I think—I’m gathering up the courage to say this publicly as self-proclaimed “foodies” are a viscous, viscous lot—but I can say that, for me, at least, Asheville is an overrated food town. This is where I have to explain—as I do anytime I use the term “overrated”—that overrated doesn’t automatically equal bad. Overrated could even be good. Overrated just means that it’s not as good as the masses make it out to be.
Now, this revelation has a lot to do with personal preferences. I’m not a fancy food guy. I like basics (as demonstrated by my other revelation that I’m not the target audience for Restaurant Week or most places that partake). I don’t like dining establishments that take themselves too seriously. And one of the many ways I’m rapidly becoming my father includes not being able to enjoy expensive meals that are more marketing than substance.
About a month ago, Asheville had its first proper “nice” day of the spring, where one could safely walk around in shorts, and I wanted nothing more than to go bask in the sun somewhere. I went with a friend to the original Wedge since it’s one of my favorite spots to sun-bask during the warm months, and there was a shall-not-be-named Lebanese food truck I wanted to check out.
I was excited. I love Lebanese food. I was excited about kebabs. I love tzatziki. It was free feta Thursday! I ordered the chicken kebabs, which were $18.00—this is important—got a LaCroix (I’ve mentioned before how great it is how many of the local breweries now have an array of non-alcoholic options for days when you want to bask in the sun socially, but don’t want a beer), and sat down to eagerly wait for my food.
The amount of chicken—chicken, not beef, not pork, not veal, but fucking chicken—on my “kebabs” was a goddamn crime. It amounted to three pieces per kebab…three tiny pieces. Was it good? It was fine, but does it matter when I was charged $18.00 for the same amount of chicken one would get from a 5-piece McNugget? To make matters even more egregious, it wasn’t served with tzatziki, but some tzatziki aioli situation. Listen, I get that mayo is cheaper and more efficient than chopping and wringing out cucumbers, but again, if you’re going to charge close to $20.00, get chopping, ya know?
At some point, I wondered if I’m simply a cheap bastard OR if the hype ingrained in the Asheville food scene is the reason for these prices, and I think it’s the latter. I think there are plenty of people who will willingly pay $18.00 for 6 cubes of season chicken, throw it up on Instagram, and decry it the best kebabs they’ve ever had, simply because it comes from a food truck that looks like it would be described as either “bespoke” or “farm-to-table.” I think plenty of people will overpay for food to feel better about not “eating at chain restaurants.”
I left the Wedge rather angry (nothing against The Wedge itself, obviously, which always acquits itself well) and headed somewhere I knew would give me the bang for my buck I was seeking that night (also, I was still starving since only children get full from a 5-piece McNugget).
I went to The Freeze of Asheville, where you will not find goat cheese, cherry ice cream, anything resembling a farm, and no one knows what the word “bespoke” means, let alone has ever heard of it. The Freeze is an old-school soft-serve joint. You probably have one in your home town. Maybe it’s The Tasty Freeze. Maybe Ice Cream Alley. Maybe Dairy Queen, but you get the picture. The Freeze has soft serve sundaes, big box hard ice cream (which I am snobby about…it’s tough when you were raised on Turkey Hill), and BBQ sandwich meals for $7.00. As I got in line, I realized none of the people here would ever attempt to pay $18.00 for a kebab with no sides and drinks. They knew the value of a dollar. They didn’t put up with bullshit. I was excited about my large vanilla cone with sprinkles, which I traditionally always seek on the first nice spring day.
Readers, not only was I let down in a big way, but I ended up driving home in my underwear.
Apparently, the soft serve machine at The Freeze was malfunctioning that night. I didn’t know this when I ordered because the 14-year-old girl taking my order didn’t tell me, probably because she was a 14-year-old girl and this was her first job. I did, however, see some of the other 14-year-old girls serving other customers, informing them that the soft serve machine wasn’t working right when they ordered and giving them the option to order something else. “The machine isn’t working right, so I could give you that ice cream, but it will be soupy,” is what two other parties were told. Again, I wasn’t, so when my 14-year-old server returned, my cone was turned upside down in a cup, and she then explained, “The machine is weird tonight, so it’s too soupy for a cone. Is that ok?”
I’m not proud of the fact that I then snapped at her, “I guess it’s fine since you already charged me and didn’t give me the option to order something else.” She stared at me blankly, and the party behind me stared at me like I was an asshole for snapping at teenager for a $3.00 ice cream. “Maybe I could talk to my manager?” she said, handing me the large cup of melted vanilla soft serve.
I didn’t have that large cup of ice cream soup in my hands for more than 2 seconds when the bottom came out of the cup, and the ice cream soup covered my shorts and my feet. I know the teen serve was yelling to see if I needed help, and I know the party behind me was also trying to be good samaritans, but sometimes you know when it’s time to simply turn tail and flee.
I got to my car, got behind it, took off my ice cream-soaked shorts, and climbed in through the passenger seat. With how my day went, I’m genuinely shocked I didn’t get pulled over and have to explain to an NC state trooper why I was driving pantless and sticky through a family neighborhood.