Stu Helm’s top 10 tips for eating out with food restriction in Asheville



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By: Stu Helm is a food writer + tour guide, who creates a monthly guide to Asheville’s food scene for AVLtoday.

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Here in Asheville, I sometimes tell my Food Tour patrons, “we are always on the cutting edge of dietary restrictions.”

Leading the tours has opened my eyes to the sheer number of allergies and restrictions that people might have. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, ovo-lacto-pescatarian, gluten free, dairy free, no shrimp, no pork, no tree nuts, no peanuts, no garlic, no tomatoes, no mushrooms, no eggplant, no pineapple, no mangos, no mammal meat. Yerp. That’s a real one. Snakes, alligators, fish, birds, bugs, and invertebrates are all good, but if the beast produces milk with which to nurse its young, then some folks literally can’t eat it. “Misery,” was the word that the lady on my tour with the mammal meat allergy used to describe it. It comes from a tick bite, BTW. So for the love of God don’t bite any ticks!!!

Whether they are based on a doctor’s orders, self-diagnosis, or simply made by choice for political or religious reasons, I respect every person’s diet, and in some cases I absolutely admire it. It’s hardcore to be vegan. Takes a lot of willpower (because, bacon), so all props to vegans.

Anyhoo, because people often ask, here are my top ten recommendations for you, your family and friends, and everybody out there with allll your freaky-deaky dietary needs...

Get the Gluten Out

Roughly 1% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, and while that is a small percent, it is an enormous number of people! Plus there are all the people who are “gluten sensitive,” but not officially celiac. There are so many eaters trying to avoid gluten these days, that GF options are everywhere you look, and there are several food vendors in town who specialize in GF products. I’ll name three, and make specific recommendations for each.

1. Posana

Most famous/not famous for being 100% gluten-free in Asheville is Posana in Pack Square. Ain’t one speck of gluten in that whole place, but they don’t exactly go out of their way to tell that to the general public. Reason: They don’t want to limit their clientele to that one percent of the population I mentioned above. They obviously want everyone to come and enjoy the goodness -- greatness! -- that is Posana.

I eat there as often as I can, and, believe me, I will eat a bucket of gluten if given the chance. I will specifically recommend the pork belly eggs benedict for Sunday brunch. Instead of some lame-ass gluten-free English muffin on the bottom of the Benny stack, there is a beautiful piece of cornbread.

2. The Rhu

Located on the top of S. Lexington Ave, The Rhu is John Fleer’s other restaurant. He owns Rhubarb of course, for which he has received a James Beard nomination, and a “Best Dinner” Stoobie award from yours truly.

The Rhu is lesser known, and very different, but equally awesome in my opinion. It’s essentially a breakfast and lunch joint, as well as a bakery, and yes there’s delicious glutenous baked goods out the whazoo, buhhht, the head baker, Chef Kaley Laird is celiac herself, and so, the gluten-free baked goods are bar-none the best in Asheville. I specifically recommend the GF oatmeal cream pie. It’s unreal.

3. Strada

Gluten free pasta is usually disappointing. I know this from buying it by accident at the grocery store, cooking it at home, taking one bite and being all like, “WTF is wrong with this pasta?!?”

And then looking at the box and realizing my mistake. Dinner, meet trash can. GF Pasta is an automatic fail, right? NO! GF people take heart, and get yourselves over to Strada Italiano, where Chef Anthony Cerato, himself celiac, has come up with the best GF pasta ever! The penne with bolognese is where it’s at, especially with a meatball added. Unless, of course, you’re also Vegan.

V is for Vegan

We all know that Plant, Rosetta’s, Loretta’s, and Laughing Seed are our heavy-hitters in the realm of Vegan and Vegetarian fare, but where else can Vegans go out to eat in Asheville?

Answer: Literally anywhere. Well, almost. Do I recommend Buxton Hall BBQ for Vegans, where even the veggies are cooked “under the hog?” No. I do not. Vegans would want to die the moment they walked in the door of Buxton Hall. The name of the pig is written on a chalkboard for cripe’s sake. So, yeah, no, Vegans, don’t go there. Go here instead...

4. Blue Dream Curry House

Five out of the six curries on the menu at Blue Dream are available as Vegetarian and/or Vegan entrees, as well as three out of four soups & bowls.

I personally recommend the Masala curry which is a creamy UK style tomato curry made with a House garam masala spice blend and fresh cilantro. Blue Dream is located on Patton Ave, right next to Empire Tattoo, which is next to the Hookah Hook-up, which is next to the Yacht Club, which is next to Sonora. And I suggest you do all those things, in that order.

5. Underground Cafe

Yes, The Underground Cafe is my fave new jam, and I write about it a lot, but that’s because it rules. I love their burger, and their braised beef sliders, and their meatloaf is to DIE FOR! Oh, wait, Vegans. Sorry. Aaaanyhoodles. Chef Jay Medford is a southerner, trained in the French culinary style, which means butter. Also meat. So, he’s not exactly know for being “Veg Forward,” but he’s got one Vegetarian thing and one thing only on his menu that he can even make Vegan: A kale & quinoa bowl. Sounds boring, but it’s delish, and far from being just for Vegans, it has rocketed to the top of the charts with his regular customers, and has become one of his most popular dishes over-all! That’s a major feat for something made out of kale. And quinoa.

6. Polanco

Located on N. Market Street, Polanco is a very good Mexican restaurant owned by Chef Ricardo Carasco, and the kitchen pays special attention to the needs of Vegans and Vegetarians.

The meat options are great, so go with mixed company, and everyone will be able to find something they love! I recommend the mole rojo with No Evil Foods plant meat “chicken,” with house made mole. The NEF chicken is so similar to actual chicken, it’s difficult for some people to tell the difference, and the mole is made with over 32 ingredients. Both are unique and delicious!

The (Non-Dairy) Cream of the Crop

Sure I feel bad for No Mammal Meat Lady, but at least she could eat dairy! (Oddly enough.) I was a Vegetarian for 10 years, so I know I can live without meat, but just thinking about being Vegan for ten whole seconds makes me want cheese. That’s why I feel a special sympathy for the lactose intolerant among us, so here are some dairy-free tips for y’all.

7. Trade and Lore

First of all, their nitrous cold brew doesn’t even need dairy, it’s so creamy, but for your lattes, cappuccinos, and other milk-based espresso drinks, Trade and Lore has what you need: Oat Milk.

They say that it’s the closest in texture and taste to dairy milk, doesn’t alter the flavor of the espresso as much as, say, almond milk, and also has a much lower carbon/water footprint than almond milk. So you can feel good about a lot of stuff.

8. The Hop & Ultimate Ice Cream

Because I love them both equally, I must always speak of them in the same breath. That is my rule. Our friends at Ultimate and The Hop make some of the best ice cream in WNC, and both companies always have several non-dairy options on hand!

The Hop might have rosemary almond milk, peach pepita Milk, lavender lemon coconut milk, or bourbon brown sugar banana creme at any given time. Ultimate always has a bunch of fun sorbets in-house, including all manner of fruit, plus root beer, and chocolate! They also use almond milk, coconut milk, and oat milk to make their non-dairy flavors.

9. Plant

Ha! I tricked ya! You thought I’d list Plant under “Vegan,” but since they do have a “cheese board” that is of course 100% dairy free, I saved them for this category instead! Their plant-based cheese is made from aged cashew and is excellent, and the plate comes with involtini, fruit, pickled vegetables, black garlic oil & focaccia.

Alpha Gal-axy

So, the mammal meat thing is called Alpha Gal Allergy, and while it does suck, because, y’know, no beef, pork, lamb, bison, venison, rabbit, possum, squirrel or porcupines for you, the list of what you can eat is huge too, including every edible bird, as well as fish wonderful fish, so if you do suffer from Mammalian Meat Allergy, please go to...

10. Dive at The Times Bar

Hell yes, y’all! One of the greatest, young, talented, adventurous, and exciting chefs in Asheville is going to be cooking at the Times Bar inside the S & W Cafeteria building for the next three months at least! I’m talking about Chef Sarah Cousler, formerly of Buxton Hall, and famous for her “Dive” pop-ups, which feature delicious seafood and vegetables.

Rarely, if ever, does a piece o’ mammal meat pass over a plate at one of Chef Cousler’s Dive dinners. So go see her any night of the week, after 5 p.m., and have an Alpha Gal gourmet experience. The menu is small, and ever-changing, so I can’t recommend any particular dish, but can confidently advise you to try it all! Try a cocktail while you’re there too.

Aaand there’s my top food restriction tips for AVLToday! Even if you’re not restricted by any of the above allergies and dietary choices, go try all the above foods and beverages. I have zero restrictions, and I endorse every bite listed!

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