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A Weekend in Asheville
This small city packs a big culinary punch
Nestled in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a small city with a population of about 100,000 that in the past few decades has become a mecca for artists, chefs, and brewers.
Once a playground for the likes of George Vanderbilt and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Asheville fell on hard times during the depression, but experienced a renaissance starting in the 1980s when artists started moving to the area lured by the same fresh mountain air that the ultra-rich sought out in the 1920s.
Just a short two-hour flight from New York City, Asheville retains its small-town charm despite its popularity. Downtown Asheville is extremely walkable and filled with award-winning restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, and breweries. And, if you’re craving some time with nature, you’ll find hiking trails right outside of the downtown area.
Where to Stay
Located just a block from Biltmore Avenue, this boutique hotel, located in a former steel factory, retains much of the industrial feel while managing to be a warm and inviting space. Look for historical touches like an original elevator pulley system, exposed brick, and original wood flooring in the common areas, which also house a fantastic lobby bar and original works by local artists. The lobby also transforms into a live music venue most days of the week. The Foundry is located in Asheville’s historical Black neighborhood, and that rich culture is reflected in the food at the hotel’s restaurant Benne on Eagle, led by executive chef Jarrel McRae. You’ll want to explore Asheville’s food and drink scene, but you’d be remiss if you didn’t enjoy a Mo’ Benne cocktail, created by bartender Brandon Bailey first.
Where to Eat
Chef Katie Button’s love letter to Spanish tapas has won countless awards, and had been named on nearly every food list by every publication. So if you’re wondering whether this little restaurant that offers mostly counter service is “that good” the answer is a resounding YES! Curate is one of my favorite restaurants and I’ve been known to eat there multiple times in one weekend jaunt to Asheville. The service is impeccable and welcoming. The food is precise and delicious. And the prices are more than reasonable. A few weeks ago, I visited Asheville to attend the city’s Chow Chow Festival — a celebration of Appalachian food. I went to one of the signature dinners, hosted by chef Button and it got me jonesing for some patatas bravas from Curate. So, right after dinner, I snuck around the corner to the restaurant by myself. Though reservations are notoriously tough, I was offered a counter seat immediately. My server generously offered to make me a half portion of the patatas bravas and another dish. Everything is amazing, but my standing order is patatas bravas, pan con tomate, stuffed peppers, garlic shrimp, mushrooms in sherry, and a cheese plate.
Chai Pani is another hard-to-snag reservation, but if you’re craving some of Chef Meherwan Irani’s without the formality, go to Botiwalla. Just opened, Botiwalla is colorful and casual. It’s a tribute to India’s Irani cafes (yes — just like the chef) — bright spots that served tea and kebobs to British colonists. Chef Irani’s grandfather owned one of these cafes and Botiwalla is a nod to his family’s culinary history. Here, find fragrant and flavorful skewers, bowls, and naan wraps. Wash it down with a Nimbu Pani — a refresher of lime juice, seltzer, and a touch of salt.
Ever dream of having a multi-course tasting menu at a James Beard-nominated restaurant inside a brewery? Well, you can have that experience at Cultura in Ashville. Chef Eric Morris has gone beyond — way beyond — a brewery’s typical burger and wing food menu to offer tasting menus four evenings a week. Pair them with fresh beer straight from adjacent Wicked Weed Brewery for a truly exceptional meal. Cultura also offers a “Cease and Desist” dinner series where Chef Morris replicates favorite fast food items. Whatever you do, don’t miss a trip to the bathroom — a black light affair that will make you think someone added a hit of acid to your dinner.
Potato chips for lunch? The answer is a hearty “yes” at the Gourmet Chip Company, where freshly made potato chips are turned into a meal. Choose your concoction from an array of choices like Italian, Buffalo, and Parisian and chips will be topped with the appropriate sauces, meats, and cheeses. For instance, the Buffalo tops chips with buffalo sauce and blue cheese then the cheese is melted with a blowtorch! It’s decadent, silly, and downright delicious.
Where to Drink
If you’re a beer lover like me, Asheville is pure bliss. You’ll find multiple breweries within walking distance of each other. Forge your own brewery trail or take a tour (beer tourism is a thing in Asheville). Though there are many, many breweries, here are my top three.
This brewery has a Valkyrie-death-metal theme with all beers named after murder and mayhem. That was my initial attraction, but this isn’t a gimmicky brewery — the beer is top-notch. I love their “To Streak Blood Across My Brow”, a double NE hazy IPA that’s fun to order and better to drink.
Everyone in Ashville is a beer connoisseur. The minute you get into town your Uber driver, bartender, guy walking down the street, boutique owner, and bartender will all have a favorite brewery. And this past trip — they all mentioned DSSOLVR. This brewery, located right in the middle of Downtown Asheville comes equipped with one of those 12-foot Home Depot skeletons, a lovely beer garden, and a great beer selection. Not to be missed.
The original Wedge is located in Asheville’s River Arts District, so plan on spending an afternoon drinking beer and wandering through galleries (best to go on a Saturday, since many galleries close on Sunday). The Wedge offers a good beer selection, but its cider is some of the best I’ve ever had. There’s also a new Wedge taproom that opened in Downtown Asheville, serving the same fresh beer without the gallery walk.