Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life, Community, Relations—one cup of tea at a time

Dobra Tea

by Pasckie Pascua

[NOTE: A few typo errors and missing quote marks slipped our eyes in the print version of this article. We will cite those errors in an “Erratum” notice in the next/Sept issue of The Indie. Our apologies.]

THE story of Dobra Tea strikes a chord.
       Years ago, in the northern mountains of the Philippines, tribes and lowlanders, Communist rebels and government troops, were mired in both cultural and political polar extremes that it seemed dialogue was a quixotic proposition. Peace was gasping like a flower caught in a hale of monsoon rain and typhoon wind. And then, a ceasefire was declared and “tapuy” (home-crafted rice wine) was served on the negotiating table. Then peace starts to emerge like rainbow after a storm.
       I may be simplifying (or idealizing) it but a good brew at the center of any discourse keeps the compromises alive and resolutions open.

       The story of Dobrá Tea, as its website narrates, begins in Prague during the last few years of Communism, where a group of young tea lovers began meeting to sample rare Indian, Chinese and Japanese teas smuggled into Czechoslovakia.
       "Because of a shortage of foreign currency, high quality teas were then available exclusively to the Party, State and Military elite. Then came the `Velvet Revolution' and the Fall of Communism in 1989. In 1992, `The Society of Tea Devotees' was formed and the following year, Dobra Tea's first Bohemian-style tearoom, Dobrá Čajovna, opened in Prague... The Čajovna (tearoom) became a shelter, a place for safety, where like minded individuals could gather and taste the world of tea. Much success blossomed with Dobrá's idea and the company began to spread its tea concept to many small towns throughout Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland."
       In 2003 Dobrá Tea opened its first US tearoom in Burlington, VT then one followed in Portland, Maine and then in 2001, a Moroccan-motif incarnation opened in Asheville. In August last year, a Japanese style Tearoom was up in Black Mountain.
The story of Dobra Tea, and the entrepreneurial saga of Snavely and his partner/co-owner Lindsay Thomas, certainly play like a microcosm of a Merchant-Ivory epic... Yet Snavely's demeanor doesn't seem to exude such magnificent cross-continental journey in search for tea. Or the meaning of life in a teabag.
       “Tea is a very universal beverage. It is a beverage and a plant that is cultivated throughout the world, in every single continent, and it brings forth community and togetherness,” Snavely, slight and bearded, told The Indie with a feline soft-spokenness like an ascetic meandering over words of wisdom than a Brooks Brothers-garbed business dude spewing market economics with synthetic confidence. Then he declares, “I like to say that the social importance of meetings, and togetherness and relationships are formed and founded around tea.”
       This is a man who believes in his tea like no other that I've ever known. “I have been traveling the world for about ten years now to meet with tea farmers and then discover new varieties,” he enthuses. As a testimony of his beautiful tea madness, even Dobra Tea's menu comes out more like a textbook than a look-see breakdown of choices—85 pages of literature. Says he, “Each tea has its own story that is based on our travels.”
       Here are a few samplings from the menu cum journal.
[ ] Chinese Green Tea: Dian Lu Eshan. Remembering the Tea King. A remarkable, fresh green China tea produced in the famous tea province of Yunnan. No other tea is comparable to this sparkling, pale green infusion which offers unique and inimitable delights of taste and aroma. It is cultivated at high altitude, with long, silver, downy-tipped leaves firmly rolled lengthwise. This tea promotes health, and has a mild, euphoric effect.
[ ] Japanese Tea: Bancha Kyoto. A common type of green Japanese tea, intended for everyday drinking. A small, flat, light green leaf with yellow tints, it is smooth and easy to drink, with the characteristic freshness of Japanese greens.
[ ] Vietnamese Tea. Che Xanh. A remarkable Vietnamese green tea, whose leaves are picked with extraordinary care. A vegetal infusion with hints of both Chinese and Japanese greens due to processing. This tea is gently steamed, then pan-fried to stop oxidation. It will awaken a drifting mind, and is excellent hot or chilled.
[ ] Korean Tea. Nok Cha. A seasonal variety of green tea from the Jirishan mountain range on the southern Korean coast. This light infusion conceals an unseen taste "on the boundary" between Chinese and Japanese teas. The leaves are gently steamed and then pan-fried to complete the drying process, offering a savory, oceanic flavor.
       Costs ranges from $3.50 to $5.50, which aren't bad at all.
       Tea aside, a most fascinating facet of Snavely and Thomas' brainchild is its deep affinity with local-ness. While they bring culture to the table via their tea, they also interface their menu with what the community could offer, like a light fare of sweet snacks, all 100 percent gluten-free. Some of their collaborators are Asheville bakers Silvermoon Chocolates, Herban Baker, French Broad Chocolate Lounge, and Blue Door Bakery.
       “I like to bring the community side of this business through collaboration, which is very important in Asheville,” Snavely adds. There is no way to end this story but pause it and go check out the thick journal of tea choices—before Andrew Snavely and Lindsay Thomas add more to what's already available. “A new shipment of Japanese Green Tea just came in, and later this week...”
       At Dobra Tea, life is alive and community is continually in flowing engagement. Indeed, that's how relations and relationships are built, nurtured and nourished—one cup of tea at a time.

DOBRA TEA Asheville is located at 78 N Lexington Ave, Asheville, NC 28801 (828 575-2424). Open: Mon—Wed, 9am – 10pm; Thu—Sat, 9am – 11pm; Sunday, 11am – 7pm. DOBRA TEA Black Muntain is at 120 Broadway Street (828.357.8530). Open: Mon—Sat, 9am – 7pm; Sunday, 11am – 7pm. More info:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Indie. August 2014. Vol 10, Number 2. 16 pages

[1] FOOD:
<> Buchi Bar: Kombucha, anyone?
<> Dobra Tea: Life, Community Relations—One Cup of Tea at a Time

<> Beauty Parade: How do we stylize Diversity?
<> Word Up: Jeff Davis takes Wordplay Radio to the FM Waves
by Caleb Beissert

[3] MUSIC:
<> Bonfires for Peace celebrates its 12th year this summer at Pritchard Park
<> Pipapelli: Kilts, pyps, and rockin' blues with a celtic-knotted twist
<> Riyen Roots: Intimate & Homebound
<> Lyric: Streetwise, Cool and Classy
and Tom Hoa Binh, Marshall Jim Duncan

<> Herbal Moon, Hearts & Hearth/Chris Wagoner
Medicinal Fungi
<> From the Bookshelf/Matthew Mulder
Public Library and a City's Poets
<> Renegade Reel/Duane Lucas Pascua
Mother (South Korea): What Would a Mother Do?
<> Economics, Beyond America/Donna Phoebe Pascua
The Philippines' Changing Skyline
<> Babedawgs and Koolcats/Georgia and Cyd
<> Like a Rolling Stone/Pasckie Pascua
Community, de-complicated, gut-level

[5] ADS:
<> Diamond Thieves Body Piercing & Tattoo, 1/4
<> Equinox, 1/4
<> Moonflower Botanicals, business card
<> Athens Locally Grown, ¼ color
<> Organicfest, ¼ color
<> The Blotter, 1/4
<> Rosetta's Kitchen, business card (pending revised copy, 1/4)
<> LEAF, ½ page (back cover)
<> Poetry Cabaret, free
<> West End Bakery, 1/8
<> Mellow Mushroom, ¼

<> AND house ads

Monday, June 30, 2014

Where to find The Indie

GRAB a copy of The Indie then share the love. 
[1] Downtown Asheville: Ben's Tune Up, Buchi Bar, City Bakery, The Crow and The Quill, Dobra Tea, Downtown Market, Fine Arts Theater, Flipside, French Broad Coop, Izzy's, Hi-Wire Brewing, Malaprop's, Mamacita's, Mela Indian Restaurant, Orange Peel, Posana Cafe, Rosetta's Kitchen, Savage Moon, Sly Grog Wine and Beer Lounge (at Downtown Market), Ultimate Ice Cream Company, Urban Orchard, Woolworth Walk. 
[2] West Asheville: Asheville Sandwich Company, Beauty Parade, Farmacy Juice & Tonic Bar, Lucky Otter, Odd Cafe, Orbit Video, Universal Joint, West End Bakery, Westville Pub, West Village Market. 
[3] Merrimon Avenue: Asheville Brewing Company, Noi's Thai Kitchen, Plant. 
[4] River Arts District: Ananda West, Clingman Cafe, Grey Eagle, Old Souls Pizza, Tailgate Market, The Wedge. 
[5] Elsewhere in Asheville: CinTom's Frozen Custard (Sweeten Creek), Corner Kitchen, Highland Brewing Company, Neo Cantina, Wynn's Diner (Leicester Hwy). 
[6] Black Mountain: Black Mountain College/Cafeteria, Dobra Tea, Dripolator Coffeehouse, Hopey & Co. (formerly, Amazing Savings), My Father's Pizza and Pasta, Town Pump, Trailhead Restaurant, White Horse. 
[7] Fairview: The Local Joint. 
[8] Weaverville: Blue Mountain Pizza, Well-Bred Bakery. 
[9] Athens GA: 40 Watt Club, Bar South, Cine, Flicker, Fuzzy's Taco, Georgia Bar, Georgia Theatre Rooftop, The Globe, The Grill, The Grit, Hendershot's, Little Kings, Mellow Mushroom, Nowhere Bar, Park Plaza, Ted's Most Best, and Trappeze. 
More outlets, later. Or you may want to subscribe, so you don't need to drive to wherever—we'll mail you your Indie while it's hot as you!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Indie. July 2014. Vol 10, Number 1. 16 pages

[1] FOOD:
<> The Local Joint:
An Intriguing Eggplant and the Best Reuben Sandwich in the Mountains
<> Posana Cafe: Conscious Artful Cuisine—from Farm to Table
<> Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack: 
Homecooked Southern Soul Food, Served Hot

<> Bad Food, Good Food, and Ramen Noodles

<> Woolworth Walk: Keeping Tradition Alive (even as digital age wafts through the mountains)

[3] MUSIC:
<> Aaron Price's Mobile Brainchild: Collapseable Recording Studio
By Caleb Beissert

<> From the Bookshelf/Matthew Mulder
Three Books, Three Fathers
<> Herbal Moon, Hearts & Hearth/Chris Wagoner
Herbs and Human Body: An Innate Synergy
<> Renegade Reel/Duane Lucas Pascua
Oldboy: New Angle at Studying South Korean Cinema
<> Like a Rolling Stone/Pasckie Pascua
Micro Madness as The Indie

[5] ADS:
<> Diamond Thieves Body Piercing & Tattoo, 1/4
<> Equinox, 1/4
<> Moonflower Botanicals, business card
<> Athens Locally Grown, ¼ color
<> Organicfest, ¼ color
<> The Blotter, 1/4
<> Rosetta's Kitchen, business card (pending revised copy, 1/4)
<> Ben's Tune Up, full-page/back page color
<> AND house ads

Friday, May 30, 2014

NOW also distributed in Athens, Georgia.

Food. Arts. Music. Community. Stuff
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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack:

Homecooked, Homemade Southern Soul Food, Served Hot

by Pasckie Pascua

CHICKEN is a no-brainer. Why is that? Well, for one—I am a Filipino. Back home in the islands, we could prepare a chicken dish 101 ways, and that is an understatement. We also consume almost all of the fowl's endowments: Meat, feet, head, blood, bones, entrails. The feathers and claws also serve other purposes other than as food.

         But I am not in the Philippines at this juncture. I am wombed in Asheville, in the mountains of North Carolina. Yet, chicken remains “easy” to me. Why is that? Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack, that is why. This is “homecooked, home-made Southern soul food” marvel the way granny cooked them, with some modifications. “Our hot chicken experience is a pleasure you keep on coming back to,” owner Rich Cundiff told The Indie recently. “It is addictive and face melting!” “Face-melting” means spicy cayenne face melting, that is—that could definitely rival Indian cuisine's tikka masala or the Filipino chili peppers on coconut milk plate, “Bicol Express.”
         Rocky's “Tennessee Style” hot chicken, says its menu folder, “... is brined and cooked in small batches, to maintain freshness and flavor, then prepared to order with the spice level as you like it—from plain to xx hot.” Hotness is categorized as (not so hot to hottest): Plain, Honey, X-mild, Mild, Mildium, Medium, Hot, Foothills, Xxhot. The fried chicken, spicy or not, exudes an intimate kick that—yes, reminds us of what exactly grandma used to prepare. The dry rub, thin flour dredge, and flimsy oil wash makes for an exquisite crust and body. Juicy but never greasy—and with a choice of 4 sides out of 13, an order is already a full meal at below $12.
         Meantime, chicken “hotness” and its standout choice of side dishes aren't really the very reason why one ventures at Rocky's. Cundiff, who was Earth Fare's chief operating officer, took over Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack more than two years ago, from a friend when it was still located in Arden. “I bought the recipe, and expanded it,” he says. “From then on, we have enjoyed steady growth.”
         Said unprecedented surge in patronage in a relatively far-flung locale – away from Asheville's restaurant row in downtown, somewhere down Patton Avenue beside a tiny car auto dealership and honky tonk motel – isn't just credited to Cundiff's finger-lickin' good fowl on a plate. Rocky's “casual family dining concept,” ably shared by its staff of 20 on 7-days rotation, makes the restaurant more of destination for locals, not for tourists. That's hardly a marketing hook, it's an honest invite. Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack is one of Asheville’s locally owned and operated restaurants, and Rich is an active board member of Asheville Independent Restaurants (AIR) association.

        “You get that feeling of being taken cared of,” prides Lauren Cundiff, Rich's wife and co-owner. “And we also share these blessings with the community by way of donations to local churches, food banks, and school system.” Adds Rich, “We also help local musicians, individually,” which makes Rocky's stand out among other businesses in town, being the only local establishment that treats local performers with special love.
        Localness that almost instantaneously comes with healthy eating certainly add sublime fervor to Rocky's “mercilessly hot” and “psychedelic” chicken allure. “We source quality and local ingredients for the recipes that we make from scratch,” says Rich. “Our natural birds are raised without antibiotics or other additives.” The Cundiffs' menu doesn't end with the obligatory slew of enflaming birds. “We have a crowd-pleasing menu and daily specials based upon seasonality and freshness,” offers Lauren. These favorites include waffles, desserts like their own “banana pudding in a jar,” and what Rocky's prides as “our daily soul bowl”--all chased down by freshly squeezed lemonade, sweet southern tea and other soft drinks. Not to be missed, of course, is the bar's choice of locally crafted beers.
        There you go. My islands-chicken fix is pretty well served and pleased right here in Asheville. I may boast that Filipinos like me could prepare a fowl 101 ways... But, I bet Rich and Lauren Cundiff and their staff could whip out 102 “hot” ways to cook and savor a chicken, the Appalachian way. So get hot like a true Southern spirit at Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack. It's all good.

<>Rocky's Hot Chicken Shack is located at 1455 Patton Avenue, West Asheville, North Carolina. Tel # 828 575 2260. Open Everyday. 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM: Sunday-Thursday; 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM: Friday and Saturday.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

POSANA CAFE: Conscious Artful Cuisine from Farm to Table

by Pasckie Pascua

POSANA Cafe's most-sought appetizer Lobster Mac and Cheese—a refined delight of ricotta gnocchi, chives and aged cheddar cheese, punctuated by premium Maine lobster—could pass off as an entree to a light diner. Such a thought doesn't worry Peter Pollay, executive chef and owner, of the 4-year old restaurant on Biltmore Avenue in downtown. He has more to offer. 
     Two choices from the menu's main dish lineup: the Chili Marinated Tofu and Zucchini Noodles (top grade bean curd surrounded with braised cippolini onions, jalapeno, tomato, caramelized eggplant) and Hickory Smoked Scottish Salmon, tossed in a sumptuous bed of roasted gold beets, grilled asparagus, basil, Looking Glass goat cheese cream, with confit lemon vianigrette—should make dinner a mini-feast. We don't end there though... A mouth-watering cornucopia of “artful cuisine” is a surefire come-on but Posana Cafe's main attraction is essentially Asheville's focal magic as well.

"THE biggest thing about us is we are 100 percent gluten free and organic,” Pollay told The Indie. “That completely separates us from everyone else.” Posana Cafe has been awarded the Gluten-Free Food Service Accreditation from the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America and caters to diners suffering from a broad spectrum of food allergies.
     Suffice to say, the Pollays' (Peter and wife Martha) brainstorm found its soulmate in Asheville, long considered as one of America's go-to destinations in terms of “clean eating.” Residents and transplants alike achingly quiz even a “health” store and vegetarian restaurant details surrounding food products and ingredients. Thus, Posana promises on its website: “We know the best meals start with fresh ingredients straight from the garden that just need a little washing before they’re prepared for your plate.  We want the next generation to have this same love and understanding.”
     For the past four years, Posana Cafe celebrates its May time anniversary by supporting the education of the younger generation through the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Program’s Growing Mindsinitiative. The primary focus of the Growing Minds initiative is to connect students and farms in all ways possible.
     Peter and Martha believe that it benefits the community to have a strong relationship with local food, and teaching youths the benefit of supporting local growers and producers is important. “We buy everything from close to 40 different local suppliers,” says Peter. “At any one time, up to 80 different products, all the way from fruits and vegetables to condiments to beers and beverages, all are local.”
     Posana Cafe banners Pollay's simple food philosophy: Source premium ingredients, work closely with the local farming community and never take short cuts when preparing a dish. “Because of that philosophy you will discover practically every item is made from scratch using high quality, natural ingredients. From the flavored syrups and freshly squeezed mixers behind the bar to the bun and pickles on your burger,” adds the website.
     Simplicity doesn't necessarily mean innovativeness is not a possibility. Truth is, Posana's menu offers lots of it. While a number of the offerings, at least those that I tasted, exude an Italian plate's classic simplicity, whipped up around five to eight closely selected ingredients—these dishes also suggest Southeast Asia's complex flavors yet aromatic balance of fundamental taste senses. What results is a harmonious finish that is both elegant as it is delicious.
     Sample the intriguing Kale Salad—toasted pumpkin seeds, currants, Three Graces Dairy manchego style cheese, lemon, Theros olive oil—sweet, salty, and bitter. A balance of detail and variety. Then there's BBQ Spiced Sunburst Farms Trout—stone ground Boonville Mill Grits, white cheddar, fennel-olive oil slaw, charred tomato vinaigrette. Calabrian delight by way of the Appalachians!
     The Pollays' move to Asheville from Los Angeles ten years ago was almost like a natural progression. They had just their first child and believed LA wasn't the place to raise children. “We had a few friends that had moved here and we came to visit. We liked it. We liked the seasons,” Peter, who hails from Chicago, recalls (Martha came from Wisconsin). “The winters weren’t as harsh as the midwest so we decided to move here and this would be our home.”

THE  young family immediately found instant affinity with this tiny mountain city, which at the time, was all over national radar with a number of accolades, such as one of the "Best Places to Reinvent Your Life," "Top Seven Places to Live in the US,” “10 Most Beautiful Places in America," and "25 Best Places for Business and Careers," among others.
     The birth of Posana Cafe as a “conscious artful cuisine” bloomed as the Pollays nurture their “new” comfort zone. It fits their lifestyle as they fit within Asheville's mystifying persona. “Back in LA, we would go to the market and buy ingredients from tailgates or fresh market then go home and make it for ourselves. We figured there were already a few restaurants doing it here but not to the extent we wanted to do it.”
     So in the spring of 2009, the Pollays started looking for a restaurant spot. But the hunt for a place didn't come easy until a friend's suggestion finally satisfied them: 1 Biltmore Avenue in downtown. “You can’t beat the address. We are right next to the park, next to Vance Monument. We have the museum and Diane Wortham across the street. We always have activity here, people always walking around... It really is one of the best locations (for a restaurant) in Asheville,” Peter says.
     The economic downturn that drove a number of Asheville restaurants to fold up didn't faze the new transplants. Their sole passion for food and the building of healthy communities was enough to get them going. “It was a hard time at the start, we knew it was slow at first, and we had to purchase strategically, as well as hire strategically,” recalls Peter. “But we slowly grew as the economy grew so we didn’t have to slam on the brakes with the downturn because we started with the downturn. So we didn’t know any better. We just knew the bad times.”

     It also greatly helped that Asheville's relatively small but tight downtown community and its peripheries were already well-entrenched years before the Pollays' arrival. Although the city's climb from bankruptcy in 1930s to a degree of prosperity onwards through the 80s was slow, it was sure. Hence, two decades later, Asheville was already flourishing—as steady migration and continuous investments poured in from new residents and entrepreneurs.
     With the coming of new spirits in the mountains, a communal fervor and “new age” idealism—in all facets of life and living—set in. “This community is founded on the basis of why everyone is here,” Pollay philosophizes. “We all like to support each other... Just like saying hi! on the street or being nice to people, or holding the door open. More importantly, the locals really support the local small businesses here, including restaurants, which is great.”
     Pollay, who brings with him an education at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, plus years of restaurant experience to Asheville, adds: “You always need to re-invent yourself, stretch yourself and kind of get the vibe of what the public wants. If you don’t change with that or adapt with that people will stop going to you and sooner or later you will have to close.”
     It seems simplistic to say that philosophy alone makes a business endeavor succeed. Apparently, in the case of Posana Cafe, it is almost an understatement to conclude that, indeed, the Pollays know what their market wants: Gluten-free, organic, local cuisine—adulterated, unpretentious, straight through. They don't need to tinker with that. Yet in the end, as Peter boasts, “Our focus is the service... and the food.” He meant, in part, why don't you try the Lobster Mac and Cheese for a start...

[POSANA CAFE is located at 1 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NC 28801. (828) 505-3969.]

PHOTO: Peter Pollay, executive chef and owner.