HOME > Chowhound > Southeast >

Discussion

ASHEVILLE, NC FOOD SCENE

For what it is worth, I write intermittent mini-reviews of Asheville, NC (and the occasional other) restaurants on Twitter: http://twitter.com/cbjones1943 However, I plan to post most of my reviews to Chowhound in future

For a number of reasons that I detail from time to time on Twitter, the restaurant scene in Asheville is not competitive or remarkable. Some restaurants deserve mention primarily because their climate/ambiance is highly representative of particular neighborhoods in the city [e.g., The Admiral* $$ or DeSoto Lounge (Ethiopian dinner $10 after 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays) or Sunny Point or Universal Joint or West End Bakery in West Asheville**]. Relative to other venues in Asheville, I consider Bouchon French Bistro $$ to win the prize of "best restaurant" because, among other reasons, this restaurant demonstrates consistency in preparation and quality and, almost unique compared to other $$ Asheville food venues, an impressive degree of quality-control, exerted from within [n.b. this is a (French) family-owned & run business]. Many residents and visitors consider The Admiral to be the best $$ restaurant in Asheville; while I think the atmosphere is authentic West Asheville and the energy funky & unique, IMO, the food preparation leaves much to be desired (though, admittedly, the quality of ingredients are, on whole, local and generally of high order). I cannot recall ever having food @The Admiral that for one reason or another was not, effectively, ruined by some egregious culinary mistake (eg an insipid gravy over exquisite fish & amazingly fresh vegetables) or sloppiness & inattention (eg lukewarm soup) or potentially dangerous items (eg oysters served @ almost room temperature); food concepts, though, are not immature or uninformed--despite the very young staff (typical for Asheville--20- 30-somethings playing gourmand, playing chef).

There are not a few $$ restaurants in Asheville whose owners deserve to be sued for exploitation of customers & for violations of "truth-in-advertising". These venues survive, and probably do well economically, for a number of reasons detailed from time to time in my mini-reviews, not the least being, however, that Asheville lacks, on whole, discriminating, knowledgeable consumers and, because most of the many tourists don't visit for the food, although visiting with lots of ready cash, outlays of $$ to restaurants depends upon seductive, hyped advertising & "fuzzy", highly opinionated, undiscriminating, uninformed, & persistently effusive local hearsay.

Though several pizza places in Ashville designate themselves, "New York Pizza" (and at least one of these places is owned by a New Yorker), I consider Favilla's, a storefront, "mom & pop", street food, neighborhood pizza place in West Asheville, to be the only authentic NY pizza parlor in Asheville. Andrew is a "hoot" (for those of you not from the NE, that's a compliment). BTW, I am a NJ/NY "girl" raised in a working-class Italian neighborhood.

Asheville is a "fuzzy-wuzzy" place; you will not find a critical, much less negative, restaurant review here. In fact, I would guess that the online sites, eg TravelAdviser, are paid by food establishments to censor all but a few negative comments (posting a few negative comments, of course, gives the impression of athenticity. I suspect that most people knowing of high food standards find themselves dishing out a lot of dinero to discover what the restaurant scene here is really about.

Every food-slinger in Asheville is called "chef".

*The Admiral is considered by many to be the best (?) restaurant in Asheville.

**One either is or is not a "West Asheville person"; I am.

Varia:

Mario Batali keeps food costs <20 % of total cost at all of his restaurants. Whenever I eat out, I very carefully estimate food costs & overhead.

The Admiral is considered by many to be the best restaurant in Asheville.

17 Asheville restaurants are applying for "Green" status. Making $$ on the tails of a national, multi-million (maybe billion-) $$ trend Free advertising Hype Probably higher prices for sub-par food If you are an informed consumer If you value your food $$ If you value food quality If you want to know a restaurant's food cost Think this through for what it means for your pocketbook and for the financial benefits of these restaurants Consider whether a major benefit from a "Green" designation might be attracting a consumer-base beyond the Asheville area, decreasing these restaurants' dependence upon local consumers & increasing profits from tourists & other broad-based consumers The "Green" designation will, of course, creating a ripple-effect for other businesses & benefiting their (mostly successful) owners Particularly egregious is the fact that most of these venues & "chefs" wear the cloak/mask of "counter-culture", environmentalist, alternative, (mostly) young people committed to healthy-living These "counter-culture" entrepeneurs are making their (mostly well-to-do) parents proud--at your expense

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/...

Clara B. Jones
foucault03@gmail.com

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. "...the Asheville food scene is not remarkable". That's a typo, right? In my opinion, Asheville is one of he 2 or 3 best food towns in the Southeast, especially considering it's relatively small size.

    I haven't been to the Admiral, but others on this site whose opinions I trust sing it's praises effusively. As for reviews, I certainly think this site provides honest and real opinions. But think my real point is A'ville has a much better overall restaurant scene than your post would indicate. There are many fine places, visited by knowledge and discriminating diners, providing remarkable food. For me those include Tupelo Honey, Zambra, Curate, 12 Bones, and many more.

    -----
    Tupelo Honey Cafe
    12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801

    18 Replies
    1. re: Notaslavetofashion

      No, the statement is not a typo, it is my informed judgment that is not intended to compete with other opinions of the food scene in Asheville. In the related post I think that I do a relatively good job detailing a few of my reasons for my opinions. I am not a confrontational person, all opinions are mine alone, and are/will be accompanied by specific rationales for any statement(s) I make. Based upon a significant amount of on-line research of Google entries for the term "what makes a restaurant a good restaurant", it seems clear that most consumers rate a food venue primarily on atmosphere, "climate", and related factors, rather than food. This is not to say, I would guess, that food is not important to consumers, but that it appears not to be a priority. A few responses to my search indicated that a restaurant was highly rated base on a single criterion, eg wine. Atmosphere is not irrelevant to me (c.f. my comment re: The Admiral); however, when I express an evaluation, it is primarily based upon my expectations for and assessment of food, especially taste, but including presentation and a few other factors. BTW, probably as important as food, I place a v high value on consistency over time. I am not impressed when a kitchen turns out something good or v good sometimes but not at others. How and why I conclude what I conclude is based on a particular method/strategy/set of criteria that vary some but not too much depending on the food venue in question. Finally, there are some food venues that I consider to be unworthy of serious attention. Among these is 12 Bones. May I add that I rarely express an opinion without having visited a food venue several times (I have eaten @12 Bones many times because several of my friends/acquaintances like it v much); however, I have very specific criteria as well concerning the infrequent times when I comment on a food venue after only one sitting.

      1. re: cbjones1943

        You might want to take some time to read the Chowhound Manifesto,
        http://www.chow.com/manifesto
        and the FAQ,
        http://www.chow.com/faq#chowhound
        to get a better sense of this site. And this link "New to the Southeast Board, for specifics about this community,
        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/710661

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Thank you for these 3 links. I had read the Manifesto & don't think I'm breaking any of the guidelines now. FAQ is definitely a good reference that I didn't know about. I think I've pretty much caught up to speed. If you were referring to the content of my long post above, I'm pretty certain that it is not in violation of the M.

        2. re: cbjones1943

          My criteria for assessing food has nothing to do with chimpanzees or the iq of my fellow homo sapiens, its has to do with the taste, the smell, the look and sometimes, how it well it follows the the form of the dish.

          I am not at all concerned with the complexity or inventiveness of the dish, and in fact, I often find that the meals I enjoy most are simple presentations of fresh, high quality ingredients. This is not to say I don't enjoy complex dishes, but when we get into the realm of extreme molecular gastronomy, I tend to check out.

          By those standards, I have enjoyed many wonderful meals at Table, Zambra, Curate, Tupelo Honey, Bouchon, Salsa's and others in Asheville. Obviously, others mileage may vary, as they say.

          -----
          Bouchon
          62 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

          Tupelo Honey Cafe
          12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801

          1. re: Notaslavetofashion

            I was reflecting on my response to you. I have had two dishes recently that I considered tasty & well-crafted. At Curate ($44 + for lunch--drank H20), I thought the presentation of the (2) scallops was v pleasing aesthetically & that they were perfectly cooked. Though this "boca" was in no manner subtle or complex (not a bad thing necessarily), I will definitely order the plate again--in part to assess consistency of preparation @the restaurant. Apparently, C's shrimp/garlic plate is wildly popular; thus, I ordered it (though I'm not crazy about shrimp); I ordered the dish in part because virtually every casual restaurant makes it unremarkably. I thought the dish was delicious but, for me, made less so because of a heavy hand w/salt. To be fair, I understand that tapas plates are often quite saltly and, also, that Southerners like their food that way. Another thing that I appreciated about C was that my (excellent female) server wasn't able to answer one of my questions about one of Adria's most famous dishes, and the chef, Katy B, came out of the kitchen to speak w/me about it. Of course, I understand that she wouldn't be free to do that when pre-occupied for whatever reason(s). Finally, my (young Spanish) server taught me something very important that will enhance my own cooking--the olive oil used in the kitchen was one of the best and lightest I've ever had; it occurred to me that I could drink a spoonful of it on a regular basis. When I use Spanish olive oil, I use a $$ brand (purchased in Harris Teeter), Columela--ex v, cold-pressed. I was told that Spanish evcpoo--characteristically more acidic/stronger than IT or CA etc oo--is only used in salad dressings. Maybe I should have known this--it may pertain to any evcpoo? Finally, I found the eggplant dish addictive & coule eat it every day; however, there wasn't anything about it than one could't learn to copy after a single lesson, or, maybe w/no lesson @all.

            -----
            Harris Teeter
            , New Bern, NC 28560

            1. re: cbjones1943

              I've had that same garlic shrimp dish at Curate and agree it was delicious, and noticed no oversalting. While you may condem all Southerners as loving salt, I will note that my Massachusetts born wife, who prefers a very light hand with salt, also loved the garlic shrimp, and detected no over-salting.

              1. re: meatn3

                i'm v impressed w/the passion for eating and for particular food venues expressed by many CHders. food, certainly, can be an emotional topic.

                1. re: cbjones1943

                  ^ Yeah, and we haven't even started talking about barbecue yet! :)

              2. re: cbjones1943

                ...for what it is worth...deciding to re-read my comments re: Asheville "food scene", i pretty much agree with my previous statements...however, i note one error so far...i frequently confuse "9-Mile" and "12 Bones"...i do not eat meat [as a statistical statement] and, as i've said before, do not review barbeque places...i am aware that "12 Bones" is wildly popular...i have eaten @"9-Mile" too many times to mention...and, my comments above should be read as pertaining to "9-Mile", not "12 Bones"...

              3. re: Notaslavetofashion

                I have lived in some pretty good food venues (Boston, Taipei, etc). For its size, Asheville is pretty amazing. Everything great? No. But it is sufficiently diverse and good to make itremarkable. Not sure too many places are as good and creative as Tupelo Honey.

                -----
                Tupelo Honey Cafe
                12 College St, Asheville, NC 28801

                1. re: Westy

                  Am I remembering correctly that there was a pretty good resto called the Magnolia Grill in A'ville? It was aquite a few yrs ago that I went and had a lovely meal of tuna steak on a trip between Lincolnton and Beaufort...

                  1. re: betsydiver

                    I believe you're thinking of Magnolia Grill in Durham, which fits geographically. Asheville isn't between Lincolnton and Beaufort.

                    1. re: Notaslavetofashion

                      Hopefully, she's not thinking of Magnolia's on Market Street. It's still there, isn't it?

                      1. re: Leepa

                        It is still there, but yes, hopefully it's not the Magnolia's she was thinking of

                2. re: Notaslavetofashion

                  I'm 50-50 on Asheville cusine. I've lived here five years and the restaurants are okay-- albeit a bit overpriced for what they are.
                  Tupelo Honey, on the other hand, is way over-hyped. I've eaten there twice and had humdrum meals both times.
                  Yet people say how good it is. Go figure.

                  1. re: thegoodeg

                    I hope you won't wait 7 more years before sharing tips on where your fellow hounds can find deliciousness! Any places you like in Asheville?

                    1. re: thegoodeg

                      Is it just me, or are the Ashevillian hounds on here always trying to convince us that there restaurants aren't very good? Are they trying to keep us outsiders away so that they don't have to share? Because I don't buy it. I've recently returned from a recent trip to Asheville and two really excellent meals at Curate and the Admiral. Is it possible that Ashevillians really don't know how good they have it? Do they really believe things are overpriced? Compared to where? I couldn't believe how cheap our bill was at the Admiral after eating and drinking our fill. Most small cities would be thrilled to have their restaurants.

                      1. re: dinersaurus

                        I completely agree. It appears to be just a couple of odd ducks that feel differently.

                  2. If you haven't found them already, there are quite a few discussions on the "Southeast" U.S. boards devoted to the Asheville food scene. I found a lot of info a few months back when I was considering visiting the area. HTH.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mcf

                      I'm from Miami, which is a pretty "foodie" town. My husband and I recently spent 3 nights in Asheville enroute to Maine and Manhattan. Without a doubt, Admiral was one of our favorite restaurants in three weeks of very good eating. We liked it so well (especially the mussels) that we went a second time even though there were plenty of places that came highly recommended both on this site and by other "tourists" we spoke to, who, without exception, thought that Asheville had an extraordinary number of good restaurants for a town of its size. We also tried Table, which was pleasant but I found the food seemed to have ingredients chosen for their trendiness rather than for what they added to the dish, 12 Bones for lunch which needs no further commentary, and Sunny Point (a very 70s vibe health food restaurant) for breakfast where my husband had their 'OK' take on huevos rancheros and i enjoyed an excellent biscuit.

                    2. Apparently there are a number of people that believe that Asheville has a restaurant scene. When you consider there are a number of foodie cities not on the list.
                      http://eater.com/archives/2011/10/04/...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ithimis

                        good list. except....savannah? this comes as a surprise to me.

                      2. I'm a frequent visitor to Asheville and have had many a fine meal there. The Admiral, however stands out in terms of food, service, and value. I've been there twice and focused on the small plates and everything was fantastic. It's nice to be surprised by how low the final tab is rather that the frequent opposite experience at other joints.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: PeterB

                          I think that the energy in The Admiral as well as the occasionally impeccable freshness of some of their "specials" recommend it; however, this recommendation does not extend to TA's presentation or preparation. How and why this venue (or any other Avl food venue) is considered a "stand out" list wholly escapes me. IMO Bouchon is the only Avl restaurant that could pass rigorous scrutiny according to the full range of critics' criteria. In WAvl, I'd rather go to DeSoto than TA any day.

                          1. re: cbjones1943

                            Interesting that you mention "energy", "freshness", "presentation" and " preparation" but not taste. Isn't that the ultimate determining criteria for a restaurant, for both critics and the general public? I know it is for me. (and I don't really understand the obsession with "critics criteria")

                            1. re: carolinadawg

                              Yeah, I'm not a "critic" (other than for the purpose of making determinations on what I enjoy); I'm a consumer who enjoys trying food. And I have to say that I enjoy The Admiral most out of all the places at which I've eaten in Asheville (which is quite a few), or many other places for that matter. When I sit down for a meal at The Admiral, I'm always greatly satisfied, just as I am when I hear a song a greatly enjoy. For me, it's not about making calculations or following a formula to determine the quality of my dining experience; it's about losing (and finding) myself in the moment as my taste buds deliver messages to my brain informing it on the degree of deliciousness of the food in my mouth. And based on what my taste buds tell my brain, I highly recommend The Admiral to everyone.

                            2. re: cbjones1943

                              Are you seriously comparing DeSoto to the Admiral?
                              Then I MUST try DeSoto

                              1. re: mustardgirl

                                ...no, not really, except to suggest that, having been to The Admiral many times, i'm not motivated to go there any longer whereas I could go to Desoto for the energy a few times a month...but no, by restaurant standards, no comparison...

                          2. For those who love The Admiral, I have learned that its two chefs have left. One opened Seven Sows and Bourbon and I do not know where the other is.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Teesh

                              Ben's Tune Up and Buxton Hill BBQ (chef is Elliott Moss)

                              1. re: miss piggy

                                Thanks for the info. Have you eaten there or at Admiral since they left?

                                1. re: Teesh

                                  Buxton Hill isn't open yet. Ben's Tune Up is a great watering hole but I wouldn't go there for the food alone. The Admiral is great as always!

                                  The Bull and Beggar is another one opening soon from the owners of The Admiral - excited to check this one out.

                                  1. re: miss piggy

                                    I am leaving tomorrow but will return next summer solook forward to hearing about these new restaurants.What do you think of Isa's Bistro?

                                    1. re: miss piggy

                                      I haven't been to the Admiral in a couple of months, but the last time I went was shortly after the new chef took over. It was fantastic as usual! I was so relieved! ;-)

                                      Bull and Beggar is already opened (last week sometime, I think). We went on Saturday for lunch. Amazing renovation, warm and prompt service, lovely seafood. We went to Ben's Tune Up the week before. Can't say enough about how beautiful the garden space is. For both of the above though, I wished we had been able to eat dinner instead of "brunch".

                                      1. re: danna

                                        Have been to Ben's three times now--every time for a late dinner. It's not as amazing as the Admiral, and the service is still a bit harried, but it's good, even innovative, Asian fusion. (Esp. good for soaking up alcohol, I'm told.) I'm esp. fond of the Ramen bowls. And the space is lovely.

                                        Had dessert at The Addie Sat. night. Some kind of blueberry shortbread thingy with candied lemon peel and basil ice cream. It was wonderful.

                                        Thanks for the report on Bull & Beggar. Can't wait to try it.

                              2. Nice post. I personally think the Admiral is beyond over hyped.
                                There are some very good places in AVL and some not so good. Most places could benefit from improved consistency...

                                1. Can we please stop posting on this almost two years old thread now?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Jeff C.

                                    Jeff,

                                    Agreed, wait, what did I just do...

                                    1. re: Jeff C.

                                      Why stop posting. Some of those places written about 3 years ago may have changed. I'm always looking for the most recent reviews.

                                      1. re: Cflower5

                                        I simply meant it's time to start a new thread on the subject, for exactly the reason you cite.

                                    2. We had a great time once again in Asheville/Weaverville. We had lunch and then dinner at Isa's and cannot say enough about the food preparation, the service and ambiance. It was a bit loud at first for dinner as there was a large table near us,but that resolved when they left. We cannot wait to return.
                                      We had lunch at Wicked Weed, but returned after taking the La Zoom bus tour and explored the downstairs brewery. Quite a happening. Limones, Curate were as good as usual. Cucina 24 was fine, but not as special as our last time there. In North Asheville, went to Dough for lunch and was really pleased The food was delicious and the bread was terrific. They give free tastes to help you decideon which you want. .Will return for breakfast and most importantly....cooking classes. What a set up.

                                      1. ZOOM!
                                        Clara, of course, you will now be deemed a "hater." But I tend to agree that the Asheville Culinary Emperor is indeed buck-necked, or, at best, woefully underdressed. (Gritty scallops at the way overpriced Admiral, Twice!) And sorry I just don't get Tupelo Honey. Not only do I find it mediocre, but I witnessed outrageously bad treatment of customers during a recent brunch at the south locale. Swore not to return. Yes, there are folks doing it right, and I patronize them, but the food mecca moniker, for me, is just a chamber of commerce fabrication.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: kdeats

                                          Buck-necked? Down here, it's nekkid, lol.

                                          So who, in your estimation, is doing it right? Don't they deserve a shout out? And you really don't think that Asheville's food scene is well above average for a city it's size? What's a similar city that's better? I'd love to go there...

                                          By the way, Clara hasn't posted on this site in 2 years.