stuhelmthefoodcritic_logo_2014_72DPIBy Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

I fucking love you.

I love this town. I love these mountains. I even love the people.

I’m so glad I moved here. Thanks for being awesome.

Here’s a couple recent food related anecdotes that are great examples of why I love the good people of Asheville:

• While I was buying some apricots at The French Broad Food Co-op, the cashier found a small, innocuous bug on one of them. Nothing gross, just a cute l’il ol’ bug of some kind. He brushed it into his hand, walked over to the door, and set it free. When I asked him if that was indeed what I had just witnessed, he laughed and sheepishly confirmed my suspicions. He is now my new favorite person ever.

• After that, I was in a good mood, so I decided to treat myself to Mamacitas, right across the street. As I was paying for my tamales, it started to rain like a motherfucker outside, pouring down by the bucketful. The cashier asked me if I’d ridden my bike, I said yes, and she commiserated. Then she added, “Well, the rain is the reason it’s so green and lush around here.” I couldn’t argue with that! I personally enjoy the lushness very much, and I’m not even talking about the hippie kind bud… but now that I mention it… yeah, Man, bring on that fucking rain! Thank you, Cashier Lady. Your positive mental attitude (PMA) totally rubbed off on me and kept me from being angry at the weather. By the time I finished my excellent meal, the rain had stopped.

• A few days prior to all that I got a beet salad from All Souls Pizza. It was fucking amazing. They make awesome salads there. It had butter lettuce, and big chunks of roasted beets, and other good things including a plant that I had never seen before. It was semi-succulent, juicy, and mild. It had thick pinkish stems and round, soft leaves. I loved it! I asked the waiter about it and he said it’s something called “Purslane.”

He went on to add, “It grows wild around here, all over the place, like, in back yards, and even in the cracks of the sidewalks. Nobody pays any attention to it, but the funny thing is, it’s a super-food.”

Fuck. Yes. And you are a super-waiter, my friend. I asked you what something was, and you fucking knew! You were proud and enthused to share your knowledge with me, and not ashamed at all to admit that the stuff on the salad I just ate grows in the cracks of the dang sidewalk.

A few days later I found some of this shit in my own back yard! I looked it up on line to make sure I wasn’t about to eat deadly nightshade or anything like that, and found out that it’s known by several other names, including: duckweed, fatweed, verdolagas, wild portulaca, pursley, and pussley.

I like calling it pussley.

As in: I looove to eat pussley! I’m gonna eat lots of pussley aaalll Summer long! I can’t get enough… you get the idea.

Pussley.

Sounds like pussy.

Here’s a review of a restaurant…

RHUBARB – Pack Square, Downtown Asheville

Speaking of locally foraged stuff, I recently ate at Rhubarb two days in a row and both times I devoured some amazing, locally foraged chicken of the wood mushrooms, lightly battered and deep fried with other veggies in a tempura style that they call Frito Misto. The mushrooms and other stuff were all local, seasonal, and awesome!

Rhubarb is one of the hot new places in town and I’ve been meaning to review it for some time. I’ve been there four times now, and for the most part I love it! I’ve had a 2 clunker dishes, but mostly I have enjoyed the food very much!

I’ll start with the clunkers, since I brought them up: The Brown Sugar-Benne Popcorn appetizer did absolutely nothing for me, and it made Dawn angry. We had high hopes for it, since we love the popcorn app at Storm, and thought it might be equally delish. We did not find it so. It was served room temp (the app at Storm is warm) and was kind of stuck together in a big lump. It was super-sweet and cloying to me, and I commented to Dawn that it was like cracker jack but without the peanuts, or prize. We gave it two thumbs down. The kale chip appetizer was likewise disappointing. It just wasn’t awesome, which is what we expect from a place like Rhubarb. But, fuck those two dishes, everything else I’ve eaten there has been fuckin’ aye good!

One of the waitstaff at Rhubarb contacted me recently, and invited me to come eat there during her shift, so I did. Her name is Jessica and come to find out, she pretty much rules. I tried to catch her at 4pm, but her shift hadn’t started. That’s when I had the frito misto for the first time. Then it started pouring down rain (yep, it’s Summertime here in A-town) and I had to chill at the bar for so long she eventually came in, saw me, and we chatted. I made a reservation for dinner the very next night.

She sat me at small table, which I liked because I am a small person, but it was really close to the kitchen so I was sweating my bag off the whole time. That’s not a complaint. Just an explanation for the really sweaty looking pictures of myself that I took while there. It was actually a good thing that I was next to the kitchen, because they were taking care of me, sending out small plates for me to sample as soon as I had finished the dish in front of me. It was a tasty parade of goodnesses galore!

Here’s what I ate, in the order I ate it in:

• House-made Saltines, with Sausage and Pickled Stuff – I love Saltines. They are one of my all-time fave foods ever. I know, I know, they are the dry-wall of the cracker family, but what can I say? I’m a fan of salt, and flour, and that’s what a Saltine basically is, right? These house-made ones were really good! They had an artisanal feel to them, and I could tell they were made with quality ingreeds. The sausage was light, flavorful, sliced thin, and went great with the ‘tines ‘n’ pickles. One of the two wee piles of pickles was sweet, and of the “bread ‘n’ butter” variety, just like my actual grandmother used to actually make. It was remarkably like hers! I loved it. The other wee pile was very savory and tangy. It all went great together, piled on those saltines, or just in little bites of each. Yum!!!

• Lobster Corn Dog & Misto Frito Mushrooms – I should say that Rhubarb seems to have a whole, “high brow / low brow” thing going on with the food. Terms like “corn dog,” “Saltine,” and ‘fried pie” are all over the menu, but everything is made with high-end ingredients, given a culinary twist, and presented in a contemporary style and setting. The lobster corn-dog is basically lobster, battered in corn meal, and deep fried on a stick. It’s got nothing to do, at all, whatsoever with hot dogs. Get that out of your head right now. It is really fucking good! I love lobster, and they do it justice here. It comes with a dish of something they call “come back sauce,” which sounds a little bit like an acid reflux disorder, or possibly a kinky sex thing, but is really a delicious creamy dippin’ sauce that is mild but tasty and goes perfectly with the lobster corn dogs. The chicken of the wood misto was every bit as good as it had been the day before. The batter was light & very crispy and the sauce that it came with was equally as tasty, if not as memorably named as the come back sauce.

• Korean BBQ Lamb Ribs w/ Kimchee – I gotta admit I’m not the biggest fan of lamb… or kimchee… but I’m game! When they brought this plate out, I figured it would be good no matter what my preconceptions were, and geared-up to tuck in and give it a try. The ribs were pretty much what I expected: a smoky, sweet korean BBQ flavor, on a high quality chop. I chewed every lamby bit off the bone and enjoyed it very much. The kimchee was very salty, and appropriately tart, which cut into the sweetness of the sauce nicely. There was extra sauce on the plate that helped me get the last bit o’ kimchee down. Kimchee makes me sweat… even more than usual.

• Octopus a la Plancha – I don’t eat a lot of 8-legged things. Squid, octopus… tarantulas… I don’t really order many of those guys. More the first two than the last, but even those are rarely on the plate in front of me. For some reason, I ordered Octopus a la Plancha the 2nd time I went to Rhubarb, and then they brought it to me again when I went as Jessica’s invited guest. It is, by far, without a doubt, the best 8-legged thing I have ever eaten in my life. Holy shit. The pieces of octopi are so tender, and smokey, and melt-in-your-mouthy that I actually find myself craving this dish from time to time. Me. Craving pi. Weird. Good job, Rhubarb, this dish is fucking stellar.

ASIDE: When I originally posted a picture of the pi-plancha on Facebook, I typed, “Best octopus I ever had. That cuke salad on top was soops salty though. It was the only thing I didn’t finish on this otherwise awesome plate of food.” But auto-correct changed “cuke” to “vile” and I didn’t notice! YIKES!!! For about a half-a-panicky-minute it said “That vile salad on top…”

• Looking Glass Goat Cheese Gnudi – AKA “Naked Rovioli” – You can look-up gnudi online to see what it’s all about, but basically it’s the insides of a ravioli, somehow magically stuck together without any pasta casing. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t give a shit. Part of what I like about eating out is that I don’t have to know how to make any of this awesome food. I just have to eat it, and hopefully love it. I frickin’ LOVED this gnudi!!! It was the super-star dish of an evening full of great food. It came with roasted shallots, locally foraged mushrooms, Grana Padano cheese shavings, nettles, and toasted pumpkin seeds. Every ingredient was totes yummers to the max, and the whole dish was savory as fuck. It satisfied every part of my mind, soul, and body. I’m not even exaggerating. Right now, as I write this, my mouth is watering, my head is reeling, and I yearn in my heart for it. The sauce it came with was thin, and oily, in the most excellent way, and was perfectly matched with every other ingredient on the plate. I was already stuffed when they brought this out to me, and I managed to pack every single bite of it into my tiny frame. The bike ride home was a challenge.

• I wasn’t done yet, though, as Jessica brought out dessert: One of those fried pies, and various frozen stuff ‘n’ berry reductions on a giant plate. I thought I might literally die from being full, but I proved to myself that I have the heart of a champion and can go the distance when I need to. There was no fucking way on Earth I wasn’t eating the entire platter of sweets in front of me. The fried pie was insane in the membrane. In case you don’t know what a fried pie is (you Yankee scumbag! Oh, wait, I’m one of those.): Imagine a Hostess fruit pie, only way way way way better, with no frosting, just some straight-up sugar all over the outside. It was fuckin’ aye, wicked, titty-ass good, Yo, and I ain’t lyin’ to ya. The frozen stuff was really good too, but I failed to take note of what the names were. One thing was made with rhubarb — hey! — and was tart as FUUUUCK, but when you mixed it with one of the super-sweet berry reduction-type things on the plate, it was perfect. The other frozen thing was really good too… refreshing-like… I wish I could remember what it was… ah, fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Shits be changin’ all the time over there at Rhubarb, so by the time you get there, it’ll be different anyways. If you order something frozen, it’ll be weird, but good, that I can all but guarantee.

So, in confuckingclusion… Yay Rhubarb!

You got me to eat things I don’t normally eat, and I loved them! You served me up some old faves, and did it with style and creativity! You gave me cravings, and you introduced me to new concepts.

Jessica was awesome, she definitely gets a Stooby Award in the category of Asheville’s Best Servers. She was friendly, professional, and attractive, as well as very smart, funny, and charismatic! She made me feel really comfortable, took great care of me, and told me all about every dish. Thanks as well to Chef John, Chef Dean, and the whole Rhubarb staff. You guys rule.

You can see pictures of all the food, as well as of me and Jessica on my Facebook page.

Rhubarb is not cheap, but I think the food and service are totally worth it. I feel that as consumers we can choose whether or not we want to eat lobster, for example, and if we do choose to eat lobster, we pay whatever the going price for lobster is that day. That’s life.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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23 Comments

  1. Pay this guy?If I was in the food business I wouldn’t let somebody that scruffy in the door.He would scare off the paying customers.

  2. It does appear to the readers that Facebook stu is enjoying hanging around with James Beard finalists. I believe there is something brown on his nose . How does an idiot , who cannot write, get so much power?

    • I disagree in one respect. I think Stu does have the ability to write. I like his stream of consciousness style. He would be better if he would proof read his stuff first and find a new editor. The profanity rises to the level of junior high school stupidity. That type of humor usually wears thin pretty quick. It’s right up there with potty humor. A little goes a long way. And if you’re relatively intelligent, you grow out of it by the time you reach 18. Is Stu funny? I don’t know. He fancies himself a funny guy. I think he’d be fun to hang out with for very small periods of time. I can’t hang out with him though because he wants to beat me up LOL. The true test would be to see if he could entertain the readers here without all the F bombs. That’s up to him.

      I think that Stu failed to make a proper transition from one platform (Facebook), to another (widely read and respected blog). He thought he was still writing for his buddies. Who cares what you write on Facebook? If you’re going to stay relevent here, you kinda need to provide some value. I don’t think there is much value in a profanity laced diatribe about the free food being passed out by local restaurants to a self proclaimed food critic. And they don’t give away food for no reason. They want the guy to write positively about their food, restaurant, and service. How much stock can be placed in what Stu writes if he’s being wined and dined by restaurant owners as an invited guest? Again, if the food was not comped, I apologize. I also think that Stu has enough food knowledge that he could provide good old fashioned, down to earth food reviews of Asheville food, and do it in common, not overly profane, language.

  3. TOTALLY agree with you on the Goat Cheese Gnudi! I’ve been there 3 times and every time I tell myself I’m going to try something else on the menu, but I love it so much I end up ordering it again.

  4. Seems that restaurant owners are becoming aware that Stu can be bought.

    • Hm not true, and totally offensive that would suggest that. Jerk.

      Should I give bad reviews of good food so that you can feel secure?

      Jerk.

      Oh, wait… did I already call you a jerk? Yes, I did, so that’s twice, now let’s make it three times: Jerk.

      Unreal how a jerk like you (that’s four) feels like he can write whatever he wants here because of the anonymity. Would you say that to my face? I seriously doubt it.

      However, I have zero doubt in my mind that I would have no problem calling you a jerk to your face, five or six times, because you are indeed a jerk.

      Effing jerk. (Seven.)

      • Oh wow Stu. If i pegged you wrong, im sorry. How much of that food that came out of the kitchen at Rhubarb did you actually pay for?

        • boatrocker says:

          Not that I give a fart about poncy food critics, but I do give a fart about articulate questions to Harry’s question from July 3, 8:19am?

          Any chance of a non jerkyjerky answer? Otherwise wherever you eat I’ll encourage others not to, if only for cronyism. Worda mouth, that is.

          Not being on social media, I wouldn’t care about one’s FB page as you’re in the pocket of the NSA.

      • You realize the being “bought” doesn’t actually require you to lie, right? All it takes is “reviewing” a restaurant based on special service from the staff and kitchen that most people would never receive, and getting new levels of access and privilege (and free delicious snacks). Most people expect a restaurant review to be focused on the kind of experience that the average diner walking through the door will have, not a secret, special tasting menu that no one else can access. There’s probably an element of jealousy in the sniping, I know I definitely feel a bit of it, but it could just as easily be an inflated sense of propriety regarding how a critic is “supposed” to do their job.

        I think what Harry is saying is that casual food writing like what you’re doing here offers opportunities for restaurants to get free advertising in exchange for a few extra hors d’oeuvres and glimpses behind the scenes. By inviting you (or having their enthusiastic waitstaff invite you) to attend, they’re helping drive the coverage, and since they’re very conscious of the fact that they’re being written about, they can equally consciously put their best foot (and food) forward when they’re serving you. On a locally-focused booster blog like Ashvegas, this is all probably more of a feature than a bug, and Lord knows that you hardly need to climb on to some ethical high horse when you’re not even being paid to write these reviews. They just started as posts for friends on your own Facebook, after all. That said, Jason’s got you billed here as “The Food Critic,” and presents you as someone whose critical eye and uncompromising honesty make your opinion worthy of our notice. When the posts start veering into unpaid publicist territory, it can cause a little cognitive dissonance.

        • Thanks Nate. You nailed it and said it better than I ever could have.

          Sincerely,
          Jerky, jerk face, jerk butt, jerky jerk

        • Nate makes a good point. I love ya, Stu, but anonymity is part of what makes a restaurant review helpful.

          Your enthusiasm is great, your writing is fun to read, but it’s obvious you get special treatment that renders the review essentially meaningless for the average person.

          • boatrocker says:

            Hey Wow, are you one of those anonymous posters that Stu hates so much yet does not whine about when you come to his defense?

            How does anyone know that you aren’t on his payroll? Free food and all?
            If I knew it was that easy, I would’ve got a neck tattoo too.

            5:52pm July 7, 20014, AD.

    • The more I think about your comment, you anonymous troll, the more of an effing jerk I think you are.

      Questioning my integrity when you don’t even know me is so insulting, I feel as though you should apologize to me. For real. Jerk.

      “Bought?” That is such a jerk thing to write. You are such a jerk, I can’t even stand it. Jerky, jerk face, jerk butt,jerky jerk!

      I invite you to come over to my Facebook page, and read the things I wrote about you and your comment there, and then I further invite you to apologize to me there… where you cannot remain anonymous.

      I have a feeling, however, that you are way too much of a pussley to do that.

      Pussley.

      Sounds like pussy.

      Jerk.

      • Anonymous Troll Too says:

        It’s pretty standard for food critics not to accept freebies. That isn’t without reason.

        • Anonymous Troll Too says:

          I’ll still read because I value hearing opinions about the local places. But the any guy effect is gone.

      • Are you the same old guy that produces a free newspaper for the children of Asheville and delivers it on your bicycle?

        • boatrocker says:

          Hey Wow, are you one of those anonymous posters that Stu hates, yet does not whine about when you come to his defense?

          How does anyone know that you aren’t on his payroll?
          Free food and all?

          If I knew it was that easy, I would’ve got a neck tattoo too.

          6:01pm, July 7, 20014, AD.

    • boatrocker says:

      Seems that Harry raised a valid point, Stu responded with the ‘jerky jerky’ rebuttal but Harry’s point was never addressed. If that makes me a jerky jerky too, oh well. Not that I have a dog in this race, but Stu avoided the question. A simple observation.

      Good question- Who pays for that food indeed? If Stu, then more power. If it’s the girlfriend, then say so. If not, then your FB posts won’t do much to salvage a rep as a nepotist. I’d want that job. I’m better looking, can communicate in complete sentences in Standard American English and own a thesaurus. I can also say fuck fuck fuck if that’s what it takes.

  5. You didn’t need the “sounds like pussy,” we got it way before that………..wink.

    You had us at “I like calling it pussley,” well, at least the guys had it and 99% of the gals.

    • Um, yeah, no duh. That’s called selling the punchline way harder than I needed to in an attempt to be funny. Maybe I failed at the funny, but… yeah… Oversell. It’s a comedy technique. Done for laughs… because, y’know… pussley… sounds like pussy.

  6. I always eat the bug and stand in the rain with my mouth open to wash it down.

  7. Oops, I just realized that I called the ribs a “chop” in the Rhubarb review above. Please replace that word in your head with the word “rib.” As in: “high quality rib.” Sorry about that! I try to reread these things a bunch in order to catch my own mistakes, but you know… I miss some stuff.

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