My friend Lee says: "Andreas, we should go to Asheville for a long weekend to drink beer." The four of us hit the road a few weeks later armed with a list of pubs and breweries. Asheville has eight local breweries, and we quickly realized that followup trips will be required. We also ate extremely well, even Jennifer who usually has trouble due to her gluten and dairy intolerances. One of the restaurants where we ate dinner is gluten free, and the others had gluten-free menus or enough familiarity with Celiac to fix tasty dishes for her.

This wasn’t a photo-oriented trip, but you can see a few photos from it here.

Stay:

The Residences at Biltmore: A two bedroom suite with a kitchen and fireplace set us back $800 for three nights ($133/couple/night). The staff could not have been more friendly, and the suite made for much more leisurely mornings and evenings than if we had gotten two hotel rooms. The gas fireplace was also fantastic after coming in from near-freezing weather. Our only complaints were the harsh overhead lighting (no dimmers) and lack of reading lamps in the living area.

There are plenty of other options for staying in Asheville. Hotels range from about $55/night to as much as you want to spend.

Food:

All of the restaurants where we ate had low or moderate noise levels, so we never had to raise our voices to hear each other. This was a pleasant change from Atlanta, where many restaurants confuse ear-splitting volume with atmosphere.

The Admiral: This former dive bar is now a small restaurant that serves outstanding food, and the kitchen pays attention to quality ingredients and good cooking technique. The house special of bangers and sweet-potato mash were delicious, and they had no trouble whipping up a gluten-free sauce for Jennifer’s NY strip steak. Definitely call ahead for reservations. Folks arriving at the same time as us were told that tables involved an hour or two wait.

Biltmore Stable Cafe: We had low expectations for this restaurant in the former stables of the Biltmore but were pleasantly surprised with our lunches. The menu has typical American fare of soups, salads, steaks, and ribs. The kitchen did a fine job with the ingredients and execution. They even had a gluten-free menu.

Digable Pizza: This small pizza joint made us a good gluten- and dairy-free pizza for lunch. The gluten-free crust wasn’t as fluffy as a regular one but was good on its own terms. We couldn’t say the same about the rice cheese, which was fairly bland despite melting well.

Laughing Seed Cafe: This stylish restaurant sits atop Jack of the Wood and has tasty vegetarian fare from around the world. Naturally, they have the wonderful beers from Green Man Brewing on tap. All the tables were taken, so we ate dinner at the bar. It curves around, which made it easy for the four of us to see each other and talk over dinner.

Posana Cafe: These folks serve a variety of American-style meat and seafood dishes, all of which are gluten-free, along with a wide selection of coffees, adult beverages, and mixed drinks. They’re open for breakfast through dinner and have a bar and lounge area. The place has a relaxing atmosphere and there’s no sense of being rushed to make room for the next group.

Drink:

We found this guide to provide a good overview of beer opportunities. I’m a fan of high gravity, heavily hopped ales like double IPAs, which certainly colors my opinions. Fortunately, every brewery has at least one beer like this, so I never failed to find something I liked. There were also many tasty porters and stouts to be sampled.

Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria: They carry a wide selection of local brews on tap as well as ciders and meads. Unfortunately, the smoke from the upstairs area with pool tables and dart boards seeps downstairs into the bar and restaurant area. There are plenty of non-smoking pubs in Asheville, so we won’t be going here again.

French Broad Brewing: This brewery has a small tasting area along with a stage for live music and a projector for movie nights. The bands go on pretty early, so you could catch a show before heading out for the evening. We liked their seasonal Wee Heavy-est Scotch Ale enough to buy a bunch to take home. The others were well done but just not my style.

Jack of the Wood: This Celtic-style pub has the wonderful beers from Green Man Brewing on tap along with a wide range of other adult beverages and English food. The IPA and porter were both quite good, and they had a seasonal high-gravity beer that was delicious. They frequently have live music as well.

Wedge Brewing: This brewery is located in the bottom level of a building that houses a number of art studios. The funky railing leading up the steps and along the porch is welded together from scrap engine parts and tools. These folks don’t screw around with their beers; we had trouble deciding where to start. It ended up not mattering, because all of them were fantastic. The tasting area has plenty of room and all the peanuts you can eat. We were here for a few hours, and quite a few people stopped by for a pint or to fill up growlers.

In addition to Wedge Brewing, Green Man Brewing, and French Broad Brewing, Asheville’s breweries include Asheville Brewing, Highland Brewing, Pisgah Brewing, OysterHouse Brewing, and Craggie Brewing.

See:

Biltmore Estate: Plan on spending a day exploring the mansion and grounds. Photography is not permitted inside the house. It doesn’t feel like a typical house museum in that you’re free to explore the house at your own pace. Areas are roped off, but you don’t feel like someone is watching you the whole time. The security folks are more like docents in that they’re very knowledgeable about the house and its history. There’s also a conservatory, winery, and many other attractions on the grounds.


Shop:

Bruisin’ Ales: This specialty shop boasts over 800 beers from Asheville and around the world. No wine, no spirits, no cordials, just beer. Lots and lots of beer. Think of it as Toys ‘r’ Us for adults.

Chocolate Fetish: This small shop makes their own fantastic truffles along with other chocolate delights. The truffles taste really, really good. They recommend eating them within 7–10 days and are happy to ship you more.

Hops and Vines: We came across this story by accident when eating at Digable Pizza. They sell everything you need for brewing and have a tasting area for special events. They also stock a variety of beer and wine. Their selection of whole-leaf hops struck my fancy, and I brought home a pound for future brewing adventures.

Mast General Store: It’s actually pretty specific in that they sell casual clothing and outdoor gear. Just don’t expect the selection of REI in the middle of Asheville and you’ll be fine.

Malaprops Books: This in-town independent bookseller stocks a range of books, regularly hosts authors on book tours, and offers a coffee shop with the usual range of caffeine products.

Screen Door Antiques: We stopped by this large antique warehouse to check out the wares. For those not familiar with the concept, individuals rent floor space to display their wares. The cashier handles the transactions, takes out sales tax, and forwards the money to the seller. The vendors at Screen Door mostly sell rustic furniture and decorations, but we did see some mid-century modern. There’s an attached book store that has large architecture and gardening sections but not much else.

Places we didn’t get to try but were recommended by a local friend. These are her descriptions of the places.

Tomato Cucina Latina: Salvodorian and a great place for the flank steak and plantain sucker punch. The décor is ever-changing: just when you thought there isn't possibly another surface to decorate…boom, another grouping of lanterns appear on the ceiling.

The Thirsty Monk: Beloved by those that love the hops and right up the street from Asheville Brewing on Coxe Ave.

Mela: Indian with a great buffet lunch. Impossible to hear one another at dinner over the cling cling cling of the belly dancer.

Chai Pani: Indian street food.

Chorizos: Latin food.

Nine Mile: Jamaican food.

Wasabi: The best sushi in town.

Last edit: 13 December 2009