Road Trip: Asheville, North Carolina

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CookingShorts hit the road this past October for its first ever road trip.  Destination: Asheville, NC

We finally got away for a long weekend of fantastic eats, breathtaking mountain views and awesome music.  This cute and quaint city will remain a favorite on our list and we’ll be sure to revisit it as often as possible.  If you haven’t made a trip to Asheville, NC we highly recommend you put this location on your bucket list.  One of the great things about Asheville is that everything is local.  It appears that most of the shops and restaurants are owned and operated by locals business owners – not large, well-known chains.  Whenever you browse through a store, a majority of the items for sale are made by people of Asheville.  We love to support local business and we were really excited to see others share our vision. 

While strolling the streets one evening, we had the pleasure of running into one of the coolest street bands ever: Blind Boy Chocolate and the Milk Sheiks.  Downtown Asheville has kept its early 1900′s look and feel and these talented musicians perfectly fit the scene.  With their overalls, old-style hats, funny mustaches and southern country blues, we felt as if we stepped back in time.  A mixture of guitar, mandolin, kazoo and saw (yes, a saw played with a violin bow!) attracted a large crowd of foot-tapping fans.  As we stood there in amazement, taking in all the streets of Asheville had to offer, we felt as if we’d come home.

Asheville has tons, and we mean tons of amazing restaurants.  Of course food was a big part of our travels, so we’d  like to share our culinary experiences.  While visiting, we fell in love with four:

Mellow Mushroom:  Mellow Mushroom AshevilleKnown for their chill and laid back atmosphere, these pizza bakers really know how to serve good pizza pie.  The hippy-eque staff gave a vibe as if we were in a scene from Dazed and Confused.  The Mellow Mushroom is actually a chain restaurant, but each location is franchised out to individual open minded interpreters.  As the menu may be the same in all 100 stores, each restaurant’s theme differs a little.  While in Asheville, we set out to find good pizza and Mellow Mushroom fit the bill.  The crust was a traditional pan style, but with a crunchy coating of fresh parmesan cheese baked into the rim.  This made the pizza outstanding.  We are crossing our fingers for a Mellow Mushroom to join the Northern Virginia area.  We recently featured Mellow Mushroom in our Pizza Pizza Pizza post.  www.mellowmushroom.com

The Lobster Trap:  Right off the beaten path is where we found this seafood lovers paradise.  Our first impression was one that will last as everyone there gave you a The Lobster Trap - Lobster Roll and Lobster Mac and Cheesedouse of southern hospitality.  This hot stop had about an hour wait, so we put our name on the list and continued to walk around Asheville.  When we returned to check on our table, the hostess remembered us by name and greeted us with a smile as we walked through the door.  As you walk through the restaurant, all the staff made sure to smile or wave (even the Chefs); they certainly know how to make their guest feel comfortable and at home. 

Their menu, like most of Asheville, was filled with fresh, locally grown produce.  Locals enjoy relaxing at the bar, tipping back fresh Katie and Tinsley doing the CookingShorts 'C'Oyster shots and enjoying the sounds of local musicians.  We choose a sampling of a fresh local salad, lobster roll, lobster mac and cheese, steamed shrimp and grilled corn on the cob.  Everything was amazing, but the lobster roll is what stood out for us.  Many seafood restaurants fill their roll with gobs of mayo or a mayo-based sauce, but this roll differed.  The sweet taste of Maine lobster was the star, with only a hint of mayo.  The slight addition of celery added a perfect crunch. 

The dessert was fantastically unique:  Cinnamon bacon maple ice cream.   The bacon may sound off-puting for some, but it’s a must try!  Maple and bacon are culinary soul mates, but add cinnamon ice cream?  Yes, PLEASE!  The bacon adds nice, subtle salty bits of yummy goodness that help counter the sweetness of the maple and ice cream.  Yum!  Bravo Lobster Trap; we can’t wait to come back. www.thelobstertrap.biz

Old Europe:  Old EuropeWe found this adorable patisserie during our last night in Asheville.  This teeny tiny late night favorite was literally the size of our kitchen, but full of so much charm.  The name says it all; it looked as if it should belong in the middle of an old European city.  The pastry chef fills her cases full of mouth-watering, one of a kind treats.  This sweet spot would be the perfect place for a decadent ending to a first date.  Nothing spells romance better than a couple sharing a hot chocolate and a slice of dark chocolate cake.  Even though it was far from a first date for us, we decided to treat ourselves to a slice of heavenly lemon cake. Ooohhh laa laa –  I think I’m love.  www.facebook.com/oldeuropepatisserie

Tupelo Honey Cafe:  We found out about this popular cafe from the Food Network and Garden and Gun magazine.  Tupelo Honey Cafe Breakfast - French ToastSeveral chefs who came to the Asheville area fell in love with this counrty cafe, so we had to check them out.  The atmosphere was an interesting twist of a down home appeal with a artsy twist.  We were lucky enough to be able to sit at the chef’s bar and watch them prepare our meal.  The menu selection was unique and outstanding.  Sitting at the chef’s bar definitely had its perks, mainly seeing everything that Tupelo Honey had to offer.  We were dining during brunch and the restaurant was packed.  

Popular items that rolled out of the kitchen included their Sweet Potato Pancakes, Grandma’s Maple Granola and Petunia’s Pain Perdu.  We drooled as we watched them prepare the Pain Perdu, so Jason ordered that.  This New Orleans-style version of french toast was super dense, as it was made with fresh challah bread.  Topped with a decadent blueberry sauce, we could have considering it an dessert.  I went for a simple Country Breakfast and I have to tell you, the flavor was far from simple.  I have three words for you, Goat Cheese Grits.  They were amazing!  As I am not normally a fan of grits, this local favorite blew me away.  They were so creamy and tangy; I couldn’t stop eating them.  I still think about them, so don’t be surprised if CookingShorts tries to recreate them.  Just writing about it is making my mouth water.  Jason, when can we go back to Asheville?  www.tupelohoneycafe.com

The Green Sage:  The Green Sage's MissionI (Tinsley) love coffee and like to find the best coffee shop in any city that we visit.  The Green Sage was sure to make itself on my list.  When we were strolling the downtown area, we couldn’t help but notice the long line that wrapped around the street for this little coffee house.  This was a sign of a must try for us.  Once we entered the building, we quickly discovered that it was more than a little coffee house.  It was also a natural food restaurant.  The Green Sage is known for menu items such as the Sourdough French Toast and their made-to-order selection of savory omelettes.  As yummy as those sounded, we were on a time crunch and decided to grab something we could eat on the go.  We decided on their amazing egg and cheese biscuit and a caramel latte.  The biscuit was delicious,  flaky and buttery; the perfect protein-packed bite before our day trip to the Biltmore estate.  The caramel latte was just the kick I needed to get myself going.  One thing that we noticed was that The Green Sage also provided vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options for almost every item on the menu.  Even though we aren’t vegan or vegetarian, sometimes I’m not in the mood for meat, so it was nice to see they provided such options.  We highly recommend The Green Sage for coffee, breakfast or an afternoon snack.  www.thegreensage.net

We couldn’t get enough of Asheville and were thoroughly impressed with the atmosphere, food, architecture, scenery and people.  Thank you to the Asheville residents who served us and helped us find our way.  We hope to return to your gem of a city sooner than later.  We encourage all CookingShorts readers and fans to find their way to Asheville at least once in their lifetime.  To learn more about Asheville, including travel ideas and what-to-do suggestions, check out ExploreAsheville.com.  If you’ve been to Asheville or to any of the places we’ve mentioned, we’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.  Thank you!

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