Asheville is known to be rich with great local restaurants, but the city also has an uncommon amount of local makers.
What’s the secret to our good fortune? A wealth of local ingredients at our fingertips is only part of it.
There’s also a decent appetite for locally made goods from shoppers willing to search out some of the best local stuff and an opinionated bunch of people willing to tell us what’s good.
There’s also a certain X-factor about Asheville, said Josh Armbruster, chef de cuisine at The Market Place: the Asheville hustle, meaning the lengths creative people go to turn their talents into a gig.
“Pop ups, food buskers, Paul Choi doing drawings, all the small businesses that find that niche and run with it,” said Armbruster. “It happens everywhere, but I feel the challenges of the Asheville economy spur creativity.”
The local-grocery experts
Emily Copusis a perfect example of hustle. She started her career in food with a flower farm, which somehow led to opening a grocery store.
Call it a pandemic hustle. When food was feeling tough to get last year, Copus began delivering groceries with her flowers, because who wouldn’t want a bouquet with a side of Benton’s bacon?
Soon, she had expanded her grocery inventory and gave her online store a name: Zadie’s Market. Now Zadie’s is on the precipice of opening as a full-fledged brick-and mortar store.
Now, Copus said, the most popular products from her online store remain breakfast fare: eggs from Dry Ridge Farm. “They really are an amazing product for what they are — they’re very reasonably priced,” said Copus.
Fruit is tops too, specifically apples and peaches from Creasman Farms in Hendersonville, the latter of which are obviously not yet in season. One can only wait and hope.
As for Copus’s favorite things?
She also gave a shout out to the feta dressing from Vegetable Kingdom, which also makes Massaman curry and other sauces, soups and chow-chow. The Greek-style feta dressing, she said, “is one of those products people lose their minds for and, when we have shortages, people get angry.”
Copus also has a soft spot for Roots and Branches crackers. “That’s one of the reasons I started a grocery store — an infinite supply of Roots and Branches,” she said, only half joking. More about Roots and Branches at www.rootsandbranchesavl.com.
Shop local products and sales at zadiesmarket.com for delivery to the Asheville area and pickup in Marshall.
Kelli Kuhn, who handles customer care for Mother Earth Food, another local grocery delivery service, had a hard time narrowing down her favorite local products, which include fermented foods from Fermenti and Serotonin Ferments.
Miso from Miso Master, sparkling jun from Shanti Elixirs, Pot Pie, Pete’s Granola and Mandala Chocolates also made the cut.
You can read about all of those local products on Mother Earth Food’s website, motherearthfood.com.
Kuhn also has a soft spot for spices and, when asked to narrow down her favorite local blends, came up with these:
Spicewalla’s Cowboy Steak Rub: This steak rub from Spicewalla has the usual suspects: cracked pepper, minced and dried garlic, Kosher Salt and red pepper flakes. but the addition of roasted cumin gives this rub an extra layer of flavor.
Guess who else likes Spicewalla? Oprah, who listed the company’s blend and single spices on her “Favorite Things” list for the 2019 holiday season.
‘We bought every tin in the USA’:Asheville’s Spicewalla makes Oprah’s ‘Favorite Things’
Karen’s Spice Kitchen’s Butter Chicken blend: This spice blend of garam masala, ginger, cardamom and more comes with a recipe to help making the classic and mild Indian butter chicken easy.
Well Seasoned Table’s Smoked Fire Seasoning: This blend combines Fire Cider mash and cold-smoked chili peppers, onions and garlic, smoked tomatoes, black garlic and more. More at wellseasonedtable.com.
The chefs take a turn
Clarence Robinson, AKA the Flavor King, is the chef behind Cooking With Comedy and later this year will lend his talents to the kitchen at Soundspace @ Rabbit’s.
He also has a food truck he’s ready to launch. Though he hasn’t yet settled on the exact name, he has a concept: soul food with vegan options.
Robinson’ favorite local product for vegan fare is tempeh and hempeh from Smiling Hara Tempeh.
“I like tempeh as an ingredient because of the firmness,” he said. “You can cut it, make it look like meat — there are so many ways you can work with it, not like tofu where you have to be so delicate.”
Robinson likes tempeh in sandwiches and wraps, pasta salad and fried rice. More about Smiling Hara at www.smilingharatempeh.com.
The Market Place’s Armbruster has a favorite product that really is more of a collection of what local farmers have to offer.
“(It) straight up is the produce from Mother Earth Food,” he said. “To have good local-ish produce show up at my house every week is amazing and, at around $40, is awesome.”
A few of my favorite things
I agree with the quality of the produce from Mother Earth Food, which I’ve had delivered to my house every week for two years or more — I’ve lost count.
In the summer, most everything is local. Over the winter, the produce shifts to mostly regional. During those months, I’ve most looked forward to satsuma oranges from Georgia, some of the sweetest and most fragrant I’ve ever had.
Here’s what else goes in my box:
Dynamite Roasting Co. Daymaker Blend: This blend of dark and light beans from Central American yields the perfect roast, with plenty of depth and a well-rounded flavor.
The Black Mountain-based roaster’s description of this blend is right on: It’s perfectly balanced between bright, sparkling fruit and deep, roasty flavors. It’s also certified organic and fair trade. More at www.dynamiteroasting.com.
Three Graces Dairy Blanche: I like a challenging, stinky cheese. This is on the mild end of that spectrum. This traditional French-style Brie is buttery, ripe and nutty with a little bit of barnyardy funk. Also try Three Graces “Everything but the Bagel” fresh chevre, which is fantastic with smoked fish. www.3gracesdairy.com.
Buxton Chicken Rub: Sweet with a barely perceptible kick, Spicewalla’s Buxton Chicken Rub is a blend of brown sugar, salt, white pepper, cayenne, garlic and a few other herbs and spices in perfect proportion. As advertised, it’s perfect for chicken, and it’s my favorite easy go-to for whole roasted chicken or sheet pan drumstick dinners. It’s also great on pork chops. www.spicewallabrand.com
Mackensy Lunsford has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years, and has been a staff writer for the Asheville Citizen Times since 2012. Lunsford is a former professional line cook and one-time restaurant owner.
Reach me: [email protected].