Let’s start with what this little article is not.
It’s certainly not an all inclusive guide book to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s not even a 500 word, how to spend 48 hours in a city, that might find itself in Charlotte Magazine. This is an open letter to two of my favorite people, Tyler and Brittany, who are going to travel to Asheville in a couple of weeks. You see, I wish I could join them; but I will be eating and drinking my way through Manhattan on their chosen weekend. So, since I can’t share in their Asheville experience, I wanted to provide a few nuggets to enrich their trip.
Asheville has always been a resort town. I think it’s best to think of it that way. There are large hotels that contain spas and nice restaurants. There are little shops that sell dresses, a decent used bookstore, some coffee shops. And if you are into craft beer, there are plenty of options. In addition, for the size of the town, there are a number of great restaurants, with outstanding chefs. Important fact to remember: Jennifer and I are not vegetarians.
Being a resort town lends itself to a few quirky spots and Asheville is no different. To set the stage before exploring, start by grabbing some potato chips and local craft beer at The Gourmet Chip Company.
They offer a dozen different flavors of gourmet potato chips. That’s “The Buffalo” below, a satisfying 10:30 am snack.
You wouldn’t think you could find delicious French in a small, North Carolina mountain town, but you can. Bouchon is a small restaurant whose tag line is “French Comfort Food”, which I guess is to say you’re going to each some meat and poultry with sauces, excellent bread and, of course, wine. Bouchon has no table cloths, no reservations, a tight bar and only about 12 to 15 tables. Expect a wait; however, there are more tables in the alley and a sister restaurant across the courtyard in the back with excellent crepes. This is great place to sit at the bar and have your pre dinner drinks; they will call when your table is ready. As a bonus, you can take your unfinished drink with you to the restaurant – no breaking the rules with drink in hand on the sidewalk – the back door to Bouchon opens to the courtyard. Also, if your lucky, you can say hello to the owner who sips wine with friends in the small table just outside the patio back door.
From the tight spaces, to the lively chatter, to the Formula One racing posters in the bathroom, this place screams rural French. And the food, of course is French all the way. Cassoulet, duck al ronge, soufflés, etc. Combine the food and the ambience and it’s like being in France, without the French. Berets are optional, but highly recommended.
For Tyler and French Folk Singers. Bouchon is actually on Lexington Street.
Bouchon is for the night. The Battery Park Book Exchange is for the day. Spend a couple of hours in this unique and charming used book store and this happens …
This two story book store is packed with tight aisles, passageways and corners, all packed with shelves of books. All the other nooks and crannies are filled with comfortable chairs and tables. Feels like you could wander for a day or two through the tight aisles.
Battery Park Book Exchange is a comfortable place. And, to pile on the comfort, it’s dog friendly.
But I’m not finished. Wandering this Shangri La of knowledge while petting dogs make you thirsty? How about some coffee? Coffee bar straight ahead through the front door. Something a little stronger? Take an immediate left through the front door, down the slight incline and look right. Champagne, wine and craft beers; all available at the bar, or at the several couches that beg for you to sit and say something interesting. I challenge you not to feel a few IQ points higher, sharing a bottle of Veuve Yellow Label, petting a rather large pure bred dog from France, effortlessly balancing Yeats on your lap.
Side note, my favorite Yeats quote, “Someone’s boring. I think it’s me.”
Not relevant, here.
That’s me 15 years from now…
As much as you would like to pack it all in and permanently retire in the Batter Park Book Exchange, that anticipating space between comfortable day drinking and divine romantic dinner needs to be filled. Only a block from the book store, The Sky Bar, is the ticket.
The bar is literally four or five stories of the Flat Iron Building’s fire escape and balconies.
I believe that’s a “Flatiron Fashion” I have in my hand.
To enter the bar, you have ring for the elevator attendant to take you up to the bar itself in an elevator that looks be an original from the early 20’s. Handcrafted cocktails are their specialty; think VTR on your Cleveland balcony. Outstanding views of Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains. If it’s a little too cold and rainy for the fire escape, there are a few inside rooms with out of the ordinary distractions. It’s interesting to peruse the book containing historical New York Times front pages.
Passing the time, sipping our cocktails, we found the front page for each of our birthdates:
Interesting new fact – both Jennifer and my birthdays fall on the day that World War II ended with Germany (Jennifer) and Japan (Me).
Before I continue with a dinner recommendation, and thinking back to my original statements regarding the history of the town, Asheville was home to Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe wrote his most famous book, “Look Homeward Angel”, about Asheville and his experience growing up there. His mother’s boarding house is a restored and a tour able museum and offers a glimpse of life in Asheville in the early 1900’s. Highly recommendable for a couple of hours of soaking in local culture; plus, the house is conveniently located next to the Marriott. Side note, Marriott hotel bar, excellent; bar tender crazy. Two early morning fire drills disastrous for hangover. Moral of the story, visit the house and find other lodging .
As I mentioned, there are several outstanding restaurants in Asheville and I’ll mention a very popular tapas restaurant, Curate.
Curate has a large following and has received a lot of attention, including a review in the New York Times. I found the Tapas above average, not great, but the menu was unique and interesting. Small disclaimer. The first time we visited the restaurant was after a long day of exploring Asheville’s craft beer scene and I frankly can’t remember some of the finer details of the first Curate evening. Much wiser the second time, I prepared smarter and entered the restaurant with the intent of not only enjoying the meal, but remembering it.
A couple of our dishes. Left photo is “chistorra chips josé’s way”, or spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips.
Of course, the destination of the majority of visitors to Asheville is the 8,000 acre Biltmore Estate, and I certainly recommend a visit, if anything to marvel at the wealth of G. W. Vanderbilt II. Take a tour of the Biltmore House, drink some of his wine at the Biltmore Winery and wander around Antler Village, particularly the Biltmore Legacy Exhibit that showcases the life of George and his family.
In addition, there’s a special exhibit of costumes inspired by Downton Abbey displayed throughout the home.
Enjoying the estate will take some time, so plan for most of the day and the tour of the home can get very crowded during popular times.
Finally, brunch is extremely popular in North Carolina. I could write a complete anthology to Charlotte Brunch’s alone. Asheville is no different, and Jennifer highly recommends, The Laughing Seed, home of International vegetarian cuisine.
Below is her order the last time she visited Asheville…delish.
I’ll wrap this up by saying Asheville has successfully earned its reputation as a wonderful destination for a long weekend. I’ve mentioned some of our favorite Asheville spots but failed to mention the many craft breweries and bars that serve craft beers in Asheville. This was done purposefully, fully knowing that you guys will sniff these out like a Carolina blood hound.
I wish we could join you guys. Take lots of photos…