Eat out, give back
The popular fundraiser Dining Out For Life is back. What’s not to like? By eating out (at a participating restaurant, of course) on Thursday, April 28, you’re raising money for the Western North Carolina AIDS project. That’s because those restaurants donate 20 percent of their gross sales from that day. You can do breakfast, lunch, dinner — or all three. Venues include favorites like the Admiral, Boca and Chai Pani. Last year, DOFL raised more than $120,000 for WNCAP. Not too shabby.
This year, there are more restaurants, in more areas, than ever before. "Although the base of participating restaurants is in the Asheville area, this year we have added additional restaurants in many of the outlying areas, like Black Mountain, Brevard, Hendersonville, Maggie Valley, Saluda, Sylva, Waynesville, Weaverville and Woodfin,” says Harry Brown, event chair for DOFL.
What’s more, with a receipt proving that you dined out for a good cause on Thursday, you get free admission to the DOFL Appreciation Afterparty, hosted on all three levels of the Grove House. It promises to be quite the event, starting at 7 p.m. and going until the wee hours.
Entertainment includes Asheville Comedy, blues maven Kat Williams, expert jugglers Forty Fingers and a Missing Tooth, the variety show of Asheville Vaudeville and more. The Grove House is located at 11 Grove St. in downtown Asheville.
For a full list of DOFL restaurants, visit diningoutforlife.com/asheville/participating.
Finally, a taste of Lebanon — in WNC
Gypsy Queen Cuisine Lebanese Street Food (GQC for short) is now fully operational. Suzy Phillips, one of the pioneers of the food-truck movement in Asheville, is now selling her brand of Middle Eastern cuisine from her truck, nicknamed "Spartacus." Spartacus and Phillips can be found at The Bywater (796 Riverside Drive, Monday and Thursday nights and Saturdays during the day) and on Haywood Road in West Asheville in the Grace Baptist Church parking lot across from Ingles (Wednesdays and Fridays, lunchtime).
Phillips' core menu features Lebanese cuisine, all made fresh daily. Customers should always expect to find falafel on the truck, as well as garlic dip, which is usually served with a lamb kofta. Hummus, baba gannouj and salad — either tabouleh or fattoush — can always be found as well.
Not familiar with fattoush? "It's a chopped salad with a sumac vinaigrette and toasted pita chips, like croutons," says Phillips. "It's traditionally made with purslane and parsley." Purslane grows as a weed around here, says Phillips, but it's difficult to purchase for food service. You can't just go serving yard weeds out of a food truck, she says. "I saw them at the farmers market once and asked the farmer to keep bringing them to me — so I had the guy happily selling me his weeds," she laughs.
And not just the weeds are local. Phillips also uses local lamb (from East Fork Farms) and chicken. "I'm using everything local as much as I can, so my prices are not street food prices. They're still fairly reasonable and they're about to drop, because I'm finding resources that are a little cheaper," she says.
A rotating list of specials features creative offerings — some bordering on bravely unique. Fried chicken skins were a hit last week at the Bywater, says Phillips, adding that she hopes to start serving fried sardines soon. "Being Lebanese, you have to use every part, every single ingredient. I didn't know if those chicken skins were going to fly, but they were a hit," she says. "It sold out within an hour."
If chicken skins and sardines sound like a stretch, wait until you get a load of Phillips' future plans.
"Brain is coming, liver is coming, sweetbreads, quail — those are all the things that I want to put on the truck as specials." Are people ready for brains off of a truck? "We'll find out! I didn't think people were going to be ready for fried chicken skins," says Phillips.
Phillips says that the Lebanese way of preparing brains makes them taste very much like bone marrow. "There's an art to it that I still need to perfect — I wish that my mom was closer to help me," says Phillips.
The great debate about whether to allow food trucks in the central business district of Asheville has not yet been resolved, by the way. Both of the locations in which Phillips currently sells are outside downtown limits. Phillips says that talks on that particular matter are progressing. "Nothing has changed just yet, but there are discussions and hope," she says.
Now that Phillips' truck is up and running — even if she isn't located in the most prime of locations — is being a food truck operator everything she'd imagined?
"It's going great. But we have our days, like discovering things don't work on the truck," she says. The generators in particular have been extra problematic, says the chef. "We're just working out the kinks. Last night my generators died and I can't have them fixed until Thursday."
Phillips reports that it's an interesting endeavor to adapt to a truck-sized workspace. "It's fun, but quite challenging and a lot of hard work."
But with all of the challenges, there are plenty of good parts, she says. "It's like feeding your friends at a backyard party most of the time. That part is fun."
Phillips says she will soon be located across from the Dripolator on Broadway, so she'll be even closer to downtown.
For up-to-date information about Gypsy Queen Cuisine specials, locations and other news, visit GQC Lebanese Street Food on Facebook or follow @GQCstreetfood on Twitter.
Tailgate market dinners
Street food is not all that Phillips has in the works. Market dinners headed by Jeremy Hardcastle (of Hardcastle Handmade Hot Dogs, which recently got a nod in the May issue of GQ) at the West Asheville Tailgate Market will feature local chefs cooking with the produce culled from the market — literally in the market. And Phillips is lending Spartacus to the cause as a venue in which the chefs will prepare the food. "I would love to be involved with anything that has to do with food in the community," says Phillips. "And Spartacus would love that," she adds.
Hardcastle says that he would like to see all of the profits from the dinners go back to the WATM. Details are still coming together, but Hardcastle says that he's thinking the meals will include "meat and cheese, entree, pie and all the sun tea you can drink — all family-style — for 20 bucks." The dinners will place after the market ends at 6:30 p.m. "It would be a good way for farmers and cooks and the community to get together and eat and do what they're supposed to do with the stuff they're selling at the market.”
The first market dinner, on Tuesday May 17, will feature Drew Maykuth, co-chef at the Admiral in West Asheville.
Xpress will keep you posted as more information is available.
— Send your food news and story ideas to Mackensy Lunsford at firstname.lastname@example.org.