Small Bites

Caffeine a go go: The Ursa Minor Coffee truck serves pastries, coffee and tea on Swanannoa River Road. In Portland, Ore. they have these trucks “every 10 feet,” says owner Eli Masem. Photo by Halima Flynt

More food trucks

Vegetarians craving world cuisine take note. Food trucks are on your side these days. We have GQC Street Food serving vegetarian falafel at the Bywater, in West Asheville and now across from the Dripolator on select days, and now we have a Venezuelan food truck on Patton Avenue that serves vegetarian cuisine.

Through a pass-through window, the owners of the little red truck Sheila and Genaro (aka Rino) Cassano serve a number of arepas and empanadas. They do offer meaty fare, like arepa burgers (beef patties served on simple corn-dough buns for $4) and hot dogs, but everything can be had vegetarian at this truck.

“We have the option for the burger, the hot dog and the empanada to be made with vegetarian meat,” says Sheila Cassano. The truck also offers arepas stuffed with cheese, plus tuna salad or cheese empanadas. A number of juices and shakes are available. Try the kiwi-pineapple shake, made with soy milk, for $3.

What made the Cassanos offer vegetarian fare? “We eat vegetarian at home,” says Sheila. “We’ve been eating that way for 10 years, because it’s healthier and you live longer. You’re also going to look much better, even your hair, face and skin.”

Occasionally, says Sheila, the truck offers green fried plaintains called tostones, as well as sweet plantains with queso. From time to time, they serve a sliced turkey and cheese arepa. “We don’t serve pork, ever,” Sheila says. “We don’t use whole milk — we use soy because it’s better for your body.”

Sheila says that the couple will add more Venezuelan food as the truck becomes more popular. One of her favorite items, she says, is the reina pepiada, which she describes as fried black beans with white cheese. “They used to call that out to the women that are really hot in Venezuela.”

I know the reina pepiada as an arepa, stuffed with an avocado chicken salad, but both sound great.

Sheila’s lived in the U.S. for 16 years, and Asheville for two. What does she think about Asheville? “I love it,” she says. “Where I was born in Venezuela looks just like Asheville.”

To order from the Venezuelan food truck (that’s the only name it goes by), call 423-5613, or drive over to 1563 Patton Ave. The truck is in the parking lot of the gas station that holds Suave tortillaria (that place is worth checking out as well). It’s there from noon to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.

Coffee trucks, too!

Looking for a drive-up caffeine fix? Check the Ursa Minor Coffee truck, located in a parking lot on Swannanoa River Road, between Asheville Bolt and Screw and Mountain Steel. Ursa Minor carries coffee from Black Mountain’s Dynamite Roasting, pastries from West End Bakery in West Asheville as well as smoothies, bulk coffee and teas.

What’s it like being located in such an unlikely place? Reactions run the gamut from studied avoidance (especially from some of the neighbors) to avid fandom (from the majority of the neighborhood) says owner Eli Masem, who just moved from the Portland area with his wife Faryn Davis and his son Milo Gray.

“In Portland they have these like every 10 feet,” says Masem from inside his spotless truck. “Even in the small cowboy towns, they have them. Cowboys are rolling up to the window to order their lattes.”

Here, however, the cowboys are slightly wary, or so it seems. A man in a big red pick-up truck rolls slowly through the parking lot, then stops by Masem’s blue truck, embellished with big yellow stars. Eyeing the bottle of honey on the counter used for sweetening tea, the man asks, “Whatcha sellin’ here, molasses?” When he learns that Masem has only coffee and tea on board, the man looks momentarily confused, wishes us a good day, and rolls on through.

“I think there’s enough of a coffee culture to support this,” Masem says after the man is gone. Even on the outskirts of town?

“Yes, I didn’t even want to try for downtown because there’s already plenty of places selling great coffee — it just didn’t seem necessary.”

Masem uses fruit purees and soy or regular milk to make his smoothies, and water that he runs through a home filtration system to brew his coffees and teas. He carries a number of specialty coffee drinks, like the Bombay Blast, a blend of espresso and milk with cardamom, nutmeg and pistachios on top. He also offers an iced qishr, a cold tea brewed from dried coffee fruit infused with cinnamon and agave.

Masem is an accomplished barista, but not a coffee snob. He explains his love of joe like this: “A lot of my happiest moments in life have involved having a cup of coffee in my hand.”

Visit Ursa Minor at 216 Swannanoa Road Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m., or at local festivals, like the upcoming Montford Street Festival and the Asheville Burlesque and Sideshow Festival. For more information, visit the Ursa Minor Coffee Facebook page.

Vegetarian fast food is here

In even more meat-free news, the moment that many vegetarians have been waiting for is here: VegHeads Drive-Thru has opened on Merrimon Avenue. Menu items include an avocado hummus wrap for $5.99 and a vegan quinoa and vegetable wrap for $5.99. There’s also a classic pasta salad for $6.29 and a tabbouleh salad for the same price. Sides include house-made kimchi for $3.29 and a cup of jasmine or brown rice for $2.49. There’s a kids’ menu, too, with ants on a log, tempeh nuggets and grilled cheese and fries — all for under $5.

Xpress sampled three items: The Mountain Burger with shiitake “bacon” ($6.99 plus 35 cents for the mushrooms), the cucumber seaweed salad ($4.50) and the Korean BBQ tempeh wrap ($6.99). The total, with tax, came to $19.91.

The seaweed and cucumber salad is of substantial size, with a tangy sweet dressing and red peppers. Do not make the mistake of carrying the box sideways like I did, spilling the dressing all over your skirt (or trousers, as the case may be). This is not car food, folks. It’s messy but tasty. Also, don’t expect the standard seaweed salad that you would get in a Japanese restaurant; the seaweed is a natural color and chopped into rough ribbons.

The Mountain Burger contains lentils and grains and is topped with fresh red onion, tomato and lettuce on a wheat bun. Make sure to spring the extra pocket change for the shiitake “bacon.”

Asheville’s first vegetarian drive-through is a unique addition to our food scene — check it out. VegHeads is located at 705 Merrimon Ave. in north Asheville. For more information, email

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2 thoughts on “Small Bites

  1. Charles Lindsay

    Its absolutely outrageous that the city still isnt allowing these entrepreneurs the opportunity to operate within the CBD! Is there no such thing as free market in Asheville? The more i learn about the downtown commission and its ill formed agendas, the more i refuse to patronize the few members of AIR, influencing their decisions. Am i the only one noticing the obvious fear of ethnicity here? I thought Asheville was a “progressive” community.

  2. Pablo

    I don’t think it’s a ‘fear of ethnicity’ as Charles says. I think it’s a fear of competition. Perhaps the food trucks will dilute the foodtopia downtown with their quick & easy fare while causing further economic tension to some downtown restaurants that have been scraping the barrel to get by. What restaurant owner would actually want a truck serving food nearby? Many restaurants downtown are the cornerstone of an aggressive restoration that has created much profit and to have some food truck squat nearby and contribute very little is a slap in the face.

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