Small Bites

Looking for the ultimate party?

This month, the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association takes a unique approach to ensure that hopeful culinary professionals have a bright future. AIR is auctioning off an entire staffed dinner party for up to 60 people, complete with drinks and an assortment of sweet and savory treats from AIR member restaurants. Proceeds from the auction benefit the organization's Chefs of Tomorrow Scholarship program, which places culinary students in AB-Tech's award-winning program, and helps pay for tuition and student expenses.

AIR has a history of giving back, says Elizabeth Sims, who handles marketing and communications for the restaurant group. Annually, AIR donates two scholarships to culinary students from Buncombe County. FRS, a local foodservice equipment supplier, also provides the students with a start-up kit of knives and uniforms — expenses that can easily add up.

Sims says that AIR is currently working to increase the number of scholarships offered yearly from two to six. “This auction is one part of their effort to direct more funds for that purpose,” she adds.

AIR has dubbed the all-inclusive dinner the “Ultimate Party” — and the moniker sounds appropriate. For starters, the Ramble Biltmore Forest, a gated community in south Asheville, has donated use of their spacious Living Well center, a recently built and state-of-the-art building, bordered by woods and equipped with a fireplace.

Participating restaurants include Luella's Barbecue, Mela, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, Vinnie's Neighborhood Italian and Frankie Bones, making for an eclectic and varied menu. 

And what would a party be without libations? Local wine and beer will be donated by the Biltmore Estate and Green Man Brewing, respectively.

“It would be perfect for holidays, especially for an office holiday party, or if you belong to a club or association and you want to have some kind of get-together,” says Sims. “It would also be great for a birthday party or a special anniversary.”

“It's all-inclusive, so everything is taken care of,” she adds. “All you have to do is invite people to come. It's a great value and a sweet deal for somebody that wants to make it really easy on themselves.”

Bidding started at $500 and runs throughout the month. The estimated value is approximately $5,500. Bids may be placed at chefsoftomorrow.com. The Ultimate Party can be scheduled from October 1 until December 18.

Tomato Jam's biscuits jam

Once upon a time, two Yale students met, married and decided to take their foodie sensibilities on the road. Jane and Michael Stern spent plenty of time crossing the country, searching for the very best of U.S. road food. In 2009, they published their findings in the rather ominously titled 500 Things to Eat Before it's Too Late (and the very best places to eat them).

The duo managed to visit Asheville in their travels, stopping off at Tomato Jam Café, a quaint establishment in the midst of the hustle and bustle that is the Mission Hospital area on Biltmore Avenue.

There, the Sterns tried Tomato Jam's "tawny whole-grain cathead biscuits," declaring them among "the magnificent seven best biscuits" they found in their travels.

Chef Daniel Wright says that he feels honored to have his biscuits named in the book. "It feels great, especially being in a place where it's competitive … A lot of people around here try to make really good biscuits. To be in a top spot with something like that, it's great."

"We're the only Asheville restaurant that made it into the book," adds owner Deb Maddox, who bought the business as a turnkey operation early this summer.

The biscuits are, indeed, damn good. They're whole wheat, but somehow still light, with a rich buttery flavor and a touch of sweetness. Topped with some of the restaurant’s homemade jam, they make for a great nibble.

Chef Wright agrees. "It's still pretty light. It's not overly filling, it doesn't sit heavy like a lot of whole wheat things do sometimes. So, it's a mix of healthy and comfortable." 

Wright adds that the new Tomato Jam team has made a few improvements to the restaurant here and there, but kept the overall flavor and feel intact. "I feel we've only added to what [the previous owners] already had. We've kept a lot of things the same and tweaked some others," says Wright. "It's nice to step it up a notch and do some things that are untraditional or maybe a little unorthodox to the original Tomato Jam way, but still keep the basic favorites."

But back to the biscuits. It is National Biscuit Month this month, after all. Maddox and Wright say that their whole-wheat biscuits will soon find their way into a grab-and-go breakfast menu that the eatery will launch in early October.

"We'll be implementing the biscuits more in our breakfast by having build-a-biscuits," says Maddox. "So people can take it and go."

Arcade Fire

Have you been wondering if anything will ever occupy the space on Pack Square at the corner of Market St. that used to house Joli Rouge?

The wait is over. Asheville resident Joshua Aaron, with business partner Leonard Poe, recently signed a lease on the property and is in the process of renovations to open up the planned Arcade. The space will be filled with classic pinball machines and a number of vintage arcade games, as well as some modern additions. At press time, Aaron and team were debating whether or not to install a Wii lounge.

Though the space is intended as a lounge/bar, Arcade will not cater solely to the bar crowd, Aaron says. He hopes, in fact, to keep the space family-friendly during the day hours. To that end, the bar will serve a full menu. Arcade is slated to open in mid-December of this year.

As of now, the business does not have a website. However, questions appear to be fielded rather rapidly on the Facebook page — just look for Arcade Asheville.

— Send your food news to Mackensy Lunsford at food@mountainx.com

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