A Food Tour of Asheville-Part 1

After making it through another wild Valentine’s I decided to take a couple days off. Looking for a place within quick driving distance of Clinton I wanted it to be relaxing and at the same time pursuing one of my pleasures, food. Asheville was my choice.

Asheville has been popping up more and more in the foodie world for its hip new restaurants. In the next few months Knoxville will be getting a branch of a hot Asheville restaurant, Tupelo Honey Cafe. Not only is the restuarant scene in Asheville thriving, but in the past year a cool boutique hotel has opened up within blocks of many of the best restaurants in town.

Arriving Monday afternoon I checked into the new Hotel Indigo, a chain of trendsetting boutique hotels throughout the world. It’s hard to miss the place, since its 12 story building stands out in Asheville. Booking a corner room which looks out at both the glorious Smoky Mountians ( you can see the famed Grove Park Inn) and downtown Asheville, the view was breathtaking.

My first stop to eat was a restaurant that gets a lot of attention is the Early Girl Eatery. It’s situated on a street that feels right out of London,with it’s cobblestone pavement and all the quaint antique stores, curio shops, wine bars, cafes all situated in early 20th century buildings. It makes the Old City in Knoxville look like a dump.

Image

Stepping into the Early Girl Eatery, one quickly discovers an Asheville custom-waiting for a table. Just about every ‘hot’ restaurant in downtown Asheville is packed. If there is such a thing as Asheville cuisine, Early Girl would be a good example. Basically, the cuisine is based on procuring local foods and cooking it as simple as possible. Lots of vegetarian options. Breakfast is a big staple with grits, pancakes and egg dishes. Very health oriented. Kinda upscale southern’ food meets the slow food movement.

So many interesting dishes on the menu it’s hard to know where to start. Settled on the Local Sausage and Sweet Potato Egg Scramble, grits and multi-grain pancakes and biscuits  Sweet potatoes and eggs sounded like an odd combo that I hadn’t seen before and didn’t know whether this would be one of those weird, awful creations or a taste bud blowout.

Image

Soon the waitress brought a heaping plate of scrambled eggs, local sausage, shitake mushrooms, bacon, chives and sweet potatoes. The first bite had my taste buds kicking on all cylinders. The eggs were perfectly cooked. Most restaurants way over cook their eggs to the point they taste like rubber. I like my eggs runny. The mixture of sweet potatoes and eggs was heavenly. Adding a little spicy sausage and some mushrooms and chives kicks it up another notch. This is hands down one of my all-times favorite egg dishes. Everything in this dish was locally grown or raised.

The biscuit that came with it was okay. I’m not a huge fan of the more hard, scone-like version of southern biscuits. I prefer the the light and fluffy kind. To the rescue though was a delish bottle of jam sitting on my table. From a local farm called Imladris Farm Adding jam with a little butter turned an ordinary biscuit into the next level. This jam was out of this world. Got to track this down and buy some!

The grits and pancakes were okay, but in all fairness, by the time I got around to eating the pancakes they were already getting cold. The breakfast is so popular here they serve it all day. Just be prepared to wait, on weekends they are lined up down the block.

Walking around downtown Asheville it’s truly amazing the number of restaurants and food stores with just about every specialty you can imagine. Being a chocolate lover, I couldn’t resist going into a store called The Chocolate Fetish. Some consider their truffles to be the best in America. I picked 4 different ones-Hazelnut GianduiaAncient Pleasures (with cayenne peppers!) French Velvet and Triple Chocolate to try when I got back to my hotel. Ooh la la. Unbelievable. Best chocolate truffles in America? Certainly won’t argue with that.

Searching for a place to eat dinner I stumbled across an all you can eat mussels night at a french bistro called Bouchon, Mollusks are one of my favorite seafoods, whether they be scallops, oysters or mussels. Being a big fan of french bistro cooking and a $15 all you can eat mussels night had me salivating.

Bouchon is a small bistro in an old brick building. As soon as you enter you feel like you’ve been transported to Paris. The place was jammed packed with a friendly boisterous crowd drinking lots of french wine  and eating hearty french bistro food like onion soup, steak au poivre and cassolete, just to name a few tempting dishes. My mission was the mussels. The all you can eat mussels. You can get them one of five ways-Parisienne, Mediterranean, Beer City, Bleu & Bayou. I started with the parisienne in which the mussels are infused in white wine, garlic onions and butter . While waiting for the mussels to arrive the waiter brought out a basket of delicious french bread. Bouchon has several interesting aperitifs, but  I settled on a house specialty, the Basil strawberry aperitif. A mixture of vodka, strawberries and basil and perfect way to start off a meal. Bouchon’s wine list is spectacular, with page after page of resonably priced french wine by the bottle and glass. My choice was a crisp white wine, that would complement the mussels.

Then the steaming hot mussels came with a complement of pommes frites! I’m in heaven. It didn’t take me long to devour 3 dozen mussels. Since it was all you can eat I quickly ordered another round this time with the Mediterranean sauce, that had white wine, onions, saffron and peppery pepper flakes. These mussels, have been flown in from Boston were wonderful, maybe not quite as fresh as you would get living near the coast, but still very good. Oh, and those pommes frites were not bad, not the greatest, still the french know how to  do french fries better than us Americans.

After finishing off 6 dozen mussels it was on to desert. The banana bread pudding excited me the most. Bouchon lists about 10 different deserts from the typical cast of characters from creme brule to chocolate mouse. The pudding was fine, nothing to make a detour for.

Stumbling out of Bouchon after downing a 12 year old Glenfiddish scotch, it was on to a unique tea room a block down the street and geeez was I in for a surprise.

Most tea rooms I’ve been to have been of the English Tea type with the little shortbread cookies, etc. In fact, Knoxville has an excellent one called Tea at the Gallery. Entering Dobra Tea it’s obvious that you’re in an oriental tea room.

When you are seated at Dobra a thick book is given to peruse of dozens of authentic teas. No watered down blended teas you find at places like Teavana. Reading through the book (menu) is like exploring the history of tea. Dobra is part of a chain of tea stores founded in Prague Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution and the fall of communism in 1989. There are only 3 stores in the U.S., with the owners traveling to various parts of the world searching for tea. Reading the menu/book is like reading a travelogue.

When you find the tea you want the waiter brings back the tea in an authentic tea set just the way it is served in the country the tea was grown. Really authentic. I ordered Long Jing, more commonly known as Dragonwell, one of the most famous Chinese green teas.The tea was amazing and fresh. For people used to watered down, sugary, blended tea, Dobras Tea is probably going to be a shock. For me, it was the perfect, relaxing way to cap off the day.

Wandering out in the wee hours of the night with  the crisp cold breeze blowing in my face my insides all warmed with Dragonwell tea I was exhilarated, so I headed back to my hotel admiring all the old buildings housing shops of various degrees of odd and unusual  curios and restaurants from all corners of the globe offering everything from Authetic Himalayan Cuisine to down home southern cooking and I may add- not a McDonald’s or Burger King in sight. Only in Asheville. Only in Asheville.

Tomorrow, the second part of my food journey in Asheville.

One Response to “A Food Tour of Asheville-Part 1”

  1. Now I want to go there! Thanks for the interesting tour. : )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: