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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Back-to-Back Scores in the Middle of Nowhere

Asheville, North Carolina

Ravenous from skipping supper last night, I did a double breakfast in Asheville, trying two places touted on Chowhound.com. First I hit the hippy-dippy Sunny Point Cafe (625 Haywood Road, Asheville, North Carolina; 828-252-0055).

The food was very good and hit all the right notes, though nothing was really sensational. The intensely spiced organic sausage patties you can see in the photo at 3 o’clock were the best part:

Podcast #1: Listen to a Podcastus Interruptus. MP3 file

Then on to West End Bakery (757 Haywood Road, Asheville, North Carolina; 828-252-9378), whose strawberry crumb coffeecake is absolutely killer. So light and subtle, super-moist and tender.

Podcast #2: I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember whose muffin I’m blathering on about in this podcast (perhaps West End Bakery’s, but I tried a couple of lesser bakeries after that). I’m including it nonetheless because it documents a watershed cultural moment. MP3 file

Podcast #3: I hit an AAA office to chart a course into Tennessee. Tune in on the deliberations as I wildly unfurl maps. MP3 file

Travel tip for Auto Club members: Get local maps and info from local clubs after you arrive. They always have a selection that’s unavailable in distant offices.

Sylva, North Carolina

The Anatomy of a Find

Podcast #4: Hear the precise moment of the olfactory discovery of magnificent Robbie’s Char-Burger (1461 East Main Street, Sylva, North Carolina; 828-586-3490). MP3 file

Podcast #5: Listen to the postgame report (MP3 file). Sound quality is poor because I was too numb with happiness to work the recorder controls properly. Listening now, a few hours after, I think I failed to convey how great the burgers were. Thank heaven for photographs, which I think you’ll find pretty persuasive (Caution: not safe for work!):

As foreshadowed in the preceding podcast, I had no time to digest my blessed charburger before my attention was wrenched by Heinzelmännchen Brewery (545 Mill Street, Sylva, North Carolina; 828-631-4466) as I passed its little storefront in Sylva. Brewmaster Dieter Kuhn, born and raised in Heidelsheim, Germany, makes staunchly personal, defiantly German-style beers—soft, rounded, subtle brews in contrast to the intense bitterness and flashy flavorings of much American craft beer. I’ve quaffed most of America’s best lagers and ales, and Dieter is one of our best undiscovered brewers. What a stroke of luck to find him. He also makes fantastic root beer and birch beer.

Here’s a list of venues serving Heinzelmännchen products it’s probably most fun to drop into the brewery and have Dieter pour you a growler!

Heinzelmännchen are gnomelike creatures found in the Black Forest of Germany (hence their URL of yourgnometownbrewery.com), so there are gnomes everywhere:

This article tells more about Heinzelmännchen Brewery (as well as Asheville’s Highland Brewing Company).

I really dug Sylva. I’m dying to hang out there sometime, drink Dieter’s beer, eat Robbie’s charburgers, and go kayaking and hiking. Travelers hoping to visit Asheville ought to head here—an hour west but a world away.

Dillsboro, North Carolina

Not far west of Sylva, I gave Dillsboro Smokehouse (403 Haywood Street, Dillsboro, North Carolina; 828-586-9556) a quick try.

Their barbecue is pretty good, though not up to some of the praise in press reviews taped to their front window. Their no-nonsense style is the polar extreme of the postmodern ‘cue at 12 Bones (installment #21), so it’s good to have both to extrapolate from. Note that this is border ‘cue, featuring barbecue baby back ribs and referring to chopped pork (elsewhere in North Carolina called simply “barbecue”) as Bar-B-Que Pork.

Nantahala River Gorge, North Carolina

I’m not usually one to prefer ambiance to deliciousness, but I spotted Pizza by the River in the Nantahala River Gorge near the Tennessee border, and stopped to buy a soda (even serendipity couldn’t possibly deliver tasty slices in a place like this) and snap a couple of photos of the view from the back ledge. Could this be America’s most scenic pizzeria? It was like a dream, and I kick myself for not getting a better exterior shot (I was rushing to get out of the gorge by sundown).

Adjacent is Roper’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q, which was, alas, closed. Both are right near Paddle Inn (14611 U.S. 19 West, Bryson City, North Carolina; 800-711-RAFT), one of myriad whitewater-rafting businesses between here and Chattanooga.

Speaking of water sports, Endless River Adventures seems to offer the widest range of kayaking/canoeing/rafting activities in the area, and they say that they “offer one of the longest paddling seasons in the country on a wide variety of spectacular rivers.”

Kudzu

This stuff’s taking over the South like—well, kudzu. The vine transforms everything in its path (trees, poles, power lines) into topiary. It’s shocking to see avalanches of kudzu flowing down a hill, devouring everything—even a couple of vehicles, poised to soon be lost under a sea of green:

Not to end on a terrifying note, here are some happy-looking horses I saw wandering around freely near the road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Knishes KO’d

Vendy Award winners aside, ask any midtown office worker about the general quality of corner-cart chow in New York City and you’ll get, at best, a shrug; at worst, a diatribe. According to David Katz in the Jewish Quarterly, though, the worst street-cart offender isn’t the stale, salty pretzel or the waterlogged hot dog but the mass-produced knish,

incarnated as a flat square, factory-fried and frozen, to be steamed back to life and then lacquered with a coating of shiny French’s Golden Mustard. There’s a word for these street knishes, which are still sold today, and that word is vile.

Katz’s article goes on to laud the rounded, fist-sized baked knishes of Yonah Schimmel’s, served up via dumbwaiter in a nearly century-old hole in the wall on Houston Street. Once surrounded by the small Jewish-owned businesses of the Lower East Side, now incongruously lodged between a Howard Johnson Express Hotel and the hip Sunshine Cinema, Yonah Schimmel’s is heavy on the pushcart-era charm (a charm that consists mostly of having stayed exactly the same for decades on end), but does authentic always mean tasty? Nope, say the wags over at New York magazine’s Grub Street, “Truth be told, the knishes at Yonah Schimmel’s are as bland as cotton and heavy as depleted uranium.”

Instead, they advise a subway ride out to Queens for the “flaky and delicate” knishes dished out at the newly expanded Knish Nosh, or to Brooklyn for the “unexpected sweetness” of the kasha version at Glatt Zone in Midwood.

Is a knish throwdown in the works? Be careful—those things could hurt somebody.

What’s in the Bag, Kid?

What’s in the Bag, Kid?

A very special Halloween episode of our man-on-the-street series READ MORE

This Just In: Gordon Ramsay Offically Scary

Gordon Ramsay was voted Scariest Person on UK television in a poll conducted by the Irish Radio Times.

Heather, last year’s Hell’s Kitchen winner, once smirked, “He’s nothing, he’s a kitten,” but a few episodes later she was bawling in that wet “Oh, my God just wipe your nose already!” style that Heather Donahue perfected in The Blair Witch Project.

Now I’m not saying I want to cook in his kitchen, but personally, I’m far more scared of Janice Dickinson because not only am I convinced that she is the living dead, but I seriously believe she could fully kick my ass and then use bits of it for her lips, chin, or cheekbones.

However, fans of Ramsay’s newest show, Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, don’t seem to find the former Glasgow Ranger all that scary. Over at Television Without Pity, one poster says, “He really is a 12-year-old boy at heart! And take him out of the kitchen and we get a chance to see a very different side of him. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humour and is surprisingly charming,” and another poster adds, “He’s adorable and charming and is coming across as quite a decent fellow.”

By the way, if you think Ramsay is truly that bad, check out the man who wants to make certain the whole world knows that he made Ramsay cry. (Before Ramsay made anyone else cry, at that.) In his newly published autobiography, White Slave, London chef Marco Pierre White brags that he “broke” Ramsay back when the hellish chef was a lowly cook in his kitchen.

Babette’s Feast

Move over Friendster and MySpace—now there’s something tastier! The newest social networking website to hit the scene is geared toward the food obsessed, and it’s called BakeSpace.

Created by Babette Pepaj, a Los Angeles–based television producer and director, BakeSpace currently has 5,129 members, and it is a homey space on the Internet where people can gather to share and delight in all things food. But why go to BakeSpace when you can go to eGullet or CHOW’s sister site, Chowhound? Well, according to their press release, lots of reasons:

While many culinary-themed websites offer recipes and message boards, BakeSpace.com is unique in that members can post, search and share recipes, customize their own ‘online kitchen,’ raid the site’s ‘virtual pantry,’ make new friends, create blogs, upload photos and video, download coupons, and communicate in real-time with other members via instant messaging and chat.



Pepaj says, “For many people, the kitchen is the most important room in their home. But even the most passionate chef can sometimes forget that cooking should be fun. BakeSpace was created to enable members to share their kitchen with like-minded people from around the globe, and in the process forge new friendships and exercise their passion for one of life’s great pleasures.”

Sounds pretty delicious to me, and I’ve just signed up as Stephanie365. Come on over and visit my virtual kitchen—it’s probably much bigger than my real one!

Food Porn Goes Hardcore

Gourmet’s Restaurant Issue features some of the most egregious food porn to cross the transom in months: a look at private Las Vegas dining rooms for “whales.”

Standard food porn—defined here as detailed coverage of lavish edibles the reader is unlikely to ever be able to eat or prepare based on financial, temporal, or geographic hurdles—is normally at least within striking distance of the truly determined. Sure, white truffles are expensive and scarce. Sure, a meal at Masa will run you several hundred dollars. Sure, Barcelona is a long, long way away. But a determined foodie can clear those hurdles when the rewards are commensurate.

Not so with the private dining rooms profiled in “Strip Stakes.”

The Paiza Club, a by-invitation-only facility on the top floor of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, caters to players who gamble at the million-dollar-plus level. “The other day,” says Tonie Roberts, Paiza’s Mandarin-speaking manager, as we settle into our plush chairs for lunch, “we served a cream puff surrounded by an ocean of blue Jell-O to symbolize a private island that a guest had just closed on.”


Let’s momentarily savor and then put aside the irony of serving a multimillionaire gambler a pile of blue Jell-O. The important thing is that for you, the reader, to enjoy the delights depicted in this article, you must first earn many millions of dollars. You must then develop a degenerate gambling habit that costs you a large percentage of your earnings. Finally, you must get the long-awaited invitation to the secret room where giant talking lobsters immolate themselves for your pleasure, and you can eat grilled baby pandas out of the skulls of elephants.

I guess if you’re going to do food porn, it may as well be exxxplicit. But even for Gourmet, this feature pushes the boundaries.

Asian Pearl With Pringle

You can get dim sum at Asian Pearl, but what hounds find really promising is the modern Chinese banquet food. Like, for instance, Peking duck, with the skin served over a green apple salad, on top of a Pringle.

As in, the chip.

Surprisingly, it works, say Peter Yee and others. The sweet and acid fruit with crispy, fatty skin is a pretty inspired combination, says alfairfax. Sea bass is perfectly cooked and luscious, says oakjoan, who puts it in the top five fish experiences of her life. Many hounds like the salt and pepper crab, and the tofu with crab and golden sauce, although some raise concerns about the not-in-season-ness of the crab right now. However, all hounds agree that the yellow corn fritters, served with sweetened condensed milk, are deadly good, even when you’re dangerously stuffed.

Asian Pearl [East Bay]
3288 Pierce St., Richmond
510-526-6800
Map

Board Links
Asia Pearl Banquet Chowdown

Candy Cap Mushroom Cheesecake

Far West Fungi is a shop dedicated wholly to mushrooms, located in the Ferry Building. Right now they are selling cheesecakes made with sweet Candy Cap mushrooms–$10 for a cupcake-sized cheesecake. lettuce loves it–the Candy Caps taste like maple syrup, and the cheesecake is deliciously sweet. Check out the store’s other offerings, too–“I love their, er, more dank fungi,” says slowcali.

Far West Fungi [Embarvadero]
Ferry Building Marketplace, Shop #34, One Ferry Building, San Francisco
415-989-9090
Locater

Board Links
Have you had candy cap cheesecake?

Tony’s Hot Dogs: Deliciousness Delivered by Truck

Tony the hot dog guy has been at it for almost 40 years, long enough to figure out what people like. Crowds descend on his silver truck at Newark’s Branch Brook Park for dogs made with fat, boiled all-beef franks from Brooklyn’s Golden D Brand Meat Products, reports hotdoglover. They’re tasty but mild–for some kick, ask for fiery sauteed hot onions. Chili is first-rate, too.

Don’t be deterred by the lines. Tony’s truck is a well-oiled operation with two service windows that keep things moving along. It’s around from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Tony’s Hot Dogs [Essex County]
Lake St. and Park Ave., outside Branch Brook Park, Newark, NJ
Map

Board Links
New Jersey, not Los Angeles, the hot dog capital of the world.

E-Mo: Fresh Rice Rolls at a Koreatown Hole-in-the-Wall

E-Mo does just one thing and does it well. At this closet-sized takeout shop in Koreatown, a husband-and-wife team turns out kimbap to order. The Korean-style seaweed rice rolls come with a choice of fillings, including beef, jalapeno, mushrooms, kimchi, squid, tuna, and spicy tuna. Just $4.50 buys around a dozen pieces, enough for a light lunch. It’s all fresh, tasty, and a good value, says Pupster–and a cut above the prepackaged kimbap that tends to sit around too long at rival shops.

E-Mo [Herald Square]
2 W. 32nd St., between 5th Ave. and Broadway, Manhattan
212-594-1466
Map

Board Links
E-mo: Kimbap made to order —A review