Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Asheville: A Drinking Town with a Mountain Problem

Matt and I had been planning on taking a trip (to somewhere other than New Orleans) for a long time.  He mentioned the idea of going to Key West about a year ago.  Then life happened.  We bought the house, he switched companies, I had an unfortunate new car then newer car situation, so our trip never happened.

About 4 weeks into Matt's 5 1/2 week hitch, he sent me an email saying he wants to take the long-forgotten trip and go to Charlotte, NC.  My thought was "Why Charlotte, when we can go to Asheville instead?"  And just like that, a trip was born.

I booked a room at the Hotel Indigo, and with the magic of a AAA discount, got us the Penthouse Suite for the same price as a regular room (thanks, Dad!).  (Matt gave me a budget for the hotel, I only went $100 over...and I think that's pretty good!)

If you're going to Asheville and want to stay downtown, close to all the shops and restaurants, I highly recommend the Hotel Indigo. The staff is friendly, the rooms are beautiful (and clean!) and its right downtown.  They also have a great little bar and restaurant.  We had breakfast there on Saturday morning.  Matt had the breakfast sandwich and I had the burrito.  Both were made with locally grown ingredients, and were excellent.  The raspberries in Matt's fruit salad were the best I've ever put in my mouth.  I'm not kidding.

Pics of Hotel Indigo:
Photo Credit: Hotel Indigo Asheville
Because I am terrible at remembering to take pics of everything. 

The bedroom of our suite. 

Little kitchenette with fridge, but no microwave.
I found that a bit odd.

Yes, that is Matt on the floor, inspecting the craftsmanship of the coffee table.

And the craftsmanship of the tray on the coffee table.
The fireplace is gas, operated by just the flick of a switch. 

And finally, the balcony, which I thoroughly enjoyed
until the weather took a turn for the frosty side.
We had a ton of recommendations from friends and family, and even a Pinterest board dedicated to this trip.  But what we found was to just go with the flow.  We're really good at that (actually, Matt's really good at that and I just try not to have a type-A melt-down).  We (I) kind of had an agenda, but Matt is a fly-by-the seat-of-your-pants kind of guy, so that's what we did.

Our recommendations on food and drink are:

Jack of the Wood - an Irish pub with serious pub food.  Not your average pretzels and chicken wings here, but Rabbit Ragout and Shepherd's Pie with lamb and parsnips.  Try the Green Man ESB, you won't be disappointed.

We met some really cool guys at Jack of the Wood, who own Hostel of the Mountain, which is where Matt says we're staying next time we go to Asheville. If you have a 4-wheel drive, you'll have easy access to the cabins, if not, prepare yourself for a 2.5 mile hike.  I'm sure its beautiful, but I'm very thankful for that F-250 4x4.  Hostel of the Mountain was the inspiration for this purchase:

Hostel of the Mountain does have bathrooms,
but Matt thinks it important to be prepared and informed. 
Wicked Weed Brewing - What can I say?  This place is awesome!  There are so many Wicked Weed beers that I wanted to try, and only so many that I could drink before getting totally schnockered. I'm pretty sure I had the Moasaic Saison and the Oblivion, and I know I had two more, but what they were, I couldn't tell you.  We also had some calamari, which wasn't the best I've had, but was pretty fabulous nonetheless.  They also have gourmet popcorn and pretzels on the snacks menu, and a whole host of delicious options for lunch and dinner.

*Word to the Wise:  high gravity beer + high altitude = much lower tolerance for alcohol. Just keep that in mind when you're throwing back your third Hop Burglar IPA and you'll be fine. This was our last stop for the night. Matt hailed us a cab because the three block walk (up hill) back the hotel was more than we could handle. Taxis hang out around this place, for good reason.

The Thirsty Monk -  We had some seriously delicious local food at the Thirsty Monk.  I had the Goat Lady BLT and Matt had the Lamb Sliders.  Both were excellent.  The Patton Ave location features a floor for American beers and a floor for Belgium beers.  We tried a few of both.  They feature a beer "flight," which is four 4 oz. samples of your choice.  Since there are so many to choose from, you could easily drink samples all afternoon and be totally satisfied.

Table Asheville.  Their motto is "from farm to table" and they mean it.  The most important thing you can do at Table is SIT AT THE BAR.  There are only four seats available, MAKE SURE YOU GET THEM.  The bar is situated right next to the open kitchen, where you will have the most wonderfully personalized experience.

Naomi, the bartender, is delightful.  Matt gave her full discretion on his cocktails, and she didn't hold back. They even age their own cocktails.  Not to be mistaken for distilling spirits, but actually mixing cocktails (whiskey, bitters, etc.) and putting them back in whiskey barrels to continue the aging process.  Unreal.

Megan, one of the chefs, was right in front of us pretty much all night.  We watched her create the most beautiful Charcuterie board, and decided we needed to order one of our own.  She personalized ours, asking us, as she made it, things that we did or didn't like (we like everything).  She filled our board with house smoked meats, freshly grown and pickled-in-house vegetables, house-made mustard, and delicious local cheese.  The almond butter is something that can only be described as grown-up Nutella on steroids.  Megan even told us how to make it at home.

She gave us little samples of things coming out of the kitchen, like the Atlantic Salmon Crudo. (Think you don't like radish? Think again.) And beef tar tar, from a steer that was butchered just hours before.  Amazing!

Our entrees did not disappoint.  Matt had the Monkfish, which was served with fresh English peas, rutabaga, seaweed, whey, and turmeric butter.  He thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had the pork hock with smoked gnocchi, gaujillo chili, sweet potatoes and queso.  It was a stick-to-your-ribs kind of dinner, and I enjoyed every bite!

And for dessert, Matt had bread pudding with bacon-coffee ice cream.  Did I mention they make the ice cream in house, too?  I had ginger-lime Semifreddo, which was the consistency of a cheesecake, with the tart and sweet flavors of lime and ginger, offset by fresh Marscapone cheese.

GO TO TABLE, trust me, just go!

We had heard excellent things about Tupelo Honey, which we did try to go to, but Matt has this thing about waiting for a table, so we politely declined their 45 minute - 1 hour wait.  Although I'm sure it would have been worth it, we had more than a few options for lunch without a wait.

We also didn't even bother with the tour of the Biltmore home and gardens.  We met a very nice couple at Wicked Weed, who suggested, at this time of year, to skip the Biltmore and focus more on shopping and exploring downtown.  We took their advice.  And although I really wanted to see it, I'm glad I didn't spend a solid 3 hours touring a house when I only had 1 1/2 days in Asheville.  For those of you who MUST go to the Biltmore, the insiders (really, this chick worked there) say the best time to go is July or August.

We did some exploring on our own, and drove some truly beautiful mountain roads, taking in a lot of scenery.  We also did a lot of sleeping.  That may not be your idea of a successful vacation, but hey, we enjoyed the hell out of our mid-Saturday afternoon nap!

One thing we weren't prepared for was the weather. We knew there was a good chance for rain, but the forecast said the temp would be in the mid 60s.  Don't trust your Weather Channel app! He lies! Temps were in the low to mid 50s on Friday and most of Saturday, until the blizzard brought 30 degree temps, snow and wind gusts up to 60 mph on Saturday night.  That was insane.

I woke up to the sound of our balcony furniture scooting around, doing a little snow dance.  The wind was so fierce that the potted trees at the hotel were bent over backwards.  We decided not to venture out downtown that morning, so we just packed up and headed home.

Damn you weather channel!  If I had brought my Uggs and parka (which I don't actually have, but now have an excuse to buy), we could have eaten brunch downtown!  

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Asheville, and we will most definitely be back.   If you're planning a trip there soon, I hope this helps you out!  Some of these places are off the beaten path.  We just happened to walk up on Table, and that was the best discovery of the trip!  So, do your research, look up a few addresses, then throw your carefully planned agenda out the window and just enjoy yourself!

The only picture we took of ourselves in Asheville.
This was after Table before cocktails at Hotel Indigo.
We were fat, happy, and more than a little wind-blown!

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