Small bites: Custom cakes come to New Leicester Highway

ALL YOU NEED IS CAKE: On March 30, baker Shana McDowell celebrated the grand opening of her shop, AVL Cake Lady, on New Leicester Highway. The business specializes in custom-made cakes and offers a rotating selection of cupcakes, shortbread cookies and individual cake slices for same-day purchase. Photo by Thomas Calder

Shana McDowell, owner of AVL Cake Lady, will be the first to tell you cake wasn’t always her cup of tea. Nor did she ever dream the dessert would serve as the basis for a future business. When McDowell began baking 10 years ago, she notes, it was strictly a hobby. “It started with me making shortbread cookies for my kids’ bus drivers, as a way to say thank you,” she explains.

A few years later, McDowell signed up for a cake decorating class at A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts. The baker figured she’d take what she learned from the course and transfer it to cookies. But as the classes progressed, and as she continued to bring home intricately designed cakes, her friends and neighbors encouraged her to reconsider.

On March 30, AVL Cake Lady celebrated the grand opening of its first brick-and-mortar shop, located on New Leicester Highway. The shop specializes in custom-made cakes for all special occasions. Popular flavors include carrot, vanilla, double-chocolate, red velvet and lemon velvet. Cupcakes, shortbread cookies and individual cake slices will also be available for same-day purchase.

Though her desserts are made for all in the community to enjoy, McDowell says she finds the most satisfaction when creating designs for young children. The themes of the majority of these cakes, she notes, revolve around popular superheroes and cartoon characters.

“I love to see kids eyes light up when they see their cake … and realize it’s edible,” she says. “When they say, ‘I can actually eat that?’ That’s what I really enjoy.”

AVL Cake Lady is at 34 New Leicester Highway, Suite C. Hours are Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For more, visit

Chocolate and beer in Sylva

According to poet T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month. But across North Carolina, April is also the state’s official Beer Month. To honor and celebrate local brews, two Sylva businesses — Baxley’s Chocolates and Innovation Brewing Co. — are teaming up for a monthlong chocolate and beer pairing. The chocolate portion of the tasting is available at either location, but the beer is exclusively sold at Innovation. Some of the recommended pairings include Afternoon Delight Blonde Ale with milk chocolate coconut haystack, Phat Chance Amber with milk chocolate Catamount Paw and Black Balsam Porter with milk chocolate Peanut Butter Beltway.

The pairing continues throughout April. Baxley’s Chocolates is at 546 W. Main St., and Innovation Brewing Co. is at 414 W. Main St., both in Sylva.

Ayurvedic cookbook author speaks at Malaprop’s

Author Lisa Joy Mitchell will speak at Malalprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Thursday, April 11, about her award-winning 2018 vegetarian cookbook, Sacred & Delicious: A Modern Ayurvedic Cookbook. Ayurveda is a system of medicine with its roots in India. Along with its 108 recipes, the book explores the healing power of food, as well as the spiritual practice of food preparation.

The talk runs 6-7 p.m. Thursday, April 11, at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St. For more, visit

Seven-course beer dinner

Chefs from North Carolina’s Foothills and Piedmont regions will converge at Catawba Brewing Co.’s Morganton location on Sunday, April 14, to prepare a seven-course beer dinner benefiting Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, a nonprofit that works to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the region through conservation efforts. Asheville chef Steve Goff of AUX Bar will participate in the event, alongside Charlotte chefs Daniel Wheeler of Dot Dot Dot, Robert Reinken of Charlotte Country Club and Laney Jahkel-Parrish of 300 East, and Hickory chefs Ben Sullivan and Jeremy Salig of Highland Avenue and Rick Doherr of Cafe Rule. The complete menu was not available at press time, but featured beers will include Pilsner, TED Light Lime, Apricot Sour, Brown Bear, Bier de Mars, Hopness Monster, Friki Tiki Lychee and Peanut Butter Jelly Time.

The dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, April 14, at Catawba Brewing Co., 301 S. Sterling St., Morganton. Tickets are $70 per person and are available at

Pop-up market at Early Girl Eatery West

Early Girl Eatery’s West Asheville location recently launched a Sunday pop-up market, which will run through July. Asheville Tea Co., Mama Bee Chocolates, Fermenti, Shanti Elixirs and Karen’s Spice Kitchen are among the participants, and new vendors will be added each week. In addition to the market, both Early Girl Eatery locations have added a new drink menu. Highlights include The Pink Lady (raspberry vodka, Tuaca, Peach Schnapps, cranberry juice and fresh lemon juice), The Asheville Flyer (cava, rum, fresh lime juice and raw sugar syrup) and Sour Girl (Evan Williams Bourbon, all-natural lemonade and red wine float). On the food end, Early Girl is now exclusively serving gluten-free fried chicken. Both locations are now also peanut-free.

Early Girl Eatery is at 8 Wall St. Early Girl Eatery West is at 444 Haywood Road. The Sunday pop-up market runs 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Sundays, through July. For more, visit

Tickets on sale for Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event

Though Asheville’s newest culinary festival, Chow Chow, is still several months out, tickets for the September event are now on sale. According to a press release, the four-day gathering will celebrate “the unique community of chefs and makers throughout Asheville and Appalachia” with tasting events, chef demos and workshops.

Chow Chow: An Asheville Culinary Event runs Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 12-15. Tickets range from $50-$150; select seminars start at $20. To purchase, visit

Button named 2019 James Beard Award finalist

Congratulations to Cúrate chef and co-owner Katie Button, who was recently nominated for a 2019 James Beard Award. Button is one of five chefs in the running for Best Chef: Southeast. Winners will be announced on Monday, May 6.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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