It's like an accountant doing their own taxes, or a lead singer going to a Karaoke bar on a night off — sometimes what you do for a living is not what you want to do with your spare time. Case in point: chefs often don't want to be in charge of cooking when they step off the line of duty. They order pizza. They hit the gastro-pub. They eat crappy sandwiches. Occasionally, they also eat like humans.
We caught up with a few Asheville chefs to find out just where they like to go when they let someone else cook for them for a change.
Katie Button, chef/owner of Cúrate: Katie Button and fiancé Felix Meana of Cúrate, a downtown Asheville tapas bar, are both El Bulli alumni. One would expect fairly refined tastes from ex-employees of one of the best restaurants in the world, right? Yes and no. Button says her off-work eats run the gamut from haute cuisine to Philly cheesesteaks.
Button says that she loves Biltmore Village French bistro, FIG, as well as the seasonal, modern-American Table. But, when it comes to finding late-night food, it seems that Button and Meana find themselves in good company at Sazerac, a chic cocktail lounge and restaurant on Biltmore Avenue.
"I'd have to say that we've hit up Sazerac a number of times at odd hours," she says. "When we go out after work, we frequently run into other chefs just getting off of work late at night — we all have the same routine, I think."
Sometimes, routine includes a gooey sandwich. "Really late at night, I would say that Felix and I have ordered the Philly cheese steak — more than once — from the 51 Grill. That's a little bit embarrassing, but it's great," Button says.
And all working stiffs need a good breakfast to get going. The two frequent City Bakery for their morning fix. "I eat their egg-and-cheese biscuit — regularly — along with coffee," says Button. "Felix always gets their ham-and-cheese croissant. That's like a daily routine."
That chefs like street food seems to be a universal truth. "We really enjoyed the GCQ Lebanese Street Food truck at the Bywater," says Button, referencing the local riverside watering hole. GQC is run by local chef, Suzy Phillips, who turns out everything from kofta to kibbeh from her truck.
"The chicken schwarma is delicious, and so is the falafel. I really enjoyed everything that we had there," Button says.
Terri Roberts, of The Southern Kitchen and Bar, also really digs GQC Street Food. The chef enthuses that Phillips turns out the best food she's had in Asheville. "Amazing schwarma and falafel — it's my new favorite place to eat."
That’s not the only food craving the two female chefs we quizzed have in common. They also both seem to have a weakness for cheesesteak. "I just discovered the Philly Hoagie House," says Roberts. "I really like that place. They do the authentic Philly cheesesteak — the cheez whiz and the whole deal. It's really, really bad for you, but really good."
Roberts says that she's partial to Table and loves to eat brunch at Chorizo and Limones, and prefers Mela and Chai Pani for Indian. For burritos, Mamacitas wins, says Roberts, but for special occasions and sheer awesomeness, the Admiral wins. “They put pop rocks in my food. I really dig that," she says.
Drew Maykuth, co-chef of West Asheville's funky and oft-venerated Admiral, is a huge fan of all things greasy.
Maykuth says that quesadillas from Taqueria Gonzales hit the spot. “I think they're awesome," he says. "They're really simple, they're homemade tortillas, they're oozing with cheese and are always good with carnitas."
But the best greasy fix in the area, per Maykuth? Cruizers in Canton. "It’s the best fried chicken I've ever had here," he says. "It's simple, fried to order, super crispy, super juicy, salty. Just really good."
But it's not always about grease, says Maykuth. "My favorite place to eat right now is Cucina 24. I think that Brian [Canipelli] is really excited about food and he's putting out exciting stuff that's really tasty. That's more of a splurge meal."’