Asheville Food Scene -- What does it need?
I will be moving to Asheville in June. Outside of the Triangle, Asheville would seem to be the best food town in the state. I was wondering what the locals thought the town needed, if anything, food-wise.
Also, can you get local, grass-fed, pasture-grazed beef or pork?
we need good bbq. the bbq scene has improved a little, but we still don't have any really stellar stuff.
good mexican - there are many mexican places, but most are cut from the same cloth, where a combo 13 at one will be basically the same as at any other. there are lots of little markets that serve tacos and the like, as well as a couple of taco trucks, but we don't have any really good, mid-range, sit-down places.
vietnamese - have to drive to greenville for it.
cheap italian - there are a variety of mid-high end places, some good, some bad, but we don't have any good, cheap, fresh pasta & sauce type places.
we could use a good pastry shop. there are a few places (temptations - if it's still open, it wasn't very good; old europe - ok, but nothing special, + 1 or 2 others), but none are great. i've never had a restaurant/store-bought pastry/dessert in asheville that i just had to get again.
we could also use a good chophouse. i'm not aware of any place in town that sells a good, high-quality steak accompanied by good sides. asheville's probably a tough town to sell meat in, but i think if it were approached properly (focusing on natural, sustainable, grass-fed, (preferrably) local meats), then i think it would work.
asheville lacks ethnic diversity. you won't find much by way of specialty food stores. there is at least one asian store. there's an eastern european store, plenty of hispanic/latin markets. very little for western europe, the mediterranean, the african continent, or middle-eastern. you can find much of what you need, as long as variety & quality aren't important, and you don't mind visiting many stores. mail order will be your friend. asheville grocers wouldn't know good olive oil from cottonseed.
the biggest thing asheville needs? a good butcher! this is not a good town for meat. you can get popular cuts from places like greenlife and earthfare. even ingles now carries things like ground bison and the occasional hanger steak. but, it's very difficult to find larger cuts, properly butchered cuts, less popular cuts. you won't find aged meat here. there is NO good sausage. you can get local beef, but it's not easy to find, and i'm not familiar with the production conditions. there's a place in horseshoe that raises beefalo.
pork is a little easier to come by in that warren wilson college raises pigs in a sustainable fashion. you can buy 1/4 hogs or more. i believe they slaughter once a year, which is when you'll get the meat. not the cheapest, but not outrageous, and it's good.
fish mongers are mainly on the east side, which isn't particularly convenient. quality is hit-or-miss. variety is pitiful, although some will special order.
sorry if i paint a bleak picture, depending upon where you hail from, asheville's probably not that bad. my frame of reference is the large, diverse city i grew up in amongst my food-loving italian family. for a town it's size, asheville's dining scene is pretty good, and the shopping scene is improving.
for what it's worth, on the shopping front, chowhound seems to carry some weight. it seems that recently every time i bitch here about local grocery chains, which would be mainly ingles, not carrying something, it'll show up within a couple of weeks as long it's not too exotic. for instance, right after a rant about meat is when ingles, after years and years of sub-par meat, suddenly started carrying ground bison and coleman beef. it's happened with a few other things in the past year or so. probably just coincidence, but i'm starting to wonder if ingles isn't trolling around here; if so, i commend them as it's improved my shopping experience.
For pasture-grazed beef and pork (as well as lamb, poultry, etc.) try Springhouse meats at Hickory Nut Gap Farm (www.springhousemeats.com). Warren Wilson does beef in addition to pork, but I think you have to buy a whole side or at least a quarter. I think Mark's post is very accurate, although I would give 12 Bone Smokehouse a try for BBQ. The first two times I ate there it was marvelous, the third time just OK, and it has gotten a pretty lukewarm reception elsehere on Chowhound. When Jim Leff ate there on his Chowtour, he didn't care for the post-modern self-irony of the decor and the menu, but did credit the BBQ sandwich (Chowtour Dispatch #21).
The best pastries are at Greenlife downtown (Michelle, the bakery manager, used to be pastry chef at Zephiro's in Portland, OR -- voted best pastry chef in Portland a number of years) or at Well Bred Bakery in Weaverville. Some overlap in the pastry case as Michelle was the first pastry chef at Well Bred before she moved to Greenlife. Pastries that you will have to get again: dog bones (almond caramel bars dipped in bittersweet chocolate), ginger florentines, citrus almond cake, chocolate buttermilk cake. Eclairs are also very good (and massive). The bran muffins are very good, too, but very rich -- not exactly health food; make sure you get them with the rum-butter glaze. The Earth Fare in South Asheville also makes pastries in-house. I haven't tried them, but last I was there the chocolate torts and fruit tarts looked tempting. I agree about Old Europe being bad. I went there twice, and each time the pastry tasted like it had spent a week in the refrigerated case.
The best thing about the food scene in Asheville is the farmer's markets scattered throughout the area in the season. There are organic farms scattered all over Buncombe and Madison counties, many of them offer CSAs, and most sell produce at the local markets.
The restaurant scene is changing, and in general seems to be improving, although it still seems to me overpriced and of lesser quality than Charleston, for example.
I agree w/ Mark, about pastry I think dessert is the single biggest hole in the Asheville food scene. I also agree w/ Jep that the pastry at Greenlife is the best thing going...except perhaps the breakfast-type pastries at City Bakery.
Those ginger florentines at Greenlife are great! The eclairs are actually cream puffs, IMO.
I further agree that the tailgate markets are the best things about Asheville.
You can ride down the mountain in about an hour to Whole Foods if you have to have a dry-aged beef fix. Mark, WF has some unusual meats and seafoods. ex: skate wing, veal breast...not your average grocery store offerings.
Having moved from Asheville to the Boone area, I've concluded that the lack of decent desserts is endemic throughout western North Carolina. Even restaurants pricey enough to afford pastry chefs have gone the route of SweetStreats or boxed desserts from Sysco. Of the few who make desserts in house, most show little imagination or flair. The standard dessert menu has a flavored creme brulee, some variation of death by chocolate/flourless chocolate tort, a fruit cobbler, and a gussied-up bread pudding -- all stuff that can be thrown together ahead of time by one of the cooks and reheated or finished for service. Very few, even at the high end, make their ice cream in-house (notable exceptions: Wildflower in Boone, who still have a proper pastry chef, and Marketplace in Asheville). And at the other end of the price continuum, I have yet to find any place that makes a really good apple pie (my litmus test for pastry shops).
For me, dessert should be all about titillation, and the difficulty of choosing between too many temptations. In WNC it is too often a matter of do I really want to bother and risk disappointment (and by the time you reach that point disappointment is more a certainty than a risk). Maybe we need a separate thread recognizing (and encouraging) area restaurants who take dessert seriously.
There have been rumors for several years that Whole Foods was coming -- that they were going to buy out Earth Fare (this one spread mostly, I think, by wishful-thinking Earth Fare employees), that they had purchased Deal motors on Merrimon and were going to convert that to a WF store, that they were building a new WF near the airport. Perhaps we should adopt the philosophy of Peter Pan (or is it Jiminy Cricket?); if we only wish hard enough, it really will come true.
12 bones is the improvement i mentioned above re the bbq scene. it's good, but not great stuff, and their hours stink for anyone with daytime jobs.
i've found the things made in house at greenlife to be bad to mediocre, but have to admit i haven't ventured into their sweet offerings due to the awful savory i've had. i'll have to give it a shot.
thanks for the meat rec, i'll definitely check that out.
yep. in-house savory looks bad to me. We got roast beef last week. I don't know if they made or bought it, but it sucked. WF, OHTH, makess their own roast beef to be sliced in the deli. It's almost always rare and delicious.
I'm trying to get them to sponsor our bike team. If the marketing person knew how much $$$ I spent there and how many people I have RAVED about WF to...maybe she would return my call ;-)
We'll be coming from Nashville, which has a nascent food scene, some good spots and shops, but far too few for a town of its size. With its high income suburbs, you would expect much better.
Does Greenlife have just the one location just North of downtown? This may factor into our "where to live" decision.
I think Asheville needs good Vietnamese, Ethiopian and Thai restuarants..we have way too many EXPENSIVE Asian joints with average food..(except Noodle House...good stuff)
I'd say pretty much the same as jbyoga - definitely the Thai. Greenlife is ok but you can't really shop there. There prepared stuff is virtually identical to what Earthfare has always offered. Large beer and wine selection - maybe this is where they are making their money. Their hot bar and salad bar look ok but have never tempted me overly much - not like Whole Foods. Most of the new, larger Ingles offer pretty much everything you could want - including a Starbucks (N.Asheville and Long Shoals)