Asheville: Part I

Is there anyone who doesn’t love Asheville? It reminds me so much of Portland, Maine–a town full of restaurants, breweries, outdoorsy people, and plenty of young families with cute pups in tow. Even though I grew up visiting Brevard, NC, on a regular basis (a mere 40 minute drive south, I never actually visited Asheville until my 22nd birthday weekend. That weekend (infamous because it signalled the end of my relationship with the Poet–hello, never get drunk as a skunk and then talk about relationship issues) we ate awesome (and not so awesome–like, seriously, Rosetta’s Kitchen, why are you still around? Your food sucks.) vegan meals and spent a wonderful evening at Pisgah Brewery, but that was the extent of Asheville until now. A few lunches over the past year as I drove home from Atlanta or Brevard, but not much face time in the city.

So this year, G & I lived it up on a long weekend in the city, eating and drinking our way across it, and even catching an epic show at The Orange Peel. It’s so epic, I’m breaking it up into two parts. So bear with me. I promise I’ll post a recipe soon.

Our first night, we visited the fantastic Thirsty Monk–a bar with two floors, the upper celebrating American craft brews, the lower a dark, beer cave of Belgian varietals. I wheedled the bar tender into saving me one of their two glasses for Kwak which is served in this funky glass (hadn’t been able to have one since I lived in Atlanta many moons ago) and sampled a few other tasting portions. What they were, I have no idea. But, seriously, the beer list is pretty long (both bottles and on tap).

One can’t just drink dinner, though, so we sampled a few smaller plates off the menu–the Cheddar and Fat Tire Dip served with pretzel bites along with Stout Beef Sliders (aka burgers) with roasted poblanos and cheddar (that came with a side of Lusty Monk Potato Salad). The dip was cravingly good, I had issues not just mowing down on it alone and, for a bar snack, you couldn’t ask for anything better. Just don’t think that you’ll want to share it with more than one other person. The sliders were so-so, but I was also burgered out after one of my freelance assignments from the past month. I liked the smoky heat from the roasted poblanos and, for a burger snack, not bad, just not memorable. The Lusty Monk potato salad, though, is definitely worth ordering. It’s only the best mustard on the planet, don’t pass it up.

Afterwards, we ambled on to another brewery/bar that specializes in Belgian-style beer (and is also a newcomer to the scene)–Wicked Weed. I was impressed at everyone milling about in the giant courtyard (it was pretty chilly), though I was envious of the group who nabbed the chairs in front of the fire pit. Note to all restaurants: fire pits make you way cooler. Inside, we grabbed one of the last open bar seats and tucked into a few brews (pictured here: Kumquat Saison) and watched the everlong parade of hip 20/30-somethings come and go. This place gets packed, so plan on arriving early or making do without a table or seat.

The next morning found us at Mayfel’s for a pre-hike breakfast. G ordered something terribly usual (scrambled eggs, biscuit & gravy, bacon), but I opted for the fantastic sounding Karma Benedict–fresh spinach, tomato, and veggie sausage eggs benedict. I lose my cool every time I find a vegetarian eggs benny and this one hit the spot–the veggie sausage (Gimme Lean or something) made the benedict hearty without using meat. +10 for awesome vegetarian food.

After stuffing ourselves with breakfast fare, we hopped in the car and drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway with plans to hike Black Balsam. Nope, a total no-go since the Parkway was closed off a few miles in due to snow. Never mind that it was 75 degrees at this point, there was no way to bypass the road block. So we did what everyone else ended up doing–parking the car at an overlook and hiking a few miles of the Appalachian Trail. And you know what? Totally awesome. Since none of the trees had leafed out, the views were incredible and the trail simply rolled along the ridge. Did I get sunburned? Most definitely. Was it worth it for the first warm day of 2013? You know it.

But a hike is no hike without food to think about at the end of it (and a cold drink), so after cleaning up a bit, we headed over to White Duck Tacos in the arts district. It seemed like much of Asheville had the same idea–80 degrees, sunny, tacos–but it was worth waiting for a table to open on the patio (there’s limited seating indoors).

We started with some queso, which was kindof ‘meh’–too watery, not enough heat from the jalapenos–but the margarita definitely hit the spot. Loved the mason jar it was served in too.

For tacos though? Ohmygod that menu is just too tempting. I wanted (want) it all. Duck with mole? Yum. Mushroom, Potato, Romanesco? Uhuh. Lamb Gyro? Thai Peanut Chicken? Seriously, just give me one of each.

I ended up ordering the Bahn Mi Tofu Taco and the Baja Fish Taco–both exxxxcellent choices for those who want a lighter taco. The Bahn Mi was incredibly different. Tofo marinated in something like fish sauce (but veg-based), miso mayo, pickled daikon and carrot, some sriracha–it was utterly fantastic. I loved that it was served cold too–super refreshing. As for the fish taco? I wish I’d ordered three. Crispy white fish with a spicy mayo sauce, pico de gallo, and shredded lettuce, it was just a perfect study of a fish taco. I’m dreaming of this place now that it’s warmer here in Roanoke. Why oh why doesn’t someone open up a place like this?

I think we took a nap afterwards, but soon enough were up and ready for some more beer. Walking through downtown, we settled on Lexington Ave Brewing. The large open-air front of the pub made it seem like a good choice, but after trying everything in the sampler, nope, don’t go there. Plus the music is the most terrifying selection of Jimmy Buffett, Lionel Richie, and John Denver. Every brew tasted burnt or over-hopped and the vibe was middle aged touristy. Never going there again.

But, you might ask, where should you go? Most obviously The Imperial Life, the newly opened bar from the owners of Table. If you’re looking for an excellent cocktail, a few bites of food, and an open, breezy, lightfilled, classy bar, The Imperial Life is it. Pictured here: Del Boca Vista (Espolon Blanco Tequila, Zucca Amaro, Grapefruit), warm olives, in-house pigs-in-a-blanket. We only day drank at The Imperial Life, but from the open windows and warm breeze to the perfectly balanced cocktails (their whisky options are bar none as well) to the in-house sausage wrapped in pastry served with spicy mustard, I just want to go back. And back. And back. We drank/ate their twice in one weekend and I’m just in love with the place.

Later this week, Part II, and, then, a recipe, I promise!

Thirsty Monk
92 Patton Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-5470

Wicked Weed
91 Biltmore Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 575-9599

22 College St
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 252-8840

White Duck Taco Shop
1 Roberts St
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 258-1660

Lexington Ave Brewery
39 N Lexington Ave
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 252-0212

The Imperial Life
48 College St
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-8980

6 Responses to “Asheville: Part I”
  1. FoodFeud says:

    Looks like the weather’s put everyone in a margarita mood. The mason jar makes yrs ten times cooler, though. And that beer, wow. Almost radioactive. Asheville looks beautiful! I have a friend who lives there who I want to visit soon. I’ll make him take me to the closest banh mi taco.

  2. Eileen says:

    I’ve never been to either Asheville or Portland ME (although there are certainly other Portlands…) but I hear great things about both of them! My brother is actually going to be there for a wedding next weekend, so maybe I will send him all your recs. Love those beautiful mountains!

  3. Hannah says:

    Crazy coincidences- I was just researching Asheville because I heard it was very vegan-friendly! Now I want to visit even more desperately…

    • Jes says:

      Oh man, Plant is incredible, as is The Laughing Seed. <3 those places. Chai Pani is definitely vegan-friendly & pretty much anywhere you go, you’ll find at least one vegan dish on the menu. Gotta love it! This was actually my first time *not* eating vegan in Asheville.

  4. renae says:

    I’ve never been to Asheville other than driving through it, although I did once almost move to Portland, ME. Mark loved our trip to Highlands, though, and has been begging to return to the mountains of NC, so I’ll have to remember your posts the next time we make it down that way. Also, your trip to Asheville reminds me of my trip to Nashville the same weekend!

  5. Jenny says:

    Oh man, I live an hour south of Asheville and go up a lot and STILL didn’t know about two places on this list. Tofu bahn mi taco, come to meeee.

    Glad you tried Chai Pani, we were pleasantly surprised, and the kale pakora was our winner too.

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