From Bagels to Meatloaf: Stu’s top picks of winter so far

Clockwise: Button & Co. Bagels, Buxton Hall BBQ, Hole Doughnuts, Blackbird Restaurant. Photos: @stuhelmfoodfan

Clockwise: Button & Co. Bagels, Buxton Hall BBQ, Hole Doughnuts, Blackbird Restaurant. Photos: @stuhelmfoodfan

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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While I enjoy sitting at home, in front of my computer, writing about food and doing social media all day, it can be boring. So, I also like to get out and about Asheville, usually on foot, and usually with food on my mind. Here’s a pretty random smattering of some of the places I visited recently, and the things I ate once I got there.

Protip: You can more or less follow along on my Instagram page while you read this if you wanna see pictures of it all.

1. Many Button Bagels

Are you kidding me? I want to live in this bagel shop. Can I? Can I please live inside of Button & Co. Bagels so that I may eat one or five of your delicious bagels first thing every single morning? I promise I will do my own dishes, and take out the trash. Whatever you need! My favorite kind of bagel is salt, and I was psyched to see it on the short list of flavors. Add plain cream cheese, a slice of tomato, a sprinkle of black pepper, and a hot cup of Counter Culture coffee, and boom: Stu Heaven. Don’t let anyone try to tell you these bagels aren’t “authentic.” I know a great bagel when I eat one, and the salt bagel at Button & Co. is a great bagel.

2. Hole Doughnuts

About once a year, my GF Dawn will text me this message first thing in the morning: “I want Hole doughnuts.” To which I respond, “Well, git on outta bed, then, and let’s GO!” That exact scenario played out last week, and so to Hole we went, and DANG, YO. Those doughnuts.

Made fresh to order, and best eaten right then and there at the establishment, the doughnuts are hot, sweet, crispy, and doughy, with limited, though marvelous, subtle, creative flavors. Gah! The PennyCup coffee also hit the spot. Asheville, we are so lucky to have a precious little gem like Hole doughnuts in our midst! It is truly a special place.

3. Reuben Research

I went to Blackbird and the brand new Continental Lounge to eat Reubens. Both were very tasty. I’m doing research for the upcoming “Stoobie Awards,” which will be presented at a LIVE ceremony for the very first time on Monday January 4th, 2019, at the Asheville Masonic Temple. More deets and ticket sales will be announced soon. Secret handshake not required for entry. In the meantime, please recommend Reubens to me, and help me hunt down the best in town.

I might create a separate “Best Reuben” category, in addition to my “Sandwich of the Year” award. Stay tuned!

4. Chicken Sando

My mom likes lunch. She’d really been wanting to try the brand-spanking new (as in it just opened a minute and half ago) Henrietta’s Poultry Shoppe in the River Arts District where the OG White Duck Taco used to be. I dragged my feet, so she went without me, and then, ermergerd, it was ON. She couldn’t wait to take me! And yeah. Hell yeah.

Great sandwich. I got one called the “Charleston” because it contained all the things: Bacon, pimento cheese, pickles, jalapeños, and a giant-sized piece of battered, and perfectly deep-fried chicken breast. Good lord. I will be back as often as my doctor will allow. Oh wait, I don’t have a doctor! Heeeeeey, chicken!!!

5. Pork Brain Mousse

What’s the best part of the annual Taste of Asheville? Is it mingling with the crowds? Meeting the makers? Or is it the “tastes” themselves? Good question. I dunno. I ate brains. That’s where I’m going with this, so let’s just get there. I told myself that I was going to eat at every single table at the Taste this year, and yeah, no, I couldn’t even make it to the second floor before I was feeling fit to burst. But before I arrived at the point of no return, I came upon the AUX Bar / Brinehaus table, and there was Chef Steven Goff himself, dishing out a creamy, white, whipped mousse made out of pig brains.

Yerp. He made me eat it, and laughed at me when I did. Honestly, it was naht my fave bite at the Taste this year, though many other people loved it, and I was at least grateful for the opportunity to try it, along with many other very delicious bites at the 2018 Taste of Asheville. Thanks, and congratulations to Jane Anderson and the good folks at the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association for producing their 10th Taste of Asheville. It was the best one ever!

6. Meatloaf Dinner

It is a well known fact that Buxton Hall Barbecue is my favorite restaurant in Asheville. They won an award from me. Their fried chicken sandwich is one of my all-time favorite food items I’ve ever eaten and continue to eat on a regular basis, but sometimes, I gotta break away from the usual, and go for the special of the day.

The other day I did just that, and good lord, y’all. The meatloaf dinner was so on fleek, it coulda been called fleekloaf. The loaf was crumbly and moist, and savory, plus loaded with carrots and celery, and other home goodness, and it had a really great tomato glaze on top. It came with two sides, and banana pie. I ordered the mashed taters with hog gravy (YOM!), and the green beans.

My fave green beans in Asheville, yo. I poured the excess bean juice over the meatloaf at the very end, and wow. So many flavors. The pie was to die for. Chef Ashley Capps has been really blowing my mind with the baked goods and desserts that she and her crew have been cranking out lately. This whole dinner experience was amazing. Also, I pregamed Thanksgiving with a smoked turkey dinner at Buxton that was equally awesome.

7. French Food

I was depressed, so I treated myself to a meal for two at Vivian the other night, and left feeling like King Louis the 16th. Still very anxious about the future, but also fat, smug, and full of delicious sauces. I started my extravagant meal with a “small plate” (which I later saw described on their Facebook page as a “squash mountain”) that was most of a butternut squash, stuffed with bread crumbs, bacon, and bleu cheese. Although that dish alone was more than enough food content to make up an entire meal for me personally, I proceeded to order and eat seared scallops with Appaloosa beans, creme fraiche, caviar, a plate of foraged mushrooms, heirloom polenta, pine nuts, and winter cress, and a chocolate trifle the size of a pomegranate. My Facebook post simply said, “I think I may have ate too much.” Vivian is one of the best restaurants in Asheville, if not the country. Go there, and eat like royalty.

Specifically like the French royalty of the 18th century. Y’know, right before they all got their heads chopped off. For some reason the thought of guillotines put me in a better mood that night.

8. Vegetarian Shapes

So, I tried and failed, twice, to eat vegetarian for an entire week. I just couldn’t do it, not because I’m weak-willed, but because I kept forgetting, and suddenly finding myself absentmindedly tucking into some meat on a stick, or five sliders in one day, out of sheer habit.

Aaaaaanyhoo… I actually did eat Veg for a few days in a row during both attempts, and enjoyed many tasty shapes.

That’s right, shapes. I got a big ol’ block of mushroom stuffed tofu from Posana that was quite delicious! I also got some cubes of barbecue tofu, and some large triangles of fried grit cakes at Homegrown West. The grit cakes were friggin’ awesome! The tofu was a leeetle bit on the sweet side for me, but when I cut it with the very fresh and crunchy slaw, it was perfect. I also ordered several cylindrical containers of Indian, Himalayan, and Mongolian food from Mela and Kathmandu via Takeout Central that I enjoyed very much! Yay, vegetarian shapes!

9. Soup Season

Cold weather brings out the soup lover in a lot of us, including myself, so I’ve been tucking into some very comforting soups lately. Probably the most comforting of them all was a “loaded baked potato” soup that came with my (B)AUX Lunch at AUX Bar. The (B)AUX Lunch is a very hearty, healthy, unique, and delicious daily lunch special that includes soup, salad, and ½ a po’ boy sandwich.

I got the French fry and beef debris po’ boy, which was super yummy, and very satisfying, I highly recommend it. The loaded tater soup was perfect. Warm, thick, savory as can be, and topped with a generous amount of bacon and cheddar cheese. The salad was made of leafy green things, shaved orange things, and pickled red things, and was really good, as far salads go. You may want to turn towards another writer for your salad reviews.

10. Pizza

“Hey, Stuey.” My friend Mike is one of the co-owners of Manicomio Pizza, and the only person on earth who currently calls me “Stuey.” He can get away with it, because he’s from New York, and it sounds cool coming out his mouth. So the other day, he says, “Hey Stuey, you gotta try my smoked artichoke heart and fresh tomato pizza.

Not long after, there I sat with my friends Paddy and Renny, raving about this effing pizza. Chowing down giant slices of it, and exclaiming to Mike that he has a real winner on his hands. “In San Francisco I served it with a fresh lemon to squeeze on top,” said Mike, “but I’m not sure Asheville is ready for that.” I asked for a lemon, one was produced from the kitchen, and this pizza went from great, to phenomenal in five squeezes or less. I told Mike, “Asheville is ready for this.” I’ve been eating pizza for, like, 50 years, and I have never once squeezed a dang lemon on one. Now I can’t wait try this pie a second time, so I can do it again!

And there you have ten recent things I ate while I was out and about in this great food city of ours.

This list is incomplete and only a fraction of the incredible bites, plates, and meals I’ve had since my previous article for AVLtoday. I didn’t even include the eight-course meal I enjoyed at Nightbell to honor the release of a new cocktail recipe book called Drinking Like Ladies, or the crab cake sandwich I devoured from my current favorite food truck, Food Stop. Or, the elk burger I got from The Barrelhouse in North Asheville just a few days ago. First time eating elk for me. I loved it. And I love Asheville. I’ll see you out there!!

– Stu Helm

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