Another chocolate shop comes to town, Jack’s Nut Butters and spices to get you cookin’

Completely nuts: Jack’s Nut Butters are made with organic sprouted nuts, clarified butter and organic coconut oil. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Food Ventures
Completely nuts: Jack’s Nut Butters are made with organic sprouted nuts, clarified butter and organic coconut oil. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Food Ventures


More chocolate!

Can you ever have enough chocolate? We may be about to find out. Chocolate Gems, a chocolatier in Black Mountain, is moving to downtown Asheville this summer, joining the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Kilwins and the Chocolate fetish as the fourth such shop in town. Chocolate Gems offers a number of desserts made with European chocolate, handmade truffles, coffees and house-made gelatos.

Chocolate Gems will move next to Tingles Cafe at 25 Broadway St. early this summer. "The area there is much busier than it is here," says Susan Chisholm, speaking from her still-open Black Mountain shop that she owns with her husband, Andrew. When the couple makes the move to Asheville, they will shut down the Black Mountain location, says Chisholm. "We just need more foot traffic. Our lease was also coming up for renewal, and we had a couple of issues with it, so we decided to have a look and we found somewhere that we couldn't let go," she says.

What’s more, Chisholm says that the move to Asheville will allow for greater creativity in both the truffles and gelatos the business offers. "We feel like we can be more adventurous with our flavors than where we are right now.” Ancho-chipotle, bittersweet orange and Earl Grey-mint truffles are currently on the menu, along with single-origin chocolates.

"And we don't just do truffles," says Chisholm. "We do chocolate boxes and figures and all kinds of chocolatey things."

The most obvious thing that sets Chocolate Gems apart from the rest of the chocolate shops already doing business in the Asheville area is the selection of handmade small-batch gelatos the Chisholms will offer. "I don't believe that there's anyone else in Asheville that actually makes and sells gelato," says Chisholm.

Gelato flavors will include the standards, made with high-quality ingredients. Real vanilla beans will be used in the vanilla, imported nut pastes for the pistachio and the hazelnut and fresh fruits when they are in season. Chocolate will be of high quality as well, says Chisholm. "We use all proper ingredients," she says. "There are no artificial flavors in there." The couple does expect to branch out some with their flavor creations.

Even though the shop will keep later hours on the weekends, Chisholm says that it will not offer beer or wine, leaving the evening crowd to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. “We just want to focus mostly on our chocolates,” says Chisholm. Classes on chocolate-making will also be offered. For more information, visit chocgems.com.

Going nuts

"Have you tried Jack's Nut Butters?" the e-mail asked. I get similar messages all the time — someone affiliated with a company hawking a product under the guise of a friendly tip. But this one came from a colleague, one who isn't often given to sending me breathless product reviews.

"His gourmet artisan nut butters are insane," she continued. "They are ridiculously good. Highly recommend you check it out!"

Still skeptical, I checked the Facebook page for Jack's Nut Butters. The bulk of the reviews read as though they’d been written by someone under a spell. In fact, one of the reviews compared Jack's Nut Butters to crack.

Appropriately curious, I contacted the owner, Jack Fischer, who was kind enough to deliver a few jars of his butters to Xpress. While claiming that the butters are addictive as a drug may be a bit overexuberant, they are quite exceptional — if not a touch sweet.

The butters are made from organic sprouted walnuts and almonds, organic ghee (take note, vegans — that's clarified butter made from cow's milk), organic coconut oil, honey and sea salt. They're perfect for spreading on a hearty bread, or just for eating straight out of the jar (as I’m doing while I write this).

According to Fischer, he'll likely be expanding into flavored butters as demand increases. "But to be able to keep inventory, I have to have higher sales," he says.

Fischer says that his next release will be a cacao-cayenne butter. Other plans include a spiced nut butter with cinnamon, coriander, fenugreek and cayenne. Another will include reduced balsamic vinegar sweetened with maple instead of honey. Yet another will feature garam masala.

Find Jack's Nut Butters on Facebook or at the farmers market. Since Fischer's product is so new, he recommends that you subscribe to his newsletter through his Facebook page for the most consistent news on where to find his product.

Get a taste

The 11th annual Taste of Black Mountain takes place on Thursday, May 19 from 5:30 until 7 p.m. at White Horse Black Mountain.

“We’re really excited about this year’s Taste of Black Mountain,” says Bob McMurray of the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce. “A number of our new restaurants are participating, as well as some of the local favorites.”

Participants include the Artisan Gourmet Market and Wine Bar, Black Mountain Bistro, Black Mountain Chocolate, Black Mountain Natural Foods, Bone-A-Fide Bakery & Pet Boutique, Café Rebecca, FRESH Wood Fired Pizza and Pasta, Johnnie’s Catering Company, Highland Brewing Company, Louise’s Kitchen, Lucky Bamboo Café, the Madison Inn, Oak House, Okie Dokies Smokehouse, Palate at the Monte Vista, Pisgah Brewing Company, Red Rocker Inn, Round Mountain Creamery and Thai Basil.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $30 at the door and are available at the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. White Horse Black Mountain is located at 105-C Montreat Road. Call 669-2300 or visit exploreblackmountain.com for more information.

Sugar and spice and everything nice

May is National Barbecue Month. It's a good excuse to check out the Spice and Tea Exchange on Haywood Street in downtown Asheville.

Why? Because the shop showcases a rather interesting selection of spices and rubs. Most accomplished home cooks will generally scoff at the idea of buying premade blends, but the selection that the shop carries is noteworthy.

Of particular interest is a hickory salt blend, made with alderwood-smoked sea salt, which is perfect for those who want the smoke flavor — without the smoker. "You can also brine the meat with it, and you don't have to actually smoke it — it's already done for you," says Kimberlina Marie, who works in the shop and also makes food-centric oil paintings.

"Our powders — our beer, vinegar, wasabi and hickory powders — you cannot find those in any stores, and that's what's so beautiful about our blends," says Marie. "They're all put together with things that are hard to find." She cites the rosebuds and the coconut powders in the island spice blend as examples.

Other items of note include a habeñero sugar, a ghost chili pepper salt and a very pungent truffle salt with specks of real black truffle mixed in high-quality sea salt. Tea blends can be found as well, like the addictive black tea with dark chocolate shavings.

The Spice and Tea Exchange is located at 46 Haywood St. in downtown Asheville. For more information, visit spiceandtea.com.

Finding Solace

Restaurant Solace opened its upstairs café on May 10. The main dining room opens on May 19, according to a press release from the restaurant. Restaurant Solace, located within the Haywood Park Hotel at 1 Battery Park Ave. in downtown Asheville, will occupy the space vacated by the Flying Frog Cafe.

The café and patio, with seating for 75, offers “small plates” and a full bar. The dining room (now accessed by the elevator in Haywood Park Hotel), offers a more formal, fine-dining atmosphere, with a separate menu from the café.

Restaurant Solace’s café small plates include items like savory cheesecakes, lime- and ale-braised local rabbit, duck and pheasant confit and basil-fed snails.

The dining room will include entrees like black buck antelope, black sea bass with Sunburst trout caviar and roasted beet oil, coffee- and spice-roasted rib veal chop, spring cassoulet of Venison osso bucco and braised rabbit and a seasonal vegetarian dish. Breads and pastries will be baked in-house.

Solace will also add an artisanal market this month, featuring produce from farms that the restaurant sources and features on the menus. A series of cooking classes will also be offered.

The café will be open from 11:30 until 11 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 11:30 until 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Restaurant Solace’s downstairs dining room will be open from 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday and 5:30 p.m. until 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The Restaurant will be closed on Mondays. For more information, call 505-8333.

AIR by the numbers

The Asheville Independent Restaurant Association released some interesting numbers last week. AIR, for the unfamiliar, is a coalition of independently owned restaurants in the Asheville area. According to the recent AIR-member survey, the group has a substantial economic impact on the community.

With 55 restaurants, membership is the highest it has been since the organization was formed in 2001. In 2010, AIR restaurants generated almost $58 million in revenues, with a combined payroll of almost $19 million.  With numbers like that, it's easy to see why the organization wields quite a bit of clout in the area, especially in matters involving downtown commerce.

Through AIR’s yearly fundraiser, the Taste of Asheville, scheduled this year for November 17 at The Venue on Market Street, the group also awards scholarships to culinary students at A-B Tech

For more information about AIR, visit airasheville.org.

— Send your food news to food@mountainx.com

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