Week in Asheville - Admiral, Blackbird, Curate, Homegrown
While I know I'm not necessarily telling you anything you didn't already know, but after spending a week eating in Asheville I have realized how lucky the locals are to have regular access to these great restaurants and food scene. We are from Florida, which isn't necessarily the hot spot of the locavore movement and is more of a chain restaurant market with a few local bright spots. We chose these restaurants by lurking on the Southeast board for a while and seeing what you guys thought were the positives and negatives of your current dining options. So thank you to all of you who contribute to the board and write thoughtful postings about what is going on. Warning - this review is long, so avert your eyes if you easily tire by long-winded write-ups.
We had two dinners at The Admiral over the course of the week - it was that good! Of course the menu changes daily, but we did love all the salad options and had each variation of the mussels both times we were there. We also had veal schnitzel and duck breast small plates - both of which were just perfect portion sizes and delicious! It was our preference to graze through small plates in order to be able to sample as much as possible, and the portion sizes were definitely large enough that between the two of us we were stuffed by splitting 3 small plates and a dessert each night. One item to note that I haven't seen mentioned about The Admiral - the homemade ginger ale is the best ginger beverage you will ever have, truly amazing, spicy to the point that it reminds me more of a ginger beer rather than a ginger ale. I really appreciated such a tasty non-alcoholic beverage option. Also, I have seen reviews that complain about the service. We went on a Friday night and a Saturday night. The Saturday night was during Memorial Day weekend and somewhere along the way there was a miscommunication about our reservation and it was no longer on the books come that Saturday (which was completely booked from open to close). Drew helped us out and reserved seats at the bar for us at the time we requested and truly worked hard to make sure we had a great evening. They didn't have to do that and could have just said the reservation is not there, period. The service was warm, comfortable and spot on, which definitely matched the quality of the food. Each night our dinner ranged from $40-50 with tax and tip - a ridiculously low price for the quality of food and service we received.
Before going to a bluegrass concert at Pisgah brewery we stopped by The Blackbird for their Sunday supper. We split their homemade sausage with creamy grits, catfish, and coconut custard cake. The homemade sausage was juicy and had the perfect snap. Of course creamy grits are delicious when done well, which usually seems to mean loaded with butter and cream, and this small plate of them didn't disappoint. The catfish was brightened by a good lemon and herb seasoning. The coconut custard cake is what took home of the prize of best dish of the night though, it was huge and one of the best versions that I've ever had (and at $7 it could feed a family of four easily). The Blackbird is a really beautiful restaurant in a very picturesque part of Black Mountain. The atmosphere and food makes for a nice night out and worth the drive from Asheville.
We had a small dinner at Curate, so we didn't necessarily sample enough to give a true review of the overall menu. We had the charcuterie, pan con tomate, gazpacho, and fried eggplant. The charcuterie was delicious and I felt was definitely a good value at $12. The gazpacho was solid, nothing great and seemed kind of small for $5. The fried eggplant was very tasty, perfectly fried without being greasy - which is hard to do with eggplant. The rosemary and honey was a perfect complement to the eggplant, and really elevated the dish. Wasn't too excited by the dessert options so went around the corner to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge - so happy that we did - had the chocolate olive oil cake that was to die for! I think there are some things on the menu that are good values at the price, and some items that may not be, but for a light dinner Curate hit the spot and didn't break the budget.
Went by Homegrown for a casual quick dinner after going to the Botanical Gardens and was pleasantly surprised by how good the food was. I loved the farm-to-table menu and we decided to try the best of both worlds by getting the blackened sunburst trout and fried chicken breast. Had some collard greens, cheese grits, and the farmers salad as sides. The chicken was so juicy, seemed to have been brined, and was perfectly seasoned. I'm not one to order fried chicken much, but this was definitely one of the best fried chicken dishes I've ever had. The trout was awesome as well, great seasoning, not overcooked and nicely brightened by the vinegary radish slaw on top. With a sweet tea, all of that came out to $25, which made us appreciate the dinner even more. They serve solid tasty food in a casual atmosphere at great prices, and they source food that you can feel good about eating (which is becoming a rarity these days). If I lived in that area, I would definitely make Homegrown part of my regular restaurant rotation.
Overall we loved the food in Asheville. The atmosphere is laid back and casual, but that doesn't mean the food is dumbed down. There are places there doing very creative food at reasonable prices and not acting pretentious about it. The farm-to-table movement there seems like a genuine attitude and not just a tag line to get people in the seats. We really appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into many of the dishes we tried and loved the variation. The food there really does southern cuisine proud and we felt really lucky to be able to experience it.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Asheville, Asheville, NC
Thanks for the great reviews! As a long-time visitor and recent relo to the Asheville area, I often feel that folks who've been here a while can be pretty jaded about a food scene that is actually ASTOUNDING for a town this size! Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Isn't the Admiral great?!
Thanks for the informative reviews. We're going to be in Asheville/Hendersonville area this weekend to drop off the Offspring at camp. We have decided to celebrate Father's Day next Sunday and I'm casting about for a good choice for Sunday night. Would any of the places you went to be a good option for a family with an open-mided (at least food-wise), restaurant-trained preteen?
Hopefully someone else can reply to your question that has more experience, but from my point of view of the small list of restaurants we tried - I would say The Blackbird. They have a sunday supper from 5-8PM and although they don't post that menu online, it is very straight-forward fare with some flourishes that make it worth it. I saw a few families in there the night we dined and I think they have a little something for everyone (i.e. a burger with pimento cheese, fish and chips, etc.). You could do a little walking around in that shopping area of Black Mountain and they have seating inside and outside, so weather permitting you could enjoy the fresh air. The Admiral isn't open on Sunday. Homegrown was very good, but very casual in terms of atmosphere (you order at the counter and they bring the food to you, you take your own plates to the cleaning area) - so it just depends on the atmosphere you are going for.
Follow up on early Father's Day in Asheville:
We chose Curate and boy, are we glad we did. Yes, the check was vertigo-inducing. Eight dishes, two glasses of wine, one soda, two coffees, and one hot chocolate came out to $110 incl. tax, before the tip. I wouldn't do it every day. However, the food was outstanding. We had the jamon iberico (most expensive menu item, but a great splurge). The ham is sublime and worth it to know that a taste like that exists. The pan tomate con manchego is as good as everyone else has said. Same for the eggplant with honey and rosemary. White asparagus with lemon-tarragon vinaigrette and aioli was lovely, although the asparagus was very cooked. Chorizo wrapped in fried potato slices is both tasty and clever. The sauteed mixed mushrooms in Sherry and garlic shrimp are both excellent, but the saute cook had a slightly heavy hand with the salt. The carmelization on the mushrooms really brought out their flavor beautifully. The chicken croquettes had perhaps a touch of nutmeg and something that lent an unexpected sweetness but the tastes came together well and the croquettes were fried impeccably.
The service was excellent, attentive without being obtrusive. And I'd like to give kudos to Asheville restauranteurs once again for how welcoming they are to children. My child absolutely loved the meal and was treated like a diner (as opposed to a kid). She was so grateful that she expressed her appreciation to both the staff and the chef. I saw at least 2 other children in other parties. I only have experience with a few restaurants in town, but from what I've seen, children are welcomed and are treated like adults in most of them. Thank you, both parents and restauranteurs of Asheville. You're clearly doing something very right.