July 28, 2012 by Jay Minkin
What I did on my summer vacation … another music destination location. But it was more about hiking through the hills and mountains, dining at locally owned and farm-to-table establishments, and learning about the historical aspects of this beautiful area than the music binges from previous trips to Nashville and Austin.
Preparation is a must when heading into unknown territory. Thanks to the folks at Moon Travel Guides, Wikitravel, Open Table, Google Map, and Mountain Xpress for being good sources of information. Asking questions to very knowledgeable sources was also a key for the right leads, so park rangers, the trusty bell boy, and picking the brains of several friends that have been to Asheville help make the best choices of what to see, eat, and do.
You know it’s going to be a great trip when you have to make a stop at the Mac Donald’s / Valero and not only is Will Hoge’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” playing over the sound system, but the cashier “looks” roughly my age and is named Tequila. After pulling into town and checking in at the hotel, my partner in crime Ms. Ellie and I head for dinner at Lexington Avenue Brewery with LAB Appalackie Pale Ale and Kaptain Kolsch and burgers locally raised. Entertainment afterwards was the town’s famous Shindig On The Square with some equally famous home churned The Hop Ice Cream for dessert.
The best station to tune into is WNCW 88.7, an NPR radio channel which played some great Americana & bluegrass music while driving around. A quick breakfast at Green Sage Coffee House & Café got us moving. Heading out on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Pisgah National Forest, our first day of hiking was up the Craggy Pinnacle Trail that gives you a beautiful 360 degree view of the mountains. Next, we took the Old Mitchell Trail leading up to the top of Mount Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi River. After a very exhilarating day, we dined at Cucina 24 which changes their menu daily. A little Italian Sangiovese wine, some outstanding pork tenderloin with corn Risotto, and a grilled swordfish with mushrooms, spinach, and salsa. Our evening ended at the French Broad Coffee Lounge for Mocha Stout Cake & a pot of French pressed coffee for dessert.
The early morning risers drove into the River Arts District and the Clingman Cafe for breakfast bagel “bomb” sandwiches. A lower valley hike through the Graveyard Fields led to a gorgeous destination at the Upper Falls. Another 360 view was in store as we next hiked the Black Balsam Trail Head Spur. Pushing it just a little, a third hikeup the Moore Cove trail led to a beautiful, tranquil waterfall. Dinner tonight was at Tupelo Honey for some southern flare of sassy chicken and bbq pork tenderloin dinner paired with Pisgah Brewing Company Summer Ale. After dinner, we stopped for coffee at Malaprop’s Bookstore before checking out some local entertainment at 5 Walnut Wine Bar to hear CaroMIA Tiller. They were serving Pisgah Blueberry Wheat beer… yum!
The famous Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville was our destination for short stack ricotta cakes & blueberry challah French toast breakfast. Decided to stay closer to home base and hiked for two hours at the North Carolina Arboretum featuring bonsai plants & a quilt garden. Had time to walk around town in the afternoon including buying candy at Mast General Store. Wesqueezed in a late lunch sushi snack sitting outdoors at Wasabi on Broadway. It took some perseverance, but was able to get reservations at The Admiral for dinner; a small & large plate dive bar dining experience in West Asheville. Arugula salad and PEI mussels w/ lite curry sauce for openers then sweetbread pasta and an assortment of fish cooked in a light tomato sauce paired with a delicious Malbec wine was outstanding. Afterwards, decided to have coffee down the road at Battlecatand also peek through the racks of Harvest Records, the area’s best record store.
Another early bird morning led to breakfast at the Corner Kitchen in Biltmore village which was highlighted by brie, apple, & ham omelet along with local jam. It was an all-day tour of the historic Biltmore Estate from 8:30-3:30 walking the grounds & gardens, tour of the mansion house (with audio), coffee at the Inn, and checking out Doc & “Cricket” in the blacksmith shop. The winery tour with unlimited complementary samplings was heaven and my souvenirs were bringing 4 bottles home. A light lunch at The Bistro consisted of lobster bisque and a fresh field greens salad. Not knowing when we would be returning to town, we planned to have dinner outdoors at the Mellow Mushroom. A stuffed Portobello mushroom appetizer and the mellow-veggie pizza were great with more of that Pisgah blueberry wheat beer. I wished I had stopped at a grocery store to bring some back to Ohio, like the old Coors days. As we walked off dinner, we were persuaded by the old fashioned elevator operator to venture up to the Skybar and see the spectacular sunset view from a series of extra-large fire escapes transformed into patio balconies. Last, but not least, a little double berry Kilwin’s Ice cream for dessert.
Old World Coffee for bagel breakfast then off again to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Did an off road 2 hour hike from the Folk Art Centerto a rock ledge that overlooked Haw Creek (part of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail). Then we drove to another trail head at the Tanbark Tunnel for another two hour uphill hike to the remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge. First, we took what looked to be the trail and hiked through the wilderness until finally turning around. Came back and met a seventy something year old couple (take a look into the mirror moment) who showed us the trail head across the street. We broke for lunch at a small water fall/stream before starting over. Afterwards, took a little siesta at the hotel with some Chardonnay and appetizers. On the way to dinner, we passed though Pack Square Park and noticed a women standing motionless … and topless … while being sketched. Another casual evening at Mamacitas/ Baja Kitchen for Lobster Tacos and Veggie Enchiladas w/ pumpkin mole sauce along with Margaritas por favor! Drove to the very upscale Grove Park Inn and sat outdoors on the lower terrace for coffee & dessert. The place is so massive that we got lost trying to find our way out after walking down to the spa/waterfalls.
The morning started with a fantastic breakfast sitting at the counter of the Over Easy Café. Along withthe friendly tattooed waitresses who sang along to the chorus of the sound system music, we sampled their hash bowl and veggie frittata entrees. Our longest single hike was for 8 miles in the DuPont State Forest viewing several waterfalls: Hooker, Triple, High, and Bridal Veil. A light rain fell on our way back, so good thing we packed ponchos. Drove back to Asheville via the quaint town of Hendersonville and stopped for coffee at the Black Bear Coffee Co (which was playing The Loft channel over the stereo). For our last dinner, we made reservations at The Market Place, a restaurant that prides itself with farm-to-table within a 100 mile radius and another small & large plate establishment. Their menu changes seasonally & we chose the chicken spring rolls, seared tuna, and smoked pork loin with sweet potato fondue. Another Asheville tradition is the drum circle in Pritchard Park located on the Patton Ave / College Street triangle. A return to the French Broad for coffee & chocolate cake kind of tells you this is one of the favorites.
Early Girl Eatery for breakfast was a delicious ending to our stay in Asheville. Folks start lining up 20 minutes before opening and no wonder. Sausage & sweet potato scramble and multi-grain pancakes received high marks.
There are several live music clubs and venues in Asheville, but none had anyone special scheduled to perform the week we were in town. Lots of local musicians can be seen playing on the sidewalks, especially in the Pritchard Park area. If you’re planning a trip to Asheville, check out the area concert calendar and keep tabs on the spots that book nationally touring artists in case you need to purchase advanced tickets. There is plenty of local entertainment to complete your evenings out at area taverns and restaurants.
Besides photos and great memories, I hope to bring back the message of “Love Asheville – Choose Local” which was seen as window decals and signs in area storefronts. The Asheville Grown Business Allianceis part of a grassroots movement whose mission is to support independently owned businesses in the community, to continue growing a vibrant local economy while preserving the unique character of Asheville and to educate citizens on the critical importance of thinking locally first when considering the impact of national and global chains. The Alliance are firm believers that local independent businesses recycle more money back into the local economy and give greater support to a community’s non-profit and civic needs. They are also better positioned to respond to the special needs of the community and more tied to the community’s future. I see this movement spreading … and I can’t help but think that this region can use this platform promoting locally made and farm-to-table products and ideals.
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