Asheville NC Restaurant Recommendations for July
Wife and are are visiting Asheville for vacation in July staying at the Black Walnut B & B. We would like recommendations for 5 days worth of lunches and dinners near the B & B or downtown. Will have a car so any recommendations slightly outside Asheville if really good are welcomed as well. Thanks!
Just wanted to pop in and say thanks for this thread and the restaurant recommendations. We visited Asheville for four days recently for Beer Week/Memorial Day weekend, and had a chance to try several of the places you suggested. Here's my attempt at a trip report:
We arrived Friday evening and wandered into Table, where I'd stopped to admire the open kitchen on our walk around town. With no prior references about the place, we tried to grab seats at what we thought was the bar (really the [fully booked] chef's table, oops) and were politely redirected to the cocktail lounge upstairs, The Imperial Life. We started off with some delicious boozy concoctions (barrel-aged Manhattan, and a fruity drink with brandy, grapefruit, Dimmi liqueur and bubbly). Next round I had an Old Fashioned (which I overheard someone say was "so good it made [him] cry last night." It was indeed delicious, and I loved the massive hand-cracked ice cube and Luxardo cherry. My man enjoyed his first Pisgah ale. We started working up an appetite and ordered the excellent lamb tartar, which was tender and flavorful, served with torn hunks of toasted bread smeared with butter and fresh dill. We also had the pecan cheese ball w/ fancy crackers, which, in truth, were a better (neutral) foil for the tartar than the dill toast.
At the bartender's recommendation we headed over to the bar at Cucina24 to continue grazing. We were really impressed with the quality, freshness, and creativity of the food. Our order included the homemeade burrata w/ fava and pea puree, beet and chevre salad w/ scallion vinaigrette, and ramp(?) and taleggio agnolotti w/ grilled spring onions and pistachios. All were excellent, and we were struck by the generous portions of the appetizer-type dishes. We also enjoyed a (trend alert!) barrel-aged Negroni and strawberry cooler with bourbon and lemon. I had to laugh when the bartender pointed out that, like the bar we'd just come from, Cucina24 also hand carves its ice. Having had good luck so far, we pumped the bartender for further restaurant recommendations and added several to our list. We squeezed in one final outing to the Wicked Weed for some of their delicious drafts before calling it a night. The cucumber-basil ale was a unique standout.
The next morning we skipped the free hotel breakfast ("Consider the opportunity cost in missing more delicious Asheville meals," my husband rightly argued). Instead we went to Mayfel's for shrimp and grits and country eggs Benedict (poached eggs stacked on buttermilk biscuits with fried green tomatoes, country ham, and a drape of Hollandaise). We each loved our dishes (tho I thought the shrimp and grits had too much cayenne and was a little overwhelmingly rich). The crispy, tangy fried green tomatoes were especially good; I'm planning on recreating this creative twist on eggs Benedict at home. Service and coffee were both excellent, too. Cheesy grits are a bit of a gut-buster, so look out.
Next we hit up Wedge Brewery to catch a glimpse of a homebrew contest/living wage fundraiser and sample some suds. My Witbeer, with notes of coriander and lemon peel, was especially refreshing with a squeeze of orange. DH had a saison that didn't leave a big impression, and we found the local cider similarly uninspiring (up there with Hard Rock and Jack's, for DC locals). We crashed the homebrew event and struck up conversation with some locals, mostly picking their brains for restaurant and brewery recommendations. Luckily, everyone in Asheville seemed more than happy to indulge us in that respect :)
Next we risked the Admiral without a reservation. I confess we felt a bit lukewarm about the whole experience. I'd called a day earlier and was informed the restaurant was fully booked, but seats at the bar were available first come, first served. When we arrived, the host told us the expected wait was around 20 min., which sounded reasonable. About an hour later, we decided to order cocktails to ease the increasingly interminable wait out on the patio. Unfortunately the bartender forgot about our order for a while; 35 minutes later she arrived with one cocktail in hand and an apology and offer to buy us a round, which was a nice gesture. 2 1/2 hrs. from the time we arrived, we were still waiting to be seated, getting antsy, and debating leaving. Finally we were given a table with apologies and quickly ordered (too much). To start were the beef tartar (with sriracha aioli...yawn...I know this is the "chef's ketchup," but didn't enhance anything) and the soft-shell crab over linguine with chili and garlic. Both were decent, but the tartar paled in comparison to the lamb tartar from The Imperial Life the night before, and I was a little disappointed the crab was served over regular ol' dried linguine. For our main dishes, we had the smoked duck w/ orange espuma (big meh) and the 16 oz. rib-eye with orcchiette mac 'n cheese and string beans. The steak entree was huge and generous for $30 (from this DC-resident's perspective), but the presentation was a bit sloppy (messily covered in crab "veloute"), and overall the dish felt a bit oily and slapped together. We appreciate the discount on our drinks for the long wait, but overall, neither of us was overly impressed with the food (which seemed a little lacking in execution), in part probably due to unreasonably high expectations after 2+ hrs' wait. We wouldn't go out of our way to eat there again, as it seemed over-hyped.
The next morning we had brunch at Sunny Point Cafe out in West Asheville, which was good but maybe a little overrated as well. I liked that they offered fresh self-serve coffee available to everyone who was waiting. After a 40 minute wait we ordered fried green tomatoes, an egg, sausage, and cheese biscuit, and huevos rancheros. Huevos rancheros were a deconstructed interpretation---tortilla chips, ranchera sauce, sunny-side-up eggs, and black bean cakes. They were fine but nowhere as amazing as the Yelp reviews suggested. The savory biscuit was pretty good, but the sugar sprinkle on top was a little overkill. The fried green tomatoes were drenched in a spicy remoulade, and paled in comparison with the ultra-crispy Mayfel's version.
From Sunny Point we went to the Biltmore Estate for a tour and wine tasting. Although the wine tasting itself wasn't very engaging, we liked the whites and bought a few bottles (the Reserve Chardonnay and Century White, a blend of Riesling, Gewuertztraminer, and Muscat Canelli). We stopped by Pisgah Brewery for a concert and their barrel-aged beer releases (bourbon-barreled Imperial Stout and rum-barreled Porter) and a local hot dog and deep-friend jalapenos from D.O.G.S., served up w/ numerous creative condiments (pesto ranch sauce, chipotle mayo, bloody mary ketchup, etc.). Pisgah's Spring Wheat was the standout on tap on that hot, sunny afternoon.
Our last dinner in Asheville was at Seven Sows, a newer addition to the farm-to-table scene. Reviewers raved about their friend chicken plate with mac and cheese, but unfortunately that menu item was sold out, so we went for the "Pig's Head Meatlof" w/ turnip puree and seared grouper with farrotto, ramp brown butter, radishes, and asparagus. My husband loved the meatloaf, which was billed as a small plate but was plenty for a full dinner serving. I wasn't too thrilled about the liberally applied sweet barbecue sauce, but it wasn't my dish, so whatever. My grouper was excellent, and I mopped up every last bit of the brown butter sauce. The food easily matched that of the Admiral with lower prices and a much shorter wait. My man had the Tobacco Road cocktail (15 bucks!), a delicious boozy concoction of "Weller 107 Antique Bourbon, Redemption Rye, Don’s Mix, Lemon Juice, Fresh Grapefruit Juice, Ginger Syrup, NC Honey Syrup".). I had a Manhattan, which was the odd miss, as the bartender elected to shake the hell out of it, rather than stir. It was a foamy, ice shard-y mess, complete with a violent Red Dye #2 maraschino cherry. Oh well. At least the food was good.
We returned to The Imperial Life for a second night of cocktails. I overheard the bartender dissing his most recent batch of barrel-aged cocktails and instead went for his "Remember the Maine" cocktail, which wasn't listed on the menu. The combination of rye, sweet vermouth, cherry heering, and absinthe was excellent. We also ordered a "chocolate budino" with banana ice cream that turned out to be a) completely lacking its ice cream and b) a rather dry, dull interpretation of a molten lava cake. As the rare dud we experienced there, we let it slide without comment.
On our last day in Asheville we stopped for breakfast at Over Easy, a cute diner with an emphasis on organic/hippie granola fare. We bypassed the smoothies and wheatgrass and went straight for the avocado BLT and egg, cheese, and bacon sandwich on a croissant. Both were served with a freshly made fruit cup. I kept raving that the tomato on my sandwich had actual color and flavor ("If I were served a BLT with a tomato this flavorful in DC, I'd cry tears of happiness.") The locally roasted coffee was also strong and good.
Speaking of good coffee: Izzie's was a true find. One sultry afternoon I ordered the equivalent of a Starbucks Frappucinno with an extra espresso shot, and I couldn't get over how excellent it was. I'm sure copious amounts of heavy whipping cream were probably involved, but I didn't care. We returned the next day to wake up over espresso drinks and were again impressed. Plus the guy behind the counter steered us to Over Easy for a great final breakfast in the city.
Overall, we were very impressed with the level of food game in Asheville. It's definitely keeping pace with, and in some cases, surpassing major cities such as Washington, DC, Philly, etc. I loved the seemingly sincere farm-to-table ethos and promotion of all things local. I hope to come back and eat my way through the city again very soon. We're still kicking ourselves for not returning to Cucina24 for the $62 tasting menu (a steal by DC standards). We're also really like to check out 12 Bones for lunch.
For anyone visiting Asheville for the first time: If you have a few hours to spare, I recommend checking out the foraging tour, which is as interesting for the glimpse of the local hippie culture as the horticulture. It's a bit out there (metaphysically speaking), but fun. http://www.notastelikehome.org/Carver...
Curate was eff-ing amazing. The chef was formerly at El Bulli under Ferran Adria, and is an absolute sweetheart. The food was damn near flawless. The wine list is awesome and the prices are super reasonable. That was one of the best meals I've had in a long time, I couldn't more highly recommend it.
Tapas - Curate or Zambra downtown; or Enoteca in Biltmore Village (next to Rezaz's)
Lunch - Posana or Laurey's Catering downtown or Blue Water Seafood on Charlotte St.
Wine Bar - Sante in the Grove Arcade or Sazerac for roof top bar
Dinner - Cucina 24 or Posana in downtown. Admiral in W. Asheville
High(er) end - Table -downtown; Grove Park Inn - Horizon's or Biltmore restaurants
Dessert- Chocolate Lounge
24 Wall Street, Asheville, NC 28801
1 Page Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
1 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801