On my other visits to NC, I primarily ate meals at the motel, partly because there was a restaurant there, partly because I was way too tired after teaching to go searching for food, and partly because I do not drive in strange places. This time around, I had no choice but to venture out because the Mountain Inn and Suites (Airport) did not have a restaurant, and there were none within walking distance. I did not know, going in, that the lack of motel restaurant was the best thing ever to happen to my free time in North Carolina.
Before I get to the good stuff, let me say one word about airport food: bleargh.
I don't know what they're like out in the real world, but the Burger King Breakfast Sausage and Egg Croissant that I bought at MSP was damp, chewy, and flavorless. And overpriced, which goes without saying. And the slice of carrot cake that I tried to eat in ATL was stale and dry, and the frosting tasted like shortening.
From now on, I'll stick with Seattle's Best Coffee (the fancy versions have enough calories for a meal anyway) (or Caribou, or Starbucks- in the airport, they're everywhere and interchangeable), and whatever scones they have in their display cases (which are also not premium, but they're a whole lot better either of the aforementioned food-like substances).
The concession food at SAFF was as expected for a large festival- okay without being great or terrible. But the Goat Milk Fudge from Heather Lane Farms, was wonderful as always- smooth and creamy and udderly delicious (see what I did there?).
Kris, who is much more adventurous than I am, asked our very helpful motel clerk for recommendations for local food. She sent us to Downtown Hendersonville, about a 10 minute drive away (and since I live in South Dakota, I generally correlate 10 minutes with 10 miles. Hah! It was probably 2 miles... and sometimes it took a lot longer than 10 minutes). Anyway, Downtown Hendersonville has several blocks lined with great stores and many many restaurants (the only town I've visited that smelled as/more delicious was Monterrey, CA).
Our first evening in Hendersonville, we walked the blocks, sniffing and reading menus, and finally settled on Lime Leaf, a Thai Fusion restaurant. The restaurant was lovely, soft lighting and quiet music. I had crab fried rice that was absolutely wonderful (and on those first couple of nights, we didn't realize that portions would be so big that Kris and I could split an entree and still not eat it all). It's as though the crab was infused through the rice- there were no large lumps, and yet the crab flavor was dominant throughout. I paired my rice with RJ Rocker's Son of a Peach beer, a light and refreshing beer with a real peach flavor. Kris had a chicken dish, but I can't remember the name- she won't mind my saying that she's a notoriously picky eater, and she loved the meal (she loved every meal we ate together).
The next evening in Hendersonville, we went to Mezzaluna, Brick Oven and Tap House. Again, the restaurant was open and airy, and watching the cooks toss pizza dough was amusing and entertaining. Neither of us had pizza though- I had pan-fried Carolina Trout with asparagus and rice (the best I've ever eaten), and Kris had the Chicken Marsala. We also had the Bruschetta... yummmm. The wine list looked good, but I can have Oregon and Washington and California wines in South Dakota (not to mention in Oregon, Washington, and California). I opted instead for a local beer that would please my son, AKA Hop Head Said- Asheville Brewing Company's Scottish Highland Ale, a darkish beer that went perfectly with my trout.
The most ordinary meal we ate was at the Biltmore Estate, where we shared a flat bread mushroom pizza at an outdoor table. It was really very good paired with Cedric's Brown Ale, which is brewed on the grounds.
After lunch, we went to the Biltmore Winery and tasted wines. We especially liked the Century White, the Christmas White (which is sweet), and the limited edition Malvasia, which is a dessert wine. I bought a bottle of that and brought it home in my suitcase.
Grove Park Inn after leaving Biltmore. Grove Park is probably a bit newer than Biltmore, but it's every bit as opulent, and maybe a little intimidating. It's a wonderful, huge, Art Deco hotel that has turned into a Destination Visit for many people. We had to park in the hotel garage (no spaces in the parking lot), and we wandered around the hallways a bit before we found our way to the huge, and I do mean HUGE lobby bar and restaurant.
The long lobby is flanked on either end by stone fireplaces that are big enough to stand in, and in fact, one of them houses an elevator. Honestly, the place makes me think of The Overlook, but in a non-haunted way (though it would not surprise me in the least if there were ghosts).
Stickley chairs, and ate our wonderful sandwich, and listened to the music, which consisted of a very talented guitar player, whose taste coincided perfectly with mine: anyone who plays James Taylor live (and not just the usual JT hits, but also Copperline), plus some Jimmy Buffet, The Turtles, and many other songs that I sang along to (luckily, it was quite noisy there, so no one else had to hear me) has my eternal gratitude, and a nice tip.
Tupelo Honey Cafe in downtown Asheville for lunch on our last full day in NC. This restaurant is a real, authentic, Southern Diner, long and narrow, crowded at every minute of the day because the food, quite simply, is the best I've eaten. Anywhere. In my entire life. The chairs and tables are old, and the staff works with and around each other in a fascinating dance- efficient and brisk while at the same time being warm and welcoming to the customers.
The meal started with huge, warm baking powder biscuits and pots of Tupelo Honey and homemade blueberry jam. Then we shared the Chicken Saltimboca- and there are no words for how good it was, paired with a Pisgah Pale Ale.
There are also no words for the pecan pie. I've never tasted anything like it- rich and sweet and so good that we laughed as we ate, not quite believing we were tasting something so incredibly delicious. It's a good thing we split the pie as well- a whole piece would be too much. Half was just perfect. The fact that the pies are shipped worldwide is both wonderful and dismaying.
On our last night, we went back to Hendersonville, to Mrs. G and Me, whose menu intrigued us from the very first night. This lovely little restaurant served interesting and inventive variations of familiar foods. We settled on Chicken and Dumplings (not that it was difficult- we almost opted for that on our first night), and the parsley/garlic dumplings were amazing (and the larger single serving was still too much for the two of us to eat). I had a pomegranate martini with my meal (a bit tart but delicious).
Last, but certainly not least, we stopped in Kilwins Chocolates more than once. Kris liked the cremes and truffles, I loved the Sea Salt Caramels.
Even though most of the meals were reasonably priced, it's still good for our wallets (and jeans) that we had to say goodbye to North Carolina. But I'm going back... believe me, I'm going back.