By Hope S. Philbrick
When it comes to food, Asheville is cooking. And foraging, baking, brewing, chocolatiering, distilling, growing, pasteurizing, farming and, well, pretty much any verb that can be applied to food. A self-proclaimed foodtopia, Asheville lives up to the hype as a culinary traveler’s dream destination come true.
There’s more to explore—and we’ll get on that (see below)—but during a recent brief visit we savored local flavor at these scrumptious eateries and retailers…
Asheville Bee Charmer
Whether you consider yourself a honey aficionado or know diddly-squat about the sticky stuff, you owe it to yourself to stop by this artisan retailer which aims to help people discover the pure taste of honey, its possible health benefits, and the environmental urgency of protecting honeybees.* “When you come in and smell this store, it’s all about the senses,” says proprietor/’Queen Bee’ Jillian Kelly. The aroma and vibe are inviting, so pull a stool up to the tasting bar and embark on a sweet journey around the world of honey one tasting spoonful at a time—there are around 50 different honeys from around the world available for tasting at any given time. Then shop around for bee-themed T-shirts, cookbooks, art, candles, skin care products and more. Go Green and stock up on Bee’s Wrap, which can reduce or eliminate the use of plastic wrap. Response to Bee Charmer has been so good that the owners were able to open a second location downtown less than six months after opening the first in West Asheville.
*The inaugural community to earn the “Bee City USA” designation, Asheville creates sustainable habitats for pollinators, which are vital to feeding the planet: One in every three bites of food humans eat is courtesy of insect pollination and 85 percent of flowering plants and trees rely on pollinators for the survival of their species!
Early Girl Eatery
Southern comfort food made from the heart, this bustling eatery serves breakfast all day and offers soups, salads, sandwiches, and “meat and two” plates at lunch daily and is also open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Located in downtown Asheville on historic Wall Street, this casual, critically-acclaimed restaurant owned by Julie and John Stehling changes the menu seasonally to showcase the best fresh, local fare. Farm-sourced ingredients are the foundation of favorites like the Early Girl Benny (grit cakes topped with tomato, spinach, poached eggs, tomato gravy and avocado), multigrain pancakes, veggie breakfast bowl, fried green tomato Napoleon (layered with basil and herbed goat cheese), fried chicken and bacon salad, tempeh Rueben, and more. Arrive hungry, leave full.
Fine dining in the heart of downtown Asheville, this menu showcases Western North Carolina’s seasonal harvest and the culinary talents of Chef Duane Fernandes, whose impressive résumé includes stints at the four-star Horizons restaurant at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, the four-diamond Peninsula Grill in Charleston S.C., the five-diamond Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Va., and Thomas Keller’s iconic Michelin 3-star Per Se in New York, among other kitchens. For a three-course experience guaranteed to impress, start with the inspired roasted curry cauliflower, then savor the heavenly ten-hour braised Carolina bison brisket pasta, and finish with a delightful assortment of truffles and petit fours. Or order whatever strikes your fancy since it’s not like you can go wrong with any dish here. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily as well as Sunday brunch.
Looking Glass Creamery
Jennifer Perkins decided to make cheese, and after one bite of her hand-made artisan products you’ll be grateful she did. To learn the craft and hone her skills, she took classes in North Carolina, interned in Virginia, worked in Vermont and also at the acclaimed Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. In 2009 she opened Looking Glass Creamery near Asheville, sourcing cows’ and goats’ milk from area ranchers. The cheese shop opened in 2013 as a way to offer customers the opportunity to see the production facility and sample the award-winning products, which range from fresh to aged and some raw milk, too. Don’t think you like goats’ milk? Try a spoonful of the caramel sauce for an instant conversion from doubter into big fan. Look for even more products ahead: “At the end of November we’ll be getting a cheese press,” Perkins grinned. “And I’m starting to get into aged cheeses.”
The Market Place
Impressing local eaters since 1979, Chef/Owner William Dissen helms one of Asheville’s original tried-and-true farm-to-table restaurants. A graduate of the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Dissen honed his skills at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, Magnolia’s and Cypress in Charleston, S.C., before settling in Asheville. With a keen eye aimed at supporting local farms and artisan producers, ingredients are sourced from within 100 miles of Asheville. A big board in the main dining room proudly lists the farms by name. The menu offers up a mouth-watering list of options like roasted pumpkin soup; wood-grilled pork shoulder with gigandes bean ragout, house-made Italian sausage, kale and smoked tomato sauce; hand-cut pappardelle with braised lamb, roasted oyster mushrooms, confit tomatoes and wild ramp pesto; za’atar spiced wild sockeye salmon; and much more. The challenge here is choosing just one entrée, so dine with friends who are willing to share a bite or two of whatever they order.
Urban Orchard Cider Co. & Bar
Asheville is near apple country and this cidrerie taps into that bounty. “Eighty five percent of North Carolina’s apples are made in Hendersonville,” says Josie Mielke, co-owner and head cider maker. Using a blend of dessert, eating and cooking apples—“tarter is better,” she says—Urban Orchard produces 15 different ciders, though that number will certainly climb as inspiration strikes. All current ciders start with the same blend of apples but employ different strains of yeast. The style is dry: “Nothing here is on the level of commercially sweet cider,” says Mielke. Six ciders are always on draft (three flagships are always available while three taps rotate). Order a flight to taste the variety. Don’t miss ginger champagne, the impressive best seller. And have some fun mixing your own custom blend.
White Duck Taco
The menu is, as the name suggests, dominated by tacos and is a successful merger of fresh ingredients, culinary creativity and affordable prices. Start with chips and salsa or queso, then feast on a combination of tacos. Bangkok shrimp, lamb gyro, Thai peanut chicken, and duck with mole are just four mouthwatering options. Sides like green chile black beans and Southwest corn chowder are sure to fill in any gaps. Desserts like Mexican chocolate pot du crème and coconut macaroon pie impress.
More To Come!
Asheville, North Carolina is such an adults-oriented destination that’s bursting with high-quality food, art, adventure, nature, appealing accommodation options and so much more to explore and adore, we’re ramping up our coverage of the city beginning in 2015. Stay tuned for more frequent stories! To be sure you don’t miss a word, subscribe to our free monthly newsletter—scroll up to find the sign-up widget in the right column.
@21plusTravel Tip: The Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association boasts four members that do not allow children at all and eight that permit them with certain restrictions. Find a list HERE. 21 Plus Salute!
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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.