Asheville, NC travelogue (early summer 2011)

Asheville Junket:


Quick & dirty: To begin with, Asheville is Beervana. Loads of local breweries in converted garages and industrial spaces, most all with a bar, drinking room, stage & live music. These Asheville cats have got it dialed in. And you know what? The beer is pretty freakin’ good. There’s a great art scene led for the burgeoning River Arts District, a good music scene, and good food. And the downtown is compact & cozy with loads of tempting options. Somebody recently said to me Asheville is the next Austin. I don’t see that ever happening (despite the fact a W Hotel is on the rise), but hopefully it won’t be encroached to the degree Austin has been. Onto the q&d on what we think you should do.



Travel day – R.I. to Asheville, NC: Sure you can fly into nearby locales like Greenville, SC, Charlotte, or maybe Knoxville, TN, but being summer and ll we choose the road trip by auto approach which with leaving on a Saturday resulted in 850 miles of smooth sailing on interstates in just over 12.5 hrs. I-95 to I-287 to I-278 to I-80 to I-81 to I-26. I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia s beautiful and the ride into Asheville on I-26 across Appalachians is breathtaking.

For us, lodging is all about location and we choose the Downtown Inn & Suites. A bit shabby on the outside, but decent on the inside, we had a 5th floor room in the hotel/motorlodge with our door opening to a view of the Blue Ridge & Smokey mountains. It’s the right price and literally right in the heart of downtown. No brainer unless you’re a stuck-up ass.  Oh yeah, if you reserve online or via phone request a room with the mountain view.

Once settled, it was a 0.3 mile walk to Craggie Brewing just down the street on Hilliard. In the upper 80s, it was very warm inside the small, but very nifty taproom.  Try resisting the thirst temptation offered by their home page. We sure couldn’t and a couple of cold beers was the perfect elixir after the long car ride. There was even a barefooted troubadour on the small stage adjacent to the taproom providing the night’s entertainment.

It was 4th of July weekend, so the town was lit up with 4th festivities – live music in the park at city center, a giant bluegrass jam session at another park at the end of downtown near the courthouse, and plenty of people milling in and out of the shops and restaurants. Bars/beer joints were in abundance.

Next stop for us was Lexington Avenue Brewery for dinner. A relatively new brewpub, the beer was top notch and the cuban sandwich for dinner pretty decent. They’ve also got live music going with Colonel Bruce Hampton there that evening, but not my jamming’ cup of tea.



The best way to check out new surroundings is via a walk or run. We did a run/walk in the AM to get a taste of the town. It’s beautiful. Dug the quiet and shady complacency of Church Street and we’re not even church going people. By the way, we also discovered a small smoldering fire outside a medical practice on Patton which we notified the fire department about. Noble citizens already and we don’t even live here.Â

Sunny Point Cafe in W. Asheville was recommended for breakfast, particularly for their chipotle and cheese grits, biscuits, eggs, etc. Quite excellent food. (Side note: My wife purchased their cookbook and it has already resulted in several excellent dishes on the home front.)

Categorize West Asheville as the funky part of town. We cruised it with notable sites including Harvest Records (excellent stock- found a Floyd Tillman 45, among other things), vintage shops, more restaurants, etc.

This was “feeling-out” day and next stop was the River Arts District. Situated near and along the railroad tracks between downtown Asheville and W. Asheville, it a mix of former factories and newer buildings now used for artist space. The offerings at the various spaces were far & wide. Being a holiday weekend, things were rather quiet. Not to fret, one of the building also happens to house The Wedge. It’s a brewery/pub on the bottom floor of an old mill building abutting the Norfolk Southern Railroad line. There’s an indoor taproom, a nice porch area, an artsy outdoor beer garden with some incredible metalwork, and even picnic tables in the parking lot. The beer offerings from the IPA to the Hemp ale to the Heffeweissen were all real tasty. One could wile the hours away here and being too hot out to do much else, we did just that.

A dip in the pool at the hotel cleared the heads a bit and it was time for food. We headed just around the corner to the Asheville Brewing Company. Word had it the pizza was pretty good. A favorite for families what with their large covered outdoor area where they show movies in the evening, we hung on the inside to keep cool. While the beers were decent (I dug the IPA), the pizza was mediocre at best on this evening. Â

From there it was up the street to Jack of the Woods for music. Situated just across the street from the Downtown Inn & Suites, among the beers offered on draft are those of the local Green Man Brewing Company. I choose their IPA which is a British style variant and quite bitter, but good. On stage that evening was the Sons of Ralph who mixed country rock and bluegrass and on which the latter they were pretty good.



Can’t remember the last time we spent a Fourth of July in Rhode Island. The streak continues.

The Early Girl Eatery located downtown on Wall Street was ours, as well as countless others’, destination for breakfast. A long wait, but well worth it with a meal that even challenged our absolute favorite, Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, MS. Highlight of the meal an incredibly tasty tomato gravy on our ????.

The legendary Blue Ridge Parkway runs right through the outskirts of Asheville and needing to burn off our breakfasts, we headed South down the parkway for hike on Mount Pisgah which is one of the highest points in N.C. The Blue Ridge is a marvel of sorts and something everyone should experience. Not long into our drive thunder, lightning, and rain, rain, rain struck. We got to the trail (1.5 miles to the summit) and waited for a break in the weather to begin our trek. The trail was moderate at best, but about a mile and a quarter up the skies opened and the same stormy barrage as before occurred.  We tried to take cover under some small trees, but got soaked anyway. (Tip: there is an observation deck at the summit that would have provided decent cover from the elements.) After 30 minutes of pouring rain, things subsided and we headed to the top. It offers an unobstructed 360-degree view. Things cleared a bit when we reach the top, but one can only imagine how incredible the view is on a clear day. Oh yeah, the skies opened once again just as we reached our car.

Feeling a great thirst, we made a stop at Beers at The Wedge on the way back to quench things. This place is incredibly comfortable.

Dinner that evening was another recommendation, the Nine Mile located in the historical Montford district. About 1 – 1.5 miles form the hotel, we decided to walk there just to check out some of the incredible homes, most all with giant porches. Side note: If you’re looking for a bed & breakfast in Asheville, Montford is where you’ll find many of them. The Nine Mile serves up Caribbean and Jamaican based dishes and does it quite well. Plenty of local beers on tap. I opted for a pasta dish with jerk chicken which hit the spots.



One must-do recommendation we got was BBQ at 12 Bones. After another morning, albeit late morning, run/walk and with the lunch hour approaching, we BBQ would be a good way to begin the day. We had heard about the lines at 12 Bones and folks weren’t kidding. A rather nondescript looking joint on the outside situated in the River Arts District, we arrived at noon-ish to see a line wrapped around its outside. When in Asheville, do as Ashevillians do which is hop on line. It moved quickly and offered time for conversations with locals on their favorite menu item. The ribs were all the talk. We each went for the ribs, the wife picking a honey mustard glaze and myself a blueberry chipotle. Put simply, it was worth the wait. Lots to look at on the inside and a great patio area for outside dining.

Being in the River Arts District, we checked a few more galleries and fell for some very cool and reasonably priced screen prints on wood by a young artist named Jon Graham depicting a DJ from long ago putting a record on the turntable. Even had a nice chat with him. Checked out a few more spaces all of which had been closed on Sunday.

Getting into the latter part of the afternoon, we headed to The Thirsty Monk located just around the corner from the hotel. It has bars on two floors with the basement bar devoted entirely to only Belgian beers and the other floor to all other drafts. We choose the Belgian and had a couple of very nice brews.

Still feeling the need to quench the thirst, it was a quick walk around the corner back to our destination of the first night, Craggie Brewing, for one more. Boy I wish I had a Craggie in my town.

Dinner that evening was in West Asheville at The Admiral. Always like to check out Yelp listings and no Asheville restaurant received more accolades than The Admiral. Known for long waits, we arrived a bit on the late side (9-ish) and got seats in relatively short order. A small, dark, funky joint with a it of a hipster-ish feel to it, we sat on stools at a bar like counter along a wall in the front of the room. With deep catalogue soul tunes playing in the background and the cooks doing there thing just behind the bar, it made for a very cool atmosphere. The food and drink? Off the scale and worth the price.



Asheville has some very well known restaurants and one such place is Tupelo Honey. Situated in the heart of downtown, it is renowned for its nouveau take on Southern cuisine. We hit it just as breakfast was turning to lunch, but opted to go the breakfast route. The food lived up to its billing.Â

We burned things off by walking the downtown and checking out the many shops. Noticed the Asheville Art Museum had free admission after 3 on Wednesdays, so we decided to check it out. Located downtown, it was not a very big museum. We took our time and were still out of there within 20 minutes.Â

From there it was off to Highland Brewing located in an industrial park on the outskirts of Asheville. Highland is the largest of the locals and the only one of the bunch to bottle six-packs (all others are strictly growlers and bombers). They offer a tour at 4 pm each day. We arrived about 4:15, but they allowed us to join in mid-tour. It is the usual brewery tour and they provide samples of about 5 or 6 of their beers during it. All were quite good, in particular the mocha chocolate stout. They had by far the largest barroom and entertainment room and put on some rather large events as part of their regular entertainment series.

Feeling a bit cheated what with the small samples and the fact Highland was not selling beer in their barroom on this day, we headed to the French Broad Brewery located about 3 miles from our hotel very near the Biltmore House tourist mecca. Located in a small industrial park, it was as small as Craggie consisting barroom with a stage crammed in. Let’s call it cozy and its four beer offerings very good. Opted for the IPA and the ESB and each got high marks.

Feeling the wife was beered-out and needed a cocktail, dinner that evening was at downtown place called The Market located on Wall Street. We should have sensed something was up when we entered and were just about the only people in the place. They seated us in the restaurant and the menu offerings were pretty limited – small plates and not many of them. Feeling trapped by an over-familiar waitress, we were stuck. The food was only okay and there wasn’t much of it. What really pissed us off was the discovery upon leaving that they had a very full menu of food available in the bar area. Not once did anyone mention it to us! Beware.

We finished the evening with a return visit to Jack of the Woods for their bluegrass jam. Bluegrass jams can go in a lot of directions and while I have no doubt there were some good players at the venue that night, this was one of those everyone-huddle-around-on-the-main-stage-and-play situations. Suffice to say they were not playing to the audience and being in the audience, it was very tough to get into the music. At least the Green Man brews on tap didn’t disappoint.



Another late AM run/walk to check out the neighborhood.

We decided to forgo breakfast and zoom into lunch and check out White Duck Taco located on the edge of the River Arts District. Only open since mid-May, the tacos, all made to order were excellent. I opted for a Greek taco with lamb, feta, etc and a crispy chicken taco with panko crusted fowl done up BLT style with a special sauce. Damn it was tasty. The wife went for the Bangkok Shrimp taco and was blown away.

Fully nourished, it was back to the Blue Ridge Parkway, this time heading in a northerly direction for the Craggie Gardens Mountain hike in honor of one of a favorite new breweries. A one mile walk, it takes you to the highest elevation grass meadow mountain along the Blue Ridge Pkwy.

Heading back to Asheville on the parkway, decided to take a detour to Black Mountain, NC. A tourist spot located about 20-30 minutes east, it was a town full of shops, etc. What caught our eye was a folk art store called Anthm and in particular, a couple of paintings from Memphis-based artist Lamar Sorrento that were hanging outside the place. Owning several of his works, there was no way we were skipping this joint. A small space, it had a number of items that caught our eye by Mr. Sorrento along with another artist named Ellen Langford from Mississippi. A beautifully framed painting of legendary Memphis band Big Star really caught our eye.

Checked out the various shops around town. Call them quaint. The walk did offer time to let Big Star sink in to the point that we took the plunge. Â

Also located in Black Mountain is the Pisgah Brewery. Situated in an industrial park on the outside of town heading back to Asheville, Pisgah is owned by a music loving aficionado puts on large outdoor shows on the grounds of the brewery, not to mention events on the smaller stage located in the barroom. We hit the place just as the skies opened to unload a deluge of rain. On this day, the offerings on tap were a bit limited, but all good and in particular the flagship beer, Pisgah Ale.

Only two more breweries left and upon our return to the hotel, we opted for check off another. Green Man Brewing is located about 0.5 miles from our hotel in the Craggie/Asheville Brewing Company area. Soccer is king here with it running on the TVs during all open hours in the comfortable barroom. They also offered an outdoor porch/garden for your drinking pleasure. We opted for the barroom and enjoyed their various offerings.

After a little rest at the hotel, we felt the need for burgers. Our destination, Burgermeister located on the drag in West Asheville. Decked out in music motif – album covers, records, etc. – their signature dish is the Meister Guiness Burger which is beef that is first smoked and then soaked in Guinness Stout. It was freakin‘ excellent. Also serving a slew of local beers, this was one comfortable burger joint.Â



Last full day in Asheville and have to say that it is an easy city to warm up to.

Made a return visit to Sunny Point Cafe in W. Asheville for breakfast.

After cruising other parts of Asheville to get a better feel for the place, it was back to the River Arts District to check one more gallery that had been closed on our two previous visits during the week. The artist was someone named Joyce Thornberg whose paintings hanging around the outside of her gallery had caught our eye. On this day she was in and hard at work with some very hardcore country blues playing on the stereo in her space. A very engaging personality given us the story behind almost all the paintings she had on hand, the wife fell for a cat painting.

To celebrate, we headed downstairs to the oh-so-comfortable haunt, The Wedge. Sipping beers on the outdoor porch, we got to witness yet another thunderous deluge. A few Hemp ales make a rainstorm even better.

Dinner that evening found us back at the Early Girl Eatery simply because we couldn’t make a decision. It didn’t hit the spot anywhere near the breakfast experience.

Asheville has a pretty decent music scene with its two flagships operations being The Orange Peel and The Grey Eagle. Each had been closed for the bulk of the week because of the July 4 holiday. Our destination this evening was The Grey Eagle for the tempting twin bill of the Dex Romweber Duo and Jimbo Mathus & Tri-State Coalition. With a large music room with adjoining barroom serving food and most of the local brews, not to mention an outdoor court yard, this was one of the cooler clubs I’ve been in. If you go, check out the many photos adorning the walls all taken by the doorman/bartender. A photo in particular that really caught the eye was one of the late Vic Chesnutt in a pile of autumn leaves. Too bad they weren’t selling. As for the music, it did not disappoint. We even had a celebrity sighting, that being two members of garage band The Reigning Sound who live in Asheville plus artist Suzie Millions who painted a Tammy Wynette piece we bought at Yard Dog Gallery in Austin a bunch of years ago.



Travel day had us up and out the door by 9 and over to West Asheville to grab a couple of sandwiches from a provisions joint just across from the Sunny Point. Once secured, it was on the road for the mostly uneventful 850 mile and almost 14 hour trip home.


Asheville dug itself in deep and we will be back.