Good Eats in Asheville

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Asheville is one of my favorite eating towns in the South. Check out my favorite places to enjoy fresh, local cuisine before your next trip. 

A couple weekends ago, Scott and I went to Asheville to celebrate our one year anniversary.  Those who know us may remember our anniversary is in March, definitely more than a couple weeks ago.  Why so late?  It's kinda a funny story.  You see, Easter seems to always fall on otherwise special days...my birthday...our dating anniversary.  This year was no exception.  We've never been big on romantic holidays, so our plan was to spend Easter with family and do a small anniversary celebration at home.  The next weekend, we would take a quick anniversary trip to Savannah with the dogs.

The celebration we planned was our idea of perfect.  We would trade gifts, drink our rehearsal dinner champagne, and eat leftover wedding cake while watching Game of Thrones.  We did none of this.

First, my gift to Scott hadn't arrived in the mail.  Then we forgot the cake at his moms house, where we had been storing it since our wedding.  Then I started to get and took a Tylenol, so that nixed our champagne toast.  And after our TV froze, we couldn't even watch Game of Thrones.  The icing on the cake - our plans for Savannah fell through when all the pet friendly bed & breakfasts downtown were booked up!

In the end, we planned a weekend in Asheville, one of our favorite cities in the south!  We turned lemons into lemonade and had a really lovely weekend.  We stayed in a gorgeous mountain house in Barnardsville, about 20 minutes outside the city.  Saturday morning we wandered the city with the dogs, following the Urban Walking Trail, then spent the afternoon at the art museum and Highland Brewery.  Sunday was spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest.  I'm sure you would love to hear all the details, but alas, this is a food blog, so I'll stick with what we ate.

North Asheville Tailgate Market

The best local farmer's markets I've ever been to. Shocking, I know, since Asheville totally isn't known for it's locavore movement. Tucked away in a corner of the UNC-Asheville campus, the North Asheville Tailgate Market has an incredible variety of local produce, heirloom seedlings and artisan foods. For the picnic we planned to do on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we picked out a whole grain boule and ramp goat cheese.  The goat cheese vendor had other interesting and delicious flavors including lavender and honey-walnut, but figured we would stuff ourselves full of ramps for the short time they are in season! I also bought a bunch of beautiful purple asparagus and a few seedlings. Our favorite vendor was Gagliano's, an incredibly friendly man who blends the most unique pestos I've ever tried. He basically forced us to try every flavor - not that we minded - before settling on a mustard green pesto. Other standouts were stinging nettle, basil and watercress and a vegan pesto made with mixed wild greens. We also bought a jar of his heirloom tomato sauce made with squash, zucchini, carrot and kale from his garden, which we later used to make lasagna pie.

For breakfast, we split a pastry from Farm & Sparrow, a bakery and mill where breads and pastries are made with stone-ground, heirloom grains.  It was difficult not to order one of everything, and if I wasn't low on cash, I honestly may have. Since I had to pick my favorite, I chose a cornmeal tart topped with potatoes, ramps and cheddar, which was fantastic.  If I had more cash (and a bigger stomach), I would have loved to try the puff pastry topped with gorgonzola, pears and bee pollen and one of their croissants, which they filled with fun things like garlic scapes & cheddar kim-chi. We also split a spinach and feta empanada from the food truck.

Curate

Who would guess the best tapas outside of Spain can be found in Asheville? Katie Button, the head chef, is a former neuroscience phD student who dropped out of her program to pursue her passion for cooking.  She trained with world famous Spanish chef, Jose Andres, which is why her tapas is so authentic. We sat at the bar, which overlooks the kitchen, a fun place to watch the chefs at work.  We kinda felt like we had front row seats for Iron Chef!  Service was fantastic.  They brought one plate of food at a time rather than everything all at once, so we could enjoy it as a leisurely meal.  We started with piquillo peppers stuffed with creamy goat cheese.  The next course was our favorite, a canneloni style pasta filled with chicken livers, ground beef and ground pork in a creamy manchego cheese bechemel.  Next, we split a fried squid bocadillo (Spanish for sandwich), served on perfect crusty bread!  Our last course was fried eggplant drizzled with local honey and rosemary.  Sounds like an odd combination, but the eggplant was creamy inside with no hint of bitterness, so it felt almost like dessert.  If (aka when) we go again, we will try their spicy chorizo wrapped in potato chips, pan con tomate (one of my favorite breakfasts) topped with manchego or anchovies and grilled asparagus with romesco, which, is in my opinion, The Greatest Sauce Ever Made. Update: On a later trip, I went back to Curate for brunch and I would be remiss not to tell you about it. Brunch is served tapas style as well, so along with a few girlfriends, we ordered all the items on the brunch menu.  The chorizo and manchego tortilla espanola was our favorite, with the egg 63 (similar to a poached egg) served over potato puree and sauteed eggplant and peppers at a close second.  For a sweeter taste, try their torrijas, similar to French toast.

The Market Place

First, a big thank you to my mother-in-law Nancy, as this meal was an anniversary present from her. If you are looking for a fancy, but not overly stuffy restaurant in Asheville, I definitely recommend The Market Place.  It's tucked away on Wall St., where they have served local foods since 1979. We started our meal with gnocchi served on beet puree with an arugula and orange salad.  Scott remarked "How come your gnocchi doesn't taste like this?" He had a point - my gnocchi isn't even close to being as pillowy as theirs. The main dish I ordered was the highlight - thick hand-cut pappardelle in a brothy pesto sauce with sweet confit tomatoes, roasted oyster mushrooms and tender braised lamb.  Scott had a little case of food envy, although his roasted quail  with chorizo and brioche stuffing was pretty darn good.  Other standouts on the menu were edamame in a chili soy glaze, seared tuna with avocado, Asian slaw and a sriracha aioli and a spring pea risotto that looked so delicious, I seriously contemplated asking the nice couple next to us for a bite.  I also spotted Columbia's local Anson Mills farro served in an Indian cauliflower dish.

French Broad Chocolates 

If anyone (ahem, Scott) would like to buy me a box of chocolates for a special occasion, make sure it's from French Broad! At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, French Broad makes the best truffles I've ever had. And trust me, I've eaten my fair share of truffles.  Save room for a brownie too, as French Broad has perfected the art of making dense, fudgy brownies. This time, we split a coconut macaroon brownie, but my personal favorite is the spicy nibbly brownie with cocoa nibs, cayenne, and cinnamon. We were in dire need of a caffeine fix, so we split a cup of xocolatl, a traditional Aztec chocolate drink. It's rare I see something on a menu that I've never heard of before, so of course I had to try it.  Xocolatl (pronounced sho-ko-laht-el) is a frothy chocolate drink made with bitter chocolate, corn grits for thickening, chili and other spices in house-made almond milk.  I am determined to recreate it at home, and I promise to share the recipe if it's a success!  If you decide to get truffles, you'll be forced to pick between five different collections: signature (vanilla bourbon!!), world (mole negro!!), Buddha (strawberry balsamic!!), tea & herb (masala chai!!), and caramel (sorghum!!).  On the healthier side, the Buddha collection is vegan, made with coconut oil so it melts in your mouth.

Well-Bred Bakery and Cafe

A few miles from where we stayed in Barnardsville is a cute little town called Weaverville.  I visited with my mom and aunt a few years ago for the annual Weaverville Art Safari. We wandered into this bakery and were really impressed with their food.  Their baked goods look fantastic (hellooo chocolate eclair the size of my head!), but we stuck to breakfast items. I ordered a tomato and smoked gouda quiche with a cucumber salad and Scott had their breakfast platter, which comes with a sampling of quiche, strata and french toast casserole. Along with it, I had the WORLDS BIGGEST LATTE! It literally came in a soup bowl!  I could have easily served two people...could have but didn't.

Other Favorites Although we didn't make it to these restaurants on our most recent visit, I couldn't write a post about Asheville without mentioning them.

Tupelo Honey

We stumbled across Tupelo Honey on our first trip to Asheville and immediately claimed it as "our restaurant" since Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison is "our song".  Little did we know it's the most popular Asheville restaurant, and with good reason. Tupelo Honey specializes in updated southern food, highlighting local produce.  My favorite entree is their vegetable bowl - a heaping serving of stone-ground goat cheese grits topped with sauteed greens, okra and black-eyed pea salsa.  After such a virtuous main, there's still room to split a slice of brown butter pecan pie.  It's so good, I once brought an entire pie home after a trip.

Early Girl Eatery

My favorite spot for breakfast in Asheville, and luckily it's served all day!  Early Girl specializes in farm-to-table southern cuisine (am I sounding like a broken record?).  The best item on the menu is their grits cake topped with spinach, poached egg, avocado and tomato gravy.  For the carnivorous folk, they make a mean sweet potato, sausage and shiitake mushroom hash.  Order a basket quick breads to share between the table - the pumpkin ginger is sooo good!

The Gourmet Chip Company

A great place for a quick lunch while shopping downtown.  Choose your favorite pressed panini (the Parisian, with brie, bacon, and apples is mine) and pair it with freshly made gourmet potato chips. Their freshly made fried potatoes are garnished with toppings like blue cheese and lavender honey or truffle oil and herbed goat cheese.

Wicked Weed Brewing

If you enjoy unique craft beer, Wicked Weed is a must-do on your next trip to Asheville.  Actually, it might be worth a trip alone.  In a town with more breweries than stoplights, Wicked Weed stands above the rest with it's creative, yet perfectly crafted beers.  Always on tap are their hoppy IPAs (try Freak of Nature), spicy saisons and difficult to find wood aged beers, like barleywine.  The menu is upscale bar food, which they will gladly help pair to your beer.  Their veggie burger is one of the best I've had, although I'm sad they switched up the toppings - it used to come with crunchy okra chips on top!  The fried chicken and kimchi sandwich and smoked trout wedge salad with avocado ranch are great too.
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