If you like beards, beer, and bratwurst (double entendre intended), Asheville is your kind of place. The mountain town has been on my to-do list for a couple of years and Jordan’s birthday was a perfect reason for a visit! With the early May trip, I was hopeful the weather would be warm enough for outdoor adventuring and cool enough to enjoy the beer sweater of a couple pints. Though the weekend forecast looked grim, Mother Nature shared her good tidings!
We stayed in Margaret’s Cozy Stone Cottage in East Asheville- a convenient 10 minute Uber ride from downtown. The house was one heck of a welcome to Asheville- spacious, eclectic, and relaxing. I was particularly excited to settle into our room and find a print of a painting called Saratoga! The artist, Jenness Cortez, lived near my hometown in Upstate New York and my mom took care of her two dogs, Gobie and Aloo, when I was a kid. It was a warm reminder that the world really is a small place. Skip the overpriced hotels downtown and find yourself a good AirBnB.
Because Jordan and I arrived so late in Asheville, we quickly freshened up and left the B&B with Garrett and Megan (soon-to-be Foland) for dinner at Zambra- a tapas bar and restaurant. I made reservations at Zambra based on a recommendation from one of Garrett’s colleagues. When Jordan heard “tapas,” he audibly groaned. Between having a naturally hearty appetite and increasing his training volume, “tapas” might as well translate to “pay a lot of money to still have to eat a PB&J at home.” Zambra, however, delivered small bites with big flavor at a price that was just right. We indulged in a couple of bottles of Aster Tempranillo and tried nearly every plate on the expansive menu. Some of our favorite noms included: sesame crusted and pan seared scallops, buffalo chicken chimichangas, the roasted leeks, the charred octopus, and the hazelnut encrusted trout. The pace of the delivery of plates was perfect for leisurely enjoying glasses of wine and catching up with friends. With great service, themed décor, and a three-piece band playing, this was definitely a dining win.
We migrated to Wicked Weed Brewery and Taproom for a [completely unnecessary] after dinner drink. The outdoor patio area upstairs was sparsely populated as the tables and chairs were wet with rain and the sporadic wind left the outdoors chilly. Inside, the bar was bumping! There were people everywhere. We ventured down to the slightly less crowded basement and ordered glasses of the Milk and Cookies Stout and Smoked Rye Porter. The beers were tasty, but far too filling to enjoy after dinner.
Saturday morning, we awoke early to hike Looking Glass Rock in Pisgah National Forest. The trail head in Brevard was about a 50 minute drive from the cottage, but other trails, mountains, and sections of the forest are much nearer to Asheville. Looking Glass Rock is the iconic mountain view of the region. The out-and-back trail is a pleasant 6.5-mile +/- walk among rhododendron and mountain laurel with epic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a couple of interesting open rock faces- one of which is used as a helipad. By some miracle, the forecasted rain held off while we climbed to the Looking Glass Rock cliffs.
At the vantage, we feasted on Stacy’s pita chips, hummus, and cheese. Garret and Megan’s pup, Nitro, cleaned up “dropped” crumbs. On a beautiful summer day, I can imagine this spot inundated with people; it’s just accessible enough to have mass appeal. Though a winter visit to the cliffs would be death-defying without crampons or microspikes, the views of the Blue Ridge frosted with ice and snow are probably spectacular.
As wind picked up on the exposed cliffs, we packed up and began the return trip to the car. Seemingly we started our hike at just the right time. More groups of people were climbing as we descended and a sporadic light drizzle began. A lot of hikers were accompanied by four-legged companions. So for doggie owners: pups are allowed! And for doggie haters: stop reading my trip report.
Though there were a lot of dogs on the trail, Nitro took the cake for cutest. Everyone wanted to stop to scratch the fluffy spot behind his little ears. At one point, a small group of crunchy, granola-type people with a couple of pooches, stopped to pet him and one of the girls looked up at Megan and asked, “Brother Wolf?” I heard the query, but was apparently as confused as Megan. We walked away from the encounter unsure if Nitro had just been initiated into an Asheville dog cult. A little research at the car indicated that Brother of the Wolf is a rescue center in Asheville. Yet again, context and complete sentences are important.
Since the switchback descent was lickety-split and the weather was still holding out, we took the couple minute car detour to Looking Glass Falls. If you are in Pisgah National Forest, this is a must-see. The falls is adjacent to the road with a beautiful look-out point at street level and stairs down to the pool at the base of the falls. Despite the chilly water temperatures, I waded out into the pool. Approaching the 60’ waterfall was like driving in a torrential downpour where the windshield wipers don’t quite move fast enough to counteract the rain. The spray coming off the falls soaked me from head to toe. On a hot summer day, this would be better than a water park.
Back in the car, we made the game-time decision to stop at Sierra Nevada. We passed signs for the brewery on our way to hike. Now call me crazy, but I would have assumed that Sierra Nevada Brewery would have been in- oh, I don’t know- Sierra, California? But who am I to question good beer and geography? Turning into the industrial park it was surprising to see the vast Sierra Nevada campus. It looked like a resort. In stark contrast to the smaller craft breweries sprinkled around Asheville, Sierra Nevada is a behemoth, polished machine.
We moseyed to the back of the brewery where an expansive patio with fire pits, backyard games, a concert stage, and ample seating is open for bites and brews. The patio is dog-friendly and infinitely inviting. Our crew ordered pints and plates and posted up in big chairs next to a fire pit. The cloud cover that rolled in made the fireside seats that much more enjoyable. Shortly after our food as ready, the forecasted rain began and we were left scrambling to find cover outside. We wound up eating bratwurst, tacos, and pimento cheese on patio cushions in the cover of the outdoor maintenance shed/bathroom. Though far from the most glamorous dining experience, with friends such trivialities don’t seem to matter. The rain continued and we left Sierra Nevada for dryer locales. On a return visit I hope to take a brew tour. Through the front windows we could see beautiful copper stills and their operation looked extensive.
Back at the cottage, showered and in dry clothes, we game-planned. Our first stop: The Funkatorium. The Wicked Weed brother brewery recently sold-out to Anheuser-Busch. Our Uber driver was sure to remind us of the institutional travesty we were supporting.
When we walked into the The Funkatorium, I didn’t pay much mind to the crowd. It wasn’t until we were roosted on weighty, wooden stools at the hipster-chic bar that Jordan pointed out the obvious. Megan and I were darn near the only women in the packed space. Looking around, there was a neatly trimmed sea of beards and flannel and vests. If I hadn’t noticed the crazy disproportion of men-to-women the night before, I would’ve just thought The Funkatorium was a mecca for men. Though census data doesn’t support the conclusion, I’d say this is the spot to be a single woman in America. I digress.
True to its name, the brewery serves up funky sour beers. Though I was delighted with the vinegary cider-like tastes, the rest of the group was less impressed. We scarfed down a charcuterie board and meandered across the street to a different brewery. Here’s the thing with Asheville: there are so many breweries, in such a small radius, a person can literally ping-pong down the street, open a door, and find their belly at a bar.
Our next stop was at the Burial Beer Company. The small venue was hosting a special event showcasing a multitude of breweries beers. We skipped the ticketed pricing to go to the Green Man Brewery Tasting room. Green Man Brewery has two adjacent spaces- the bougier bar and the garage-like warehouse space. Guess where we landed? We waited out the rain with pints in hand while playing darts and watching the pre-race broadcast for the Kentucky Derby.
With empty glasses we were off to Catawba Brewing- next door to Buxton Hall Barbecue. Zagat-rated and highly reviewed, I stopped at the barbecue joint to put our name in for a reservation. I watched the Derby while waiting in line and caught up with Jordan, Megan, and Garret next door after the race. Catawba Brewing has a huge indoor space with a smaller side patio. After tasting the PB&J beer- which was better than the sandwich- and snagging a glass of the Coconut Porter- also delicious, but vaguely reminiscent of suntan oil- we escaped to the side patio to avoid the cacophony of the band playing in the vacuous brewery. As the wait for a table at Buxton Hall was upwards of 90 minutes, we decided to check-out neighboring Twin Leaf Brewery. Along the way we passed Vortex Doughnuts which was disappointingly closed.
By far, Twin Leaf Brewery was my favorite of the trip. The open space had community tables with board games, table games, and a gargantuan Jenga set. This would be the coolest spot for a first date. Perusing the brew list, there were a lot of familiar styles and flavors- ales, porters, lagers, blah, blah, blah! And then, the Elevensies caught my eye. In a beer town, it’s easy for a microbrew to get lost in the mix. There has to be some unique factor to be stand-out and on the chalkboard brew list, Elevensies hit the mark. The English bitter beer is the brainchild of collaboration between Twin Leaf and Asheville Tea Company. It’s a breakfast beer infused with Earl Grey, malt, and lemon zest. If I never drink any other beer ever again, I would be okay; it was that good.
While Garret flexed his biceps with a paddle at the ping-pong table, Jordan and I started up a game of Jenga. How a childhood game is so entertaining in adulthood is either a testament to the game or the beer: TBD. After a few increasingly rowdy rounds of Jenga, we walked to Buxton Hall.
Before long, we were seated at a four-top adjacent to the huge open kitchen. Asparagus stalks strung like popcorn and cranberries hung as garland above the smokers. Reviews raved about the smoked, fried chicken and being in North Carolina, I knew pulled pork was a must. Jordan ordered a bourbon slushy cocktail that was surprisingly delicious. I ordered a Scotch cocktail that left a lot to be desired. Hungry and curious, we ordered a couple orders of hush puppies and the Pimento cheese dip. For all you non-Southerners, pimento cheese is a salad- like potato salad or macaroni salad- made with cheese. It is literally cheese mixed with mayonnaise and pimentos. That’s it. It is way more delicious than you can fathom and as fatty and nutrient deficient as it sounds. I’m cringing at myself for this a bit, but #YOLO.
Our plates of pulled pork, chicken, and sides arrived no sooner than we were done nomming on the savory hush puppies. Jordan tried to order the ribs and another entrée (that now evades me), but both were sold-out. I suppose that’s a sign that it’s “real” barbecue or a sign that they’re popular menu items or a sign that Buxton Hall needs to prepare more food. Regardless, digging into the dishes: the chicken was a little disarming. It had the moistness and flavor of a well-done fried chicken, but then, just below the battered skin, the smoky flavor added a whole other level of awesome. The pulled pork was okay, but begging for some salt and pepper. The NC vinegar sauce and SC mustard sauce on the table helped compensate for the missing flavors. Jordan and I shared the sides of mashed root vegetables, collard greens, barbecue beans, and potato salad. The root vegetables were tasty, but covered with flavorless pork gravy and the barbecue beans and potato salads were pretty standard. But the collard greens? The collard greens I could have eaten by the vinegary, crunchy bucket load. With a full belly, I was left satisfied, but certain I wouldn’t be back to Buxton Hall- especially not with a +90 minute wait. Hopefully on a future visit, we can forego the trendy atmosphere for a roll-up your sleeves, barbecue-so-good-you-slap-yo-mamma experience.
At night’s end, I realized we had only traveled in a two block radius. The night was fun and filled, but there is still plenty to explore. A return visit is a must. The Uber ride back to the cottage after dinner was undoubtedly a highlight of the trip. You won’t find this on Yelp! and there’s no way to replicate the experience. Our driver, was a stand-up comedian, sitting behind the wheel. From the second we clicked our seat belts until we sat in the driveway for an extra moment for a punchline, he spewed off one-liners that had as roaring.
A girl left Adderall in my Ford Fiesta. Now it’s a Ford Focus.
Why did Arielle wear seashells? She outgrew her B-shells.
I was on duty when I saw a midget prisoner climbing down the prison wall. As he turned and sneered at me, I thought, 'That's a little con-descending'.
The next morning, we were a little slower getting up. But the prospects of fresh doughnuts and a visit to the Biltmore Estate were encouragement enough to shake the morning sleepies. The first pit stop was Vortex Doughnuts. Since passing the closed shop the night before, visions of delicious doughnuts danced in my dreams. The shop had three styles of doughnuts- yeast, vegan, and cake. I sampled the Vortex, Espresso, Salted Caramel, and Apple Fritter doughnuts. Overall: not impressed. The taste wasn’t worth the calories, but you can’t win them all.
From Vortex we drove to the Biltmore. Luckily, Megan scored a little discount on tickets through her work. Regularly priced, the tickets are $65 with a processing fee. The price seems lofty, but after touring the estate, I think the visit is well-worth the cost of admission.
The Biltmore is a sprawling mansion built by George Vanderbuilt of New York City. The cathedral-like home has French influences and was designed by architect, Richard Morris Hunt. It was built as a rural escape from the urban ills manifesting from the Industrial Revolution. The construction of the house was an economic catalyst in Asheville and arguably, Vanderbuilt could be accredited with sparking a cultural evolution in the region.
A sampling of the 250 rooms is displayed with period appropriate furniture for guests to ogle. Some of my favorite spaces in the house included the winter garden, the loggia, the library, the pool, and the kitchen. The splendor and magnificence of each space outdid the previous. Mountain views from every window called visitors outside to the sunny grounds. It is a castle in the country.
The gardens and meadows meticulously designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, whom also designed Central Park and Congress Park in New York, are far too expansive to explore in a single morning. We walked through the neatly arranged French gardens and rose gardens before wandering through the greenhouses to the melodies of a recorder. We also walked to the less manicured Bass Pond and Boathouse. Despite plenty of other visitors the grounds were serene and evoked hopes for long summer afternoons picnicking and reading amid the trees.
As the clock ticked closer to lunchtime, it was time for us to part ways and head north. After goodbyes with Garrett and Megan, we drove the winding pastoral route out of the Biltmore Estate and got on the open road north through the Cherokee National Forest. Though the drive north on I-81 was long, the fulfillment of such a celebratory and fun weekend was well-worth every mile. Asheville is a must-visit destination for suds aficionados and adventurers alike. After a short weekend in AVL, one thing is for certain: we need to return again, soon!