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This is the 2nd installment of my annual Food Fan Awards for the year 2021! Scroll down to see & read about the nominees in the category of MEAT!

The Food Fan Awards aka “The Stoobies” are entirely the opinion on one person, me, Stu Helm. You may or may not agree with my choices, as your experiences and personal tastes may differ from mine. The people, places, and things featured in this, and the other installments of these nominations and awards were the most notable of the previous year to me.

NOTE: For this installment I use the term “Best of” as well as “of the Year.” Same diff.


BEST RIBS OF 2021

New category! There’s a lot of ribs available in this town, and while I haven’t tried them all by a long shot, I’ve tried a bunch, and I have not been the least bit unhappy with any of them so far! Below are my nominees for Best Ribs of 2021! 

Doc Brown’s BBQ

Chef David Brown himself brought me some of his insanely delicious ribs. He knows that if it wasn’t for the distance between my house and Doc Brown’s BBQ I’d be in there all the time, eating the shit out of everything on his menu. I’ve never had anything from his restaurant that I haven’t loved, and these ribs were no exception! They were delicious, and it was a party! Well, by “party” I mean tow old guys eating ribs together. He brought his plain ribs to my house. Doused ‘em in vinegar, rubbed his spice blend all over them, cut ‘em up, and we shared them, standing on my front porch, devouring them. One word: Gah. A few more words: This was one of my all-time favorite moments in the 16+ years I’ve been living in Asheville, let alone food experiences.

Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse

photo © Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse 2021

This one might surprise ya, but Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse has some of the best ribs in town! Their “crispy baby back ribs” are pretty much perfect in my opinion. They are smoked until the meat is just about coming off the bone, and then they are quick-fried to finish them off and make them crispy on the outside. They have a wonderful glaze, and come with sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onion on top. plus a grilled lemon. I love grilled lemons! These ribs are a dish I recommend to share with friends who love meat! Or not. ALL MINE!!! They are distinct, expertly prepared, and frickin’ delicious in my opinion, and the opinion of the dozens of people I’ve fed them to on food tours.  BONUS: I also learned that “yakiniku” is a Japanese word that roughly means “seared meat.”  

12 Bones Smokehouse

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Strangely, I had not eaten any 12 Bones’ ribs until recently. 2020, in fact, when I got them for the first time and loved them, so I ate even more in 2021. I know that I was super-late to the game, but I had been stuck for years on the awesome turkey plate at 12 Bones, so I almost never ordered anything else. Then one day, while ordering 12 Bones for delivery through KickbackAVL, I saw that I could “add three ribs” to my order, so I fuckin’ did! (I love any kind of “add ***this*** to your order” option!) Good lord, Y’all! They’re so frickin’ good! Why didn’t anyone tell me??? Just kidding. Literally everyone told me, and I am officially the very last person in Asheville to try these ribs, but I’m also the very first to nominate them for a Stoobie Award! Because, I’m the only one… who gives them out… never mind. GREAT RIBS!

Avenue M

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Okay, first of all, I want you all to understand that there’s an Avenue M before Chef Andrew McLeod took over the kitchen, and an Avenue M after he took over the kitchen. The before period was fine, I liked the food for the most part, no complaints, but the after times have been fantastic. I still don’t get out there as much as I’d like to, I’m lucky to make it in a couple times a year, so it says something that this is the second time they’ve made the short list of nominees for a Stoobie Award! Last year they were one of five “Meal of the Year” nominees, and this year, they are competing for the best ribs category! Both are big deal categories in my opinion. I went there with my Mom back in August 2021, and in the middle of a giant feast, they sent out some ribs that were so fucking butter. Meaning that they came apart and fell off the bone and into my mouth, where they melted their way into my heart. Not literally! Although, also, maybe literally.


BEST MEATLOAF OF 2021

New category! I love meatloaf. Love. It. I can and do eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner indiscriminately when available. I ate a lot of Meatloaf last year, below are my top 4 nominees for the Best Meatloaf of 2021.

Rye Knot

I worked at KickbackAVL — Asheville’s only locally owned hot food delivery service! — for 1/2 of 2020 and part of 2021. While there, I got to become good friends with the boss, Jennie, who is a self-admitted fussy eater. Jennie can be a super HARSH judge of food! So when I saw her very enthusiastic post online about the meatloaf at Rye Knot, I just had to try it for myself. And, yeah, no, Jennie weren’t wrong. This meatloaf was fucking awesome. It came with a delicious root veggie mash, white gravy, roasted zucchini, and crispy onions. It was a huge portion, and when I first opened the box (yes, I had it delivered of course!), I thought I’d be saving half of it for lunch the next day. Nope. I had to eat saltines for lunch. No more meatloaf. 

Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ

Is it fair that I have nominated a MEATLESS meatloaf for this award? Yes, it’s 100% fair, because guess who makes all the rules around here? (answer: Me. I do.) So, yeah, I’m fucking addicted to this Impossible meatloaf sandwich from Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ. It’s available as a plate, with sides, as well as by the pound, but I always get it on a sandwich, with what I call their “unholy” cheese sauce, and I frickin’ love it. I’d be shoving these things in my face every day if not for the fact that I’m pretty sure I would die. I don’t know if there is even one particle of nutrition in this sandwich, but I don’t care. DON’T CARE! Even though no animals were harmed in the making of this meatloaf, it’s as tasty as any other I ate in 2021, and has earned its spot on this list of nominees! 

Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro

The fanciest meatloaf I ate all year was from Storm Rhum Bar and Bistro. I have actually given this meatloaf an award in the past! It’s the same exact meatloaf recipe as the meatloaf in the meatloaf sandwich at The Underground Cafe that won my sandwich of the year award in 2018! That sandwich hasn’t been on the menu there for quite a long time, but Chef Jay from Underground (now called Stay Glazed Doughnuts) also owns Storm, and one day he told me that he had the meatloaf on his menu there, in the form of Meatloaf and Waffles! Oh, my, goodness! I hustled on down and promptly put every single molecule of it into my body. It came with fried green tomatoes, pickled raspberries, fresh greens, melted cheese, chipotle sauce, gravy, and micros on top. It was fancy as fuck, and one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten in my life, no lie. I am craving it right now!

East Village Grille

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This is the kind of meatloaf I think of when I think of meatloaf. East Village Grille has a great reputation with me, and with the other hearty eaters of Asheville, as a place were you can get a lot of really good food. One day my friend Rick and I ordered up a metric ton of their grub to eat on my porch during the final months of the shut down in March of 2021, and among the feast of wings and crickets and burgers and such, I decided to throw in their meatloaf. Why not? It sounded really good on their menu, and it looked even better when it arrived! I was hungry, and tore into the meatloaf before any of the other many things I had ordered for myself, and yesss, meatloaf heaven. The mashed taters ‘n’ gravy were the perfect side, and the green beans were also perfect, in a grandma kinda way. The giant, crispy crunchy onion ring on top was the coup d’grace. Yum! Wait, did I say March? Damn. I am loooong over due to eat this meatloaf again!


BEST SHEPHERD’S PIE OF 2021

New category! For some reason I ate a ton of shepherd’s pie in 2021. It started with a St. Patrick’s Day contest in March and it just never stopped. I’m a fan of shepherd’s pie (duh, meat ‘n’ taters), so it seemed natural, and even though I’m not sure anyone else cares, I’ve decided to add it as a new category. The four dishes listed below are my nominees for the Best Shepherd’s Pie of 2021…

Pierachy

The shepherd’s pie from Pierarchy has a secret! It’s gluten free. Well, I guess that’s not exactly a secret, since it said so right on the sign, but maybe the real secret is that despite being GF, and me being decidedly not GF, this shepherd’s pie was fucking great! And in great part because of the amazing GF crust! It was light, flaky, and… crusty… in all the ways a good savory pie crust should be. If I didn’t already know it was gluten free, I never would have guessed. The contents were no less impressive than the crust, and even though it filled me right up, this was one of those meals that made me sad when it was all gone. I hope I get to eat a lot of these in 2022! If you haven’t heard of Pierachy, keep an eye out for them, and buy this shepherd’s pie at your earliest opportunity!

Iconic Kitchen & Drinks

Okay, I know this one is weird looking because it’s not a “pie,” but more, like, pretty much, a bowl of lamb stew with taters and cheese on top. But it’s called shepherd’s pie on the Iconic Kitchen & Drinks menu, so I’m running with it! It was really really tasty! The depth of flavor and sheer amount of deliciosity of the lamb stew made up for any lack of pie-ness to the shape. It seems like they must cook it for days, because all the flavors are just all beautifully mixed together and melded into each other. Gahd, it was satisfying. So, yes, if you can get past the fiesta ware, and expand your definition of what a shepherd’s pie is, add this one to your list of great ones. FYI – My mom agrees that it is superb.

Asheville Yacht Club

I think you can see how authentic and delicious this shepherd’s pie looks just from the picture I took, and it’s not even a great picture! This was the dish that The Asheville Yacht Club entered into a funny little Irish food competition called Sippin’ for Service that was sponsored by Guinness beer that I judged back in March 2021. It was really really really fucking tasty and fucking good! I mean, wow. So deep and comforting. It was loaded with flavor, and was made with a 50/50 blend of lamb and beef, which really came through. This bowl of pure goodness really warmed my soul at a time when I needed! I loved every bite of this dish, and hope that it comes back to their menu this March!

The Bier Garden

Who would have thought that the good ol’ Bier Garden would be getting some recognition for their culinary chops? Hey, Man, credit where credit is due, and the version of shepherd’s pie that they served the judge’s at the Sippin’ for Service competition was not only super delicious, but also looked great! They had gone to the trouble of doing the little mashed tater florets on top, which browned-up very nicely, adding a roasty-toasty flavor to the whole thing. They also leaned heavily on the black pepper, a spice that’s so common, it’s underused! (he said, channeling Yogi Berra) I love black pepper and appreciate any very black peppery dish! Thanks, Bier Garden! This shepherd’s pie really hit the spot in more than one way!


PHILLY / CHEESESTEAK OF THE YEAR

You’ll notice that this category is for Philly SLASH cheesesteak, not Philly Cheesesteak, and that is because, while all of our contenders are cheesesteaks, only one is a Philly. Let’s start with that one…

Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli

Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli is owned by Chef Robyn Zeigler. She is from Philadelphia. There are images of Gritty in her shop. She is the real deal and so is her Philly. It’s the only one on this list, and the only one in town that I feel 100% confident in calling a “Philly.” It’s on the right bread, it’s got the right stuff inside, and you can choose American cheese, Provalone, or Cheez Whiz. I’m usually an American cheese guy, because God blessed America with the best cheese on the whole dang planet, and I’ll fight any nazis who say otherwise, but the Philly in the picture above is smathered in the science-world’s contribution to cheese. Yes, I got it with whiz. There is no shame in my game. Absolutely none. It was fabulous. I fucking attacked it like a feral animal.

The Odditorium

I mean, c’mon now. Look at that fucking thing. I’m telling you what. Chef Ben Hester at The Odditorium is just crushing it. This cheesesteak with shaved onions, poblano pepper, white American cheese, mayo, and lettuce on a toasted split-top hoagie roll was phenomenal. It was one of the many things that he served me at the “tasting” he treated me to (aka a shit ton of food), the one that is currently contending for my “Meal of the Year” award, and this cheesesteak is one of the reasons that meal is up for consideration, no doubt about it. It was everything a cheesesteak should be, and more. The meat was so tin and so tender, and the whole thing was hotter than the flames of hell when it came out, so the cheese was melted into a sauce more or less. Fuck it was good. The addition of shredded iceberg lettuce, although not traditional, was a very nice touch. The food at The Odditorium might not be fancy, but it is really goddamn good!

Asheville Sandwich Company

One day, for no reason at all, my mom and I went to Asheville Sandwich Company, and I decided to test drive their cheesesteak. Maaaaan, I’m glad I did! They use prime rib, shaved very thin, and chopped up on the grill with caramelized onions and green peppers, and then it is fairly soaked in their house-made cheese sauce. They also toast the whole thing a little bit, so there’s a slight crispiness to the edges. I loved it. I need another one, STAT. Them fries were tasty too. This cheesesteak was excellent and very worthy of a nomination!

Buxton Hall Barbecue

It started out as a Little Louie’s Pop-up specialty menu item only, and is now a permanent menu item at Buxton Hall Barbecue, and I couldn’t be more psyched! The shaved smoked brisket cheesesteak, made on an authentic Amoroso roll, with caramelized onions, house-made cheddar whiz, banana peppers & steak sauce mayo, is just to fucking die for. I mean, really. Like, you could tie one of these cheesesteaks to a stick, and then tie the stick to my head, and then hitch a wagon to me, and I would pull that fucking wagon all the way to California tryin’ get a bite. That is in no way an exaggeration. It won my “Sandwich of the Year” award last year, so the question now is: Can it pull-off an unprecedented two Stoobies in two different categories two years in a row?!? All the winners for 2021 will be announced at the end of this month, BTW. Stay tuned to find out.


BURGER OF THE YEAR

To me, Burger of the Year is just about the most important award of them all. I eat a lot of burgers, and I like to try different ones all the time. Whenever I go to new restaurant, if they have a burger on their menu, I’m highly likely to order it before trying anything else.  Below are my three nominees for Burger of the Year…

The Odditorium

Question: What looks like a fried chicken sandwich that someone vomited on, but is actually one of the best burgers you’ll ever eat? Why, it’s the Barf Burger from the Puke pop-up at The Odditorium, that’s what! And, yes, that was my pop-up, but the small menu was not mine at all, but was developed entirely by Chef Ben Hester, who is one of those local chefs whom I pay my highest compliment: Chef Ben makes food people like. All of it. Just in case you don’t know, Puke, is a concept: An imaginary punk rock restaurant in which the food looks and sounds disgusting. I handed that concept to Chef Ben, and he met the challenge… and them some! The “Barf Burger” is a chicken fried burger paddy, covered in white gravy and sautéed onions, and served on a plain ol’ white bread squish bun. It is truly fucking special!

Twisted Laurel Downtown Asheville

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Y’all might already know by now that I am a huge fan of Twisted Laurel Downtown Asheville. If you’ve never been there, or haven’t been in a while, get on in. No, seriously. Go. And if you go for lunch, you gotta try the smash burger. It’s the real deal. I recommend going for the double patty. Each patty is smashed into the grill for fast cooking, and at some point, the kitchen squirts some mustard on there and the mustard itself gets grilled, giving the burger a unique flavor and slight crispiness. It is then served on a grilled bun (lotta grilling involved), with pickles, onions, and American cheese. I always add a little ketchup, and order the house made chips as my side. Dang, that’s a good fucking burger.

The Malvern / Burger Boi / Burgergang

While I was working for KickbackAVL, I started to notice that people were ordering the “crunchburg” from The Malvern menu on a pretty regular basis. I had no real idea what it was, even though I had read the description on line, but I ordered it anyways, partly because at that time, Chef Chris Cox aka Burger Boi was in the kitchen. Chris has moved on since then, and this burger is no longer available at The Malvern, unfortch, but keep an eye out for his Burgergang pop-ups, as he told me it might show up at those. Chef Cox is like, a burger god in this town, and the crunchburg is a great example of his of the chain creativity. What gives this burger the “crunch” is a crispy tostada shell right in the middle of the whole thing. So that alone makes it awesome, but then the savory spice mix on top of the grilled bun, and the pickled pico de gallo & pepper jack cheese and the fact that the patty is from Foothills local meat puts it right over the top for me! It’s a great burger from one of the burger greats!


BEST HUNKS OF MEAT IN 2021

New category! Did I mention that I ate a lot of meat in 2021? So much so that I have decided to add a new category called “Hunks of Meat.” I think that’s pretty self explanatory, so let’s just get to my four nominees… 

Iconic Kitchen & Drinks

Who knew that Iconic Kitchen & Drinks had rack of fucking lamb on their menu??? Certainly not me! Not until they invited me in for a tasting and laid a bunch of food in front of me, like, eight full-sized entrées, then towards the end of the mega-meal, they brought out a gorgeous rack of lamb, steaming hot, and seared to perfection in the outside. I was already quite stuffed full of food by then, but I took a deep breath and tucked in. I cut into it, and saw that the cook was just as good on the inside as it was on the outside. Visual Appeal: 10 out of 10. After the first bite, I’m thinking “Good gahd…” After the next bite, I’m like, “What the hell? This is fucking great!” I mean, my expectations were more than exceeded, they were blown out of the water. Like I said, who knew that this wonderful rack of lamb was available right down the dang street from my house, in the somewhat unassuming Iconic Kitchen & Drinks. Well, now I know. And now you know. And PS – My mom went there on my recommendation, got the lamb, and she agrees that it’s fabulous.

Caitlyn Farms Sustainably Raised Beef

I was given a beautiful piece of frozen meat from Caitlyn Farms Sustainably Raised Beef to cook at home and it was great! I met Caitlyn herself, and her mom, at the Enka-Candler Tailgate Market when I went there on a dining adventure with my friend Sam. Caitlyn and her mom were both super excited to tell me all about their product, and even more excited about their method of sustainable farming. I encourage you all to look them up online and keep an eye for their products near you. They gave me a nice, thick beautiful cut of beef to take home, that I cooked-up later in a frying pan for 8 mins (4 mins each side) until it had a nice crust on it, but was still rare on the inside. YOM! It was very tender and very flavorful, and I enjoyed the shit out of it! One of the best hunks of meat I had all year for sure! Thanks Caitlyn and Caitlyn’s mom!

Twisted Laurel Downtown Asheville

Aaaand here they are again, Twisted Laurel Downtown Asheville is just crushing it in all categories these days! Remember above, when I said that you should get the burger when you go in for lunch? Well, now I’m saying that you should get a steak when you go in for dinner. I have eaten SO MANY STEAKS at Twisted Laurel and they are always delicious, cooked just right, and served with a very simple and satisfying set-up of taters, gravy, demi-glace, sautéed onions, roasted veg and the like. Often, when I go in with my food tours, the kitchen sends out small versions of their steak special for the upcoming night to me and my tour patrons, so I am fortunate enough to have sampled several of their cuts, preparations, and set-ups, all of which have been just fantastic. My patrons CRUSH them and often name it as their favorite bite on the tour. When people ask me where to get a great steak, I do not hesitate to answer: Twisted Laurel.

Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse

I know that I pay a lot of attention to Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse, but in my opinion, they deserve all the attention they can get. I really love their food. I’ve featured their crispy ribs, karaage chicken, and beech mushroom in my newsletter and social media, and I’m here to tell you that their amazing grilled Wagyu ribeye with shiso chimichurri, chili & wasabi paste, and pinch salt is also worthy of the highest praise. Dawn and I enjoyed it very much on my 55th birthday. It has a “wow” factor that brought back good memories for us of past experiences with simple, yet amazing pieces of seared meat. Awww! Meat as romance! When I was scrolling through the thousands of pictures of food I took in 2021 to prepare for these awards, I came across the one above, and I was like, “Oh feck yeah… that shit was amazing,” and so it is my fourth and final contestant for Best Hunk of Meat, 2021!


Thanks for reading this far! There are still more categories to come! Please sign-up for my FREE newsletter and follow me here on Ashvegas while I announce the rest of the nominees, and then the winners!


RECAP OF CATEGORIES & NOMINEES

BREAKFAST OF THE YEAR
Abeja’s House Cafe
Sunny Point Cafe
Sawhorse
Doc Brown’s BBQ

LUNCH OF THE YEAR
Nani’s Piri Piri Chicken née Nani’s Rotisserie Chicken
Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli
Waku Waku Japanese Eatery

FANCY DINNER OF THE YEAR
OaxaCalifornia Dinner
Swine’d Sustainably
Food Stories / Chow Chow

SWEETS OF THE YEAR
Buggy Pop Popsicles
Old Europe Cakes
Marble & Steel Craft Chocolates
Bhumi Chocolate

MOCKTAILS OF THE YEAR
Sovereign Remedies
Cultura
Session Cafe

MEAL OF THE YEAR
Odditorium
Griff’s Kitchen & Bar
Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse
Zambra

FOOD EVENT OF THE YEAR
Grindfest AVL / Black Wall Street AVL
Goombay

FOOD COMPETITION OF THE YEAR
Cue for a Cause BBQ Throwdown
Bring Your Heat, Asheville
Dinner Impossible Food Truck Throw Down
Punk Rock Hot Dogs
Duke’s vs Blue Plate

BEST RIBS OF 2021
Doc Brown’s BBQ
Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse
12 Bones
Avenue M

BEST MEATLOAF OF 2021
Rye Knot
Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ
Storm Rhum Bar & Bistro
East Village Grill

BEST SHEPHERD’S PIE OF 2021
Pierachy
Iconic Kitchen & Drinks
Asheville Yacht Club
The Bier Garden

BEST PHILLY / CHEESE STEAK OF 2021
Ziggy’s Bakery & Deli
The Odditorium
Asheville Sandwich Company
Buxton Hall Barbecue

BURGER OF THE YEAR
The Odditorium
Twisted Laurel Downtown Asheville
The Malvern

BEST HUNKS OF MEAT OF 2021
Iconic Kitchen & Drinks
Caitlyn Farms Sustainable Beef
Twisted Laurel Downtown Asheville
Ukiah Japanese Smokehouse


coming soon….

Deep Fried Thing of the Year
Taco of the Year
Wing Maker of the Year
Sandwich of the Year
Chicken Salad of the Year
Sides of the Year
New Restaurant of the Year
Restaurant of the Year
Food Truck of the Year
Chef of the Year 


— TO BE CONTINUED —


Stu Helm is a writer, blogger, and social media personality living and working in Asheville,NC.

Please follow him on Facebook and Instagram,

If you would like to “tip” Stu for his efforts, please Venmo him at Stu-Helm
or PayPal at [email protected]


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