Keep cool and carry on: Beat the heat with Asheville summer eats

CHILL OUT: Gan Shan Station's som tam is a spicy green papaya salad with crunchy peanuts and a bold flavor punch of tangy tamarind. Photo by Cindy Kunst

The weather is hot and only getting hotter. And while it can be painful to give up your usual order at your favorite restaurant or bar, it’s even harder to choke down a glass of red wine in 90-degree heat and balmy humidity. Some days, it’s even too hot to order that pho or ramen bowl you love so much. Fortunately, there are summer eats and drinks that make the hellish temperatures a little more bearable.

A hot sandwich or grinder might not be the best call when you could fry an egg on the sidewalk, but a lot of sandwich shops offer chilled alternatives. Other than just the standard cold-cut offerings, places like 67 Biltmore dish out chilled soups and myriad salads. The downtown eatery’s excellent gazpacho has already been scrawled across the specials chalkboard in recent weeks, and, with any luck, the vichyssoise will soon make its seasonal return. For those not as inclined to the acidity of a tomato-based gazpacho, vichyssoise — a creamy potato and leek soup — is a fantastic way to develop a cold-soup obsession. It’s flavorful and filling, but still light and airy. Also, don’t miss 67 Biltmore’s bean salads and rotating selection of sides, which are always tasty, always creative and an easy comfort food on a brutal day.

Sometimes — on very rare occasions — it’s just too hot for a taco. Fortunately, spots like Tacos Jalisco and Taqueria Fast offer tostadas as an alternative. Essentially open-faced tacos, the flat, crispy corn tortilla is topped with a choice of meat, lettuce and, usually, avocado. The nice part here is that you don’t have to worry about the asada or pastor being piping hot. In fact, with the chilled lettuce and veggies and a spicy but cool salsa on top, it can be a nice, leisurely and filling meal with the crispy tortilla making it feel deceptively light.

Scorching days can be problematic for diners with severe ramen and pho addictions, but there are great warm-weather alternatives for those as well. At Heiwa Shokudo, the seasonal Hiyashi special satisfies the craving for noodles and the desire for something cool. The chilled noodle salad combines carrots, avocado, shiitake, wakame, cucumber, sprouts, broccoli, a choice of protein and spicy miso or soy vinaigrette. Another solid summer option at Heiwa is chirashi — which simply means “scattered” in Japanese. A bowl of white rice topped with an assortment of monster sashimi cuts and veggies, it’s refreshing, satisfying and not hot or heavy.

On the north side, a cool option is Gan Shan Station’s som tam, a spicy green papaya salad with charred radicchio, ramps, green onions, serrano peppers, cucumber, cilantro and tamarind dressing. If you wind up craving the flavors of the East while on the south end of town, try Wild Ginger’s banh mi — a sandwich of toasted bread, chicken, pork or beef, pickled veggies, mayonnaise, cilantro and jalapeños. One can also make an entire meal of Wild Ginger’s spring rolls. Made with rice paper, these are not like the fried kind most people may be familiar with, making for a healthy, lighter, chilled option.

Gypsy Queen Cuisine is another perfect place to find heat-beating eats. Whether doled out from the Gypsy Queen truck or the West Asheville brick-and-mortar location, everything on the menu seems built for sunny days and warm weather. Lettuce-laden shawarmas and falafel wraps, tabouleh and the always-refreshing fattoush, make every dish a sensory escape and easy candidate for the category of New Favorite Comfort Food. Should you find yourself at a festival or event when the food truck is serving, try a pitaco, a taco-sized pita filled with standard Lebanese fare.

As for cocktails, it makes sense to reach for something a little lengthened in all this heat rather than relying on the boozy weight of an Old Fashioned or Manhattan — save those for the cold when you’re in need of a whiskey jacket. At Ole Shakey’s, take a swing at one of the constantly rotating boozy slushies. Whether it’s the No. 27  the Jack Daniels cocktail that has been a best-seller at downtown sister bar Sovereign Remedies for over a year now  or a 1700s-era tequila Paloma, there is no better way to wrap up a hot day in the sun than watching it set on the French Broad River with a slushy in hand. Other spots with boozy slushy machines include Tiger Mountain and Sovereign Remedies, which also has the No. 27 on tap.

 

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About Jonathan Ammons
Native Asheville writer, eater, drinker, bartender and musician. Proprietor of www.dirty-spoon.com Follow me @jonathanammons

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