A few weeks ago I attended the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, which was one of the best food events I have ever experienced, as far as a “taste” of a city, but I’ll tell you all about that in another post.
Today, I want to tell you about some of the food we experienced on our own. We didn’t necessarily have full dinners at all of the places, but they were noteworthy enough to share with you.
Not only is the food wildly creative, eclectic, slow, and locally sourced, if you are eating downtown, you can eat outside, which makes all food taste better. There are probably more outdoor cafes per capital in Asheville than anywhere in the United States, because the population is only 80,000 people.
On Friday nights, the downtown buzz begins with a drum circle, which is amazing in itself, but on nearly every corner, there is someone playing some great music. In other words, there is a special ambiance to the downtown scene.
It’s quaint, yet grown up, not small town, not big city, yet it’s has amazing chef driven restaurants. It was explained to me by one of the chefs that the competition is tight because the food is so good and plentiful. Mediocre can’t survive and the standards are high. The vibe is bohemian with super tastebuds. I’ve also heard the food scene is growing so fast that they need kitchen staff to keep up, so you might consider a move to Asheville to start your culinary career.
Chorizo, Latin American with Outdoor Dining
The first restaurant we ate at was Chorizo, located downtown at the Grove, and headed up by Chef Hector Diaz. We had the tostada because we had already had heavy appetizers earlier at the cocktail event, Elixir. We wanted everything on the menu, and we drooled watching the plates arrive at other tables. The wait staff is super nice, and while the dinners looked colorful, healthy, vibrant in flavor, they also have quite a reputation for breakfast and brunch. Chorizo is on our short list for our return trip.
Tostada at Chorizo
King James Public House
We were invited to a Bloody Mary Brunch as part of the media team. Not knowing what to expect, I was blown away to eat such surprisingly good and different dishes at King James Public House. Chef Steven Goff, served us a blini with trout roe caviar, scotch eggs, menudo and fried chicken. The most impressive thing was that he got me to like a dish that has two ingredients I hate. The medudo was flavorful, balanced and refined and now I can no longer say that I don’t eat tripe or that I hate cumin. The Scotch eggs were just right and that takes true culinary skill.
Chef Steven Goff presenting scotch egg
Covington Vodka, Blini with Trout Roe Caviar
Bloody Mary with Pickled Beans, Jerky
Menudo at King James Public House
Urban Orchard Cider Co.
One of the food writers (Kathleen McReynolds) recommended a trip over to West Asheville (which is much like our East Nashville area) and a stop in at the Urban Orchard Cider Co. Family owned, and locally sourced, it’s one of the coolest hard cider bars we’ve been to. Fermented on site, they offer a flight of ciders which is a great way to sample something I wasn’t so familiar with.
This was my first hard cider tasting experience. We ordered a flight, which was super fun. The sweet English is the most apple forward of the flight, unfiltered, and was a favorite until we were unexpectedly treated to some strawberry rhubarb cider. That was incredible and not something that is always available. The Jamu is the most interesting, which has ginger, tumeric and lime more exotic flavor. Small plates, appetizers, sandwiches are also available.
Hard Cider Flight
Cucina 24 (Elegant Italian)
Cucina 24 gets 4 stars because, while they don’t have outdoor dining, they have romantic wonderful indoor dining with attention paid to acoustics. The wood burning oven delivered the most perfect pizza this side of Italy and they were nice enough to give us half orders of pastas. They have a wood burning oven, which puts out an amazing thin, crispy, chewy crust. We chose speck, peach and goat cheese, a well balanced trio of flavors and texture. They have acoustic panels in the ceiling (for sound) creating a very pleasant environment and something that would be a welcome addition to many of the restaurants we visit. This would be one of those places we would return to very frequently. They are open to folks ordering shared plates, etc. No pretension, great wait staff, but all the preparation of a authentic classical Italian food. The Charcuterie had rabbit mortadella, chicken liver pate, country pate (our favorite), and bacon jam.
World Coffee Cafe
The weekend is for walking downtown, and we stumbled into the World Coffee Cafe, debating back and forth about getting a cappuccino. I chose the happy belly tea, which is one of the best tea blends I’ve had, and it promised to help an overworked stomach. Having just come from the Wine and Food Festival, I adored this tea and felt its soothing effects right away. I wanted to buy some to take home, but they aren’t set up for that yet, but they said they are working on that. Our luck with food kept coming, as a man approached us saying he had to leave and had paid for a tiramisu he just had ordered and we could have it.
Now just so you know, we were not prepared to eat one more bite of food, but it was our good fortune. Doug is a big tiramisu fan and he claims it was better than what he had in Italy. The secret is that they first pour a shot of espresso before place the tiramisu in. What a way to turn a 90’s dessert more current.
Tiramisu at World Coffee Cafe
This was originally an old store, and they kept the funky storefront, so you sit in the window on a raised platform and become the window dressing.
Rhubarb (American Eclectic)
Every time I go to a new city, I turn to one of my favorite podcasts, Taste Trekkers and see if Seth Resling interviewed anyone from that city. I found Asheville, and listened as the person being interviewed gushed over a fairly new restaurant, Rhubarb.
After a long Sunday morning spent touring the grounds of the Biltmore, we were ready to eat one last meal before going back to Nashville. We remembered Rhubarb and headed back downtown for one last meal in Asheville.
I almost feel like we saved the best for last. We ate outside on the patio. After a weekend of too much of a good thing, I was craving something green. The
Local Lyonnaise, Seared Romaine,
Sunny Farm Egg, Benton’s Bacon,Wood Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
This was exactly the right brunch to make my body happy. I asked chef’/owner, John FLeer, s to how he came about this dish, and he said it’s the way he likes to eat when he goes home. I loved that sentiment because I understand it. Doug chose the Monte Christo, because he saw it had proscuitto. We particularly liked the very crispy fries that accompanied the dish.
The patio is great, but the interior is beautiful, modern, urban, rustic. Ladies, you have to check out the faucet in the Ladies room. It seems every detail is accounted for, including a fabulous farm mural with rhubarb in the bar area, which will captivate you. They shout out their sources in the dining room on a chalk wall, an example of how they feel about food, family, and the joy of it.
We were intrigued by the blackboard in front of the restaurant, counting down how many “cruffins” are left. What’s a c ruffin? It’s not a cronut; it’s a croissant crossed with muffin. Amazing, and yes we had to get one. We took it in the car and it remains our last and sweetest bite from our Asheville trip.
The Brown Sugar Cruffin, a cross between a Croissant and a Muffin
Ice Cream in Asheville
I have to mention here that my favorite dessert of the weekend was goat cheese ice cream with bing cherries from Ultimate Ice Cream. Brown Sugar, Maple and bacon was like eating breakfast dessert.
My second favorite was blueberry kale from the Hop. You can’t go wrong with either of these places.
Nutz about Fudge
If you happen to be in the Arcade, the Nutz About Fudge shop has a new flavor , Cabernet Chocolate made specifically for the Wine and Food Festival’s Sweet Event. This will make anyone close their eyes with delight. Rich, and fruity with deep, intense flavor. Doug loved the peanut butter fudge, but it’s all creamy and mouth watering. The people that own it are really nice too!
There were many more places we wanted to try, but we only had a long weekend. I did get to sample some great restaurants at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival, which I’ll tell you about later. In the meantime, if you head to Asheville, you can’t go wrong with any of these.