Tag Archives: Pizza

Asheville Eats

Mellow Mushroom, Asheville, North Carolina

Almost four years later we still sometimes find ourselves thinking about two meals we had near Asheville, North Carolina. What made these places so memorable for us, besides good food, is that the type of fare is not what we typically associate with this region of the country. Now that we’re passing through again, we wanted to check back in and see if these places were really as good as we remembered.

Before getting to Asheville, though, we needed to make a slight detour to Hendersonville, North Carolina. It surprised us to learn that Hendersonville is nowhere near either California or Mexico because it is here, more than anywhere else in the country, that we most associated with great Cali-Mexican fare.

So we returned to Papas and Beer for lunch and were delighted to find it exactly how we remembered. Just as before, we started our meal by diving into their awesome salsa bar. Six or more kinds of salsa really should be a required minimum for Mexican restaurants everywhere. At Papas, whether we heaped our chips with the chunky pico di gallo, the green pipian sauce, the bean dip or any of the other salsas we were always pleased with our choice.

We were so preoccupied with our salsa orgy that we almost didn’t notice the waiter arrive with our main meal. I say almost because we couldn’t really ignore the sizzling chipotle fajitas that suddenly appeared at our table.

Papas and Beer Fajita

I’d say they were perfectly seasoned except we really do prefer more heat on our spicy food than Papas wants to deliver. We can’t blame them though. Like most places they’re still catering to the average American palette. Nonetheless, the chicken, beef, and shrimp combo was terrific and, unlike many similar dishes we’ve had elsewhere, Papas’ fajitas aren’t served swimming in oil.

The portions were large enough that we were stuffed after eating just half the serving. And as much as we wanted to keep shoving delectable meat and vegetable laden tortillas into our faces, we really needed to save room for that other restaurant we were planning to hit later the same day.

It took some willpower, but we did manage to push ourselves away from the table before bursting.

Our First Mellow

We were so impressed with this Asheville eatery on our first trip through town that we wrote an entire blog post about it. Coming from New York City we thought we knew all there was to know about good pizza. But what we learned on the road is that good regional cuisine isn’t constrained by geography. People move about the country, or indeed the world, and take their recipes with them. And once a culinary delight leaves home, something wonderful can happen. It sheds the shackles of traditionalism that often stultifies food.

We’ve learned that when it comes to food the word “authentic” doesn’t always mean superior. Food improves through innovation. If “authentic” were really the gold standard for cuisine, we’d all still be eating the traditional nut, berry, and raw carcass diet of our distant ancestors. But we don’t eat that way, and for good reason too.

Ever since the first caveman set fire to an antelope leg we’ve been improving the flavor of the foods we consume. Each new spice, each new technique, each new blend of textures breaks with tradition, abandons the “authentic” old methods in favor of something original.

Not everyone appreciates culinary innovation.

Sometimes those attempts flop and are quickly forgotten. Sometimes, though, they change the world. In those rare cases the old ways are abandoned and eventually forgotten. Over time that innovation becomes what future generations call traditional and, dare we say, even authentic.

To my mind, few things in the world are more traditional than margarita pizza. Invented in the kitchens of Naples, Italy and, I like to think, perfected on the streets of New York, you can taste 100 years of tradition in every deliciously saucy bite. It is the world’s most flawless food. Or at least it was until someone decided to improve it by replacing the traditional tomato sauce with basil pesto.

Add non-traditional feta to the mozzarella, top with both button and Portobello mushrooms, throw on some spinach and spicy jalapenos and you have created a wonder to behold: Mellow Mushroom’s Magical Mystery Tour pizza.

Mellow Mushroom Magical Mystery Tour Pizza

We’ve now visited several Mellow Mushrooms all around the country and can say with certainty that no one makes this particular pie better than the pizzeria in Asheville.

It’s our new favorite and the standard by which we judge all other pies – even if traditionalists like Jon Stewart would tell us this creation isn’t really pizza.

It’s authentically awesome. And that’s traditional enough for us.

A Slice of Home

This article by Travel and Beyond on Lombardi’s in New York City reminds me of one of the things I miss about home – some of the best pizza anywhere. In a city of great pies, Lombardi’s ranks supreme; according to me at least.

The genius of this pizza starts with the crust, which is black and crispy on the underside (with pleasant, slightly bitter overtones), but gives way to a wonderfully soft, yeasty interior. Signature toppings like pepperoni and home-made meatballs, along with the restaurant’s famous clam pie, keep locals and tourists alike coming back. ~ Lombardi’s Pizza

Unable to sink my teeth in to a nostalgic meatball pie from Lombardi’s, I’ll have to satisfy myself with a new upstart and contender for the crown. Not a small mom-and-pop traditional pizzeria, but a chain. Mellow Mushroom’s non-traditional pies, particularly its Magical Mystery Tour, give a whole new meaning to the word pizza. It’s not even like the same food. So when we stop in this Saturday for some Mellow Mushroom, we won’t really be cheating on our favorite from home.

Relive our first taste of the Mellow here: Don’t Judge a Pizzeria by its Drug Culture Cred

Don’t Judge a Pizzeria by its Drug Culture Cred

We were snookered in Asheville, North Carolina.

After several months of driving through the Deep South, we’d grown accustomed to some of the in-your-face conservatism and religiosity of the region. Obviously, no area is monolithic, but I’d never met so many complete strangers who’d start a conversation by assuming I agreed with their politics than I have in Southern states. And the abundance of scripture verse lawn signs and billboards advertising such pleasantries as “The Devil is Gonna Get You” were certainly things I haven’t seen elsewhere. So when we arrived in Asheville, via Alabama, we found the cultural differences a bit startling. Read More…

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