Stu Helm, food critic, on Asheville vegan restaurant Plant

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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stuhelmthefoodcritic_logo_MXBO_2014_72DPIBy Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

Y’know what? I love you guys! I’m so fucking lucky to have such nice, friendly, and supportive readers! I’ve been psyched to meet you over the months, and I keep meeting more of you all the time! My mom was really pleased to be with me when — not one, not two but THREE — nice ladies stopped me in City Bakes a little while back, to thank me for my writing and say super-nice things to me! Just a day or so before that, as I stood outside of Karen Donatelli Bakery, I overheard two other nice ladies who were debating whether or not to enter, so I blurted out, “Best pastries in town!” One of them looked over at me and said, “Oh! And you’re… YOU.” It was really cool! I appreciate you all very much. Thank you!!!

Anyhoo, I just wanted to say that. Now for some food stuff…

PLANT – Merrimon Ave, Asheville

I dunno why it took us so long to eat at Plant. It’s been around for years, I’ve been hearing that it’s really good, I love veg and vegan food, and I used to live right in the same hood, but for some unknown reason, I never stopped in.

Then this Food Critic thing came along, and the readers were requesting that I go to Plant, so I kept telling Dawn, “We gotta go to Plant,” and then she read that their chef won a “Best of” award, so we finally made a reservation and we went to Plant! Whoo hoo! I’m glad we did!

Here’s some highlights:

• Parking – There’s plenty of parking at Plant, which I know some of you are majorly concerned about. I could give a shit, but that’s just me, I know the rest of the world is all, like, Car-Centric, so I’m letting you aaalll know right now that there’s plenty of parking at Plant.

• The Hostess – She was very friendly and welcoming and had totally awesome tattoos of a bunch stitches all over her that made her look like she was sewn together. Yeah, Man! I liked that!

• The Waitress – She was exactly what one might expect at a high-end Vegan joint: Mellow to the max, friendly, professional, and enthusiastically knowledgeable about the menu. We asked her questions and she gave us really good answers that showed she was not only familiar with, but obviously a fan of the food. She did spill non-dairy creamer all over the place and broke the wee little cream pitcher in the process, but she was so chill, and cool, and relaxed about it, as well as appropriately apologetic, that Dawn and I were all, like, “Oh, that’s no problem! You’re fiiine!” When you’re around chill people, it makes you feel chill too. Even a couple of hard-core haters like me and the D-unit can get down with some hippie love vibes in the right atmosphere.

• The Coffee – It was served French-press style, and was really good! You guys know I take 1/2 and 1/2 in my coffee, and that I bum-the-fuck-out when it’s not available, but if I’m sitting in a dairy-free zone — as I occasionally do — I adjust my expectations and enjoy my coffee with soy cream or whatever other weird shit the venue has to offer. The “creamer” at Plant gave my coffee a pleasant, nutty flavor that I enjoyed very much, and whisked me back to my hard-core vegetarian days. Tasted soy-y.

• Wine – Dawn had wine. The waitress helped her decide what kind of wine, based on the food she ordered. I have no frickin’ clue what they were talking about. Dawn said the wine was good, and when the “cheese” plate arrived, she suggested that she would be down for a return visit to Plant just for the wine and cheese combo. That tells me that the wine is really good, because Dawn is increasingly fussy about wine.

• Cheese Plate – Yeah, Man! Vegan cheese me! This plate had three kinds of delicious non-dairy cheese on it, made with cashews and some such other stuff, one of them was “live.” Plus there were sprouts, cornichons, fresh local fruit, and focaccia. There was also a sweet, honey drizzle that was the crowning touch. The bread seemed like it was flame-grilled? Not sure. Tasted awesome. Fucking perfect in fact.

• Entrees – I got a smoked portobello “porterhouse” that came with a delicious steak sauce and some grape tomatoes. There was also chard and “loaded” polenta involved and it was all very good! Dawn got the poblano stuffed tamale, that came with sauteed spinach, pickled onion, and “sour cream.” She reported to me that it was also very good.

I wouldn’t say that either of us went apeshit over our main courses, but the flavors were really good, and strong, and well rounded, and the plates were pretty to look at, and fun to eat. The price tag at Plant is a little on the steep side, but that won’t stop us from going back for that cheese plate, as well to try other items from their menu. I’m sure we’ll find some super-faves on there if we keep at it.

We had ice cream (made from something other than cream) for dessert, and that was really good too. I’m a huge ice cream fan/snob, and this ice cream aced the basic tests in taste, texture, and temperature. One of the flavors had whiskey or something like that in it, and was a little too boozey for me, not because I don’t drink, but just because it was too strong of a booze flavor in my opinion. Dawn liked it fine. We both loved the creamsicle flavor. It was just like the real thing, only way better!

Here’s the only two negatives about our visit to Plant:

• That horrible Chick-fil-A drive-thru I ranted about a few months ago is right the fuck across the street from Plant, and is truly an obnoxious presence. It was kind of funny to us at first that it’s directly across the street from one of the few vegan places in town, but eventually, as that giant-sized, bright-ass, ugly-as-fuck sign burned holes in my retinas while I sat inside of Plant trying to enjoy an expensive and elegantly presented meal, the funny wore off. Dawn’s back was to it, so she was spared. Next time I go to Plant, I’ll choose my own seat more wisely. Fuck you, Chick-fil-A. For real. You gotta be that much of a shitty neighbor? Yeah, ya do? It’s corporate policy? Okay, I guess that makes it all better. Not. At all. In the very least.

• The vegan fare, as it always does, left Dawn and me both with a terrible taste in our mouths later that night, and bad breath that lasted into the next day. Something about all that raw garlic, mixed with live enzymes, and soy products… or whatever… we don’t quite know what causes it, but there is a particular malodorous phenomenon know around Food Critic HQ known as “Veg Breath.” It’s real, my friends, and about 1/4 to 1/2 of the population of Asheville suffers from it on any given day. Tic-tacs are vegan, right?

So there you go! Plant. It’s great. We’ll go back.


I’ve been invited to be a judge at the 2014 Smiling Hara Tempeh Challenge, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Here’s a definition of tempeh, lifted directly from the Smiling Hara website:

“Tempeh (pronounced Tem-pay) is made by a natural culturing and controlled incubation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh’s fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and strong flavor. Because of its nutritional value and flavor, tempeh is used worldwide in vegetarian cuisine.”

I started eating tempeh back in the early 90’s when I was a vegetarian. It’s good stuff, and I still eat it now, even though I’m no longer veg. I can’t wait to see and taste what the awesome chefs and venues in the competition come up with! They are: Homegrown, Westville Pub, King James, Over Easy Cafe, West Village Market, Neo Burrito, BOM Bus, Luella’s and Buffalo Nickel.

The event is on Sunday, October 26th, from 2-6 p.m. at The Boathouse (318 Riverside Dr, Asheville)

Visit their Facebook Event Page for more deets.

I’ll keep you posted, and I hope to see you there!


King James Public House is now open every day for lunch and they gave me three $20 lunch cards to give away to you guys.

I already gave away two on my Facebook Page, and I’ll give the third one away next week.

I’m trying to pass along some of my good fortune to you guys, as well as to spread the good word about one of my fave new restaurants in Asheville!

Please tune in to my Facebook page to enter and possibly win free lunch next week!


In an effort to drive traffic to my brand new blog, I’ve been posting all kinds of extra pictures, and stories, and little tidbits that I hope you guys will enjoy.

I’ve just started a brand new photo series there that I’m calling “The Jonas Gerard Project,” in which I make Jonas Gerard paintings on my plate after I’m done eating. My first one is titled “I Hueart Huevos.”

Please visit my blog, and join in the fun! I’d love to see some of your Jonas Gerard plates too!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.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. Headhunter September 24, 2014

    Looks like we have another entrant in the Asheville food critic scene with Robyn. Is this town big enough for Stu, Drexler and Robyn? Tune back in next week for the next episode of As the Food Critic Churns.

  2. cwk September 24, 2014

    The ambiance inside is great though. The lighting is low, there is a comfortable din, its cosy but also contemporary.

    I see what you are saying- they are missing an opportunity to improve their outdoor area. It’s a pretty standard restaurant patio though.

  3. Curious September 24, 2014

    I bet you if someone gave Stu a free Chick Fil A, he would eat it.

    1. Harry September 26, 2014

      And then write good things about them regardless of how ridiculous it appeared.

  4. Big Al September 24, 2014

    The review of Plant started out OK but quickly devolved into pettiness.

    You hate fast-food/anti-gay Chick-Fil-A. OK, we get it.

    But making an sign that you find annoying into proof of deliberate and corporate bad-neighborship is just silly and self-absorbed.

  5. LEW September 24, 2014

    I’ll make it three! : )

  6. chris September 23, 2014

    What has happened to the world? A Stu Helm post with only one comment?

  7. robyn September 22, 2014

    a fun to read honest review. As I noted in my review
    the ambiance at Plant is a drawback to the dining experience.


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