If you follow me at all on Twitter, you’ve probably realized by now that if ever there’s a mention of Asheville, I am sure to chime in.
Asheville is a perfect long weekend getaway destination for those of us that live in Nashville, thanks to its stunning ‘mountain’ vistas [I use 'mountain' only because compared to Colorado and the grand Rockies, well..um..those Smokies look a little more like hills]. Asheville is also a relatively hidden gem of a food-centric town.
I may have some personal bias towards Asheville because The Husband and I did get married there over 5 years ago. We lived in Charlotte at the time and decided to make our wedding a destination weekend for our friends and family that were traveling many miles to celebrate with us. Asheville attracted us mostly due to how beautiful the setting would be in late September, with the trees at their peak of their fall flush of reds, oranges and yellows. The thoughtful, diverse and quality restaurants were indeed the cherry on top of an already fantastic sundae.
Memories of romantic candle-lit meals and days spent traipsing all over town hand-in-hand aside, if Asheville is not on your radar now, it should be and I hope to share with you why.
The Husband and I were most recently in Asheville in December 2012. We had some of our most favorite meals to date then and we are already looking forward to our next return so we can indulge in some new favorites again.
The highlight of our entire stay was the meal we shared at Chef Katie Button’s Cúrate with The Husband’s cousin, husband and another couple to celebrate the cousin’s birthday. Cúrate is the restaurant I most recommend when friends ask us where to eat when headed towards Asheville. And while I imagine you can have an equally varied and delicious meal as we did with just two diners, having more people at the table only allows you to order one of everything on the menu, get a sampler of every plate and order seconds of your favorites. Not that I am speaking from personal experience, or anything.
The setting at Cúrate is small, intimate and warm. Reservations are an absolute must, especially if you’re in a party larger than one that can fit comfortably at the bar.
cúrate tapas bar . asheville, nc
Some highlights from our meal included the tabla de jamón [selection of serrano fermin, ibérico fermin and ibérico de bellota], pulpo a la gallega [galician style octopus served warm with sea salt, olive oil, spanish paprika and yukon gold potato puree], the classic patatas bravas [crispy fried potatoes topped with a slightly spicy "brava" sauce], chistorra and chips josé’s way [spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips] and each of the desserts. Because, yep. We had one of each.
The two standout dishes for me, though, were the gambas al ajillo [sautéed shrimp and sliced garlic] and berenjenas la taberna [fried eggplant drizzled in wild mountain apiaries honey, garnished with rosemary]. Telling, as these are rather simple sounding dishes, which I think I are the hardest to make the standout dishes on a rather complex and varied menu.
cúrate tapas bar . fried eggplant, rosemary, honey . asheville, nc
Just enough batter to create a bright and crispy shell around the thin, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of eggplant. Drizzled with just the right amount of honey, topped with rosemary and large, flakey sea salt. We had a couple orders of this dish shared amongst all the guests at our table. Despite it being just a humble eggplant dish, it was a standout favorite for all six of us.
curate tapas bar . sautéed shrimp and sliced garlic . asheville, nc
Do you see those slices of garlic, and that giant clove? Yep. This is a dish you’ll want to make sure that both you and your significant other share. Or have no shame in the garlic breath that will ensue for the next half-day, at the least!
Another new favorite find of ours was the fresh Italian cuisine we had at Cucina24. Cucina24 is a small, intimate restaurant located on Wall Street, which is a great part of the downtown area to wander and explore. Boutiques, restaurants and some fun architecture to browse.
We stumbled upon Cucina24 when we realized we didn’t have a late night reservation for our arrival night in Asheville. Yelp came to our rescue and the reviews did not steer us wrong.
The cuisine at Cucina24 focuses on simple, clean and delicious plates, priority on seafood and local [when possible] proteins and vegetables.
I started with a mussels dish that is not on the current menu anymore. Steamed to perfection and served with a crusty slice of toasted bread, topped with a garlicky herb butter, perfect for melted into the mussels and the sippable [ha. gulpable!] broth. If you saw my recent Charleston post, you know I’m a huge fan of shellfish, mussels and clams in particular. These did not disappoint.
cucina24 . steamed mussels . asheville, nc
I went on to order pasta [fresh, made in-house] carbonara and I believe it was the first time I had ordered this dish since my vegetarian days. It was a worthwhile indulgence. The pasta was cooked to al dente perfection, which isn’t always easy to do, and the carbonara was a sultry [yep, I went there], creamy and salty sauce, coating every inch of pasta and dice of crispy, local bacon.
cucina24 . pasta carbonara . asheville, nc
The Husband and I finished with a shared dessert. Rare, as we usually always each get our own, sweet-tooths that we are. We were completely stuffed to the gills on the delicious, rich courses that we started with. If memory serves me correctly, these were apple doughnuts with a salty caramel ice cream and caramel drizzle.
cucina24 . apple doughnuts + salted caramel ice cream . asheville, nc
Another restaurant worth mentioning is on the other end of the price/ambiance spectrum from Cúrate and Cucina24. The White Duck Taco Shop is much like Mas Tacos, a comparison my local readers should understand rather quickly [and if you haven't been to Mas Tacos? Get thee there instantly and order an agua fresca, tortilla soup and a couple fried avocado tacos. You can thank me later.]
white duck taco shop . asheville, nc
So anyways, White Duck Taco Shop. Bare bones decor and seating, and be prepared to wait. It’s worth it. The day The Husband and I went it was freezing and spitting slush. We were so hangry and impatient to eat that rather than wait for seating indoors, we took our tacos back to our car and ate in the parking lot. Not so romantic but didn’t make the tacos any less awesome.
white duck taco shop . menu . asheville, nc
You’ll notice on the menu that for a small establishment, they carry quite a variety of foods. Decent beer selection, and even a seasonal sangria. I had to go with the Cheerwine, though. You know. When in Rome… Sides, snacks and soups looked delicious, but we were there for the tacos. We each got three and that ended up being just the right amount. If we had added on a bowl of chowder or order of chips and salsa, we probably would’ve wanted to scale down to two tacos.
My first choice was one of the taco specials – the Hickory Smoked Mushrooms. Served with potatoes and romesco sauce, topped with pico and cotija cheese. Chewy [I would say toothsome, but I think I'd get some eye-rolls] large slices of mushrooms sat well with the crispy fried chunks of potatoes. The sauce and toppings rounded out a rather smoky and bright combination.
white duck taco shop . hickory smoked mushrooms . asheville, nc
My next choice was one that I’d never seen on a taco menu before, so I went for it. The Lamb Gyro was served with a thin, fresh, dill-packed tzaziki and topped with salty crumbles of feta cheese. Delicious, but wow – what a mess!
white duck taco shop . lamb gyro. asheville, nc
The last choice was another rather unconventional flavor profile for a taco. The Bangkok Shrimp consisted of extra-crispy, crunchy deep-fried shrimps dressed with chili aioli and topped with a cucumber pickle. My surprise favorite of the three, though I wouldn’t hesitate to order any of them again. The mild heat from the aioli combined perfectly with the cool, crunchy pickle.
white duck taco shop . bangkok shrimp . asheville, nc
One thing to note is that White Duck Taco Shop is not in walking distance of downtown, rather it’s located in the north end of the River Arts District, alongside the French Broad River. An area worth a wander for its art warehouses, galleries and workshops.
A random discovery The Husband and I made when we were meandering downtown, visiting our usual favorite shops and boutiques, was The Gourmet Chip Company. The name sounded interesting, the storefront inviting, so we dropped in to discover a rather simple concept delivered very tastefully. Much like The Grilled Cheeserie food truck here in Nashville, The Gourmet Chip Company does one simple thing and does it really well. You might look at the menu and think “um, potato chips and toppings? well, I could do that myself for cheaper the cost” and that’s ultimately true. But how often do you fresh fry jewel toned sweet potato chips and top them with chocolate sauce or feta crumbles? If you’re anything like me, you leave that to the professionals.
the gourmet chip company . menu . asheville, nc
The chips on offer range from the more exotic plantains and taro root, to Idahos and locally grown sweet potatoes. Choose savory toppings like buffalo sauce and blue cheese crumbles, or go for the sweet with Belgian dark and milk chocolate topped with sea salt. The Gourmet Chip Company even offers made-to-order paninis if you’re not a chip lover. Though if that’s the case, I’ll let you know that that worries me. Me, the one who can often be found with her face in a bag of Lays Dill Pickle chips, dipping the big ones in [full fat] Daisy sour cream. [an idea I can thank Lesley and Amanda for!]
While The Husband had The Corsica [kettle style potato chips, shaved Belgian dark and milk chocolate and applewood smoked bacon], I stayed strictly sweet with and order of The Belgium at The Gourmet Chip Company. The cone of warm, thin, perfectly crispy jewel-tone sweet potato chips were topped with Belgian dark and milk chocolate, and vanilla sea salt. Fantastic mid-afternoon pick me up on a cold winter day.
the gourmet chip company . the belgium . asheville, nc
When we go back I want to try The Napa [kettle style potato chips, lavender honey drizzle, creamy bleu cheese crumbles, sea salt] and The Americana [kettle style potato chips, aged gouda, applewood smoked bacon, cracked black pepper].
A favorite must-visit location that we head to every time we visit Asheville is The French Broad Chocolate Lounge. The mission behind The French Broad Chocolate company [that makes [and ships!] single-origin truffles and other chocolates] is clear as soon as you walk in the door, and even moreso once you’ve placed your order and grabbed a seat at their [recently expanded] lounge. Owners Dan and Jael Rattigan are cognizant of and deeply involved in their community. Their [hilarious] family résumé is worth a read, as is their company manifesto which emphasizes their focus on quality product, local artisans and ingredients and fair compensation.
the french broad chocolate lounge . menu . asheville, nc
The Husband and I usually order something different every time we visit The French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Standouts are any of their truffles and caramels [the kashata or masala chai truffles, and the dark chocolate salted honey or sorghum caramels], but also their coconut macaroon brownie and the cold or hot sipping chocolate. You can also get a stout float – stout beer topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I haven’t been brave enough to try that one, yet.
the french broad chocolate lounge . chocolate bar selection [notice local favorites Olive + Sinclair?] . asheville, nc
The Lounge is open until 11 or midnight every night of the week [aside from holidays, I'm sure], so plan on a late dinner, wander around downtown and then have a late visit for a chocolate dessert [or, three!] so you can skip a long wait and find a seat on any of the three floors open to lounging. Plan to buy a box of truffles to take home with you or to share with hosts/friends and maybe even an artisan bar of chocolate or two as The Lounge carries a wide variety of unique bars that you just won’t find at your neighborhood grocery store, even if it’s a Whole Foods.
A few other favorite restaurants we’ve visited follow, though I don’t have any pictures from any of our visits :
- Tupelo Honey Café : sure, it might be touristy, but the biscuits and rosemary lemonade are worth the throngs of out-of-towners. I usually get a grilled cheese and tomato soup at the bar for dinner which is a perfectly satisfying dinner on a cold mountain winter night. Other dishes worth ordering : pimento cheese + chips, tupelo tofu wings and blueberry pancakes.
- Early Girl Eatery : casual sandwich/soup place. Vegetarian and gluten-free friendly. Delicious options : biscuits + gravy, early girl benny, grilled pimento cheese and the tempeh reuben [the only version of a reuben I've ever had, and it was excellent!].
- Mela : While The Husband and I have had a couple dinners here, most recently we’ve been going for their affordable all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Plenty of vegetarian options, delicious fresh naan, raita and chutneys and plenty of curries and dishes to stuff you silly. Frankly, Mela’s food is enjoyed more by The Husband and I than the, albeit pretty tasty, options we have here in Nashville.
- Barleys Taproom and Pizzeria : Casual joint with great beer list [featuring local breweries] and sop-up-the-alcohol pizzas. The Husband and I came here with our closest friends and family after our wedding reception to usher in our first day as Mr. and Mrs.
- Sisters McMullen : This bakery made our wedding cake [two tiers of chocolate and one of almond chocolate chip] and the late-night cupcakes for our wedding, so there’s definitely some sentimentality bringing us back every year. But they honestly make a mean cupcake. The Husband loves their Boston Cream Pie cupcake, while I love their classic vanilla or almond chocolate chip.
A couple of restaurants that are on my radar that we have yet to visit :
- Chai Pani : Fresh, affordable Indian street food. I’ve got my eye on the green mango chaat, bombay chili cheese fries and kale pakoras. Kira [comment below] also recommends the okra fries along with the aforementioned kale pakoras.
- MG Road Bar + Lounge : A late night eats joint from the owners of Chai Pani. I imagine I’d order a Dark & Monsoony or Sage Advice to go with my snacks of spicy caramel popcorn, paratha pork belly tacos and hot cherry-apricot samosas.
- Short Street Cakes : This bakery’s menu changes daily, but I hope I’d be there while the Strawberry Short, Sour Cream Pound Cake or Blueberry Lemon are available.
- The Admiral : Usually recommended alongside Cúrate Tapas Bar, The Admiral‘s menu reminds me of local favorite City House. Most recently, their soft shell crab pasta, okonomiyaki and tres-leches parfait all piqued my tastebuds. This one definitely requires a reservation as far in advance as possible.
- Biscuit Head : Biscuits. Duh. The Black-Eyed Pea and Fried Green Tomato options look like must-orders. Maybe a house-made soda and a strawberry-rhubarb biscuit crumble, too!
I hope you’ll get to Asheville and visit one or more of these delicious venues. If you’ve been to Asheville and have a recommendation for a place I haven’t mentioned, please let me know! I’d love to have more reasons to head over to Asheville for another visit.