Get a Taste of Nature’s Playground
Our Eat & Burn series showcases destinations through their cuisine and inviting ways to burn off the calories.
By Hope S. Philbrick
For me, it was love at first sight. My first impression of Morganton, North Carolina, was that I was glad to have made its acquaintance: The downtown square struck me as cute, clean and a charming balance of historic yet contemporary. I stepped into one shop (Kalā Gallery) and could have easily spent a significant amount of money on various pieces of art if only I had the budget to do so—and for me to find any artwork I’d like to buy let alone piles of stuff is a rare thing indeed. Three days in the town only made me eager for another visit.
When I got back home, I consistently found myself talking to my husband and neighbors about some aspect of the trip—the subject of Morganton seemed to come up far more often than usual after a trip. When they say, “That sounds fun,” my response is always, “Hey, it’s only a four-hour drive. Let’s go!”
So far, they haven’t taken me up on it. But I am ready to go anytime.
Located between Asheville and Charlotte, Morganton is a small town in the mountains with an authentic (not touristy) vibe. Bursting with natural beauty, it is home to several artists’ boutiques and independent restaurants that showcase local cuisine. It’s a place to feed the body and the soul.
Fall is a wonderful season to visit; you’ll find apples ripe for picking, grapes hanging heavy on vines, menus bursting with a wide variety of local produce, and cooler temperatures that make hikes more comfortable. But I’d be happy to visit any time of year.
Pack an appetite and your hiking boots and make haste to Morganton. Hope to see you there!
EAT (& DRINK)
Apple Hill Orchard & Cider Mill
As a food and travel writer based in Atlanta, I’m lucky enough to have been to dozens of apple orchards in the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina mountains over the course of several autumns. Each apple vendor has something good to offer. Most sell fresh fruit and a variety of items made with it, such as cider, doughnuts, apple butter, pies, jams, and so on. The vast majority of apple cider doughnuts are only slightly more exciting than a plain doughnut from a typical grocery store. The ones served here, however, are super fantastic. Seriously, they are the stuff of dreams; I’ve craved one every morning since the day of my visit. “We make them all season and at the beginning we’re as hungry for them as anyone,” admits one member of the Prewitt family. “But by the end of December our whole family is sick of them.” That’s hard to believe, except I guess a person could get sick of anything if s/he ate it every day for several months every year of his or her life. In the case of these cider doughnuts, that is a problem I aspire to have. There are two versions, one baked and one fried. You cannot go wrong with either one; may as well try them both. The cider is the best apple cider I’ve ever tasted, whether served hot or cold. And apples plucked straight from the tree are dreamy crisp. Pick your own apples or just fill a bag or basket in the country store. Hands down, this is the best apple orchard I’ve been to (so far). Five generations of the Prewitt family have been growing apples on the 22-acre property since 1955. Fifteen different types of apples are harvested from late July through October. The country store is open late August through Christmas Eve. Read Deep South Magazine’s perspective.
Fonta Flora Brewery
This new brewpub is the brainchild and labor of love of two brothers, David and Mark Bennett along with their friend Todd Boera who is the head brewer. The cozy space is a place to hang with locals and sip seasonal microbrews. Check out what Deep South Magazine has to say about the place.
“It’s a destination restaurant,” insists one local resident. Full tables inside the restaurant suggest he is not alone in his thinking. “They do everything right and it’s worth a 40-mile drive to get to this family-owned restaurant. Their food is exceptional.”
Chipotle, watch your back. Tucked into a strip mall, this little restaurant specializes in Mexican food with an Appalachain twist. All menu items are prepared fresh daily and priced under $7. Burritos are assembled and wrapped to order.
Root & Vine
Lucky small towns have a restaurateur who tries to offer (and in some cases introduce) upscale dining to the community. More often than not, however, what impresses local palates as the best restaurant in town can disappoint visitors who arrived from to larger cities and are accustomed to more sophisticated dining scenes. That is no risk here. The food quality and creative preparations, the peaceful ambiance and attentive service are bound to make a positive impression on any guest.
Silver Fork Winery
Jennifer Foulides and Ed Wisnieski opened Silver Fork Winery on April 6, 2013. The New Yorkers fell in love with the area on a vacation and decided that they simply had to move here, so looked for a farm and made dramatic career changes. The facility is brand new, but the vines are more than two decades old and grow eight Bordeaux-style varietals. Foulides, who has a background in chemical engineering, is the winemaker. Wisnieski focuses on the viticulture side of the business. They have 32 acres total (five of which are established vineyards) and planted 1,400 new vines (including Malbec) two years ago. “Wineries are a cooperative environment here in North Carolina,” says Foulides. “Compared to the backstabbing of corporate America, this has been a great ride.”
To appeal to the sophisticated palate, all the wines are dry. “No semi-sweet or sweet wines,” says Wisnieski.
Cheers to that!
A little story about the Cabernet Franc: My friend Erin of Deep South Magazine and I each loved how it had nuances of lavender and violet lingering alongside the fruit. We each bought one bottle, but as she prepared to fly back to Louisiana she decided not to check her luggage and so asked me to ship the bottle to her since I was driving home. I’m not about to steal a bottle of wine from a friend, so I did. And yet she was genuinely surprised to receive that package, apparently thinking that wine was too yummy for me to let it slip away so easily. I do wish I’d bought more than one bottle. Or that I’d driven it to her myself so we could open it together. Live and learn.
Yianni’s Family Restaurant
When you’re hungry for Italian food but your travel companions crave Greek, this is your answer. With its eclectic menu and laid-back atmosphere, this is a great option for carbo-loading before or after a big mountain trek.
Whether you want to hike, boat, run, ski, go rock climbing, kayaking, canoeing or play team sports, Morganton is a great place to do it and Bryan Searcy is the man to help you gear up. For 28 years his CBS Sports has been the area’s largest independent retailer of sports apparel, athletic shoes, outdoor gear, kayaks and canoes. CBS Sports sells the top name brands at the best prices around. “Usually, you have to be a larger retailer to carry these brands,” says Searcy. “But the reps let me do it because of my customer volume and the type of customers who are really serious about their sports.” We stopped at the retailer on our way to hike up Table Rock. “Twenty-five years ago, the average hiker was a 25-year-old male,” says Searcy. “Now we see lots of 60-year-old couples. About 80-percent of the kayaks we sell are to folks over age 55. Not all older people want to sit around and read books.” Way to go, grownups!
Table Rock is a signature, photogenic flat-topped peak in the Pisgah National Forest in Burke County. Located between Lake James and the Blue Ridge Parkway and towering 3,950 feet above sea level, it was called “Attocoa” by the Cherokee Indians. A 2.2 mile trail climbs the last 660 feet to the summit and is rated “moderately strenuous.” If you’re reasonably fit but not an athlete, at times the ascent may get you short of breath, so pause, look at the pretty scenery, snap a photo and then resume. (In our group, the younger folks scrambled to the top at a faster rate than the more mature hikers, but we all made it. And I’d argue that the slower climbers, me included, noticed more of the scenery along the way.) The view from the top of Table Rock is what most makes the climb up worthwhile. The trail leads to a flat rocky summit with panoramic views of Grandfather Mountain, the Linville Gorge (the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi River), Hawksbill and Lake James. At the top you might picnic, do some yoga stretches, or just admire the view before the climb back down (which is easier on the lungs, but harder on the knees).
More To Do…
Hamilton Williams ClayWorks
See pottery being made in the open studio and shop for functional, beautiful clay pieces, produced by the award-winning Hamilton Williams and other potters.
@21plusTravel Tip: “Stoneware is better than earthenware,” Williams advises shoppers. “Earthenware is fired at a lower temperature so the fusion isn’t as strong; it can flake off.”
The History Museum of Burke County
Get a guided tour through a fascinating, eclectic collection of relics, odds & ends, treasures and artifacts grouped by theme.
Morganton Savings Bank
This isn’t a tourist destination per se, it’s an actual operating bank. But the bank is housed in a spectactular historic building (circa 1850) that’s worth a peek inside. You might get lucky, as we did, and happen upon some friendly employees who aren’t too busy to show you around.
Oak Hill Iron
Dean Curfman produces hand-forged custom works of functional art for both residential and commercial use. You can see some works on display throughout Morganton, including a tasting table at Silver Fork Winery and benches throughout the downtown business district.
Get The Soundtrack…
Buy the CD “Songs from Burke County” and listen to catchy tunes about the history, people and places in Burke County whenever you want, wherever you happen to be. Officially released October 25, 2013, the album boasts 12 original tracks that share some of Burke County’s best stories. Friends, fellow musicians and North Carolina natives Buddy Melton, Milan Miller and Mark W. Winchester have worked on three such albums together. For details about how to buy the CD, contact Burke County Tourism at the link below; let Director Ed Phillips know that you learned about it from us at Getaways for Grownups.
Where To Stay…
– Photos by Craig Distl and @21plusTravel
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.