February 27, 2015
George Vanderbilt’s historic Biltmore Mansion and the picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway may have been why many made a stop in this charming mountain town in the past. But these days, downtown Asheville’s restaurants, shops, breweries, and music venues draw those seeking local culture in North Carolina. Take a peek at our neighbourhood guide to Asheville to find out where to go on your next trip.
With a population of less than 85,000, Asheville may be small but big name chefs and interesting restaurants have drawn international attention to its dining scene in recent years. James Beard semi-finalist Chef Katie Button’s Curate continues to lure crowds for its gorgeous tapas offerings, while her latest venture, Nightbell draws night owls looking for a lounge vibe alongside craft cocktails and decadent small plates (think miniature waffles topped with duck confit, foie gras poutine, and cheddar mousse). But not all of Asheville’s famed fare is this upscale. At the colourful Chai Pani Indian street food takes an American turn in dishes like the Sloppy Jai, a playful twist on the Sloppy Joe sandwich made with spicy lamb. While the recently opened Gan Shan Station, housed in a restored petrol station, serves up adventurous Asian dishes like a savoury pork belly ramen. And food lovers can look beyond restaurants for their artisanal bites. Festivals like April’s Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest and May’s Bread Bakers Festival epitomize the region’s farm-to-fork mantra with local creations.
Coined “Beer City USA,” Asheville has long been known for its craft breweries. These days though, the city’s drinks have gone far beyond beer. There are a variety of twists on local breweries including several cideries, sake companies, and the new Funkatorium brewery dedicated to sour beers, as well as the country’s first commercial home brewing brewpub at The Thirsty Monk. And Asheville’s cocktail scene is getting especially crafty as well with spots like MG Road offering classic cocktails perfect for pairing with dishes from its pop-up restaurant, The Thunderbird. Perhaps the most creative concept though is at Sovereign Remedies, a cocktail bar by renowned mixologist Charlie Hodge, who is using foraged foods in drinks like the Garden Rickey made with vodka, carbonated honey tea, fresh lime, and wild local basil.
Asheville has some serious chops when it comes to its local music legacy. From Scottish and Irish immigrants whose music has permeated the mountain town for more than two centuries, to rock club The Orange Peel, named one of the country’s best by Rolling Stone magazine, it’s a city that hits the high notes. While a stroll through downtown on a sunny day features plenty of spontaneous stages for bluegrass buskers, to really soak up the scene check out one of the weekly Celtic music jam sessions at Jack of the Wood. Or enjoy your tunes with a pint at one of the city’s breweries. Wedge, Highland, Pisgah, and French Broad breweries all offer live music alongside their craft brews.
From shops to restaurants, this city is dedicated to its local community. While most of the restaurants feature locally sourced dishes, nowhere is that more noticeable than at Rhubarb’s Sunday Suppers. Three-time James Beard Best Chef in the Southeast finalist John Fleer serves up his tasty foothills cuisine in a three-course family style meal hosted by a different guest farmer each week. To take home your own taste of Asheville, stop in Katuah Market in historic Biltmore Village, where shelves are stocked with locally produced goods from kombucha to jams. You can also find local clothes, accessories, and art at many of the downtown boutiques and galleries, but some of the city’s top shops are its used bookstores. (A fact that’s not surprising in a town where F. Scott Fitzgerald summered and Thomas Wolfe called home.) Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, which offers frequent author events and readings, is the perfect spot for a peek into Asheville’s literary history.
This year will see the opening of the Biltmore Estate‘s new Village Hotel, a luxe destination adjacent to the estate’s winery. In fact, where you sleep in this city may be the best way to experience its intriguing mix of old and new. At the recently renovated Windsor Asheville boutique hotel you’ll find 14 luxury suites with the charm of exposed brick walls and original hardwood floors combined with the ease of amenities like luxurious linens and in-room massage therapy. Or book a night at the historic Beaufort House Inn, a charming bed and breakfast featuring fireplaces in every room and beautiful gardens, all just outside the city’s urban centre.
Header Image: Trails and rivers wind through the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding Asheville, making it a favourite for outdoor adventurers © ExploreAsheville.com
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Have you visited any of the places in our neighbourhood guide to Asheville? Have we left any of your favourites off our list? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Sarah Crosland