Everything from beef tartare to torched marshmallow s’mores was on the menu last night as Asheville Independent Restaurants celebrated the local food scene with its annual Taste of Asheville event. And with an elbow-to-elbow crowd of foodies jockeying for point positions in front of the 40 food and beverage booths at The Venue, there was no shortage of tasters on hand.
Offerings ranged from the familiar to the exotic. Tupelo Honey Café drew throngs of diners with its signature shrimp and grits; Chestnut created a line with its lobster bisque; Rosetta’s Kitchen served its rich and warming kale, peanut butter tofu and mashed potatoes with gravy; and Luella’s Bar-B-Que got a jump start on Thanksgiving by dishing up samples of a full holiday spread, complete with smoked turkey, sweet potato casserole and apple-cranberry relish.
At the other end of the spectrum, Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian put a Mediterranean spin on sushi with flavorful bite-sized rolls of herb-seasoned ricotta cheese and crab meat wrapped in grilled eggplant. Nearby, Tres Hundertmark, chef at Bouchon and the soon-to-come Lafayette, proudly delivered a seasonal version of the Western North Carolina chaudin (or stuffed pig stomach) that won him the prize for Most Outrageous at BaconFest 2014. Hundertmark also offered an alligator sauce piquant that barely made it into the second hour of the event before it was annihilated by hungry guests.
The crowd that occupied the three floors of event space buzzed about numerous dishes, including the bison meatballs by Pack’s Tavern chef Daniel Wright, Isa’s Bistro’s torched marshmallow s’mores, deep-fried duck and pork boudin balls from Elliott Moss and The Thunderbird, a smoked potato salad served up by Social Lounge & Tapas and Nightbell’s unforgettable white chocolate crisps dusted with spices and orange peel and filled with freshly pressed green apple juice — truly a flavor explosion.
There were plenty of drinks to wash it all down, including coffee, local beers, Biltmore wines and offerings from area wine shops and beverage distributors. Urban Orchard’s ginger Champagne hard cider was a hit; MG Road handed out brightly colored cocktails to accompany Moss’ boudin balls; Blue Kudzu served a variety of its house-brewed sakes (along with a very nice tuna tartare on seaweed crackers from head chef Connor O’Dea); Divine Wine & Beer had a fun, interactive booth set up where guests could mix cava or prosecco with a variety of fruit juices; and, in the nonalcoholic category, Green Sage was offering its nutrient-rich chia berry lemonade.
As in years past, proceeds from the event will benefit AIR’s community outreach initiatives, including the Chefs of Tomorrow Scholarship Fund for students of AB-Tech’s Culinary Arts Program, and the GO Kitchen-Ready employment training program. — Gina Smith
Photos by Carrie Eidson
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