When I walk up to the front door of Ben’s Penny Mart on a bleary Sunday afternoon, I am so distracted by the smell drifting out of Asheville’s new downtown deli, that I almost miss the fact that the large glass door is lacking its glass entirely.
“A smash and grab, man,” explains Casey McKissick, proprietor of Foothills Meats. You may recall McKissick from our epic tale of delicious gluttony and debauchery at the Butcher’s Table dinners at his Black Mountain location. Well, now Foothills Meats is downtown, sharing space as a deli and sandwich shop within Ben’s Penny Mart.
“And check this out!” says McKissick, pointing to a rock, lodged in the drywall about a foot off the ground. The rock is disc-shaped and large, about a foot in diameter. “We’ve been trying to figure out how he could throw it this hard to get it to stick in the wall like that. The camera just shows him running in and grabbing the cash register.”
After drawing ourselves away from the crime scene, McKissick focuses our attention back on what we’re here for: the meat.
Ben’s Penny Mart is already a rather experimental concept for Asheville, resembling a New York-style bodega more than any standard Asheville store. Add to that the small deli case of locally sourced meats, house-cured, smoked and ground by Foothills, and you have a business model with quite a bit of potential.
Inside the case sprawl cuts of steak, hand-ground burger patties, long slices of pork belly, sides of house-cured bacon, deli meats, sausages and pâtés. “There’s a lot of demand for what we do, and nobody’s doing it,” says McKissick.
When I sit down for lunch, McKissick barrages me with the onslaught of food I’ve come to expect at his table. First comes the Cuban, a massive sandwich the size of my head. The crispy, flat Cuban bread can barely contain the behemoth amounts of house-smoked pulled pork and ham. From between the piles of meat, tiny pickles peek out, smothered by the weight that surrounds them. In the back of my palate, I feel a slight burn from the Lusty Monk mustard, but mostly I just taste rich, rich fats from the pig. And that’s when they bring me a large slice of pâté to serve as a side.
As if that wasn’t enough to feed an army, next they bring out the house-made hot dog. Piled with mustard, house-made chili and coleslaw, it is a Carolina dog to be reckoned with. Although it is no foot-long, this hand-stuffed dog packs some bite with its bark: It’s a dense tube of fearsome fats and spicy flavors.
In bringing wholesome, local, pasture-raised meats to the people, McKissick may be doing the Lord’s work, but as I struggle to ignore the looming threat of cardiac arrest, it is apparent that this wicked lunch is surely the devil’s table.
“We pay more for our raw product than Jimmy John’s does for their finished product,” says McKissick when I press him about the $10.99 price tag on the Cuban, making it easily the most expensive sandwich on the menu by a dollar. “And then we have to put all the love, labor and craft into it. So it ends up being a $10 or $11 sandwich, but one that is well worth it.”
“I mean, damn, it takes 20 hours to make that barbecue, it takes eight days to make that ham and half a day to make that hot dog. And you can’t make too many or else they just go bad. It’s not the worst thing to run out, but you don’t win many friends that way.”
As of now, the Black Mountain location will continue to serve as the hub of Foothills Meats’ operations, where the processing, smoking, curing and aging take place. Joining Foothills’ downtown team is Trevon Dunn, whom you may recognize from such Asheville staples as King James Public House and Curate, as well as the consummate veteran of front and back of house, Sam Goff.
“We’ve got great food and great sandwiches, and we want to give them to the Asheville market,” says McKissick.
Foothills Meats’ downtown location is inside Ben’s Penny Mart at 195 Hilliard Ave. The hours are noon-3 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 11 a.m.-9 .m. Tuesday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.