Buns ‘n’ ‘shrooms

A dear friend has informed me that my love of mushrooms stems from a need for more yin in my life. Could be — though I don’t see myself as a particularly yangy kind of guy. But whatever the reason, I have definitely been a serious fungivore for decades. I’ve hunted wild mushrooms in Pacific rain forests, New England swamps, Appalachian highlands, subtropical pine land and subarctic tundra. I’ve grown shiitake. I have dried or pickled the fungal fruit for later use. I’ve cooked them in dozens of recipes and eaten them in dozens more. Perhaps all that has mysteriously nurtured my feminine side.

Or maybe I just like mushrooms.

In recent years, the combination of better growing methods and air transport has introduced American palettes to the world beyond bland, white button mushrooms. Many groceries now carry portobello, cremini, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, occasionally augmented by straw or the lovely yellow-orange chanterelles (my personal faves among the commercially available species, with their delicate whiff of apricot).

In this culture, just about anything edible ends up in a sandwich sooner or later, and ‘shrooms are no exception. In Asheville, the going rate for ‘shrooms on a bun is about $7, including a side.

For my money, the best local fungus on bread comes from Souper Sandwich in the Haywood Park Atrium. Here you’ll find grilled portobella slices with lettuce, tomato, red onion and feta cheese, doused with a cucumber-dill sauce and served on a thick, toothsome, toasted pita with a side of fries. The salty feta really sets off the flavor of the mushroom, and the sauce dilutes the saltiness into true lunchtime splendor.

Oliver & Annabelle’s in the Grove Arcade takes a different tack, marinating the portabella slabs before grilling them, then dressing them with sliced avocado, tomato and provolone cheese on sourdough toast with a choice of potato, pasta or garden salad. It’s very good — the avocado’s richness and texture nicely complement the slightly chewy ‘shrooms.

The Mushroom Melt at the Battery Park Bistro starts with sauteed cremini mushrooms and grilled onions infused with gooey Manchego cheese, topped with lettuce, tomato and mayo and served on toasted whole-wheat bread (baked daily in house), with fries or sweet-potato chips. The melty combo is very tasty but too wet — the bread on the bottom dropped out midway between plate and mouth, making this one kind of messy to eat (well worth tackling with a fork, however).

Bearly Edible offers many scrumptious sandwiches that contradict the pun. Alas, their mushroom entry isn’t one of them. The Smiley Melt promises grilled mushrooms, peppers, onions and provolone cheese baked inside a City Bakery sub (with a choice of cold toppings). Sadly, the mushrooms are canned, sliced buttons, and the whole agglomeration is fairly tasteless.

The mushroom hunt continues.

Stalking the perfect ‘shroom

Where to find them:

Souper Sandwich 46 Haywood St. (285-0003)

Oliver & Annabelle’s 1 Page Ave. (350-8366)

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About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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