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A tray of fried fish, hush puppies, and collards.
Good Hot Fish is Ashleigh Shanti’s take on fish camps of her youth.
Mike Belleme

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Don’t Skip the Trout Bologna at Asheville’s Good Hot Fish

The inside scoop on chef Ashleigh Shanti’s opening weekend

During Ashleigh Shanti’s two-year tenure as opening chef de cuisine of Benne on Eagle (35 Eagle Street, Asheville), the restaurant earned a place on Esquire and Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants lists and for Shanti, one of the New York Times16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America,” an Eater Young Guns award, and a finalist for the 2020 James Beard award as Rising Star Chef of the Year.

When she left in November 2020, she wasn’t sure what next looked like, but she knew it wasn’t working as a chef in someone else’s restaurant. Then she was hit with a harsh reality. “I had a very unrealistic idea that when I left Benne on Eagle, people would be knocking down my door to open a restaurant,” she says, “That didn’t happen.”

Three years later, it would be hyperbolic to say people were knocking down the door of Good Hot Fish (10 Buxton Street), but on the eve of the family-and-friends reveal of her first restaurant in Asheville’s brewery-heavy South Slope, at least a dozen people walked up the exterior stairs from the street, peered through the glass door, and tentatively walked inside, glancing at the menu board hanging from the ceiling. Shanti, smiling and standing behind the yellow Formica counter, invited them to come back in two days for the official opening on Saturday, January 20.

A wooden wall with various signs and a skateboard.
The decor is a reflection of Shanti’s life in Virginia Beach and Asheville.
Mike Belleme
A Black woman in a green beanie, plating food behind a counter.
Shanti behind the line at Good Hot Fish.
Mike Belleme

Memorabilia at Good Hot Fish.
Mike Belleme
Hidden details at the restaurant.
Mike Belleme

If they did return, they were among the dozens who packed the small — 18 stools, no tables — dining space that weekend, sampling Shanti’s homage to the fish shacks and fish camps she grew up with in Virginia Beach. “I wanted this to serve as a nod to that culture and honor the women in my family who were badass fish-frying women,” she says, “The name comes from stories of my great auntie Hattie Mae holding a brown bag of her hot fish yelling, ‘Come get your good hot fish!’ Starting those businesses was freedom for them.”

During her downtime between Benne and Good Hot Fish, Shanti did intermittent pop-ups in Asheville and with chefs Sean Brock at Audrey in Nashville and Ian Boden at the Shack in Staunton, Virginia. She also did restaurant consulting, competed on Top Chef, wrote the cookbook that will publish in October, married longtime partner Meaghan Goff, and went home to Virginia Beach to revisit her culinary DNA.

As she homed in on her concept, a fervid following grew for her regular Good Hot Fish pop-ups at Burial Brewing (40 Collier Avenue), so when the owners purchased the former hardware store next to the brewery for live music venue Eulogy, Shanti jumped at the chance to carve out a brick-and-mortar home for her restaurant.

People in coats, waiting in line.
Asheville residents were excited to try out the new restaurant.
Mike Belleme

The interior is a panorama of Shanti’s life, with memorabilia from college, her parents’ collection of Jet magazines, original art painted by her wife, fishing lures, colorful African baskets, treasured vintage kitchen utensils, and framed historic black-and-white photos of Black Asheville by renowned local photographer Andrea Clark.

The menu is succinct but inclusive of the dishes Shanti replicated or reinterpreted from home, sourcing fish from North Carolina waters, produce from local farms, and a blend of corn from Bloody Butcher and Cateto, milled and blended by Farm & Sparrow.

The sweet potato and cabbage pancake is a throwback to Benne — crispy on both sides and finished with Captain Crik sauce, which she describes as Alabama white sauce and comeback sauce birthing a baby. Buttermilk in the tartar sauce adds a subtle tang, and the refrigerator pickles are a blue-ribbon-winning family recipe in the cookbook.

A classic bologna and cheese sandwich, evocative of many a childhood lunch box, is reinvented as trout bologna and tastes like a strangely good fusion of fish and pork. Flaked steelhead trout is mixed with bologna spices, formed into a chub, cut into quarter-inch slices, seared on the flattop, put on a soft potato bun, and topped with melted American cheese, hot yellow mustard, and sliced white onion.

Shanti working on an order.
Mike Belleme
A bowl of mac and cheese.
The mac and cheese was the first to sell out.
Mike Belleme
Corner of a building looking into the restaurant.
Find Good Hot Fish inside Eulogy.
Mike Belleme

The hot fish sandwich deserves its top billing — filets of catfish are dredged in the Farm & Sparrow nutty blend, deep fried to a gentle crisp, so light they’d float away if not tucked between two slices of white bread and spread with that buttermilk tartar. Pile on some of those pickles for a crunch.

The catfish plate, which may at some point be another fresh catch like Sunburst trout or red drum, is served on a molded cafeteria tray with places for the accompanying hush puppies, pickles, and two sides.

Standouts include Anson Mills Sea Island red peas cooked with ham hock and hit with a bit of sorghum, stewed tender mustard greens and collards from Old North Farm, and the baked mac and cheese — the first item to sell out the first weekend of operation. Salt and vinegar pork rinds are also a mighty fine treat.

Shanti says she has more concepts in mind for the future, including fine dining, but she’s happy to begin with Good Hot Fish. “I thought a lot about my maternal lineage and the women on that side of the family who did this. It is important to me to honor my heritage.”

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