A Food Tour of Asheville-Part 2

After a wonderful night dreaming about all the wonderful food eaten the day before it was time to get up and hit the foodie trails in Asheville again.

My first stop was breakfast at the Tupelo Honey Cafe. I was overjoyed when I heard that they were going to open a branch on Market Square in Knoxville where the Soup Kitchen used to be. Among many dishes they are famous for, the one the really stands out is the Sweet Potato Pancakes. Along with ordering the pancakes I also got the peach lemonade. The waitress brought me a complimentary biscuit to start off the meal along with some Tupelo Honey. Now this is the kind of biscuit I like. Light and fluffy and buttery. Much better than the biscuit at the Early Girl Eatery. With a good dollop of honey spread out on the biscuit I was in biscuit heaven.

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Then the waitress brought me the sweet potato pancake. My eyeballs popped out! It was the size of a medium pizza. Holy pancakes! Of course size doesn’t make up for quality. Was it as good as it looked? Yes! With maple butter and spiced walnuts on top, all it needed was some gooey maple syrup and it was time to dig in. Oh man was this good. The sweet potatoes worked perfectly with the pancakes. After indulging 3/4 of the way through the pancake I had to throw in towel. I was loaded. By the way, the peach lemonade was just about the best tasting lemonade I’ve ever had. Super fresh as if it was made right on the farm.

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When Tupelo hits Knoxville in a few months I guarantee customers will be lined up around the block for the best new style southern food they’ve ever smacked their lips to. Can’t wait and unable to get to Asheville? Try their wonderful cookbook.

Being a big bread fan checking out a few bakeries was next on my list. According to everything I read City Bakery topped most lists. Considering that Asheville has over a dozen local bakeries, you would think that being named the best in Asheville they’d be baking some mean bread.  While City Bakery was a little off the beaten path the extra walk was good exercise. The layout reminded me a little of Panera Bread. The selection of bread though was very meager. Being early in the morning I opted for a croissant , one of my truly fave breads.

With a little jam and butter along with a cappuccino I found a seat at a table. My two main requisites for a great croissant are is it buttery and how flaky it is.  The outer crust of a great croissant  should literally crumble onto your plate. The croissant at City Bakery was neither. Didn’t have much taste to it and was not flaky at all. A dud, just above a Sara Lee version. With their meager selection and lackluster croissant I decided not to try anything else. Panera Bread is much better.

Still full from the monster sweet potato pancake, skipping lunch sounded like a great idea, plus a little nap. Needed to save all my energy for what was about to come.

Within the past year undoubtedly  the hottest restaurant to hit Asheville has to be Curate. A Spanish tapas and wine bar. Now you may be wondering that its a little odd that a small town like Asheville in southern Appalachia would have a spanish tapas bar, much less a very good one.

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Curate

A little background. The chef that owns Curate along with her partners has trained under some of the most famous chefs in the world including whom many consider the greatest, Ferran Adria of the famed EBulli in Spain. She decided to open her restaurant in Asheville. And the food and the experience is like being in Barcelona or Madrid. You’d never know you are sitting in the foothills of the Smokies. Even though many of the food is sourced locally, some come from Spain like the famous jamon Iberico ham, which is on display when you walk in the door and the chefs are constantly slicing from.

I tasted a little something from every part of the menu. Three hours of wine, tapas and spanish sherries. Whew!

To start off with I got a wonderful Negroni aperitif. Then my first tapas-pan con tomate, kind of an spanish version of bruchetta. slices of french bread with a tomato garlic mixture spread across the top. Excellent. The next tapas was some of the famous jamon ham. While it was wonderful, quite frankly I couldn’t tell the difference between this and italian prosciutto. I mentioned this to the waiter (who happened to be from Oak Ridge!) and he said I should have gotten the more intense (and expensive) version. Now he tells me.

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Pan con tomato

For the third tapas it was fried eggplant with local wild mountain honey drizzled on top with rosemary. Amazing stuff. Now was the perfect time for a nice clean salad, so I opted for the purple kumato tomato salad and bunito tuna and local grown greens. Refeshing and love the kumato tomatoes. You see them here locally in those little packages in the gourmet food stores and Kroger. I’ll have to grab a package next time I’m grocery shopping.

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Fried Eggplant

Now that I’ve clean my palate with the salad it back to more tapas! While I’m setting there at the bar trying to decide what to eat next a nice lady sitting next to me is working her way through the menu and we start talking about what a great place this is. She’s here in Asheville on business and noticed all the rave reviews of Curate and had to try it. Asked her if she ever been to a tapas bar before and she said they had a couple ones in San Diego were she was from and thought this was far better. She also had spent some time in Spain and thought Curate could hang with the best of them. Now that’s quite a compliment.

For the rest of the evening we decided to split tapas here on out so we could explore more of the menu. Next was a saute tapas of wild mushrooms and a dash of sherry. Mouthwatering. Couldn’t have been cooked better. Of course I couldn’t resist something from the tapas grill, so I got a plate of skewered lamb rubbed with Moorish spices. Man this was good. I would have never thought Moorish spices fit in with Spanish cooking , but then  it dawned on me that Spain is just across the Mediterranean sea from Morocco.

Throughout all this I was trying several Spanish red and white wines from an amazing selection of reasonably priced wines by the glass. Each wine perfectly complimenting the food.

The only type of tapas left on the menu was the rosemary ice cream and almond sponge cake. Me and my lady friend dipped right in and felt this was the only miss of the night. Just wasn’t groovin’ our taste buds, even though the waiter raved about it.

Of course I couldn’t leave a Spanish restaurant without trying some of their famous sherry. A wonderful glass of sweet Casa Diva sherry topped off the evening perfectly.

I’ve only begun to touch the huge menu of tapas offered at this amazing restaurant. Can’t wait to come back and spend another 3 hours exploring the world of Spanish tapas.

Leaving Curate I just couldn’t get over the sheer quality and wide range of food offerings available in Asheville. In a town of less than 100,000 this town can compete with many towns in this country many times its size. In fact, within a 10 block area of Asheville I don’t think I’ve seen this many good restaurants except for just three cities in America-New York, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Asheville is America’s little gem, tucked away at the foothills of the Smokies. Unlike the other side of the Smokies (Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg) where its nothing but one big tourist trap with gaudy, tacky souvenir shops, fast food joints, tasteless overpriced restaurants, Asheville offers a non-touristy, European feel and restaurants serving local farm to table food in an amazing array of cuisines from around the world. No wonder Asheville has been called “The Paris of the South” .

How lucky I am that this little gem is only 2 hours away. Only in Asheville. Only in Asheville.

2 Responses to “A Food Tour of Asheville-Part 2”

  1. Martha Webster McIntosh Reply February 29, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Thanks again, Dean. I enjoyed this review too! Can’t wait to go there.

    • Martha, you’ll love it and be amazed. With spring coming up there should be an abundance of fresh produce coming in from local farms. Asheville has some wonderful farmers markets.

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