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Stu Helm’s top 10 favorite dishes in Asheville


AVLToday asked me to consider my all-time favorites, and come up with a “Top Ten Eats” list for you, which was not difficult for me to do!

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by: Stu Helm – a professional food writer in Asheville + guide with Asheville Food Tours.

This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.

Hello, Readers of AVLToday! My name is Stu Helm, and I’m a food writer. I’ve been covering the food scene here in Asheville for just about 6 of the 12 years I’ve lived here, and before I started writing about food, I was a professional illustrator and graphic designer, who worked at home and went out to eat a lot.

As the number of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and eateries of all kinds grew here in Asheville, my friends noticed that I was trying them all, and asked me to start writing reviews for Facebook, which I did.

From there it was a pretty quick transition from my 20 year-long career as an artist, onto a brand new path as a person who essentially brings attention to food!

Whether through my Facebook page, my Instagram account, my website, or other outlets like AVLToday, my food writing and “phonetography,” are intended to turn the public’s eyes and mouths toward the amazing food that is available in our little mountain town in Appalachia.

When writing or talking about food -- I also did a radio show and podcast for two years, and currently do walking food tours of downtown Asheville every weekend – I focus primarily on local gems, hidden treasures, and of course, all my personal favorites!

By way of an introduction, AVLToday asked me to consider my all-time favorites, and come up with a “Top Ten Eats” list for you, which was not difficult for me to do!

Of course, this list is totally inadequate in describing the sheer amount of delicious food going down in this town, and any of my “top ten” lists are ever-changing, so the one below, though current, is simply the latest iteration…

Stu Helm’s (current) top ten favorite eats

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  1. Fried Chicken Sandwiches - Everyone knows I’m an absolute sucker a really good fried chicken sandwich. My top three in town would have to be at Homegrown, The Vault, and Buxton Hall, with Buxton being my A #1 favorite of the three. I eat more of Chef Elliott Moss’s fried chicken sandwiches that any other single food item in town, so in a way you could say that it’s my #1 favorite thing to eat in Asheville, but I actually reserve that accolade for another bite, that I’ll get to below.
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  1. Burgers - I eat more cheeseburgers than doctors recommend. #truestory Right now I’m conducting a “burger survey” for, ranking alllll the burgers in Asheville on a five-star system, and then putting them on a giant list in order of excellence. So far my favorite burger in Asheville -- at the top of my list -- is from Bhramari Brewing Company. Their Bhramari burger is made with spent grain-fed beef, and is topped with stout wort glaze, crispy onions, oaked mayo, hop-smoked black truffle house-made American cheese, pickles, and candied bacon. That’s right. I said “candied bacon.” Unholy gods, it’s a GREAT burger. My second favorite is at the brand new AUX Bar, and my third fave is from Buxton Hall Barbecue, FYI.
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  1. Pizza - I eat and write about two kinds of pizza, essentially: Artisanal and Traditional. Artisanal pizza is usually smaller, oddly-shaped, and has fresh mozzarella cheese. Traditional pizza is round, and made with shredded aged mozzarella. My favorite artisanal pizza in Asheville is from All Souls Pizza, which has excellent food in general. Their pizza is made with the best possible ingredients and is cooked to perfection. My favorite traditional pizza in town is from the brand new Manicomio right downtown. Large, flat, thin-crust pies, a la NYC, made by a 30-year veteran of the art, and his young accomplices.

  1. Brisket Sliders - Speaking of brand new venues, I’ve been having a hot and torrid love affair with the menu at the Jackson Underground Cafe, which opened in January, and their beef brisket sliders, with pimento cheese, house slaw, and house pickles on a King’s Hawaiian bun, have become my one of my favorite lunchtime items of all time. Jay’s burger is also great, and got four stars on my burger survey.
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  1. Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy - I eat ‘em here, I eat ‘em there, I’ll try the biscuits ‘n’ gravy just about anywhere. I’m not originally from down South, so biscuits ‘n’ gravy was a new thing to me 12 years ago, but I took a liking to them right away, and now I have favorites! #1 with a bullet for me is 67 Biltmore Ave. Downtown Eatery and Catering, which is run by people who care about the health and happiness of their customers, so I can trust that the ingredients are wholesome, and the recipes are simple & delicious. If you’re a fan of biscuits ‘n’ gravy, you probably have your favorites too, so please tell me yours in the comments below! PS - If you’re vegetarian, go to Early Girl, they do them both ways, and the vegetarian version particularly awesome!
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  1. CAAAAAKE! - I like cake… I’ll tell you what. And FYI, one of Asheville’s most hidden, secret, awesome, super-delicious, covert cake places is not a bakery, or a patisserie, or cafe… it’s a brewery. Bhramari Brewering Company, again, is crushing it. Not only is their burger my #1, but they also serve THEE best cake available downtown. Made by Kali Cakes, a catering company owned by baker Asha Hertel, the slices are huge, the flavor combos are amazing, and the layer-count is somewhere around seven or eight, I think. Let me break it down for you like this: The chocolate stout cake is made with the Bhramari’s chocolate stout beer, which is turn is made with French Broad Chocolate Lounge‘s chocolate nibs. So, yeah.
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  1. Affogato- Not to be confused with an avocado (also tasty!) an affogato is a scoop of ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over it, and it’s pretty much the greatest effing thing on Earth. At the above mentioned French Broad Chocolate Lounge, one can order such a thing, using house-made ice cream, and excellent, locally roasted PennyCup Coffee, and you will pretty much be the happiest person you know at that point.
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  1. Japchae - What? You’ve never heard of jabchae? Yeah, no, neither had I until I brought a Vegan into Korean House, and Chef Kristina I’m sent out a hot, smoky, savory, amazing serving of this traditional Korean stir-fried dish that literally means “mixed vegetables.” The main ingredient, however, and the most impressive to me and my Vegan companion is the sweet potato starch noodles, called dangmyeon, aka glass noodles. They are not sweet, so banish that thought from your mind, and they are not potato-y in the least. They are smokey, and silky, and the vegetables and sauce are great. If you’ve never had this dish, or Korean food at all, go see Chef Kristina and crew! I’m a fan.
  1. Shrimp ‘n’ Grits – Best in town? Bar none, Sunny Point Cafe. But what about… no. Bar. None. As in no one. No one in this town, state, country, world or universe is doing shrimp ‘n’ grits as (eff bomb eff bomb eff bombitty-bomb-bomb) GOOOOOOD as those at Sunny Point Cafe. Holy. Moly. The caramelized bacon is insane. The shrimps are fat, sweet, cooked just right, and they are plentiful. The entire dish is filling AF, and I eat it until it’s gone, until I groan. Some people might say “if it’s too filling, take some home, Stu,” and to that I say, “NO!” I will crush every molecule, every time, from the giant pieces of roasted tomato, to the tiniest grit, it all goes inside of me. If not for the “rules” of “society,” I would lick the bowl right there at the table.
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  1. Deviled Egg - Yerp. That’s right. A deviled egg—or more accurately thee deviled egg at Nightbell is at the top of this list… or is it at the bottom? …since I counted down to #1? I’m confused now… Well, either way, I actually did allude to it above as my #1 favorite thing to eat in all of downtown Asheville. For real. Let me describe this deviled egg for you… First of all, picture a deviled egg, then throw that picture away. Open your mind, expand your parameters, and imagine something totally different. It arrives at the table still in the shell, with the top lopped-off perfectly. Poking out of the top is a little pile of exquisite trout roe, nestled on a cloud of sweet, creamy, savory, tasty, delicate custard, that had been piped into the shell via nitrous infusion. The custard is a corn sabayon, the savory bits are smoked trout gravlax, the roe, some smoked paprika, and tiny spear of chive. This dish surprising, complex, delightful, and delicate yet comforting, homey, amusing to look at -- it’s served with a tiny spoon! -- and an very enjoyable experience to eat. It is A. May. Zing. It’s my numero uno thing to eat in all of Asheville!

And there you have it, my top ten eats in Asheville. Some of those things have been on my “best of Asheville” lists for years, while others were added just last week! I’m always eating, trying new things, going back to touch on old faves to make sure they’re still awesome, doing everything I can to stay on top of this frickin’ amazing food scene we have here in Asheville!

Stay tuned to AVLToday for my continued lists and contributions, and please let me know what your faves are so I can try them for myself, and hopefully bring others’ attention to them as well!

Until, then, keep on eatin’! I know I will.

- Stu Helm, AKA The Food Fan

Which came first the fried chicken or the deviled egg?

The chicken sandwich at Buxton might be my current most -frequently eaten item in all of Asheville, but I’ve eaten more of the deviled eggs from Nightbell, which I have been eating and writing about for almost four years, and it has remained at the tippity-top of y must-eats list in downtown Asheville!

This is a contributor-submitted Voices piece. Want to join the conversation? We invite you to write for us. Learn how to share your voice here.

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