Stephan’s Dig Local Journal, Edition 3: A Week of Chupacabra Sightings, Dreaming About Blue Curry, The Collider of Asheville, and Many Others

They’re waking in all corners.

From the sleepy little interstate towns that you have never heard of, to large regional cities surround us- Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh- and even internationally, they’re waking up and dusting off their Urban Trail Maps, brewery checklists, and “Asheville Brewing Company” tees, in anticipation of keeping Asheville both weird & well-funded.

Yes. That low rumbling inside of you isn’t just from all the beer you’ve enjoyed this winter; it’s a universal longing.  The Redbuds on Church street are blooming, the meter man is warming up his ticket slinging hand, buskers are tuning their miming muscles and banjos. All signs and sounds point to the realization that…..

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THE TOURISTS ARE COMING!!!!

What a bittersweet time of year!  We surrender our lovely, accessible, parking spots to their Florida tagged SUVS; our time in exchange for their money; our daily and nightly toils making sure they get a taste of our awesome hometown.

Some of the low rumbling comes from local cynics. I sympathize when locals complain, I really do, but I think a lot of have, with mixed emotions, come to the realization that such a spectacular place could not be hidden forever, and will inevitably be a more and more highly coveted vacation spot. In my opinion, if we want to keep our land and unique businesses well-preserved, then we need to be willing to give our visitors love as well.

While writing this at my usual spot, Foggy Mountain Brewpub, two very bubbly, obvious tourists hopped onto the stool beside me, and I saw their eyes dancing around the taps and quietly whispering about how they didn’t know what they should try. I knew it was time to give them some genuine Asheville beer advice and showing them how to use our Dig Local app and website to figure out where to go without my guidance.

So here I am now, 3 days later, attempting to finish this post at a much quieter, less touristy area.. good ol’ Allgood Coffee in Weaverville.  I have a feeling I wont be interrupted for coffee advice here, since the owner Eric is basically the Michael Jordan of coffee.  I would say I’m getting pretty smart and slightly snobbish about my coffee, but compared to Eric, I’m just at Bugs Bunny in Space Jam level now. Anyway, here’s the week in local time:

Monday: Chupacabra Latin Cafe

Asheville is expanding its borders, slowly but surely.  So many areas that used to be completely run down or lacking any sort of uniqueness are now blossoming spots for great local businesses.  This is inevitable in any tourist driven town, and it’s positively mind-blowing to see as a local who grew up completely avoiding those areas. Prime examples would be Haywood Road, the South Slope (Beer Slope), and even East Asheville’s speckled entrepreneurscape of unique hangouts like Filo and Creekside Taphouse.

Merrimon Avenue, which feeds into downtown and connects Asheville to Weaverville, is always slowly expanding it’s cool factor north, and we locals hope this expansive attitude eventually spills over into asphalt, making the road wide enough to accommodate its growth. The most recent and furthest north adaption to the “cool expansion” is Reynolds Village.  Reynolds Village is right on the line; like, we are literally right there!  I just don’t know if it is yet, but if it’s not, it will be soon.  I believe that some of the businesses in Reynolds Village are really helping to pull it along the way, and Chupacabra Latin Cafe might just be that leading factor.

Dave Snyder, along with Patrick and Emily Abernathy, have cooked up a real business model in my opinion.  Patrick is the former chef of Red Stag grill and even won the 2014 NC Competitive Dining Series with the Red Stag Grill team.  Dave is a fellow chef as well as artist, and if you’ve read any of my blogs yet, you know that I am a sucker for a business whose ground-up vision all ties together.  The art work, the food, the staff, the building; it all ties together perfectly well.  Emily, who I have interacted with the most being the marketing person, is a fellow NC native and has worked with some of our local catering companies for a long while. Most importantly she’s a massive Panthers fan along with myself and normally I can count on a good discussion of why we are the best NFL franchise, or maybe cry about this years Superbowl.  I was disappointed she wasn’t there the day that I was because I was wearing my lucky Panthers socks and I feel that she would have appreciated that.  I’ve finally moved from the Depression state of the Five Stages of Grief and am now finally accepting it. Panthers reminiscence aside, I’m making this section a little longer than a lot of others because I actually ate at Chupacabra twice this week, and I feel that it’s important that you know where Reynolds Village stands in local Asheville.  On to the food!

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The rare Chupacabra in its natural habitat.

I’m sure we are all familiar with the mega-chain Chipotle.  I’ve been known to indulge from time to time.  I like Chipotle.  As an entrepreneurial-spirited guy, I like the business model. So when I go to a Latin cafe and order a burrito bowl, I’m going to compare it to the industry standard. Today was the day I tried the Chupacabra bowl.  In stark contrast to the elusive, goat-eating creature it is named after, the Chupacabra bowl is the perfect amount of food for a great price- right around $10.  Also, it boasts a lot more taste than a Chipotle bowl, or even more than several other local places that claim to have “the best burrito” in Asheville.  The menu for the bowl reads “Coconut & Lime Leaf Braised Pulled Pork with Bacon, Pinto Beans, Rice, Chow Chi, Fried Onion, Roasted Jalapeno Aioli, Salsa Fuego, Queso Fresco, & Blistered Corn”.  Umm, you had me at coconut and lime-leaf braised.  I would certainly recommend the Chupacrabra Bowl more than a Chipotle bowl. I’m fairly certain it doesn’t contain actual Chupacabra, and if it did, I don’t care and still want more!  More impressive, if you can believe it, was the meal I had at Chupacabra on Thursday.  They always have a “Catch of the Day Ceviche”; this week it was tuna, so I figured I would give it a shot.  After panicking about not sounding cultured and guessing at how “Ceviche” was actually pronounced, I committed to my pronunciation, and the lovely lady behind the register sounded like she understood. My attempt at being cultured and knowledgeable about seafood here in the mountains, all while masking that I hail from Barnardsville, was successful.  Score one for the hillbillies!  Let me tell you, this meal was memorable enough that it gave me the idea for a short segment of my weekly journal, called…………..

Stephan’s Meal of the Week!!

Clear winner this go-around is the Ceviche.  In a rush, I took it to go, and it was still the best food I had all week.  First off, for anyone who doesn’t know what Ceviche is, it is “a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of Latin America. The dish is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with ají or chili peppers”.  It’s a perfect, light dish for Spring, and really brings out the full flavor of the fish.  I would have taken a picture of it as I usually do, but in the process of acting as a noob and taking my order to go, it got a little deconstructed and wouldn’t have done Chupacabra justice. You’ll have to use your mind pictures at this juncture. From the incredibly fresh, lime-cured tuna to the bold, pickled vegetables, the food set off a party in my mouth that could stand up to a 1986 Beastie Boys house show.  There was partying in all corners of my mouth and taste buds, with no parents anywhere in sight to shut it down.  Sour, sweet, salty; all of my favorite things.  A 10/10 meal, no doubt.  Well done, Chupacabra, well done.

Tuesday:  Blue Dream Curry House, Lola Salon, Bhramari Brewhouse, The Collider

Ever noticed how there are certain spots in every city’s downtown area where businesses just cycle in and out of, a conundrum of changing entrepreneurs and poorly-implemented ideas?  Asheville has its fair share, and 81 Patton Avenue is one spot that come to mind.  Several coffee shops, tea places, and what-have-you have lived their short life spans here, only to give way to the next idea in the queue.  I believe that the cycle has been broken, because if quality and vision are a testament to longevity, Blue Dream Curry House is here to stay.  I started getting into curry a few years ago while living in Charlotte with my friend Andrew (mostly from when we would get a little tipsy at the local bars and cook up a major batch of curry, which basically cures hangovers).

Blue Dream owners Chris Cunningham, Sean Park, and James Sutherland are all fantastically nice guys.  They share a love of locally sourced food, and on the menu you can choose Springer Hills Farm chicken or Apple Brandy Beef as your protein, both of which are some of the highest quality local meat you can get around these parts. In addition to being locally sourced, I love how affordable the Blue Dream menu is.  For the quality and portion size of the food they are serving, I would imagine being closer to the $14 range, however, most of the plates are closer to $10.

This week we had our usual networking meeting at Blue Dream, and along with my fellow friends/account managers/Asheville Marketing Wizards, we all dove into the menu.  I usually spring for the Pisgah Panang, but for some reason I’ve really been on a lime kick lately, so my pick was sealed on the Green Dream, which consists of “Spicy Thai Green Coconut Curry / Lemongrass / Ginger / Cilantro / Lime”.  Lovely.  Just plain lovely.  Cilantro and lime is one of those irresistible food combination I can never get enough of, and the meal was plentiful & tasty.  Not one person from our picky group had anything to complain about, and for many of them it was their first Blue Dream experience.  I don’t really have any complaints, except that years of overloading hot sauces have dimmed my senses and I should have possibly told them to bring the heat. It may have been for the best since I had quite a busy day ahead of me anyway.

My next meeting was two blocks away at Lola’s Salon, where fellow Asheville Native Rebecca Biggers has been running her super fun salon since 2001.  The first thing when I walked in that I noticed was the Craftsman toolboxes that are being used for hair supplies, neat concept!  While I don’t feel nearly as qualified talking about salons as I do food, I can say that reading outside reviews and a general consensus on social media would point to Lola’s being a top notch salon in town. Plus, look at that location!  You could get your hurr cut, then go right over and see a show at the Orange Peel looking fabulous.  Or walk over to Wicked Weed and get that bison burger I suddenly can’t stop thinking about.  You are basically in the middle of downtown, so she’s got a prime spot.  And you can keep up with any promotions or features she’s running on our Dig Local app and website here!

Had to squeeze in a quick meal before another meeting, and since I was close to Biltmore Avenue I decided to see what my guys down at Bhramari Brewhouse were into.  I freaking love their food.  Co-owner Josh Dillinger is a former chef at Zambra, and I’ve never had a bad meal there.  My timing was impeccably bad that day however, as it was 4:30, my next meeting was at 5:30, and they were in-between lunch and dinner, so I had very limited menu choices.  Spent Grain Pretzel it was!  Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t really do sweets, just not my thing.  Meals like pretzels generally keep me full for about the duration of time that it takes to eat the pretzel.  Well, the pretzel was great, but the house mustard, jalapeño cheese sauce, black patent and honey, that’s what really made it pop.  That jalapeño cheese sauce is on point and I want my house to have a fountain of it.  Sweet is the taste bud I rely on the least, so having that side for my pretzel made me okay with not having a full meal.  I could go on and on about their entrees, but I will do that in my inevitable future visits.

I really had no idea what I was getting into when I was invited to be a guest at The Collider, so naturally I used the greatest resource known to modern man:  Google.  To my dismay/relief (it’s a weird emotional trigger) The Collider is nothing like the Large Hadron Collider , which for anyone that doesn’t know, might be the most interesting science machine in the world today.  It takes massive superconductor magnets to accelerate particles to almost light speed, and then crash them into each other.  Pros:  Possibly one of the biggest breakthroughs in science history, and is giving us the ability to study extremely advanced physics, space, and even time.  Cons:  It has the possibility of creating black holes and portals to alternate dimensions, where we have to drink Bud Ice and listen to Creed on a loop for eternity.  Terrifying.  However, the new Collider in Asheville is nothing like that.  The Collider describes itself as “A physical & intellectual work space focused on the Climate Sciences industry”; in other words, an innovative space where entrepreneurs and scientists can mingle and exchange ideas and learn how to work together.  It was a great networking event, and it was really neat getting to speak with Henry Doss, a venture capitalist who has done a lot of work in Silicone Valley, about Dig Local.  He was there to discuss his recent article in Forbes on Asheville’s innovative culture (which no matter what you do for work, you should go read).  Pretty exciting seeing our hometown getting recognition for our innovative culture!

Wednesday:  Gardens of Health Chiropractic

Until a few weeks ago I had no experience with going to a chiropractor.  However, I have recently been working with Gardens of Health and they have been doing their best to work on my crazy, stressed out, tight self.  Between working in marketing & sales, crossfit, weightlifting, running, and life in general, I tend to get a little worked up. The past few weeks of going to see Landon and Abigail have been great.  I’ve posted about them before, but this week was by far the best yet.  Again, I can’t critique this service the way I do other things I love, like beer or food, but I can say I’m in great hands and I usually leave feeling like I just spent a weekend at the spa. This past week I informed Landon that the day before I had spent a good portion of my workout doing some heavy back workouts, and my suspicions were confirmed as he let me know just how tight my back was when stretching me out.  He then proceeded to do some awesome twisty thingy with my hips, and 5 cracks later I had become a super human version of myself, and am now living in a world where I am a considerably more flexible person.  I mean, I don’t know what that was and I felt a little sorry for him because it seemed like quite a feat to get my body to move that way, but GOOD GRIEF.  Whatever it was, put me in a state of euphoria.  The rest of my day was great from just doing that.  I suggest any of y’all go give them a visit, whether it be your back, shoulders, neck, left pinky, this crazy world gets us all out of line.  It’s a fantastic mid week pick up, and it’s better for you than whiskey!

Thursday:  Vortex Doughnuts, Bonfire BBQ, and Odd’s Cafe

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, getting me excited about sweets is a futile venture.  I think I was dropped on my tongue as a kid because I just don’t crave them.  Seriously, if a pickle shop opened up, I would be twice as excited as I would be about cakes, or doughnuts, or candy.  However, I really, really love coffee.  I feel that coffee is a lot like steak- if you have to use A1 on your steak, then it’s not good steak.  And good drip coffee should be black.  A sure sign to anyone that I am not a fan of your coffee is if you spy me dumping the creamer in.  Thankfully, this is rare in Asheville, as we have a pretty fantastic coffee scene.  Vortex Doughnuts would be somewhere in my top five, maybe even top three favorite coffees in town.  I had a three-hour meeting the other morning about data tracking, new employees, business development, and lots of other things that you would be less interested in reading about than what comes on the Home Shopping Network at 3am.  So naturally, strong coffee needed to make an appearance, and make an appearance it did.   Vortex normally takes the crown when it comes to bang for your buck.  I’m a very naturally hyperactive person already (if you can’t tell from how I write) so I have to be careful how much coffee I drink, I repeatedly am told that I need to slowwwww down in meetings after just half a cup and I begin speaking long forgotten languages that the normal population doesn’t recognize, all thanks to caffeine!  I had to quit drinking cold brew because my resting heart rate started becoming unrecognizable from my Fitbit and it was just one constant buzz, and if I continued I was pretty sure I was going to morph into a human hummingbird.  If you are a person that is making your body sad and drinking a sad pot of Folgers coffee every morning, I urge you to give the Vortex cold brew a try.  It has the perfect amount of bitterness and full flavor that it should from the super fresh 1000 Faces beans.  I’ve made it last 3 days before, I’m not even kidding.  I was using it as pre-workout!  The drip coffee doesn’t make me as bounce-off-the-wallish so that’s what I go with nowadays, and the other day the Colombian bean that was available was so full of flavor; citrusy, bright, caffeine-loaded flavor.  It powered me as needed through the three hour meeting,  and I was so productive I pretty sure I invented a production scale, then proceeded to break it.  Plus their meeting area is bright, clean, and super inviting.  AND IT HAS ITS OWN PARKING DOWNTOWN! THIS IS A BIG DEAL.  Well, its South Slope, but we are calling that downtown now.  Props Vortex, I wish I could talk more about your doughnuts, but I can always leave that to our food critics like Stu Helm, The Food Critic who can tell you the best way to satisfy your sweet tooth craving in Asheville.

When I frequent a place a lot, like Foggy Mountain Brewpub, or Bonfire BBQ, I try not to give them a special post every week for two reasons. One, ain’t nobody got time to write about every meal I have at Foggy.  I mean, I’m literally sitting here eating right now.  And two,  I don’t want to give an unfair amount of attention when we have so many fantastic local spots here in Asheville.  That being said, I’m only human, and I have my habitual ways that I am not ashamed of.  I’ve never had a bad meal at Bonfire BBQ, and Thursday was no different.  I had my usual, the salt and pepper brisket with a side of mac and cheese and fried brussell sprouts with mustard sauce.  I’m not going to be wordy, I’ve written about it before.  But you need to get that brisket all in your face, because your taste buds are going to want to start a life-long relationship with it.  And the sauce bar with anything from ghost pepper sauce to KC honey will satisfy even the most regionally picky BBQ eater.  They have some pretty fantastic daily specials you can keep up with on their Dig Local page as well!  Pretty sure today is Monday so that means fifty cent smoked wings… and I’m hungry again.

Had a quick meeting at Odd’s Cafe right up the road a bit later.  It was in its usual packed state so I popped next door to hang out and have my meeting in Pour Taproom’s space.  During the day you can actually rent out their awesome space to do meetings downstairs, which is really handy if you need your meeting to include giant Jenga or cornhole.  The first few times I went to Odd’s I thought the coffee was mediocre, but the past few months it seems like they are doing something different. Any of the light roast drip coffees I’ve had have been super bright and flavorful, so keep up the good work Audrey and crew!  Now that it’s warm they have a great back deck to enjoy the West Asheville weather if you feel like escaping downtown, like I do every now and then.

I want to address that while it seems as if I like everything, I can assure you I don’t.  If I have somewhere I am not impressed with, I tend to just leave it out altogether.  The ones that make this list deserve to do so, so that I bring you the most relevant content possible.  I always end up writing more than I say that I’m going to, so I will leave you with that.  Next week is going to have some one of a kind places, so two things:  Get to subscribing, and if you like it then you should put a share on it.

Thanks AVLiens!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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