Jason Sandford

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

  • 1

stuhelmthefoodcritic_logo_2014_72DPIBy Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

How’s things? Good? Good. Did you have a good Thanksgiving? Good. We did too. We ate out. Surprise surprise. Dawn and I went to King James Pub with the Parental Units and enjoyed an incredibly tasty take on the traditional T-day turkey and trimmings. (Whoa. That was a lot of alliteration!) Deviled quail eggs, squash soup, stuffing fritters, and sweet potato pie were among the offerings, along with some very succulent slices of turkey, and more. It was all excellent! The one thing that wasn’t perfect: The turkey could have been served a little hotter. We’ve been running into some temperature issues lately, not usually at KJP, but mostly at venues and events that are attempting to serve one thing to a lot of people all at the same time. I guess that’s just a hard thing to do.

Dawn and I recently attended a Blind Pig event, and of course the food was fucking amazing, but one or two items could have been served hotter for my tastes. I likes my hot food hot. Like, HOT hot. It’s crucial. My mom talks about the “Three T’s: Taste, texture, and temperature.” Taste is primary, but temperature can effect everything.

I also had a couple of unappetizingly cold, deep fried items at the Taste of Asheville. Hot, fresh deep fried things are the bomb-diggity-ass-bomb, but as soon as they cool down, they start to loose their magic. Served cold…  blech. Now of course, I give a lot of wiggle room to every single one of the venues, chefs, servers and anyone involved in providing me food that’s maybe not the hottest at special events, because as I said, it is not easy to serve lots of hot food to lots of hungry people all at the same time and have everything stay hot. I’d rather have chefs TRY to serve hot food, than cop-out and offer a whole meal of cold cuts and potato salad…  nomesayin’? “A” for effort in all cases.

Okay, anyhoo, let’s talk about that Blind Pig event in more deets…


I’m not hip.  I’m not cool.  I don’t know jack shit about jack shit.  I don’t like things that other people like and I love things that nobody fucking gets.  I am not a fan of the movie, The Big Lebowski, for example.  I’ve seen it, and I thought it was pretty good.  Funny.  Then I moved on.  I never really understood the cult following aspect, but I don’t understand a LOT of shit in this world, so whatevs.

I also didn’t know jack-diddily-shit about the Blind Pig Supper Club. I’d heard rumors, stories, accolades, but I was clueless as to WTF it actually was. A secret society? That eats stuff? In weird places, like barns ‘n’ shit?  Cool!  How do I join?  Or do you gotta be invited? Fuck. I’ll never be cool enough to be invited to clandestine food society meetings!  Faaahhhck!  I want secret foood!!! When I got offered 2 passes through Ashvegas by Chef Mike Moore to come to a recent Blind Pig event, I just about shit myself. Yay! I’m IN. I’m COOL. I’m a member of an awesome exclusive club! Now, I just need to learn what it is. I asked Dawn. She knows everything.

She looks shit up online.

If you want to learn more about Blind Pig, you should do that yourselves, or ask Dawn. Here’s my basic understanding:  The general public can buy tickets in advance for an upcoming dinner, that has a theme, a guest chef, and takes place in an out-of-the-ordinary venue. All the pertinents are kept a complete secret until a few days before the event, so you basically buy your tickets “blind,” not knowing the who, what, and where of it all until you’ve already plunked your money. Neat. Some of the mun goes to charities. The night we attended benefitted people with Parkinson’s disease. I like that.

Okay, so aaanyhhhhhhhhhh….  A few days beforehand, the event title, chef, and venue were announced: Chef Sam from Ambrozia, at the Sky Lanes bowling alley, with the candlestick….  no wait, that’s Clue…  Chef Sam, bowling alley, “Pig Lebowski.” My first thoughts: Meh. NOT because of Chef Sam!!! Hell, no! I love that guy and I love his cooking! But, as I mentioned, I’m not a huge fan of the movie, and I kinda wasn’t pumped about eating in a bowling alley. For some reason, a barn sounded more elegant to me at the time. Dawn felt the same. You should have heard us GRO– — USE, bitch, moan, and complain about our free tix to this awesome event the night before!  Ha ha! We truly suck.

“The Big Lebowski?!? What the fuck is it about that fucking movie that every fuckin’ body fuckin’ loves?”

“Seriously? And a bowling alley? It’s gonna smell. Do we have to bowl?”

“FUCK no. I hate group activities.”

“I hate the shoes.”

“We are not bowling.”

Before I type another word…  let me just say: We had a fucking great time, and enjoyed ourselves very much.

As I said in the intro the food was amazing. Chef Sam and company hit it out of the park… er, I mean, bowled a perfect…  fraaame?

I could describe each dish to you, but what’s the point of that? It was all special and unique to that night, and ain’t a part of any regular menu that y’all can go eat off of. I’ll just say that Chef Sam has never served me a dud, anywhere or anytime, so go try his food up there at Ambrozia on Merrimon ave in NAVL.  ou can see pictures and read full descriptions of the food from that night on my facebook page.

Here are some highlights of the evening:

• The Bowling Alley! –  It was actually pretty cool eating fancy-pants food in a bowling alley. The lighting was awesome, mostly provided by disco balls, neon signs, and arcade games. The sound of people bowling was strangely relaxing, and everyone was having a lot of fun. Alan and Tonia from Alan’s Jewelry and Pawn were bowling!  I’m sorry, but it excited me that they were there. They’s like celebs! Also, I used to do art and graphic design for them, but we never met. I should have introduced myself, but unfortch, I was feeling really shy that night. Not a great night to be anti-social, but whatever. I’m a moody little princess.

• The People!  – We were seated next to a really nice couple named the Hornbuckles, and we enjoyed their company very much! They had great insights into the food scene, and the were very upbeat, and fun loving. I feel like I need to apologize to them both for my less that scintillating social skills that night. Sorry, Hornbuckles! Next time. More fun from my end of the table.

• A Secret Gift! – On our way out the door, I received a secret gift that was palmed-off in a furtive hand gesture by a Food Critic reader who shall remain nameless. Fuckin’ aye! Yeahhhhhhhhhhh, Man!!! Thanks, Nameless Food Critic Reader!  I abide. (Sorry, Dawn, I said I was going to use that joke, and I did.)

Lowlights included:

• I Was Cold –  It was cold where we sat. We made the mistake of sitting near the smokers, who kept going in and out of the door to smoke, letting cold cigarettey air waft in each time. I think that contributed to the food temp not being optimal.

• Bar Coffee – Although I am super grateful to the awesome Sky Lanes bartenders for hooking a brother up with a cup of joe, it was, as might be expected and to no one’s surprise, a styrofoam cup full of luke warm dish water. Maybe Blind Pig could offer pour-overs from my guy the Coffee Pedlar or some such in the future? I dunno. Yeah, yeah, I suck for not drinking the drinks, but c’mon…  coffee isn’t a strange thing to offer people at dinner, is it?

Here are my take-aways:

• If you can afford to attend a Blind Pig event, do it!  Totally worth it. I know we got comped our tix, but Dawn and I regularly plunk boo-coo duckets to eat fine food and have fun experiences, and this meal was right in line with what we would expect to pay for such a thing. Not cheap. But well worth it. Especially with the charity aspect.

•  It’s clubby.  As in, we were definitely “newbies” to a group of people who seemed to know each other pretty well from previous events. One lady even called me a “virgin.” Spit. Take.

So, the question was asked: Will Dawn and I attend another Blind Pig? That’s hard to say. We are not the most social creatures on the planet. I mean, we like people. Mostly in onesies ‘n’ twosies. Small groups. Like, if me and Dawn and Tonia and Alan had dinner together, I’d be a regular ol’ chatty Cathy, but in a big crowd of other people…  naw. I’ll just eat my pork belly in the corner over here.

My point is that if you are thinking about going to a Blind Pig event, it will likely be awesome, just be prepared to pay the ultimate price of being around other people in a group setting that has a social aspect to it.

TASTE OF ASHEVILLE – The Venue, Downtown Asheville

Taste of Asheville is an annual event that is very similar to the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, only it’s smaller, more intimate, and features nothing but local, indie restaurants, and food makers. It’s hosted by Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR), headed up by the lovely, statuesque, and always well coifed Jane Anderson. I had coffee with Jane back in August or so, and she extended two invites to The Taste for me and Dawn. Yeah, man!

It was held at The Venue, which is on Market Street, and is a very nice, multi-level space available for events and such. We got there early and stood in the VIP line, until an official Venue guy walking the line asked us for our tickets. “We don’t have tickets,” I said, “We’re friends of Jane?”

He waved us out of line in stone-faced silence, past the other VIP ticket holders to a doorway, where another official looking person momentarily stopped us from entering.  The man who had waved us out of line said, “These are friends of Jane.” The person at the door waved us through, telling the next person in advance, “These two are friends of Jane.”  The next person we saw was Jane. Big hugs! Awesome dress. Thanks, Jane, you rule!

What can I say about this event? All my favorite fucking people were there, offering all of my favorite fucking things to eat!   The first three tables I saw were Ultimate Ice Cream, City Bakery, and Karen Donatelli. All my friends! All offering amazing small-sized samps of their awesome stuff. I pigged the fuck out and I know I am not alone in that.  Can you say: “feeding frenzy?”

Here are some highlights:


– I showed up hungry, and Pack’s Tavern offered up some very nice, comforting mac ‘n cheese that really hit the spot right away.

Laughing Seed also had some extremely good sauteed mushrooms, and cheese grits on their table, which made me wanna go back to their restaurant after what has been a long hiatus.

King James Pub served me an incredible little bowl of étouffee. These guys are nailing it lately.

– Coffee! A family-owned wholesaler named Royal Cup was providing coffee that night, and the guy made me an Americano that I enjoyed very much!

Chestnut, Lobster Trap, Sunny Point, and Brasilia Steak House all offered up some tasty treats, but the surprise winner of the evening for me was the fucking Bier Garden of all places! They were giving out a very nice little lamb chop that was cooked and seasoned perfectly, and was served piping hot. It was incredibly tender, and very fucking tasty and good. Plus, I found the tiny lamb chop format is a very easy one to deal with in the setting of a food fest. You hold onto the itty-bitty bone and gnaw off everything else. Easy to eat, tasty as fuck… cute. Four stars Bier Garden!


– I met Chef Elliot Moss!!!  I’d been hearing his name for a couple of years, and we’d spied each other from across the room at more than one event, but there he was at the Chai Pani table, so I finally got a chance to introduce myself. One of the things I enjoy about these events is that it’s an opportunity for an average shmoe like me or you to meet the top chefs in town. Okay, yes, I am the world famous Food Critic now, but the guy who met Elliot Moss right before me isn’t and neither is the lady who met him after me. They might be famous folks in their own right, or just your average ticket holder, either way, I think it’s pretty dang cool to meet the chefs  I also got to meet the awesome, lovely, and all around super-nice, Elizabeth Button! I was slightly star-struck for once in my life. Talk about a class act! We took a selfie.

– Meeting the readers is always exciting for me, and Amy from the Chamber of Commerce was excited to meet me too! I seem to always run into a certain Mr. Cohen at these events and it was nice to meet his wife for the first time. I love my fellow food fans! If you see me at an event, go ahead and introduce yourself! But if we’ve never met before, please don’t just say, “Hi Stu!” That will confuse the fuck out of me. I am easily confused.

– My fave conversation was with Chef Joe Scully from Corner Kitchen and Chestnut. I especially enjoyed it, because I know there was a time when he wasn’t sure if he liked me or not, which made me unsure of whether or not I liked him. Now we laugh it up, and shoot the shit like old buddies. It’s indicative to me of the friendliness of this town and this food scene in general. If a couple of grouchy old assholes like me and Joe can become friends, there’s some glimmer of hope in this world.

– Oh wait! My absolute fave conversation might have been with Bridget Bolding from Sunny Point, who smiled and told me that people still, to this day, come into Sunny Point and order “the best fucking shrimp ‘n’ grits ever” because of my review! Yeah, Man! I love that!!! And yes, Sunny Point really does have the best fucking shrimp ‘n’ grits ever.

All in all this was a really fun event, and there was tons of great food, and conversation – mostly about food – to be had! Asheville is just the right size for an event like this, and I’m already looking forward to next year. If you enjoy great local food and people, you will enjoy this event.

Oh, one more thing: The dresses and outfits that the women were wearing were outstanding as always. The very next one of these swanky food things that I go to, I’m taking pictures and giving out Stoobies (and maybe some Peevies) for the clothing.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.

  • 1

You Might also Like


  1. mjonnyquest December 20, 2014

    maybe Stuie should learn to cook at home. or maybe, God forbid, go cook in a commercial kitchen and see what it really all about.

  2. Pete Lyons December 13, 2014

    Stu was in my Sophomore Art class. He was short in stature, but clad in leather, safety pins, torn denim and Doc Martins. His drawings looked like portraits of friends he wished he had, but would never meet in that white-bread suburb. Lucky for him, he got out of dodge and, setup shop and proceeded to slayed giant demons with his creativity and art. He’s never stopped being, Stu. Not for one minute. To the haters and detractors, how about some credit for being an original and trying something new? I give Stu credit for putting himself out there. Potty-mouth or not.

  3. Tony December 13, 2014

    Is all the vulgarity really necessary in writing a food article? To be clear, I am not offended by profanity, but I find it distracting and immature in this context. I tend to skip over Stu’s articles for this reason. Plus, his comments rarely give me proper insight into the places he is reviewing. Otherwise, I love the Ashvegas. Thanks guys!

    1. Me December 15, 2014

      I agree. Occasionally I look at an article to see how awful it is. Otherwise I never look at them.

    2. Big Al December 15, 2014

      “I tend to skip over Stu’s articles for this reason.”

      And yet you are familiar enough with him to comment here?


  4. poopbot December 13, 2014

    Stusan reinhardt!! Get it?! Who’s with me?

  5. West Aville foodie & reader December 12, 2014

    I read Stu because his writing is ($&@#%hilarious!!!!
    I also get periodical ideas of places & dishes I might want to
    try…but mainly and –especially if a laugh (face atrophying
    laughter) is needed…I can guarantee that I’ll read and
    find myself grinning ear-to-ear!!!….additionally, I too was
    wondering about food details of the Blind Pig dinner reviewed.

  6. Stewart December 11, 2014

    “A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.”
    Leo Tolstoy

    “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” Albert Schweitzer

    1. Harry December 12, 2014

      I love to hunt and eat wild game. I’m a fairly decent marksman, so there’s no pain and suffering. Much less pain and suffering than listening to a whiny a$$ vegan.

      1. Ashevillian December 12, 2014

        Sounds to me like you are doing the whining Harry.

  7. Sarah December 10, 2014

    it might be nice if the FOOD critic told us about the FOOD he ate at the blind pig dinner? I’ve never commented on any of Stu’s posts before but this one is seriously awful. He sounds like a teenager more concerned about his popularity and “likes” and invitations than anything else. It’s actually quite sad and pathetic. Used to enjoy his posts about the food. I won’t troll future posts like Stu’s many haters, but I sure won’t be tuning in to his posts anymore. Snore.

    1. Harry December 10, 2014

      That moment when you realize what this ass clown is all about.

      1. radio follower December 11, 2014

        Stu rocks! Hell, if I met him, I would be giggling teenager!

        1. Harry December 12, 2014

          And your parents would be proud. I’m almost certain of it.

          1. radio follower December 15, 2014

            My parents would be proud, Harry. Unlike you, they’re not uptight!

          2. Harry December 15, 2014

            Yes, I’m sure that your parents are delightful, classy people who taught you to “giggle like a teenager” whenever reading the profane ramblings of a moron.

  8. Harry December 10, 2014

    You realize you have no credibility, right?

    1. Adam December 11, 2014

      It dwindles with every misspelled word and colloquialism.

      Perhaps “Stu Helm: Food culture and Dining atmosphere critic” would be more apropos.

      1. poopbot December 13, 2014

        Stusan Reinhardt!

    2. Z December 12, 2014

      But you still read this and commented!!! Ha ha ha!! You dumb shit!! You just gave him credibility!! Cha Ching!

      1. Harry December 15, 2014

        Actually, no. I didn’t read it. I read the title only. Once you’ve read one of Stu’s pieces, they all sound the same after that.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Stories