I was in pre-vacation food quandary. This is the dilemma that arises in the time between the dutiful consumption of all of the perishables in the house – to avoid a foul-smelling homecoming – and the start of the trip.
To buy more groceries would be wasteful, and most of the money had either been spent on plane tickets or was squirreled away for trip expenses, so pricey restaurants were decidedly out of the question. With two days left in Asheville before a nearly month-long foray out of town, I stared at the bowl of week-old navy beans, the half a head of cabbage, and the ample collection of condiments that represented the vestiges of my refrigerated stock.
Enter Doc Chey’s, part of a small chain of restaurants spread around Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Located on Biltmore Avenue in the heart of downtown Asheville, this little noodle house serves up nourishing, healthy food in good portions and at minimal cost. The interior is spacious, with a funky but sleek urban feel. The menu boasts an assortment of basic dim sum, like spring rolls and edamame, as well as generous salad bowls, noodles and rice dishes, with no one item exceeding the price of $8.
The flavors are solidly Eastern, with Thai, Japanese and Chinese cuisine being the most predominant. There is, thankfully, a definite nod toward authenticity, with ingredients such as fermented black beans in a Chinese noodle bowl, and a Thai fish sauce that made itself known through a heady, pungent aroma sent aloft in the steam rising from my dining companion’s bowl. These “foreign” ingredients are not listed on the menu, perhaps to avoid the squeamish reactions doing so might incur, but they do indeed turn up. Vegetarians, however, need not be concerned about ingesting animal products unawares; items that can be made to suit them are clearly marked.
Our sampling of Doc Chey’s dim sum included a perfect little portion of Thai coconut soup for $2 and a pickled cucumber salad for $3. Both were served in small soup cups that rested on large, oblong platters, as did the pretty little pots of hot water we were brought with our bags of green Genmaicha tea. With the arrival of a third, much larger appetizer, space was suddenly at a premium. We stacked all of the unnecessary plates in the middle of the table, where they remained for some time.
The soup was a deliciously warming treat, and the price was indeed right. Chili oil floating in tiny orange pools on the surface of the broth tempered the natural sweetness of the coconut. The cucumber salad had a sweetness that seemed a bit unnatural, though the pieces of fresh ginger contained within provided a little balance.
We moved on to our entree, selecting the Chinese black bean noodle bowl with shrimp, and the Thai noodle bowl with extra vegetables, both of which were quite good. The shrimp were firm and fresh, the flavor of the sauce pungent and spicy. The greens promised by the menu, however, were difficult to locate. They eventually turned up, though they were mostly stem – most likely that of bok choy, aka Chinese cabbage. At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor of the black bean bowl, and found it to be perfectly spiced.
The Spicy Thai Basil noodle bowl was good and spicy as promised, reported my Picky Companion – after he had added a decent amount of Sriracha. When this man hears spicy, he wants spicy, but that’s why the hot sauce is on the table, I suppose. He also reported on a dearth of Thai basil and a much smaller offering of vegetables tossed with the noodles than he had wanted, but aside from all that, he was pleased enough to eat most of it. What he didn’t, I polished off for breakfast.
Our whole experience with Doc Chey’s lasted less than 40 minutes, even though it was peak dinner hour and the place was packed. Though we had ordered enough food for two meals (cold noodles are better than cold pizza for breakfast, in my opinion), our bill, pre-tip, was under $30 – quite a value.
It’s clear, however, that great savings often come with some sacrifice. Doc Chey’s seems to be an unapologetically “turn and burn” kind of place. Customers that dally too long at their tables prevent more customers from arriving and spending, and these guys seem to keep that in mind, though they aren’t rude or pushy about it. There is no lingering over dessert or after-dinner drinks here; the restaurant doesn’t provide these things. Rather, the moment the diner indicates that the main course is coming to a close, the check is deposited on the table with the requisite number of fortune cookies in a rather impressive flurry of efficiency. The question is not, “Will there be anything else?” Instead, it’s “Box or not, cash or credit?” Efficiency is partially what keeps the price down, however, and the place is a bit too noisy for intimate conversation anyway.
For a quick and healthy meal, Doc Chey’s is a good bet, especially for the pressed-for-time lunch crowd. Portions are hearty, filling, tasty, and best of all, cheap – just what the Doc ordered.