards. My body image suffered, my self esteem went down three notches, I was sweating, I had horrible breath…
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said this: I shoulda got that dang hot dog!
Woolworth’s has a good hot dog, Man.
Stu Helm is an artist and writer 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 restaurant reviews strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook in 2013.
Whenever I try out a new place, if they have a rueben, that’s what I get. If the rueben is no good, then I know your restaurant sucks and I never go back. Roman’s downtown has a great rueben, they put hot chow chow on it instead of sauerkraut. UJ has a good smoked trout Rueben too, for all you reuben lovers out there!
The review for the Reuben managed to say alot about overeating and absolutely nothing about the quality of the reuben itself…
The Rueben itself was HEAVY. I thought I made that perfectly clear. The operative word in the review about the Rueben was the word “HEAVY.” Heavy was the word you might have honed in on, had you been looking for a description of the Reuben itself, because THAT was the description. Jesus effing Christ. Pay some fucking attention.
I’ll give you that the S&Gs at Sunny Point are great but the best, best I ever had were at North Star Diner outside of Weaverville. It closed in 2009 but boy do I still remember their S&Gs. If I remember rightly they were a joint effort between Early Girl and Laughing Seed and then Laughing Seed sold their interest to Early Girl (now I could be completely wrong about that.) I was so sad it closed – it was so good! I always wondered why North Star had such amazing S&Gs (11 points out of 10) but its sister restaurant Early Girl only had S&Gs that were maybe 8.5. Why didn’t they share their recipe! Why?!!!!!
I want those legendary North Star Shrimp ‘n’ Grits now, LEW! First: we invent a time machine…
I’m with you!
My new fave Stu line: “What’re you, hoarding sauce for the end times back there?”
The South Asheville location sounds like they do it a bit differently. The goat cheese is melted in with their grits, and they’re deliciously creamy with the tanginess of the cheese. I remember a reasonable amount of gravy on top, too. That’s the one I go to, because coming from down the mountain it’s easier taking the interstate than driving downtown, and I don’t have to pay to park.
It’s way down in Arden, but the Black Forest Restaurant has the best Reuben in town.