Stu Helm: Food Fan
Stu Helm: Food Fan
Good Morning, Friends...

Good Morning, Friends...

Peruvian Food Downtown, Jamaican Food at the Mall, Catfish & Food Trivia


Today’s Podcast is episode 221029, parts of which originally aired on WPVM 103.7fm, on October 28 & 29, 2022, and features interviews with Sam Kosik from Mother Ocean Market, and Chef Patrick O’Cain from Gan Shan West, who both played Food Trivia for MANNA Foodbank with me! There’s also a brief verbal review of Island Pan at The Mall, which is featured below as well.

Today’s Newsletter (below) features Peruvian food at The S&W, Jamaican food at the mall, a divine catfish sandwich, and dessert of course! If you have time to look, read and / or listen, I hope that you will enjoy!


I met with Chef Santiago Vargas at SWAsheville, where he is about to open Mikasa Criola , bringing his popular Peruvian fusion food to downtown Asheville! When we caught-up, he was talkin’ collabs with Greg Garrison from The Hop Ice Cream, so it was great to see Greg too. Chef Vargas showed me his plans and menu (below) for Mikasa, and I did a quick interview with him, that you can listen to in today’s podcast. He told me his new concept should be open to the public by early December. I can’t wait!

Here’s the press release…

The S&W Market is super excited to announce the forthcoming opening of their newest food concept, Mikasa Criolla -- finally bringing Peruvian cuisine to AVL in a brick-and-mortar location (something long-awaited and overdue in Western NC). I wanted to share some opening info in case it works for coverage. Mikasa Criolla will be replacing Peace Love Tacos at S&W (closing October 31), and is slated to open in early December. Owners Santiago Vargas and Ana Austin currently run the Asheville-based Peruvian catering company, Mikasa AVL, and this opening will be their first brick-and-mortar. Chef Vargas has created a menu to share authentic Peruvian flavors (some with a Spanish twist), offering homemade recipes that have been passed down through generations and speak to the country’s rich culinary history. The diverse selections of crops and ingredients that are grown in Peru’s many micro climates will be highlighted – such as Aji Amarillo and Aji Panca (two chiles that are staples in Peruvian cuisine), Maiz Morado (purple corn that grows in the Andean region well above sea level), quinoa (the superfood from the Incas), and Peruvian Cacao. The menu will consist of quick bites, paninis, salads, comfort foods, desserts, classic Peruvian cocktails (like the Pisco Sour), and more. Combos will also be available for people to try several flavors. Examples from the menu include: Peruvian Empanadas ($5-$6). Empanadas originally come from Spain, but Chef Vargas will be making a Peruvian version using pastry dough, queso fresco, and Peruvian corn -- with fillings to rotate every four months (such as beef with chopped olive and boiled egg as well as white chicken chili) Traditional Chicken Chili ($13) Unbaked Chicha Morada Cheesecake, using purple Peruvian corn ($6) Chef Vargas also plans to bring back some favorites from his old food truck, Out of The Blue, including the "Pig in a Poncho" (a sandwich piled with slow-roasted pork, sweet potatoes, and pickled onions), as well as many of his sauces.


I took a trip to the mall with my buddy Duncan, and we ate from a Jamaican restaurant there in the food court called Island Pan, and wow, they sure do have some great food! I got oxtail, two kinds of chicken, yellow rice, some cabbage and some mac ‘n’ cheese! It was all delicious, I was super impressed, and enjoyed it thoroughly! You can listen to my verbal review in today’s podcast.

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It’s hard to pick a favorite from among the items I tasted, but knowing Asheville like I do, I’m going to say go get that mac & cheese, Y’all. And the chicken. And the rice and cabbage. And the oxtail, if you like oxtail! GET IT ALL!

Island Pan is an independently owned restaurant, not a chain or franchise, and I met the two owners — Fabian (L) & Sweetheart (R) — who were working behind the counter. They were both super nice, and I can’t wait to go back to see them and eat more of this delicious food!



I took myself out to dinner the other night & treated myself to my favorite restaurant! I had the smoky catfish sandwich, with a side of spicy slaw at Buxton Hall Barbecue, and it was just fantastic! I still love this place after all these years, and this smoked catfish sandwich is my latest/new/old favorite thing on their menu. It’s not always available, so when it is, I pounce! It’s always served piping hot, and the fish is flakey, moist, crispy, and flavorful! It comes with lettuce, American cheese, house made pickles, and tartar sauce, all on a Buxton brioche bun. Everything about it was 100% perfect.

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Not pictured here, the half rack of ribs, the order of chicken wings, the corn pudding, and waffle fries that I ordered to bring home to eat during the Detroit Red Wings hockey game tonight! Nom Nom! Eating wings while watching The Wings is one of the best things ever!


Folks, we’re almost halfway there! With the generous donations made so far, we have raised $2,290 in less than a month! With just another $210, we will be halfway towards our ultimate goal of $5,000 by December 31st! You could be the person who gets us halfway there! For every dollar you donate, MANNA Foodbank is able to provide up to 4 meals to a family in need! If you are able, please give today, and make a difference in someone’s life.



I finally made it into Little Pearl Asheville out on Tunnel Road, and because I had eaten at Island Pan already, I was mostly interested in something for dessert, so I ordered the Panna cotta for myself, boy howdy! It was one of the best panna cottas I’ve ever had! The texture was very smooth and creamy, the flavor was very mild, delicate, and comforting, the berry sauce added a nice tang, and the little bits of crickle crackle on top provided just the right amount of crunch to this otherwise very sof’ dessert. Super high recommends!


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