Quick trips: North Carolina

Asheville’s edible charms are many

 

Going to Asheville

Getting there: Allegiant (www.allegiantair.com) flies nonstop twice a week from Fort Lauderdale, a two-hour flight. Prices vary widely, but can be as low as $72 a leg. Allegiant also flies into Greenville, South Carolina, twice a week, then there’s a drive of a little over an hour to Asheville. Otherwise, US Airways and Delta make the trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale (plus American from Miami) with a connecting flight in about four hours. Roundtrip airfare from Miami starts around $260, from Fort Lauderdale $363 in mid-September.

Information: 828-258-6101; www.exploreasheville.com; www.romanticasheville.com

WHERE TO STAY

Aloft Asheville, 51 Biltmore Ave.; 828-232-2838; aloftashevilledowntown.com. We stayed at Aloft, a more casual sibling to W Hotels, which we found conveniently located in the heart of downtown, extremely comfortable and chain-hotel stylish. We’ve already sewn up reservations for the return trip. Covered parking and free Wi-Fi. Rooms from $180.

Grove Park Inn, www.groveparkinn.com; 800-438-5800. A sprawling historic hotel with spa, golf, multiple restaurants built into a mountainside. Now part of Omni Resorts, the main lodge opened 101 years ago; other wings were added later. Rooms from $199.

Sourwood Inn, 810 Elk Mountain Scenic Hwy.; 828-255-0690; www.sourwoodinn.com. Get-away-from-it-all B&B on a mountain about 20 minutes outside Asheville. No Wi-Fi, no TVs in guest rooms; BYOB. Twelve guest rooms from $155 to $195, including breakfast; two-night minimum on weekends.

WHERE TO EAT

Curate, 11 Biltmore Ave. 828-239-2946, curatetapasbar.com. Entrees $7-$20.

Rhubarb, 7 SW Pack Square. 828-785-1503, rhubarbasheville.com. Entrees $19-$28.

Nightbell, 32 S. Lexington Ave. 828-575-0375, thenightbell.com. Entrees $10-$18.

Wicked Weed Brewery, 91 Biltmore Ave. 828-575-9599, wickedweedbrewing.com. Entrees $8-$18.

Early Girl Eatery, 8 Wall St. 828-259-9292, earlygirleatery.com. Entrees $8-$16.


Cox News Service

Here’s a thing that food travel writers do: They breeze into a town they know only superficially, spend a couple of days stuffing themselves senseless, and then declare said town’s food scene has “hit its stride” or “turned a corner” or maybe even (gasp) “advanced to the big leagues.”

So, let me join in. I just went to Asheville and, wow: This city has become a fun and exciting place to put food in your mouth.

The North Carolina mountain community and I are the most casual of acquaintances. My wife and I have spent the night there a few times over the years when we’ve taken our daughters to summer camp nearby.

The eating, as I recall, was always fresh and appealing, particularly at breakfast when the area’s organic/local mindset and Southern heritage combined to soul-satisfying effect. But I also recall it being fairly simple — a place where you might settle into a club sandwich or a crock of hot artichoke dip and a glass of American chablis on a patio in front of dulcimer-playing street buskers.

Now, after several years, we returned with a kid who has graduated to camp counselor. We knew to score a reservation ahead of time at Curate, the Spanish tapas bar whose young chef-owner, Katie Button, an alumna of Spain’s renowned El Bulli, recently competed for Rising Star Chef at the James Beard Awards. But we weren’t prepared to discover just how filled with dining and drinking options the compact, walkable downtown has become. It was surprisingly easy to wander around, find a cool-looking spot, and get lucky.

“We’ve watched this town grow and change,” said John Fleer, who spent 15 years as the chef at eastern Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm and routinely traveled with his wife through Asheville en route to his family home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They were attracted to the open attitudes among the people they met in town and often thought it would be a nice place to settle and open a restaurant when the time was right.

About five years ago, it started to look right. Chef Jacob Sessoms pioneered a true farm-to-table restaurant with a daily changing menu at Table downtown. The Admiral showed that locals and visitors alike were willing to root out innovative seasonal cuisine in an ultra-casual dining room that draws comparisons to a biker bar.

More than anything, Fleer attributes Asheville’s culinary growth to the “incredible resource of farmers and producers” who’ve made it home.

So, last year, he made the move and opened Rhubarb, a market-driven restaurant and bar just up the street from Curate.

We liked our lunch there a lot, particularly the “market plate” of Asheville hippie-organic goodness. Farro, lentil-parsley spread, mint green goddess and a riot of beets, carrots and asparagus kept our forks darting here and there.

Pastry chef Ashley Capps makes a saucer-sized coconut chocolate chip cookie that comes warm from the oven and literally melts on the tongue. (One can only imagine how much butter makes this happen.) On my next visit I want to go back for dinner and try the lamb ribs with kimchi that have become a house signature.

Button, Curate’s chef-owner, surely can’t mind the competition. The tapas destination attracts a reliable crowd nightly, and though frenetic activity animates the dining room — thanks in large part to the open-counter kitchen spanning its length — the staff stays on top of things. Wonderful: As busy as this restaurant gets, you’re never ignored.

The staff requests that you place your table’s full order rather than going plate by plate so they can best order the progression from lighter to heavier dishes. The suggested three dishes per person ended up being way too much food for us, but it was worth the food coma.

Standouts included the best, crispest, creamiest fried eggplant I’ve ever tried. Button said the secret lies in soaking it overnight in milk. A dish called rossejat negro is a kind of paella made with thin fideo noodles, seafood and a squid ink-black seafood stock with the most intense burst of sea funk flavor I’ve ever tried. (Yes, that’s a good thing.)

Not only does Button source Spain’s best iberico ham, she also has iberico skirt steak, grilled simply with salt and pepper and served in naked splendor. This acorn-fed pork has a flavor unlike any other, one I found a revelation.

While Button doesn’t trot out a lot of modernist technique for this crowd-pleasing food, the bartender makes a super-fun cocktail called the sidra car, i.e. a sidecar made with Spanish dry cider and capped with a pouf of “apple air” and a few gratings of lime zest. Your nose and tongue register two completely different pungencies.

Now, Button can turn her attention to a second project. She opened Nightbell as a quasi-speakeasy, a cocktail bar and lounge set upstairs from a storefront that looks like a fussy little antique shop, then expanded the seating and tweaked the bar bites menu to encourage more full-on dining. Specialties include a deviled egg served in the shell and a rib-eye sandwich on a freshly baked roll that sounds like the Platonic ideal of a Philly cheesesteak.

We didn’t try any of the food or cocktails at Nightbell but did have the supreme good fortune to wander into Wicked Weed Brewing, one of the local brewpubs that has contributed to Asheville’s reputation as a beer mecca. We started to wander onto the street-side patio but the hostess had the good sense to direct us to the downstairs beer garden out back, near the brewing equipment. Picnic tables, free pretzels and cornhole invite you to stay.

What is the wicked weed? You’re wrong. It’s hops. Or so said Henry VIII in a quote that inspired these Ashevillians to make a variety of hopped-up beers, including a number of India Pale Ales. I was thrilled with my Freak of Nature, a double IPA with a bright bitterness that just kept unfolding on the tongue.

My wife opted for the Lunatic Blonde, a Belgian Pale Ale. It wasn’t until we were ready to leave that the waiter-brewer’s assistant started giving us tastes of the house sour beers and took us back into the brewery to show us the open fermenting tank where all the sour magic happens.

After a late breakfast the next day at Early Girl Eatery, an oldie but still pretty goodie, it was time to get the kid to camp. We stopped in the French Broad Chocolate Lounge to gape at the truffles and caramels made only with sustainably sourced ingredients, but were so stuffed from the weekend that we couldn’t manage to eat one.

We also need to check out Table and the Admiral, and spend some time in the River Arts District just west of downtown, which has its own dining revolution happening.

Next time. In three weeks we’ve got to head back to pick the kid up.

Read more Quick Trips stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
Buffalo, the city that brought us hydraulic power, the grain elevator and spicy wings, has been undergoing a makeover.

    Quick trips: New York

    In Buffalo, an elevated feeling

    Ready for this one? It’s all in Buffalo.

  •  
Some of the best food in Puerto Rico can be bought from roadside vendors like this one selling pinchos (grilled meat kabobs) and empanadillas (fried meat turnovers) beneath a Flamboyan tree.

    Quick trips: Puerto Rico

    Surfing beckons visitors to Rincon

    When the World Surfing competition came to Puerto Rico in 1968, Rincon wasn’t even a dot on most maps of the island. But that November, competitive surfers from around the world descended on the tiny west coast town, along with film crews for ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports, which was covering the sport for the first time.

  •  
Tallahassee is a rooted place with a sense of history, more genteel and dignified than any of the state’s other urban centers, and infinitely more Southern.

    Quick trips: Florida

    Visit Tallahassee for fine and funky food (and football)

    Boiled p-nuts. Sometimes “boiled” is spelled wrong, too. There are stands that dot the back roads of the rural Florida Panhandle, fronted by hand-lettered signs that tout the glories of the green peanut. The outskirts of Tallahassee are P-nut Central, the stands’ proprietors hunkered over burners at the back of rattletrap trucks in the hot sun. So you stop.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK



  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category