closed_sign_2014By Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

So, a few weeks ago I went on an odyssey… searching high and low (literally riding my bike up and down the hills of this very hilly town) all over the river arts district and downtown on a bright, beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon, looking for somewhere to eat. I thought it would be easy. I thought wrong.

It started out okay, at my neighborhood jam, Clingman Cafe. They were open, so I had a cup in the shade, and wrote about love in my little book of nothings. I soon grew hungry, but I’d already eaten at Clinger’s about three times that week, so I hopped on New Bikey and glided on down to Pizza Pura.

It was closed. Hmmm. NG. It’s, like, the middle of the fucking day, on Sunday — a fucking gorgeous Sunday at that — in the famous River Arts District of Asheville… and this pizza place has decided to be closed. I took a picture of the empty tables on the sunshiny patio, posted it to Facebook, and moved on.

I had seen that the Junction was serving brunch on my way to The Clingding’s, but when I got there, they were closing up shop, pulling in the signage… again, on this clear… beautiful day… the first in a long while.

Confused, I asked a young gentleman who seemed to be loading artwork out of the venue, “Are they closed?”

He replied, “Yes they are…” and then he added after a pause… “Unfortunately.”

I started to walk away, and then I turned back around and said “That IS unfortunate. It’s the middle of the fucking day.” (yes, I swear a lot in real life too)

He said. “Yeah. I know.” He was every bit as annoyed as me. Allies in annoyance. Yeah, Man.

I decided to hit up White Duck. Tacos. I love tacos. Everybody loves tacos, I expected it to be crowded. Instead, it was closed. I took a picture of the vast empty patio and colorful empty benches basking in the lonesome yellow sun, posted it to Facebook, and moved on.

Grey Eagle has tacos… except… as it turns out… on Sundays, when according to the sign… and the dark building… and empty parking lot, they are also closed. I took and posted another picture and moved on.

All Souls… closed… empty parking lot… dark building… another picture posted… more moving on.

I slogged my way up Clingman Ave, across Hilliard, to Biltmore, over the hump and to the Grove Arcade. That might seem like a weird way to go, but the hills are less brutal than other routes. My mind was fixated: Burgerworx, save me now.

At this point, I was not only hungry, but very hot and highly agitated. “Low Blood Shoogs,” as we say at Food Critic HQ. In other words, my bad mood meter was going off the chizzarts.

Burgerworx! Yes! No. Wait, what? Closed? At 3pm, according to the sign. It’s like, HATE minutes past 3pm. Dark, evil thoughts invade my head.

So hungry. I noticed that Isa’s was open on my way past. Pedal pedal pedal. Closed. At 3pm.

Farm Burger: Too long of a line. Too hungry.

Lex 18: Too “Southern” (sick of that for now)

Local Taco: Too Crowded.

LAB: Too… um… Labby? I confess, I don’t eat at LAB. It seems like a place were people eat because they are hungry and don’t want to stop drinking. The last time I went in there to eat, I was nearly killed by the sound of vuvuzelas. I’m not into giant-sized TV’s blasting sporting events at me while I’m trying to enjoy my food. But that’s just me.

Pack’s Tavern: This was a weird one. I got there. I sat on Bikey outside the door for about 5 minutes, or hours, in a state of complete indecision (brought on partly by the fact that my stomach was now eating itself for lunch) and rode slowly away in a daze.

Now this was starting to be a crisis situation. I knew if I didn’t pull the trigger soon, I’d end up at home, eating crackers and hating life more than ever.

I rode to Mamacitas. Always good, always fresh, always affordable, and… ever popular. The line was too long, the booths were all full.

I had also noticed that 7 Sows was open on my way up Biltmore, back when I still had my sanity. I swear, I saw a ton of people on the patio when I rode past, just, like, a few minutes ago. Yet, when I walked in the unlocked door, it was dark and quiet, and empty inside, except for three mysterious figures at the bar way across the room. I looked at them. They looked back at me. I looked back at them. They loo… “”Are you open?!?” I finally blurted out, before things got REALLY awkward.

“Not ’til five,” came a voice from the mirk.

I stepped back out into the daylight, looked at my iPhone… “4:57”

“Huh,” I said to myself, “I could wait three minutes and walk back in, or I could give the finger to the building and mutter ‘three fucking minutes’ under my breath as I ride away.” I chose the latter.

By the time I got to Posana, it was 5pm, and they were just reopening from their own 3 pm – 5 pm Sunday siesta. I was greeted with big smiles, promptly seated outdoors, and given a menu. I think I managed to squeak out a smile or two myself, but by then, I was definitely a black cloud among the rainbows of the downtown Asheville scene.

The sun had been touching on me for hours (I hate that), and I was super-sweaty, totally crazed in the hair department, and probably looked like a homeless junkie. On top of all that, the buskers were fucking killing me with their “racka racka racka” washboard jamboree.

Hey, Busky! Why don’t you put that thing to it’s proper use and wash your fucking clothes with it! Filthy… smelly… grimble… grumble… fuck the world… hate hate hate…

Oh, yay, my chicken is here!

ROASTED CHICKEN – Posana, Pack Square, Downtown Asheville

What can I say about Posana? You want the good stuff? You pay the money: you get the stuff. I shelled out around $30 for my meal — including the tip, no drinks — which was more than I was looking to spend when I left the house, but the roasted chicken was really fucking good, so whatever.

True, I might have eaten a boiled flip-flop avec jus right about then, but I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed this chicken.

The portion was just right. I ate every single edible thing on my plate, and my stomach was the perfect amount of full when I finished. My needle was on empty when I got there, and when I left I was, like, 3/4 of a tank full, which is fine for me. I don’t need to be engorged in order to be satisfied.

The meal was one of those “stacks” of food you get these days. From the top down, it consisted of:

• Chicken – It was cooked perfectly and was of a very high quality, with absolutely no nasty bits. It had great flavor, came off the bone nicely, and was slightly crisp on the outside. It was really effin’ aye good, Man, I gotta tell ya. I gnawed on the bones like a feral dog.

• Arugula – It got nice and wilty from being in the hot stack. I really like wilted arugula on hot food. It makes me feel European for some reason.

• Fingerling Potatoes – I’m not sure, but I’m going to guess that they were par-baked, and then deep fried for crispness. They were exactly the right temp and texture, and tasted really good. Very hardy and comforting, they were the most filling part of the meal.

• Red Wine Reduction – It was sweet and tart and slightly viscous. It added moisture and flavor, as well as a pretty, deep crimson color to the plate. I lapped it up like I hadn’t tasted true blood in over 300 years.

• Shallot Puree – This was the Cinderella story of the plate. What looked like a somewhat unappetizing puddle of beige gruel on the bottom of Le Stack, turned out to be the very thing that made this dish something special. It was very subtle, but deep, and earthy, and really good! It complimented the sharp sweetness of the red wine reduction, countered the bitterness of the arugula, and acted as a sort of thick “gravy” for the chicken. It was out-fucking-standing.

I’ll give this dish five stars, on a five star scale. It tasted that good to me. Keep in mind that I was very very very very very very very very very very very very hungry at the time, but I don’t think that clouded my judgement.

The staff at Posana is always really pro and slick and friendly and attractive. They kept my water glass full and offered me bread sticks when my dish was delayed.

Yep, my dish was delayed. I was about to chew on the table cloth.

“Racka racka racka.”

So, that was my hellish journey through the strangely deserted wastelands of the RAD one beautiful Sunday afternoon, and my continuing frustration as I attempted to eat in a crowded downtown Asheville on that same Sunday during the 3-to-5 dead-zone.

I got so fucking ill and peevish about the whole ordeal that I came up with a new award to give out: The Peevie. Now you can get a Stoobie for excellence, and/or a Peevie for something that I find to be the opposite of excellence.

I’m going to award my first Peevie to Pizza Pura.

PIZZA PURA – River Arts District

I ate there once and was not impressed, at all. I wanted to go back and try it again before writing a review, but it’s always fucking CLOSED!

“Sorry, We’re Closed” is the sign that will greet one at most times of day, on most days of the week at Pizza Pura.

Noon. On a Wednesday, let’s say. “Sorry, we’re closed.”

You’re a PIZZA PLACE!!! Why the FUCK are you closed for lunch every day of the week?!? You don’t think that people might wanna eat some pizza for lunch? No? That’s not a thing? Pizza for lunch isn’t a thing? No, yeah, actually, it is. It’s a thing, Man. Pizza for lunch is a fucking thing, MAN!

Pizza Pura is only open from 5pm – 9pm Mon – Sat. Closed on Sunday. Because nobody would ever wanna grab a slice or a pie while strolling through the River Arts District on a Sunday Afternoon. Because people hate pizza on Sundays. God hates it. A lot. Better stay closed.

That was sarcasm.

Many many people have been known to eat pizza on Sunday. I’m one. Anyone else? A show of hands. Pizza? On Sunday? You. You. Mom? You. I’d better get a pad and pen. One… two… three… God, are you in? We’re ordering pizza. Yep, even on a Sunday. Yeah? Okay? You’re all good with that? Okay, then, that’s at least four. Five counting me.

I live up the street from Pizza Pura, and as far as I’m concerned they do a disservice to the neighborhood and other business establishments by basically being a big, dark, empty space for most of the time. They are open a grand total of 24 hours a week. That’s, like, a part time job I had in college.

I think the way to improve a neighborhood is to give people a reason to come there. Y’know, like, an “if you build it they will come” type of scenario? The tourists can’t eat Jonas Gerard paintings, Man, as much as they want to. They need foooood.

I applaud Trip and Pamela Howell, the owners of Clingman Cafe for being food pioneers of the RAD. They extended their hours to accommodate the neighborhood, and sometimes it’s dead in there, but they soldier on. Trip told me he’s just glad to employ his people for a few extra hours a day until it catches on. He sees a future for the RAD that will include human beings walking around on a Sunday afternoon, having a cup of his fine coffee or one of his pastries after, say, a PIZZA!!!

A shout-out as well to Blue Kudzu Sake who are open and doing Karaoke on Sundays in the RAD, in a very family friendly way. “Lot’s of kids,” said Mary, one of the four co-owners. They brew their own sake there, and have an “AppalAsian” food menu. They make a very unique and tasty version of shrimp and grits with Wasabi Sauce.

Okay now… Well, there you go. A full-on rant, but with some review-ish type stuff in there too. I hope you enjoyed it.

The first person to tell me that I need to calm down and not get so worked up about these things is getting a Peevie.

stu_helm_2013

 

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.

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42 Comments

  1. Stu, I love you and your reviews. I still haven’t tried oysters, yet. I think I need you to be my bivalve-mollusk-spirit guide, and walk me through it.

  2. BTW, if you use Urbanspoon, it will tell you what restaurants are open and the times listed are accurate because Ive done the footwork myself. No need to burn fuel goin nowhere.

  3. ben mixson says:

    Stu,

    In 2013 alone the White Duck and Pizza Pura had more than 178,000 visitors to the River District and provided Living Wage Certified jobs to more than 40 people. The economic impact is significant for the neighborhood, City of Asheville, Buncombe County, and State of North Carolina.

    Thanks,

    Ben

  4. ToastJones says:

    Stu…
    You should have gotten over your indecision about Pack’s Tavern and gone on in. They have actually been pretty consistent in their food and service and they are open every Sunday. And it’s almost never a wait on Sundays. I know they ain’t the popular choice, but they are still locally owned and every time I’ve been there I’ve had a decent time.

    I agree that Sundays are a crap-shoot in Asheville, but I really like Pack’s for the End of the Weekend hurrah. Plus, last time I was there on a Sunday they had decent Bloody Marys for $4. I left much happier, needless to say, then I went in.

  5. ashevillain says:

    Hey Stu,

    You actually should try the food at LAB sometime.

    IMO, the food is the only redeeming quality of that place. Better yet, order something to-go. That way you don’t have to deal with the TV’s…or the awful service and crappy beer.

    Seriously, they used to have venison nachos which were crazy good. I’ve had food there a few times and it’s always been good. Can’t say the same for the service or the beer.

  6. Couldn’t agree more! I’ve always found trying find a place to eat on Sunday in this town to be frustrating.

  7. It is NUTS in a tourist town to remain closed on a nice spring Sunday. There’s even a good chance to draw in a lot of locals who work outside of downtown to come in & see what all is going on downtown.

    It’s been said 80% of success is showing up. There’s a lot more hungry, thirsty people downtown on a Sunday than Mon-Thurs this time of year.

    This is a good review of one person’s experience. Thanks for posting it Stu.

    • luther blissett says:

      “It is NUTS in a tourist town to remain closed on a nice spring Sunday.”

      Yeah, you’d think that a bunch of them would open for Sunday brunch and put on special menus and make a big deal about–

      Oh, they do.

  8. Yet another great review, Stu!

  9. Closed on Sunday in a tourist heavy town. The same business will complain when they go out of business and blame it on the chains.

  10. Stu, I think you’ve found a real market opportunity here. You should take some of your hard earned allowance from Mom and open a place that’s open 7 days a week. Don’t forget, the late night drunks always complain that there’s not enough options for their after drinking binge eating. You could be open 24/7/365. And you’d be packed out at all times because, well, who wouldn’t want to eat at the famous Stu Helm Sunday Supper Club? And the beauty is, the profit in the restaurant business is OBSCENE Stu. You could just have people do the work for you. Heck, you could probably even afford to to have somebody ride bikey around and deliver your little newspaper for you.

    Bottom line is that there were plenty of places open for you to choose from. But they were too crowded, or the line was too long, or they had big TV’s. Wah, Wah, Wah. You should have just picked one of those places with the long line and walked in and said HEY, Stu Fu**in Helm is in the house. Of course they would all know you because you’re world famous. It would be like Moses parting the Red Sea to get you to the front. Men women and children would gladly give up their tables, and maybe the food they just ordered if they thought it was good enough for you.

    Get that place open fast Stu. That way, you can go on a public forum and kick your competitors right in the balls because they choose to take a day off and give their employees one too.

    • mmmm, bitterness from a local restauranteur? Let’s not forget that Asheville is not only a tourist town. There are locals who enjoy a day out supporting other locals (restaurants and their employees) and gasp! on a Sunday. Keep up the good work Stu, I applaud you and your efforts to not give a glazed over bullshit review. There are alot of less than stellar eateries around these parts. Just because you opened a restaurant here in the land of the hip doesn’t mean we should all look past mediocre fare and even worse service.

      • Oh pffffft. So close. I’m a retired owner of a landscaping outfit who believes all businesses should close on Sunday. But I eat at restaurants. Does that count? Thanks for playing.

    • Responding to this offensive little rant from Harry is clearly what he wants, as he’s obviously desperately craving some attention – but I can’t stop myself. These presumptuous remarks are needlessly callous and reek of envy and misplaced anger.

      Every week Stu writes this column to amuse readers while simultaneously offering up useful information. He does this – for FREE. Every month Stu writes and designs a free children’s newspaper, benefitting the community – for FREE. And, almost every DAY he rides his bike around town re-stocking local business with these papers – for FREE, all the while not polluting the air with toxic fumes from a car. He does this all while maintaining his own, successful graphic design business. And the assertion that his mother (lovely as she is) somehow supplements his lifestyle is hysterical.

      I just felt a need to dispel some of the strange mythology that some of the commenters have developed for this very real person. So there ya go.

  11. Stu, you need to start drinking again, then you will be ready for The Onion

  12. As always I enjoyed the rant. And the B-corn is open from 11am-10pm on Sundays. Just sayin’!

  13. My favorite part of this entire review:
    “…the buskers were fucking killing me with their “racka racka racka” washboard jamboree.

    Hey, Busky! Why don’t you put that thing to it’s proper use and wash your fucking clothes with it!”

    Bahahahah! “Racka racka racka!”

    The Southern (next door to LAB) is open Sundays, and the food I’ve eaten there has been quite good. Service varies from great to indifferent, but never truly bad. The patio is ideal for people watching, too, but with your aversion to sunshine you might prefer sitting inside, where it’s nicely cool and dim. I’m a fan of the Sunday make-your-own Bloody Mary bar, but last time I was there, whoever was supposed to keep it stocked and neatened up wasn’t doing their job.

    Also, when you’re using “its” as a possessive, no need for an apostrophe.

    xo, Stu!

  14. I feel your pain, and yet I have to give a big shout out to all my people who have worked the brunch shift. Sunday brunch is a unique, special meal, and certainly my favorite. I go to Limones every chance I get, and I’m glad to say that they also serve brunch on Saturday.

    Brunch is tricky. Patrons are often experiencing low blood-sugar because they don’t normally wait so late to eat, or they’re impatient to get a seat exactly at Noon when they can order a Bloody Mary, or they’re hungover. Then there’s the trifecta: water, coffee, and brunch beverage… all which must be filled constantly. Of course there’s the back of the house too. This is the only day of the week where you switch your entire menu up, ordering and prepping items you don’t normally have in the kitchen.

    The last fact is usually the reason restaurants have got to take a break. If they’re open for dinner, it takes time to get everything switched over and back in it’s place. The other reason is simply that the staff needs to eat too, and probably haven’t eaten since 8am if at all, and imagine if you didn’t get to eat until 3pm!

    Now that I don’t work Brunch, I love to go out to Brunch or make it myself. But I learned a long time ago to not wait until 3. That’s why all the places you mentioned that were busy are so full and crazy looking!

  15. Bad move. Should have slogged up Haywood into west asheville. Several cheaper delicious closer and closer together options to chose from with fewer tourists. Mouth watering thinking of King daddy’s heirloom style … Hindsight

  16. I prefer places that choose to close on Mondays. It seems most places would pick up on the fact that the overall chances of getting tourists, and even locals, in your establishment is going to be higher on Sunday over Monday. Get a clue folks.

  17. Every Sunday, I see numerous, what I assume to be tourist, walking around in the RAD. And they look confused, because they are looking at a map that no doubt sings praises about the RAD, except for one tiny detail. A lot of it is closed.

  18. joyce abeles says:

    Well, Stu, we are enjoying the hell out of your reviews – you are hilarious! Keep eating, keep critiquing, and keep up the good work! I love Asheville and really appreciate a fucking sense of humor – just sayin…

  19. Excellent review Stu

  20. You know the whole “slice of pizza” isn’t really Pura’s thing…whoops, am I aiming for “zero sense of humor” also…?

    • No, not necessarily, but… “slice” was, like one word out of hundreds. It’s interesting that you would hone in on it. It’s a little nit-picky, I would say, and does seem to miss the point of my piece. I’m not trying to harsh out on you, TacTues, but seriously, I wasn’t looking for a “slice,” as much as I was looking for a place to eat. I thought I made that super clear.

      And, not for nothin’, pizza is popular for lunch or on a Sunday in pie form as well. You might have noticed. From living in America.

    • I was gonna say the same thing. Pizza Pura isnt interested in doing high volume, or slices. Its not that kind of place. I pleaded with them to no end to be open for lunch but they feel like they are at their best when they can focus on one crowd a day. It is what it is. and it sucks, but I get it.

  21. Yeah, you’re gonna get hammered on this one Stu,
    “NoLunchForYou….. NEXT.”

  22. luther blissett says:

    Is Stu going to mention how many other meal-seekers were down in the RAD around 2pm on a Sunday? I’d guess: not that many. There are two main kinds of Sunday diners in town: the mid-morning brunchers and the after-churchers. That’s who the restaurants are catering to, and if you don’t fit, well, you still have choices downtown or out West.

    Pizza Pura stopped doing lunch service in *June last year* to fine-tune their operations after a few hectic early months (and, frankly, some complaints that they weren’t able to get people their pizzas before their lunch hours were over). This was announced in the MX, it was mentioned in the C-T. If you want them to be open at lunchtime, then see if they’re hiring and roll up your damn sleeves.

    With indie here. Use your fucking phone. Or hire yourself a personal chef so you can get fed whenever you want.

  23. Jessica Blalock says:

    7 Sows should have seated you anyway. Three minutes? What in the world could have ABSOLUTELY NEEDED to be done in those three minutes that you couldn’t have been seated anyway? Really? Shame on 7 Sows.

    • This comment displays a stunning lack of how hospitality service works..

      If you seat a table today at 4:57… Tomorrow you will be expected to seat people at 4:55.. by next week you will have people expecting a table at 4:30

      The food doesn’t make itself. The dining room doesn’t straighten itself.. the toilets are not self cleaning. Employees are not robots that can work breakfast through dinner with no breaks.

      Businesses establish hours of regular operation and have to adhere to them. Running a restaurant service is a carefully managed system involving dozens of people in varied jobs, producing different items or services for different customers at different times.

      Especially a place like Seven Sows, Marketplace, Admiral.. where the menu changes daily.. An asshole like you wants to be seated early, then bitch when your drink takes too long because the bartender hasnt finished cutting fruit… or the osso bucco special is still braising..

  24. I prefer places that close to recharge the owners and staff. Get a f’n phone and see what’s open before biking around, dude.

    • Well, that didn’t take long!

      Congrats, Indie, on winning my second ever Peevie Award!

      Here’s why:

      1) You have essentially written, in so many words, that I “need to calm down and not get so worked up about these things,” which I did specifically mentioned would garner a Peevie.

      2) Your inane suggestion that “get a f’n phone” is attached to a column in which I have written, very plainly, and for the first time in one of my columns, that I ” looked at my iPhone.” The assumption can thus be made by you, the reader, that I do indeed have “a f’n phone.”

      3) That should really be “an f’n’ phone.” Jus’ sayin’.

      4) You seem to have missed the point of my column entirely.

      And finally, and most egregiously…

      5) You seem to have zero sense of humor.

      For those reason, Indie, you are the winner of the second ever Peevie Award! It’ll e part of the history books from now on. Conrats again.

      • We can meet up and exchange it for the dummie award. Given to a guy who bikes around a hilly town , in possession of a phone, knows it is Sunday when many places are closed, doesn’t check on whether open, complains a lot about closures and bores others with his complaint.

        Last, there is no point to your “column”.

      • This is not the first time you have thrown around these accusations when someone criticizes your articles:
        “You seem to have missed the point of my column entirely” and “you seem to have zero sense of humor.”

        It is very interesting to see a CRITIC that is so bad at receiving criticism.

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