One of the things I added to the #50for50 list without any input from others was something I’ve wanted to do for awhile now. I wanted to go on Stu Helm’s Food Fan Foot Tour with Asheville Food Tours.
I met Stu back in 2016 when he was judging the mac and cheese contest at the Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest and I was there for the first year as social media coordinator. I’d been reading his blogs and listening to podcasts for some time.
Our paths have crossed as he’s continued to lend his food expertise to ASAP and the WNC Cheese Trail and I was able to volunteer when he and Angie Rainey from Coffee Crate created the Asheville Coffee Expo.
I admire his spunky, irreverent food opinions and respect even his personal opinions that might not mirror my own. Mostly because he’s so effing passionate about everything he’s involved in personally and professionally.
Which means on some level he’s definitely a kindred soul.
So of course I wanted to go on one of his Food Fan Foot Tours. To some it might seem silly to want to act almost like a tourist in your own town and to visit a lot of the restaurants I already frequent.
But I knew it would be different with Stu since he knows everyone and everything in the Asheville food community.
The tour met at The Aloft hotel lobby at the WXYZ bar overlooking Biltmore Avenue. I hadn’t been up there and although just second story I was enchanted by the view. I’m always intrigued with new ways to see downtown as each has their own story to tell.
Stu slipped in unobtrusively and took a box of something to the kitchen of the bar area then came back in. Before the rest of the group recognized he was there I was able to get a hug and talk a minute one on one.
When he introduced himself to the rest of the waiting group of tour goers he even introduced me as if I was a special guest. What a cool thing for him to do for me.
We set off soon after and our first stop was a new place I hadn’t been: The Rustic Grape Wine Bar which is a lovely little wine bar that literally is on the lower end of the block of The Aloft building. We were served refreshing mimosas and some tasty small bites to get us started. Stu told us the story of how Rustic Grape was started (although we weren’t able to meet owners Melissa and Patty) then we finished and headed on down Lexington.
Stu had us stop outside Lexington Glassworks for some history and also outside Sunshine Sammie’s . I already knew the story of Sunshine Sammies since they are customers of Morrow and although we didn’t go in I was able to share my insights with the group on why its a must visit for everyone.
We walked to the back entrance of Bhramari Brewing so everyone could see the gorgeous taproom, hear about the best cake in town, and then get ushered into the front dining area where a table awaited us. We tasted Painted Fortune, a flagship beer with heirloom corn in the brew. They brought us out a pork dumpling that I didn’t see on the menu (much to my chagrin as it was the bombdiggety!).
After we all enjoyed those tastes we headed back up Lexington to The Rhu. Once inside we peruse the bakery and local food store. I shared about the WNC Cheese Trail to my fellow tour goers since they had Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery represented in their cold case. Stu also gave us the cool history behind Sunburst Trout which they sell there as well.
Then we went upstairs to the dining area to enjoy some house made soda, deviled eggs, and cookies. The deviled eggs included Lusty Monk mustard , another Morrow customer, so I was able to talk more about locally made foods. Once we’d cleaned our plates we got to sneak up through the upstairs (ok so we had an employee leading us) through the The Rhubarb event space and into the restaurant.
We were served a pineapple jalapeño cava drink which may or may not have made it more difficult for me to remember what was in the gnocchi/creme fraiche/smoked trout mozzarella stick thingy. All I know is it was fantastic.
The next stop was a little farther away. We made our way down Broadway, cut over on Chesnut and then down half a block on lower Lexington to Aux Bar. Aux Bar is pronounced like the beast of burden not “O”. We were treated to Cheerwine Sangria. I could’ve drank a 2 liter of that stuff. Might not have been able to stand up after but it was my favorite. The bite was this amazing pork shoulder, rice, and cracklings thing – its on the menus and I’m not doing it justice to describe but wowza it was good.
Our last restaurant stop was back up around the corner on Broadway, Strada Italiano. We had a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo called, La Fiera (the Fair) , and it was yummy. I’m a sucker for Italian reds. The dish we sampled was GRILLED ravioli – whoa nelly who knew? Although I could barely eat at this point I got enough to recognize pasta genius at work.
The finale for the tour was a sweet bite – the French Broad Chocolates Milk Bar (shhhh don’t tell anyone but its that side door where you can often slip in for a coffee and ice cream or chocolate without the long wait out front). We had demitasse cups of the liquid truffle – which was mind boggling. Seriously I can’t begin to describe how that one dainty vessel of chocolate and ice cream blew my mind.
After waddling our very full selves back to the Aloft we had a parting gift from Stu (what he had snuck into the bar area earlier before the tour) – the Everything but the Bagel donut from Doughp Doughnuts. Yes it is a doughnut with cream cheese icing and that terrific seasoning from Trader Joe’s of the same name. I swore I’d give the whole thing to Mike but later that night I snuck a bite and it was irrationally delish – I mean it was like a bagel and a doughnut had a love child.
Unlike most of my #50for50 adventures this one didn’t require me challenging my body or mind, although both were completely inspired. I didn’t have to doubt myself or fear for my life or fail.
I picked this one because I knew I’d have hours of purely indulging my love for Asheville, my love for food and beverage, and my love of experiencing all those things from a different perspective. I knew I could count on Stu to provide that.
He’s certainly got a fan in me.