Mountains crowded with trees- their leaves rustling on the edges of winding roads that loop back and forth across our map like they were drawn by somebody with a slightly skewed sense of how, exactly, to get from point A to B.
This is the definition of a joy ride: windows down, letting the sunbeams spill onto our laps as autumn hovers on the periphery anxiously awaiting its turn. Just wait until it all glows red. Orange. Yellow.
And the little city, nestled deep into all this beauty? Asheville.
It is possible to feel quite at home in a place you have never been. This is something that we felt we knew, but then had to rediscover for ourselves.
And somewhere in the spaces between the pinball.
the pork belly.
the sparkly-eyed humans.
the rain on our tent.
the mud on our boots.
the view from the top. hiking. hiking. hiking.
the doughnuts. the beer. the tacos.
more doughnuts. more tacos.
somewhere between the thought “damn hippies and their drum circles”, and the moment when you begin to dance.
somewhere in the midst of all this we realized: these are the days. This is the place.
Taco Billy: I think this quote from their website pretty much sums it up: “If I had to eat one kind of food for my entire life, it would be breakfast tacos- Hunter Berry” I would make a slight amendment to that declaration so that it mentioned something about Taco Billy’s XXX salsa on top of my Billy Joel Breakfast Taco. Forever. Their lunchtime taco menu also looks pretty damn amazing, but try as we might we just could not wait until 11am to get our fix.
Hole doughnuts: I find it almost impossible to say ‘no’ to doughnuts, and as a result I have begun to consider myself a bit of an emerging expert on the subject. Imagine this: your doughnuts are formed and fried up while you wait, they are served to you fresh and hot in all of their delicious, chewy crispiness. Hole doughnuts are not cake doughnuts, nor are they those traditional light-as-air raised doughnuts. They are more similar to a beignet, or those chewy, sugary sheets of fried dough that you gobble up as a guilty pleasure at the county fair… But at Hole we are presented with flavours like toasted almond with sesame and sugar, salt and peppercorn maple, molasses bourbon, and Indian spice. You might never be able to eat a doughnut from anywhere else ever again. I am not sure I will be able to. Hole serves up 4 flavours: 3 are available all the time, with one rotating special that gets introduced on Wednesdays. Expect a line on the weekends…but it is totally worth it! If you don’t want to take my word for it, Bon Appetite just announced the Hole doughnut as their favourite dessert of 2016
The Admiral: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or in the case of The Admiral, don’t judge a restaurant by its exterior that may or may not look like a two-tone brown cinder block rectangle. Amazing things lurk inside. The interior was slightly reminiscent of a well-kempt dive bar, but the menu (which changes frequently) was inspired. Hors d’oeuvres, small plates, and full size entrees literally invite you to work your way through an assortment of plates (at least that is how we like to roll)… We bounced from the steamed pork bun, to seared sea scallops, to duck leg confit in adobo, to a beautiful elk loin that completely conjured up autumn on our taste buds… (Reservations are pretty much required- book well in advance for weekend seatings!)
Chai Pani: Amazing Indian street food with a bit of a locally inspired twist. Some seriously delicious stuff. Um, just thinking about it makes me want to hop back into the car and head back to Asheville for another order of chicken pakoras and dahi sev papdi. (Bombay chili cheese fries, anyone?)
Blue Dream: Curry, curry, curry, curry. The Blue Dream menu features curries from around the world: Thai, Indian, Japanese, Portuguese… All created from locally sourced ingredients. Community + food = all the best stuff.
Red Ginger Dimsum and Tapas: First impressions: I took it as a very good sign that steamed chicken feet with black bean sauce appeared on the menu, and I wasn’t disappointed. Red Ginger delivered, and my continuous craving for all things dumpling and bun were satiated. (And I thought that good soup dumplings could only be found in Shanghai…) Gua bao, roast pork rice roll, Szechuan wonton, soup dumpling. Go hungry.
Wicked Weed Brewing Pub: Asheville is known as ‘Beer City USA’ for the abundance of craft breweries that call this cool little city home. We did our best to visit as many as possible during our visit- and Wicked Weed emerged as one of our top favourites. Wicked Weed has not one, but two downtown locations- the original spot known as ‘The Pub’ complete with two floors, a full restaurant, and 15 barrel brewery; and ‘The Funkatorium‘ a few blocks away, completely dedicated to funky and sour concoctions with a nice little tapas menu to keep you nibbling.
Wedge Brewing: Housed in an old factory building in the River Arts District down along the railroad, Wedge Brewing is equal parts gritty, rock n’ roll, and interestingly family friendly (if you show up before 8p) Wrought iron sculptural elements, reclaimed metal bits for seating, art covered walls, and poured concrete bar tops create the perfect atmosphere for catching a band at their outdoor stage (check out the red velvet curtains painted on the side of that truck) while sipping on a pint. Start with a Silver Spike and work your way up to the Golem before sampling something delicious from the food truck parked just a few steps away.
Hi-Wire Brewing: $3 craft pints. Did you hear me?! $3 locally produced craft pints!! Plus: giant Jenga, a Captain Fantasic Pinball machine, and big windows that open up to the street for prime people-watching. Enough said.
Battlecat Coffee Bar: This place is pretty rock and roll for a coffee shop. The bathroom has almost as much graffiti as the bathrooms at the old Mars Bar in NYC, except they are clean and actually have a lock on the door so people aren’t walking in on you in a compromising position. Eye popping art dons the walls, and their logo is a picture of a helmet wearing cat wielding a knife. I’m awake! I’m awake! I promise…
Sovereign Remedies: Fancy pants cocktails just the way I like them: creative flavour twists augmented by locally made bitters, tinctures and tonics (made right next door at the Herbarium) that change with the seasons. The Root Daiquiri was one of our favourites: rum, sarsaparilla, burdock, and dandelion with a bee pollen kissed rim. Treat yourself to a cheese and charcuterie board while you are at it.
Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar: If having a vintage pinball arcade in town wasn’t enough, Asheville also boasts a gorgeous two floor book exchange that is also a champagne bar and coffee shop. Sip literary-inspired champagne cocktails while listening to jazz surrounded by oodles of gorgeous books. There are leather arm chairs to lounge in, and even a giant hookah-smoking moose-head on the wall. If you don’t feel like you could channel Fitzgerald or Hemingway…well…I’m not sure what to say about that. My favourite cocktail to date? The Farenheit 451: champagne laced with cayenne, chocolate, and a bourbon soaked cherry. We stopped here before heading over to play pinball (it is only a few minute walk between spots) and I truly felt like I was living in some sort of blissful fanstasy. Champagne, books, pinball….what more could a girl ask for?!
PennyCup Coffee Co: If you are wandering around the River Arts District and in need of a great cup of caffeine, stop here for a pick me up. This unassuming coffee spot is also a premiere coffee roaster that just so happens to supply may of the local establishments with unique blends that compliment their offerings.
Asheville Pinball Museum: Pay a flat fee at the door and enter into a sort of heaven on earth: 2 darkened rooms filled with vintage pinball and arcade games. They serve beer. And candy. You can stay as long as you want, and you don’t need a single quarter. Pin Bot, Haunted House, Creature of the Black Lagoon, Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Pole Position… If these names make you twitch a little bit, this is a place that is not to be missed!
River Arts District: Wander into and through the 200 art studios and galleries (along with restaurants, coffee shops and a brewery) that inhabit old factory style buildings and garages in this super cool neighbourhood that bellies up against a river with a set of railroad tracks running through. Watch glassblowing demonstrations, admire beautiful paintings, furniture pieces and handmade pottery… happen upon gorgeous bits of street art like hidden gems.
Hiking: Asheville is a place that pretty much has the best of both worlds thing going on: an amazing little city with all the fixin’s surrounded by acres and acres of national forest and generally unadulterated nature. With world class hiking only a few minutes drive from the city center there is no reason not to partake. Grab your hiking boots or mountain bike and hit the trail head. For a short hike with maximum rewards head up the Blueridge Parkway to Pisgah Peak. Have a day (or more) to burn? There are a handful of trailheads to choose from near the entrance of the Powhatan Campground. Get there early and enjoy a sunrise, or stay late for the sunset then head back into town for a beer. Wash, rinse, repeat.