Okay, first things first, this is not an ACTUAL advent calendar of downtown Asheville sweet treats. It’s just a list. You’ll have to use your imagination, to envision awwwll of downtown Asheville as one big, giant, three-dimensional advent calendar, and that the actual physical doors of the restaurants, bake shops, cafes, and other eateries listed below are like the little doors on a real advent calendar. Can you do that for me? Can you close your eyes and think of Downtown Asheville as one giant advent calendar? Shhhhhh…. eyes closed… sleeeeep… When you awaken you will have an uncontrollable urge to eat a different amazing sweet in downtown Asheville every day for 25 days in a row. Now WAKE UP! Here we go…
Day 1: Bhramari Brewing Company – As I have mentioned, Bhramari has the most amazing cake ever, made by Asha Hertel of Kali Cakes. Open the back door of the brewery (the front door is always locked) located on South Lexington Ave and Hilliard Street, walk in, sit at the bar, order cake, and yes, you will suffer the snickers and derision of the beer enthusiasts around you. Don’t worry, they will stop laughing when they see this fabulous cake.
Day 2: Pete’s Pies – The bread pudding at Pete’s is truly a hidden treat, because you literally have to find Pete’s first, which is tucked away in the brick courtyard behind Bouchon et al. So, yes, find Pete’s, open the door, walk into Asheville’s only authentic British Pub and order the bread pudding. Warm, solid, sweet with a hint of salt, tasty as fuck, and covered in sweet vanilla white sauce, it’s one of the most comforting things you’ll eat all year.
Day 3: The Nightbell – After 5pm, open the the door to Nightbell, ask if there’s any room for a quick bite at the bar, go up the elegant stairway, sit down, and order any dessert off the menu. Chef Carmen Vaquera is one of the most creative sweets/pastry/dessert chefs in Asheville. She’s a super-star, Yo.
Day 4: The Underground Café with DoughP Doughnuts – For this one, walk down the stairs, to open the door leading into Chef Jay Madford‘s brand new venue, located underneath the famous Jackson Building in Pack’s Square, to get yourself one of his super tasty and unique “Doughp” doughnuts, which are yeasty, with a buttermilk glaze that has blueberry & strawberry, with hints of rosemary and basil. That’s just one of the many awesome doughnuts being offered by Chef Jay.
Day 5: Manicomio – I’m usually so hyper-focused on local, local, local, that I almost never review, or even mention food items made in other parts of the country or world. There was that one block of cheese I liked, but other than that, I usually stay focused on goods made right here in WNC. This time, however, I’m suggesting that you walk into the front door of Manicomio on Biltmore, and order a cannoli. It’s made by 70+ year old Italian dessert importer, Bindi. It’s exactly what a cannoli should be.
Day 6: French Broad Chocolate Lounge – Walk past the main door of the lounge, and go into the little door, that leads to the tiny take-out area. Get a chocolate nibby brownie and a cup of coffee to go. Sit outside in this wonderfully wintery weather, and enjoy the high holy fuck out of one of the best treats in all of Asheville. If you’ve never had FBCL’s chocolate nibby brownie, I don’t blame you because… truffles… but branch out this time and get the brownie. You will not regret it.
Day 7: The Chocolate Fetish – Asheville, NC – Speaking of chocolate… This one is a no-brainer. Walk in either of the two doors on Haywood, and get anything, really, but for this list, I am specifically recommending that you try their white chocolate. Yeah, yeah, I know, white chocolate is the red-headed step child of the chocolate world, but that’s because it’s usually made with confectionery sugar and… weird oils… and stuff… gross! Shitty white chocolate is bright white. Real white chocolate, the kind they make and sell at Chocolate Fetish is made with real cocoa butter, and that makes it the color of ivory, and about 1,000,000,000 times more rich, creamy, and delicious than any white chocolate I’ve ever had. They have some awesome white chocolate polar bears that are really cute.
Day 8: Chocolate Gems – Still speaking of chocolate… kinda… because while, yes the chocolate is great at Chocolate Gems, this time I am recommending that you walk through the door on Broadway, go straight to the counter, and order a cup their toasted almond gelato. It has remained one of my top 10 / top 15 sweet bites in Downtown Asheville for years. The new owners are super nice too, so go pay them a visit.
Day 9: Sunshine Sammies – Yay! How much do I love the fact that food cart and food truck veteran, Susie Pearson recently opened up a brick and mortar to manufacture and sell her amazing ice cream sandwiches? A lot. I love it a lot. Open the door to the brand new, insanely cute little shop, which is located on S. Lexington right where Moto Vicious used to be, and first, enjoy the wonderful aroma of cookies being baked, then order an ice cream sandwich, die, and go to heaven. The cookies and ice cream are house-made of course, using mostly locally sourced ingredients, to create unique flavors, and everyone who works there is super-nice! This is one of my favorite new downtown venues to “squeee” about.
Day 10: The Rhu – I have one word for you on this one: Galette. Well, make that two words: Apple galette. A galette is an amazing little French-style pasty, that is shaped like a small pie with a hole on the top. It’s baked in a special pan, also called a galette, and man-oh-man, it is just one of the best things ever. And, of course, Chef Kaley Laird, Chef John Fleer, and crew are making them better than anywhere I’ve ever had them. Walk in the door of The Rhu — right at the top of S. Lexington Ave, where the French Broad Chocolate Lounge used to be — and especially on a cold day, you will melt into the warm, homey, atmosphere, that always smells of delicious things being baked. The apple galette is sweet, authentic, and totally awesome, and the people who work are equally so!
Day 11: Karen Donatelli Cake Designs – Um, talk about no-brainer-city-USA. Open Karen Donatelli’s front door, right next to Malaprop’s on Haywood, and order anything. It’s allll good. It’s all great. It’s all world frickin’ class, actually, and that ain’t no joke! Chef Karen, her family, and crew are simply making the best, prettiest, and most well defined pastries in Asheville. They crush it. A #1, top o’ the heap, ain’t nobody doing it better than Karen Donatelli. For this particular list, I will specifically recommend the chocolate croissant, toasted of course, and served with a latte. That’s as close to X-mas in Paris as you’re likely to get this year.
Day 12: Old Europe Pastries – Yay! Asheville’s oldest cafe — 22 years and going stronger than ever! — featuring the dreamy, creamy, decadent desserts of Chef Melinda Vitro and crew! This was one of the very first places I ever ate at in Asheville, when it was located in the Flat Iron Building. Then they moved to Lexington Ave for a minute, until they finally settled in at their current location on Broadway. I have several favorites there, but I will suggest that you walk into the door, and politely order a slice of their key lime pie. I say “politely,” because the baristas get SLAMMED with customers these days, and I suggest the key lime pie because Chef Melinda ain’t tryin’ to fight the tartness of the limes with 5 pounds of sugar. So if you’re like me, and you like key lime pie, but you don’t want your teeth to catch fire from sweetness, this is the key lime pie for you.
Day 13: True Confections – Carole! Chef Carole Miller is my buddy, and I’ve been going to her shop for many years. She makes great pies, I’ve raved about her house-made Twix bars, and for this list I am going to suggest that you go into the Grove Arcade , walk around there for a minute or two, because it’s freaking gorgeous, then go in the side door of True Confections, and order two or three pieces of Carole’s rugelach. They are small, and affordable, and awesome. I love a good rugelach, and I require them to be: Sweet, doughy, dense, flaky, and some of the sugary stuff needs to be all squeezed-out and caramelized on the ends. Carole’s rugelach meets and exceeds all of my requirements, and has set a certain standard for me in this town. “Is this rugelach as good as Carole’s? Yes, no, maybe so?” Ehhhh… Carole’s is my fave.
Day 14: Strada Asheville – Perhaps this one is a little unexpected, but walk in the door of Strada on Broadway, and you will immediately feel ensconced in the warm embrace of the room, which is both homey and classy, rustic and urbane. My recommendation is that you sidle-on up to the bar, order coffee, and a piece of the house-made tiramisu. There’s other good tiramisu going down in this town, but speaking from experience… lots and lots aaand lots of experience… with tiramisu, this is the best tiramisu I’ve had. #truestory It’s Chef Anthony Cerrato‘s family recipe, going back four generations, and it’s a wonderful, high quality, wholesome, delicious, homemade treat. For real. Best ever. The cakey parts are airy, moist, and have bounce to them, they are not too dense, nor are they too dry, nor overly soaked in booze, those being the three most common downfalls of tiramisu. Having access to the Cerrato family magic for this classic Italian dessert item is a very special thing in my opinion, and you can order it at the Social Lounge next door too, if you prefer a bar / bistro atmosphere.
Day 15: Cucina 24 – This is the 2nd of three “walk in the door, sit at the bar, and order any dessert on the menu” suggestions. The door is on Wall Street, and I can not recommend the chef’s bar highly enough. It’s soooo cozy, being right next to the wood-fired pizza oven, where Chef James Albee is right there, making the pizzas, and breads, and desserts, and he is crushing it on all three of those things. The entire menu at Cucina 24 changes so often that I can’t recommend one particular dessert here, because it may not be there when you go in, but I can say, whichever dessert you order it’s going to be great. Chef / Owner Brian Canipelli and his kitchen and floor staff are top echelon on all fronts.
Day 16: Buxton Hall Barbecue – It’s a little bit outside of downtown, but venture down to Banks Ave on The South Slope, and open the door to the awesomeness that is Buxton Hall. The aroma of smoked pig, and the friendly staff are the first thing to greet you, as well as a sign that reminds the diner to, “Save room for pie!” I second that reminder, and will suggest the chess pie in particular if they have it that day. I had never eaten chess pie before in my life, being from up North, so Buxton was my first experience with it, and is the chess pie that won my heart. I remain loyal to it to this very day.
Day 17: Vortex Doughnuts – While you’re on the south slope, heave open the massive, heavy doors of Vortex just 1/2 a block down from Buxton Hall and get their “Local Tap” doughnut. It’s got a glaze made from a locally brewed beer, and then it’s topped with crushed, salted peanuts and pretzels. Eff yes. That’s one hell of a doughnut.
Day 18: Ultimate Ice Cream at Nuts About Fudge – Unfortch, Ultimate does not have their own retail shop downtown, so I suggest that you walk into the Grove Arcade once again, and this time, visit the teeny tiny Nuts About Fudge shop, which is one of a handful of locations downtown that carry Ultimate Ice Cream. I recommend the maple bacon ice cream if they have it, or any thing else if they don’t. I’ve never had a scoop of Ultimate ice cream I didn’t love.
Day 19: The Hop Ice Cream at Lexington Corner Market, – Again, the unfortunate situation is that there is no Hop location downtown either, so I recommend that you walk in the door of the Lexington Corner Market, where they sell it by the pint, as well as in teeny, tiny, cute, little single servings. I love the Hop ice cream, so it’s very convenient to know that I can always find it at Lex Corner Market.
Day 20: Marble Slab Creamery – Yeah yeah, I know I know, it’s a chain, but fuck me if they don’t have great ice cream. Plus, they actually have my absolute favorite kind of ice cream, which is sort of hard to find elsewhere, and that is: Sweet cream ice cream. Sweet cream ice cream has no flavor… it’s just the ice cream base. So, it’s sweet, cold, and creamy, and nothing else. You can really taste the dairy, or in fancy culinary terms, you can “taste the farm.” So, even though there are 391 Marble Slab Ice Creamery ice cream shops in the world (and by “world” I mean in places as far flung as Bahrain, Guam, Singapore, and Pakistan among many other international locales) I have a soft spot in my heart (and middle section) for the one right here here in Asheville. I suggest you walk in the front door, and order a sweet cream ice cream from one of the very nice young people who work there!
Day 21: Mast General Store, – Yes, another “chain,” although, c’mon, with 6 locations, I think the term “Micro-chain” might be more apt. We need some new terminology to describe stores with more than two locations, in my opinion. You can’t compare Mast, or even Marble Slab, with a mega-giant like Jimmy John’s (2,500+ locations), or Dairy Queen (6,400+). Anyhoo, walk into the back door of Mast, up the stairs, and find the “penny candy” section. No, it’s not a penny, you idiot, that’s just an expression. The candy is sold by the pound, and they have a great collection of olde tyme classics, like Squirrels and Mary Janes (gross), as well as retro faves like Zots and Nerds (gross), and more contemporary candy, like gummy cell phones or whatever. It’s all insanely gross to me, but I know I’m in the vast minority on that, so please, pop into Mast, load up a basket of mainstream candy, and go apeshit.
Day 22: Sovereign Remedies – This is my third and final “walk in, sit at the bar, and order any dessert” suggestion for you. Sov is one of the most creative joints in town, on all levels: Food, drinks, decor, use of space… Charlie Hodge, Chef Graham House, Melissa “Sugar” Scheiderer Thalman, and crew have it all figured out, and yet, they never settle. They are always pushing the envelope, and that holds true right up to their desserts. Go in either the Walnut Street or Market Street entrances, sit at the beautiful bar, order a cocktail, or mocktail if you’re a loser like me, try one small savory dish to set the mood, and then dive into the unknown with dessert. Chef Melissa Andres-Hsu recently told me that the kitchen collaborates to “keep the guests on their toes from the beginning to the end of the meal.”
Day 23: Asheville Bee Charmer – Located right on Battery Park Ave, 1/2 a block from Skybar, Asheville Bee Charmer is chock full of lots and lots of sweet things! Well, honey. It’s mostly full of honey, pretty much. But the honey is frickin’ awesome! And the people who work there know an ass-load of #truth about honey, and they can school you on honey, and style you out with samps of honey, and honey honey honey honey honey. First, you’ll struggle to figure out how the doors work, but when you do, walk in, go straight to the little bar in the back, and see if anyone is available for a honey samplin’!
Day 24: 67 Biltmore Downtown Eatery + Catering – Maaaaan, they make this pin-wheel / star-shaped almond danish pastry thingy at 67 Biltmore that I crave. I crave it. Period. End of sentence. That alone should be enough to entice any fan of sweet things to walk through the front doors of 67 Biltmore, and order one of these pastries for themselves. And when I say, “themselves,” I mean you. I highly recommending that this pastry be on your list of things to eat today. DO IT.
Day 25: City Bakery – No list of downtown sweets would be complete without City Bakery on it, and one of my four-star-favorite items in all of downtown is City Bakery’s sticky bun. Now, you gotta be in the right frame of mind for this sticky bun, because A) It is sticky as fuck, and 2) It is huge, and sweet, also as fuck. But it is oh so goooood! I’m telling you what. First of all, it’s a square circle (mind blown already), and it’s made out of flaky layers of laminated pastry dough with butter, sugar, cinnamon, nuts, magic fairy powder (I think), and crack cocaine (again, I think), all up in between the layers, and burgeoning out of top, bottom, sides of this sticky, sweet, spiral of madness and death. Well, maybe not death, except that I do die a little bit every time I eat one. SO GOOD!!! Anyhoo, yes, walk into either of the two doors on Biltmore Ave, order a cup of Asheville’s best hot coffee, and one of these sticky buns. Get it heated, which makes it crispy on the outside edges of the spiral, melts the sugar-ooze into a hard, almost candy-like consistency, and toasts-up the nuts very nicely. It’s the bomb, Yo. I can’t say enough good things about it.
Actually, you might want to buy your sticky buns on the day before X-mas, and heat them up at home on the 25th, because I guaran-dang-tee that City Bakery will not be open on Christmas Day. For real, buy everyone in your household one of these, heat them up in the morning, and you will be a Holiday Hero.
And there you have it! A virtual advent calendar for you to actually do and enjoy! Sweets are my weakness, and I happen to know where the goods is at in the local sweets scene. Stick with me, and… well… you might end up sticking TO me after we share one of those sticky buns from City Bakes… so probably stay away from me, and just do this advent calendar on your own. Seriously: DO IT!
Happy Holidays, Everyone!
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster 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 about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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Old Europe’s eclairs are like crack!!!
By which I mean addictive, not dangerous.
Ditto The Hop ice cream.
That donut looks like a “cream pie”. Yall know what I’m talking about.
Whoa – you left out the amazing fudge at Kilwins! Not to be missed.
What? No Well Bread Bakery?
There goes merry Christmas.