Sunday, September 19, 2010

Asheville Reflections

When you hear a lot of great things about a place, you sometimes wonder if it will live up to expectations. Some people feel Asheville, NC has lost some of its charm since it’s been “discovered”, but for a first time visitor, it still holds a lot of charm. Asheville is diverse enough to satisfy the outdoors type, the shopper, the artist, the foodie, the party goer, the reader or the tourist.

There is a definite food culture here and the area is on the forefront of local, sustainable dining. Once again, there’s food for everyone too—Japanese, classic southern, vegan, steak…upscale or inexpensive. All the meals I had (other than the hotel continental breakfast) were memorable. A few favorites:

L.A.B. (Lexington Avenue Brewery)-serving their own beer and a diverse menu of upscale brewpub food—and obviously a popular spot. I had the arugula salad (with crunchy apples, sweet/spicy nuts, brie and champagne vinaigrette), but would have loved to try the soft shell crab banh mi if I were a little hungrier.

Laughing Seed-all vegetarian menu, with a lot of vegan options. I had a delicious cremini mushroom omelet with goat cheese, peppers and onions.

Table-local ingredients with a different menu each night. Loved the corn chowder with blue crab—probably the best soup I’ve ever tasted. Their homemade ice cream and French press coffee were the perfect finish.

Truffles from Chocolate Fetish-don’t be afraid to try something different-the pistachio basil truffle was my favorite.

There are some great shops throughout downtown and on Saturdays, local artists and craftspeople sell items in the park and streets. The Woolworths has an old fashioned soda fountain but the rest of the space is now filled with local artists’ wares. Downtown Asheville also has plenty of nightlife, with bars of all kinds, live music venues and plenty of locally brewed beer, in addition to the nice restaurants with plenty of outdoor seating for people watching. We enjoyed the views and weather from two rooftop bars as well. I’d recommend the Rankin Vault Cocktail lounge—great prices with the option of hiding in the dark cocktail lounge or enjoying the weather at sidewalk tables. The Frog Bar offers a number of infused liquors made in-house and makes some unique cocktails with them. I found my nirvana at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. The way to my heart: a huge selection of used and rare books surrounding you as you enjoy a great glass of wine (and perhaps some great local cheese). The books and wine are all for sale as well. I’d be a regular here if this were home.

There’s often a lot going on in the area and the weekend we visited was no exception. Activities included a beer festival (with blues music), an arts festival in nearby Weaverville, a symphony performance, and the Roller Derby. You have to love a place that has the symphony and roller derby in the same arena on the same night—definitely a diverse town! There is a large drum circle in the park every weekend and no shortage of local farmers markets. Asheville offers all of this, plus the local attractions (The Biltmore, Thomas Wolfe memorial, the art museum...) and the entire surrounding area with plenty of outdoor activities. It would be hard to imagine anyone not finding something to like here.

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