Variety Abounds Across the Asheville Area
By Charlene & Richard Mixa
A mountain town on the rise! Asheville, North Carolina enthralls visitors and locals with an array of activities. Recently recognized by Frommer’s as one of the “Top Must See Destination in the World,” it continues to enchant tourists. Asheville is more than the town where George Vanderbilt erected his massive mountain retreat, the Biltmore. Today it teems with interest to fit anyone’s desires. A Foodtopia with 250 independent restaurants and a 1,000 plus family farms, farm-to-table is the real deal. Plus the craft beer craze has Asheville being “Beer City USA” with over 20 microbreweries. Western North Carolina wineries offer outstanding wines, tasting rooms, wine events and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Entertainment options are extensive from traditional Bluegrass folk music to major theatrical performances. Each visit to Asheville has us finding new and diverse “things to do.” Join us for a sampling of the Asheville areas culinary and cultural scene.
Cheers & Bon Appetite
Cheers! The Wine & Dine Tour, from Western North Carolina Wine Tours, promises a tantalizing French dinner and tastings of nine different wines. On the comfy van ride through the mountains, we learn the history of North Carolina wine. Amazing! North Carolina is home to the 400 year old Mother Vine on Roanoke Island, “the oldest scuppernong vine in the state and the oldest cultivated grape in the world.” Today the state boasts over 100 wineries. Beautiful scenic vineyards line the farm lane to the tasting room at Addison Farm Vineyards. Spectacular mountains, lush valleys and scenic vineyards are seen from this impressive vineyard and farm. In their spacious tasting room, the owner shares the story of converting the family farm to growing grapes just seven years ago. The tasting includes 6 different wines from a mild Pinot Gris (GWINN 2013) to their dessert wine a Chambourcin grape (GRATITUDE). We especially like the SMOKEHOUSE RED, with its rich color and subtle smoky taste.
Next stop is Fontaine Vineyards where owners, Jackie and Michel, welcome all to this spectacular vineyard perched atop a small mountain. WOW! Asheville is visible 20 miles away. In the small tasting room, two travelers participate in a “Wine Baptism!” The wine tasting is done using the traditional French silver tasting bowl. All wines are superb from rich reds to the crisp whites. On the upper porch with a fabulous panoramic views of the mountains, we savor the multi- course French dinner prepared by Michel, a world class culinary chef and baker. The dinner is superb! Jackie shows us around the Fontaine Vineyards that specializes in weddings and events. Cheers! The Wine & Dine Tour is excellent. The vineyards, the owners, the wines, the scenery and the dining create a wonderfully romantic experience.
Step into a speakeasy and the 1920’s at Lex 18!
Tonight it’s a Speakeasy! Lex 18 in downtown Asheville is modeled after the Eureka Saloon an Asheville speakeasy made famous by Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel. Exciting that Lex 18 is at the same site as the original speakeasy. Touted as an Asheville Restaurant Southern Appalachian Supper Club Moonshine Bar, we are excited to see “Cabaret Can-Can & L’Amour.” Vintage attire is requested. Upon entering the club all diners are elegantly dressed for the 1920’s. The bar bustles serving fabulous cocktails and moonshine concoctions. Seated in an intimate dining room with only 22 diners, our magical evening begins with a multi-course dinner of fine French cuisine and a bottle of French wine. After the entrée is served the show begins, a delightful play with a spin on auditioning at the Moulin Rouge and the need for this infamous can-can venue to make changes. Wild can-can dancing, contemporary and vintage love songs, farcical magic, blend in this touching story, all performed in the middle of the dining room. Vive la can-can! The cast is most impressive and the show is entertaining in this unique speakeasy setting. Lex 18 is a true speakeasy offering specialty shows, live music, excellent dining, some amazing cocktail concoctions and the fun of dressing in vintage attire.
Great Food and Great Bluegrass Music!
The North Carolina Mountains resonate with the sounds of Bluegrass. The perfect place in Asheville for a fantastic food and the “high lonesome sound” of bluegrass music is Isis Restaurant and Music Hall. Located in West Asheville, Tuesday night’s Isis features bluegrass music, along with gourmet dinners. A former theatre from the early 20th century was carefully converted to a large open dining room with the raised stage as the central focus. Seated at a table for two near the stage, our dining experience begins with a tangy Sicilian Bruschetta, followed by entrées of a savory Grilled Salmon Gratin and tasty Carolina Mountain Trout. Definitely not the traditional Southern fare. The finale is a luscious dessert of Nutella ice-cream sandwich. Sipping our wine and beer, we delight in the bluegrass music of the Darren Nicholson Band. From foot tapping to hand clapping to Darren’s witty tales it is a terrific evening. Following the Band’s performance, the stage switches to an Open Mike with other local bands and entertainers on stage for an evening of downhome bluegrass music. The upstairs balcony fills and the Music Hall is packed as the music begins. Isis Restaurant and Music Hall offers a variety of entertainment along with fantastic dining in a unique setting
Asheville’s Newest Restaurants
New restaurants continue to pop up in Asheville’s culinary scene. Checking out two of the newest restaurants of Local Provisions and Buxton Hall Barbecue, we find two excellent yet very different eateries. Don’t be fooled by the plain exterior. Local Provisions, a new restaurant on Biltmore Avenue in the heart of downtown Asheville charms with clean sleek décor and tantalizing celebration of the flavors and ingredients of the South by executive chef Justin Burdett. Opting for the half bottle of wine and local craft beer, we settle in for a leisurely dinner. The farm-to-table menu offers the traditional (large) dinner or the more tapas style with selection of items. Chef Justin pays homage to the cooking traditions of the South and incorporates innovative techniques with progressive flavors. Richard selects the Large Entre of Seared NC Snapper with grits, kimchi, Evan’s greens and fennel. Delicious! I opt for tapas plates starting with the “Preserved” of the Sweetgrass, a triple cream brie cheese with pecans and a hearty bread. Fantastic brie! The Baby Greens Salad is fresh and crisp, while the Smoked Sunburst Trout with roots, shoots – radishes, onions, and a delicious peach chutney is beautifully presented and tantalizing. Our scrumptious dessert of a Strawberry Pana Cotta (buttermilk) with a delicate cucumber water sauce is refreshingly light. Local Provisions connects the community through a sense of place – as both a gathering place for family and friends while celebrating good food. Be sure to stop in for dinner or check out their Sunday Brunch.
It’s the Whole Hog! Buxton Hall Barbecue, one of the newest Asheville eateries on the South Slope, specializes in whole hog barbecue. The restaurant is immaculate with a blend of modern and rustic in an enormous, historic building that once served as a wood-floored roller rink in the 1930s, a boat show room before that, and various auto shops. Blending aspects of the old with the freshness of the new, Buxton Hall offers a menu of Southern comfort foods along with their unique barbecue. Curious about barbecuing a whole hog, we see the large freezer with huge hogs hanging in the cooler then see the hogs cooking on a special barbecue pit. Buxton Hall Barbecue smokes its hogs Eastern NC style, low and slow for 18 hours over hardwood coals, infused with vinegar mop, a family recipe. My dinner of the North Carolina style whole hog pork is delicious, along with the Southern sides of collard greens and mashed potatoes. The tender fall-off-the-bone St. Louis ribs are tonight’s special are accompanied by savory green beans. On a recommendation from our waitress we share the peach pie dessert which is a delicate combination of a pie and custard. Super! Buxton hall Barbecue is really a unique place to dine on Asheville’s growing South Slope.
On Stage There is Trouble!
Yep, “there’s trouble right here!” Two fantastic shows at two different theatres have “troubles.” as well as trials, tribulations, and romance. Smooth talking con artist and swindler Harold Hill creates chaos in The Music Man and the farcical adventures of a drag nightclub, its manager and his transvestite partner bring confusion to La Cage Aux Folles. Bravo! Flat Rock Playhouse, North Carolina’s State Theatre never disappoints! The Music Man production is fantastic as we watch con artist Harold Hill swindle families into buying expensive instruments and uniforms to create a boy’s band. Actually the “trouble” is Howard Hill not the pool hall. Fantastic songs add to the depth of the show with songs from the rousing “Ya Got Trouble” to the romantic “Til There Was You” to the grand finale of “Seventy-six Trombones.” The show, the cast, the sets, the music and productions are excellent. Flat Rock Playhouse, in the tiny town of Flat Rock, continues to bring fantastic productions to the western North Carolina Mountains. We leave singing the songs from the show. Having seen other productions at Flat Rock Playhouse and the Playhouse Downtown (in Hendersonville), we continue to be impressed with the variety of shows and quality of the productions.
“Face life with a little guts and lots of glitter!” states Za Za in the Asheville Community Theatre production of La Cage Aux Follies. The troubles are many in this farcical tale of George, the manager of a drag nightclub and Za Za his transvestite romantic partner, also the nightclub’s star attraction. When George’s son wants to bring home his fiancée, troubles are many with attempts to be a “normal” family. With grand style and humor there is still a touch of reality in the lives of the characters. A show stopper is Za Za song, “I Am What I Am!” Asheville Community Theatre presented a wonderful production of La Cage Aux Folles. Absolutely excellent community theatre.
The sampling of culinary and culture venues is just a touch of the variety offered in Asheville. New restaurants, new breweries and a variety of entertainment continue to be found in Amazing Asheville. We also stopped by a few of the newest breweries of Sweeten Creek Brewing, just outside of town, the large Bhramari Brewhouse on the South Slope, and New Belgium Brewery across from the River Arts District. When visiting Asheville, be sure to stop by the Asheville Visitors Center on Montford Avenue for and suggestions on all this town has to offer. From small food trucks to elegant four star dining to local music to large productions, the city definitely has something for anyone’s desires. Cheers!
Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E Walnut St, Asheville, NC 28801
Asheville Visitor Center, 36 Montford Ave., Asheville, North Carolina 28801
Buxton Hall Barbecue, 32 Banks Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Hwy, Flat Rock, NC 28731
Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, 743 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Lex 18, 18 North Lexington Avenue Asheville NC 28801
Local Provisions, 77 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
Western North Carolina Wine Tours