I really, really want to start this blog off by talking about anything but the weather. I don’t feel like many successful blogs were written by someone whose default conversation started with a good ol’ weather line. But, seriously, what is going on? Anyone that’s lived in Asheville for a little while knows how indecisive it can be, but this week has just been absurd. I was playing basketball in a tank top and shorts Sunday afternoon, now I’m watching it blow snow flurries, and I’m hunkered down inside because the wind outside is cold enough to pierce anything in my wardrobe. Thankfully all my meetings have been indoors this week and I have several great places to document on my adventures with Dig Local, including but not limited to: The new Green Man taproom. That’s right folks, you heard it here first. I did devote an entire afternoon to touring with the owner, Dennis, so there will be a completely separate post on them, which will most likely take a couple weeks to get on here, because I have a lot of content. I am going to try and keep the journal straight and to the point, because I need plenty of time to do my other million responsibilities and plan for other controversial top ten lists.
Saturday Night, Food Connection Benefit Concert at The Grey Eagle
For anyone who doesn’t know, Dig Local started and helps run Food Connection, a charity program that helps restaurants, catering companies, and college cafeterias that have surplus, prepared food and get it to those in need here in WNC. We work with homeless shelters, underprivileged kids and others in need wherever they are in the Asheville area. Business owners can now text Asheville Taxi, who we coordinate with to deliver the food and distribute it to those in need. It’s turned out to be a great program, and since we launched, we have had over 13,000 meals donated and are averaging 100 pounds of outgoing food a day in just the ten months we have been operating. Well, as it turns out, this isn’t free and we have to always find creative ways to raise money for the program. The fantastic folks over at the Asheville famous Grey Eagle venue were gracious enough to let us use their music hall last Saturday night to host an amazing assortment of local musicians who donated their time to put on one heck of a show, and we raised $10,000 for Food Connection! That just goes to show how awesome and supportive the local Asheville community is, and we love to be able to give back to our beautiful hometown. It just melts my cold heart. Please reach out to us if you are interested in volunteering to help with Food Connection.
Monday, Stags Head Brewing
On Monday I got to head on down to our Southern neighbors, good ol’ Hendersonville, where I met Jonathan — a fantastic ex-cabinet maker who has decided he wants to jump on the brewers bandwagon and give Hendersonville a little taste of some exciting beers alongside Southern Appalachian Brewing and Sanctuary Brewing. He is calling his place Stags Head Brewing. Since I met him in a warehouse where his mother stored her Christmas supplies, I can’t divulge much information on his new taproom. He can’t either, since it’s not been built yet, but he showed me the floor plans so I will tell you what I can. It sounds like it’s going to be a large space set in downtown Hendersonville, with a massive 7500 square foot outdoor area, an upstairs part for games and bands to play, and it’s going to give the Hendersonvillians (?) a great place to hang out. I was particularly interested to learn in what styles of beer he was going to be focusing on, and one of the most interesting ones that he went over with me was a concept for an Argentinian Ale, which sounds right up my alley — my super hoppy, pungent alley. From listening to him, it sounds like the opening date will be mid to late summer.
Tuesday, Gardens of Health Chiropractic, Bonfire Barbecue, Odd’s Cafe, Ruth and Ranshaw and the GreenMansion.
Well this is a special edition, because thanks to the fantastic folks over at Gardens of Health Chiropractic, I got to have my first session ever this Tuesday! They are located on Church street as of last week, right on the backside of Bhramari Brewhouse. If you check out the pictures you can see that they really scored big when it came to a great spot. Personally, Church Street is possibly my favorite street in Asheville. The architecture is classic, the parking isn’t terrible, and it is the median between a bustling Biltmore Avenue and our ever expanding South Slope area. Check out the pictures and you can see that the house that they are in is just the perfect spot to spend a relaxing chunk of time getting yourself back in alignment from the stresses of everyday Asheville hustling. Landon and Abigail have been working together for a good while, and Landon gave me a cool little backstory about being from and studying in Davenport, the town where the profession of chiropractic first started. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but sure enough after stretching me out and popping my back and neck back into place I was feeling like a 1995 Michael Jordan, ready to ball on the world. I would highly recommend giving them a visit, only a few minutes makes you feel so prepared to take on the world.
Our networking group met for lunch this week at Bonfire Barbecue, one of my favorite places in town, I dare say, my favorite barbecue spot in town. Just like most of the other businesses in town that top my favorites list, they have a lot to offer on top of their main service. Jeff Barcelona, the owner, seems to have made his vision taking the traditionally terrible plaza on Patton Avenue and turning it into a place where West AVLiens can get great food and enjoy a wide variety of entertainment. It became my favorite spot throughout the year to watch Monday Night Football after a nice workout at Golds Gym directly across the street. More than too many times I fell prey to the tantalizing Bonfire sign that was beckoning to me from 100 yards and one short red light across the street. Besides having the best barbecue you can fathom, they are sporting several TV’s and a huge projector that plays all the big games, such as the great one I saw a few weeks ago when Duke beat UNC (sorry, had to leave that somewhere in here). They have a large tap selection and full bar, and the prices are on point for the quality of BBQ they carry. Personally, I recommend the Bonfire Sampler the first time you go there. For $21 you can have the majority of the flagship items they carry, including my favorite: the salt and pepper brisket. Yeah, yeah heresy! Being from North Carolina and brisket is my choice of BBQ, but I do what I want! The sandwiches have never let me down either, so if you want to try one of those go get yourself The Packer. Yes, its named after a team that’s not the Panthers, but the brussel sprouts, brisket, ciabatta bun, and cheddar more than make up for the largely bandwagon associated team that it shares a name with (love you guys but seriously). Jeff, if you are reading this, we the people of the Carolina’s want a Panthers sandwich! Maybe not made of Panther though, I do not condone that in any way and neither does the Wildlife Association. On this day in my crazy, hungry rage I accidently ordered a vegetarian bbq option that had shiitake mushrooms instead of pork, and I have to say, it was pretty great still! If you can impress me with vegetarian options, you are doing something right. He has also recently opened a new area which doubled the size of Bonfire and is called “The Pit,” and has something for everyone to enjoy. Complete with pool tables, full bar, darts, TV’s, and even a stage for karaoke and DJ’s, so he’s certainly bringing an element to Patton Avenue that says “Move over KFC (like, literally move over, our parking is spewing into your lot), there’s a new sheriff of Patton Avenue.” And that sheriff smells like sweet, NC, barbecue sauce. Y’all keep killing it, Bonfire.
Made a super quick trip up to Odd’s Cafe with my friend Lucy from AIR to grab some much needed caffeine before my next meeting. I enjoy Odd’s, I think they are one of the better places in town serving Counter Culture Coffee. In the beginning, I think their consistency could wane from visit to visit, but in the past few months I haven’t had anything I didn’t like. Especially when the POS system went down and I got free coffee, which we all know tastes better and is healthier. As usual, I recommend the light roast, they usually do a great job of keeping a perfect balance of floral and nutty but not overpowering, with just the right amount of kick to get me through the day, but not have people asking me to take deep breaths and calm down. I would put them somewhere on my top ten favorite coffee shops in Asheville for sure.
My newly caffeinated self then sped over to good ol’ Fairview to speak with Clair at Ruth and Ranshaw, an awesome bake shop that seems to be so busy they had to hire all 20 people in Fairview to work there. I feel like as much coffee, alcohol, and food as I consume I’m allowed to judge places for the most part, but seeing as I am not a sweets person, I decided to take lots of pictures and let them do the talking. Clair is a super sweet lady and works with her sister Colleen — they run the bake shop. The first thing I noticed was all the vintage decor, and being into photography, I was immediately glad that I remembered to pack the camera. They seemed to be slam packed when I was there, leading me to believe they are a popular spot to get some wedding sweets or cater events, and after looking at reviews online they get an almost perfect score. Great job, sisters. And thanks for letting me come backstage, check out all your cool stuff, and take pictures of the crew!
Ah, the GreenMansion. The newly expanded Green Man facility. Four hours of interviewing and drinking with the owner of Green Man Brewery. In a unanimous vote of the committee of Stephan, I have decided to make this an entire separate blog entry because of the time that the Green Man staff devoted to me, which was much appreciated. A lot of attention was brought on from the fact that Green Man was not in my Top Ten Breweries of Asheville entry, and we went over that and I shared the mixed experiences I had in the past, and I have to say, Dennis, the owner, was extremely professional and went above and beyond to cater to me and explain to me Green Man’s focus on the local community. This blog entry is going to be extremely informative and I advise you to tell you friends, cousins, and everyone. It’s going to contain a great look into the future, Dennis’s outlook on the brewing scene in Asheville, and some fantastic Terminator quotes. Make sure you follow Adventure Local Asheville to keep up with it!
Wednesday, Blue Ridge Biscuit Company, Crest Mountain Dinner Show
After a long, enjoyable night of Green Man beers followed up with an encore at Foggy Mountain Brewpub and One World Brewing, I decided a hearty breakfast was in order. Somewhere with biscuits that would be a formable size for a dinosaur or a slightly hungover me to enjoy. Somewhere like Blue Ridge Biscuit Company. If Bojangles is the T-Rex of biscuits, Blue Ridge Biscuit company is like that ridiculous dinosaur in Jurassic Park 3 that basically pommeled over all the T-Rexes. The Lookout and The Grey Beard biscuit are my two favorites. The Lookout is fried chicken, bacon, and cheddar cheese, all smothered with gravy and laughs at you if you think you can best it without utensils. Not even Shaquille O’Neal has the right equipment to take this thing down with his hands. My friend had it, while I had The Grey Beard. he Grey Beard is fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, homemade honey mustard topped with arugula. Both of them are formidable opponents to anyone who wants to get in the ring with some hearty and high quality breakfast food. Chances are, you will be KO’d on the first round and end up couch-side as I did.
There are a few things in Asheville that we used to be known for that are getting harder and harder to find as time and expansion goes on. The first is genuine traveling hippies — thanks rising housing costs! I kind of miss those guys. The other is real estate close to town that still captures what first brought on the wonderment with this area, which is the blue ridge mountains. I like to get out of the downtown valley and head up the mountains as much as possible, but its a rare feat when I am blessed with the opportunity to see some great property very close to downtown. Well, the Crest Pavilion certainly has this. Only five miles from downtown, the Pavilion is a short shot from town, just a little detour off Patton, and you are there. Crest is a multi-functional community located on the side of a mountain with breathtaking views. The way it is described on their website is “Crest is a family-owned mountain community that includes banquet facilities, vacation rentals, office studios, a gated residential community, luxury condominiums, and a sustainable eco-village.” I was meeting with them about one of their newer projects, The Crest Mountain Dinner Show, which is done about 15 times a year alongside a great meal, and of course, some great views. I bet being up there at sunrise is something else, seeing as I think it faces east. The music is normally traditional Southern Appalachian folk music alongside southern style meals, but it looks like they are starting to offer other shows that include pop, a Christmas theme around the holidays, and Appalachian style gospel. Check the link I put in here to look them up — I really think that it would be a great event for family who are in town visiting. It’s one of those things that patrons of any age will enjoy.
Thursday, Envision Eyecare, Copper Crown
Thursday was a super fun day spending a lot of time at the beloved eye doctor, but props to Envision Eyecare for taking care of my eye, which apparently has a small ulcer. Makes sense why everything has been pretty blurry! They have state of the art equipment and have some of the highest ratings of any eye doctor in Asheville, and as much as I hate sitting still and letting people poke around my eye holes, they do a great job.
About three times a week I have been hearing about how great this new place Copper Crown is, so I figured I would non-begrudgingly give it a shot. My roommate and I headed down there Thursday night to a full house, and promptly opted for a spot at the bar instead of waiting on a table. This place is fairly small, and I hadn’t eaten in seven hours, so for anyone that knows me personally knows the state that I am in without food for that long of a time and knows that I need something, quick. The Copper Crown just opened less than a year ago and has been getting a lot of attention in the East Asheville sector, and for a good reason. The owners also run Zambras, a staple of the Asheville food scene. The service was super quick and friendly for how packed it was, which means a lot coming from crazy, irritable, hangry Stephan. I quickly decided on the slow roasted pork shoulder with grits, grilled radicchio, and hot pepper vinaigrette. My roommate changed her mind several times, but she landed on the Hi-Fi burger, after ordering the Lo-Fi burger but wanting to add bacon and blue cheese, and was informed that that is essentially what transforms the Lo-Fi into the Hi-Fi. The meat was fantastic, the grits were the right consistency and I ate it all in about a minute thirty seconds I was so hungry. I really want to give everything a perfect rating because I love the Asheville food scene, but it is my job to be honest and I will say my only quarrel of the night was that the grits were a bit on the cooler side, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the radicchio. I have been super spoiled on pork shoulder and belly from Local Provisions and Storm lately so I have to set the bar high. The meat and whatever sauce was used on it was the highlight of the meal. Now my roommate’s burger, it looked fantastic, and she swore by it. I will definitely be trying it soon. I would give my meal a solid 8/10. The service and environment was all very well put together and did not show any of the usual new restaurant issues. Great job, Copper Crown!
Friday, 67 Biltmore, Gypsy Queen Market and Deli
My friend and much more experienced Food Critic, Stu Helm, has been raving on about 67 Biltmore, and while I have met with the owners a couple times for Dig Local and Food Connection, I actually hadn’t had the food from there. Reading Stu’s work is so enjoyable. Its a fresh take on the usual bore of food critiquing through the brazen voice of a bold critic. It’s professional, yet fresh, informative, and still engaging because the voice is that of a man who doesn’t take any crap and uses a great crop of expletives to voice his work. If he likes what is presented to him, he does a fantastic job of conveying his experience, and if he doesn’t, then he is not afraid to tell the people exactly what they need to hear so they can get their issues fixed. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Go give him a follow here. I figured Friday morning would be a good time to go give it a look-see-taste, and I decided upon the Morning Forager sandwich, which consists of local eggs, wilted spinach, balsamic roasted tomatoes & melted havarti, served on Annie’s multigrain bread. And coffee, duh. Shewww, I tell you what, them balsamic roasted tomatoes were on point. It was a very filling breakfast but what makes it important to me is that in the days of so many breakfast options being overly greasy and baconated, (nothing wrong with that, unless you ask your arteries), I love finding a healthy breakfast that doesn’t make me want to head right back to the bed that I just got out of. The coffee was a little dark and slightly burnt for my taste, but I am a light roast kind of guy and that doesn’t matter a lot to me in a place that isn’t focused on being a coffee shop. I will certainly be back. Actually, 67 Biltmore is right across from City Bakery, which is one of my other favorite downtown breakfast spots. You have some great choices any day of the week if you are on Biltmore Avenue.
For my last workweek meal, I decided to stop in one of my favorite eateries that is bringing the local movement to a once over-chained Patton avenue: Gypsy Queen Market and Deli. Suzy, the owner, is an eccentric and well known individual in the community from her Gypsy Queen food truck, which serves Lebanese street food and was the first food truck in Asheville as far as I know. As many successful food truck owners do, she decided to take her amazing food into the brick and mortar world so that we can always successfully track down her food when we are craving it. And one time is all it takes. I freaking loveeeee Gypsy Queen. There are a lot of your standard yet amazing staples in Asheville, so you will not be lacking if your goal is to find local tacos, farm to table American dining, even sushi way up here in the mountains. Lebanese might be a challenge for you to find. I had to grab some Lamb Shawarma on her request, and I’m glad she did. The first thing that I notice when I bite into it is just how many different flavors I’m getting. It’s like being at a four way intersection and being hit with spicy, sweet, and salty all at once. In this scenario you are the fourth car and you enjoy being hit by flavors on a regular basis. I love the complexity of the meal, and its got enough substance in the burrito to be extremely filling, yet its thick enough to hold itself together. I love Neo Burrito, but you aren’t eating one of those monsters without a fork because after two bites you are basically eating a burrito bowl. The lamb is finished astoundingly good, and for not being huge on lamb, or rather indifferent I would say, it’s incredible. If anyone wants anything with lamb in Asheville, this will be the direction I send them. Go support Suzy and lets make Patton Avenue cool again with all these great local businesses popping up!
Bonus Weekend Shenanigans That I Choose To Post Because They Are Important, Allgood Coffee
Seeing as I hail from the close by Weaverville/Barnardsville area, when the weather starts getting nice again I tend to spend a lot more time back on the North side of town with the family, and my extended small business family on Main Street Weaverville. I haven’t told a lot of people this, but one of the main reasons I support the local movement so much is because of what I’ve seen it do for our little town of Weaverville. Growing up, it was usually just another McDonalds, a Burger King, and later on Walmart and Zaxby’s, and this was Weaverville Boulevard. Adjacent to the Boulevard though, is our little Main Street. As kids, we loved going down there because of the library, little local gift shops, and our barber shop. All were the epitome of locally owned businesses (well the library isn’t exactly local, but you get the point), and nothing much changed until a few years ago when we started getting some real talent that drew the attention of a lot of usual Asheville goers. Now we have several really cool hang out spots with a lot of personality on Main Street Weaverville. Twisted Laurel, Blue Mountain Pizza, The Creperie, Main Street Grill, Maggie B’s, and my personal favorite: Allgood Coffee.
First off, I could probably name off my top five favorite local businesses and I would say that Allgood Coffee would probably be on that list. Like, my all time list. It embodies all to me that a great small business brings to the table that a big box store or chain such as Starbucks might try to recreate but never will. It’s environment, attention to detail, and the faces there that you see everyday you know are genuinely invested in their craft and community. And that all starts with the owners, Eric and Anna. While Anna isn’t working as much in the times that I’m normally there, Eric has became a great friend in the to my sisters and I, and we spend a lot of time in there because he’s got it right. Starting with the craft, Eric’s coffee is number one, hands down, no one else. It took me a while to write my top ten breweries list and figure out just who would settle at number one, but with a top coffee list, I wouldn’t even have to think twice. When I judge a place for the first time, my system is to judge the fundamentals. When I go to an American fine dining establishment, I get the filet medium rare. When I go to a new sushi place, my order will be the sashimi just to see how fresh the fish is first. When I’m blessed to get to try a new brewery here in Asheville, which is quite often, the standard IPA is first on my list. After they pass fundamentals, then it is time to branch out and try the specialties and experimental offerings. Well, just as that goes with the others, my first drink at any new coffee shop is the straight up light roast, drip coffee, served black. Any flaw in the system can be found here, and I’ve never found one. In fact, Eric is the one that has turned me into a coffee snob. Thanks man! No more Hot Spot coffee flavored water for me. It truly is a curse and a blessing, but I’ll linger more on the blessing side. I heard a great saying one time, which may or not been from a fictional TV character named Ron Swanson: “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing”. Fictional or not, it rings true in so many real life scenarios. When you first order, you can ask him about the beans, the process, anything. I guarantee you he knows every bit of it, and on top of that will take the time to get to know you as well. I truly believe Allgood is doing a great job making coffee that craft and has came about as close to perfecting it as any business I’ve seen in Western North Carolina. No matter if he is serving 1000 Faces, Mountain Air Roasters, or whatever coffee beans he chooses from local distributors, it’s always blown my mind and has powered my day on many, many occasions. I wish he knew how many meetings my brain was just shut down or that I was mentally unprepared for that his coffee gave me an edge on. To me the first key in securing “regulars” is to know exactly what they want. Know their name. Ask them about the test they had last week. I’ve chosen plenty of mediocre places over the years simply because the staff cares enough to make the effort, so when you combine that with an amazing product you have the recipe for an unforgettable, ageless, true local establishment. And that is why I love my job, from the days of being a kid roaming up and down Main Street and people calling you out by your name to seeing people understanding why it’s important to invest in your local community.
Well that’s it for this post. Mostly because it’s almost Midnight on Sunday, so it’s taken me some time to finish this post. I believe y’all got some places to visit, so tell them Stephan from Dig Local sent you in. I’m always looking for suggestions, because believe it or not, I don’t know of everywhere, even in our small(ish) town. So hit me up AVLiens!