Saturday, November 10, 2012

Carolinas on My Mind

For the past few years, when the leaves have started to turn, my wife Susannah and I escape for a few days without kids, without much of a schedule,  usually guided only by a series of dinner reservations.  Last year we enjoyed the hospitality of Charleston and the culinary prowess of  Sean Brock at Husk and McCrady's  as well as other standouts like Jestine's  Kitchen and  Ken Vedrinski’s  Trattoria Lucca.

 Eating Local At Husk

This year we chose Asheville as our getaway.  We made a pit stop in Chapel Hill for the night, spending some time at the food mecca Southern Seasons , a foodie paradise with a great selection of fresh and packaged goods.

I was impressed by the selection of hot sauces but disappointed  that Kim Kim was not part of the selection. It's become one of my go-to sauces.

Orecchiette ready for Easter Dinner

After some vintage shopping at Time After Time, where Susannah scored some cowboy boots and a leopard jacket, we had some cocktails before heading to dinner.  Some friends had recommended  Acme Food & Beverage Company  in Carborro, a long standing regional favorite that is still getting accolades after a dozen years, most recently in a 2011 issue of Garden and Gun.   Known for their local sourcing and inventive menus, they did not disappoint.

We lucked out with a visit on "Tightwad Tuesday" where all entrees are an exceptionally affordable $12.95.  I took the opportunity to order some extra treats. I started with  a spicy
Jerk Pork Belly, served over mashed plantains with a hot pepper jelly- local pork broiled crispy with just enough heat, tempered by the sweet plantains. 

I decided to stay in the PIG family with my main course, a grilled local pork chop with sides of bourbon mashed sweet potatoes, Southern collard greens, and wild pear chutney. Perfectly cooked and juicy, the dish was a great combination of savory and sweet.

The dessert was without a doubt one of my top ten...  Acme dark chocolate terrine with a coffee-caramel sauce and fresh whipped cream.

Happy Susannah in sugar coma

After sleeping in, a luxury not often afforded amidst the chaos at home, we set off for the mountains and Asheville. As we headed west, and especially once we gained some altitude, the colors of Fall shared their beauty.   Asheville has a sweet downtown, with beautiful architecture and a collection of locally owned businesses, including many eco-friendly boutiques and galleries.  

Taking Local Seriously

An inventive use of old books

Sculpting with the power of the sun

We had a late lunch at the famous Tupelo Honey Cafe,  one part traditional southern mixed with a pinch of invention and topped by a sprinkling of hippy crunch.  Enjoyed some local Pisgah Pale Ale, a local organic beer, light and a bit citrusy.

  Our server dropped off a decadent Pimento Cheese dip and homemade corn muffins with local honey. 

When in Rome.... Had to try the Appalachian Egg Rolls- pulled pork tossed in smoked jalapeño BBQ sauce rolled with braised greens, pickled onions, and shredded carrots, and served with Dijon and smoked jalapeño BBQ dipping sauces- a nice riff on a familiar dish.

After a lazy afternoon and a pre-concert nap, we headed back out to town for a lovely dinner at  Limones,  a small restaurant tucked on a side street, serving an interesting mix of upscale  Cal/Mex cuisine.

Started the evening with a Margarita Caliente, a blend of Pepe Lopez Tequila, fresh orange and lime juice, a hint of berry and a liberal bit of habanero peppers. Sweet and hot and refreshing.

Decided on a series of small plates for dinner- I often feel that's where a chef truly shines.

Seared scallops with fresh figs and white asparagus

Rabbit Sausage with Truffled Mac & Cheese

Rockfish Ceviche

After dinner we wandered down Biltmore Avenue to the famous Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club  to see The Punch Brothers , with Chris Thile fresh from his recent Macarthur Award.  They were great, the venue was great, the crowd was great- thinking i might have a crush on Asheville-  sorry RVA.

After a great show I hooked up with my friend Nan for a beer. We met at a Slow Food conference in Louisville last spring and she runs the Asheville chapter.

Nothing like a midweek trip without the kids to make you forget what day it is. Not that it really mattered anyway.   Some friends had tipped us off on the best breakfast spot in Asheville, The Sunny Point Cafe .  Their house specialty is Huevos Rancheros, one of my favorite breakfast treats. In fact, when my kids were younger I took them to Kuba Kuba in Richmond almost every Saturday morning, so often in fact that Manny Mendez fondly became  Uncle Manny.  The Huevos at Sunny Point are fantastic, not better, but different than Kuba Kuba's.  Less cuban, and more mountain, the Sunny Point variety come with savory black bean cakes served with local Snow Creek chorizo sausage, feta cheese, roasted tomatilla salsa and herb tossesd red skin spuds, topped with two eggs, cilantro creme and crispy tortilla strips.

The Sunny Point garden, where they grow much off what they serve.

The weather was nice in Asheville, so we decided to pack a picnic and head up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and go for a hike around Craggy Meadows.

As we headed up the mountain, the weather got increasingly dodgy, and was a total fog out by the time we got to Craggy Meadows- we took a short hike through the foggy forest and  decided to spend the rest of the day in Asheville.

Had a drink at the Grove Park Inn in front of the enormous fireplace.  It's a well situated resort on the side of a mountain with beautiful views.

We hooked up with a dear old friend "Spence" in West Asheville, and went to a few art openings.

Indian Summer
Henry McKenna 10 Yr Bourbon, lemon juice, Caravella Limoncello
Amish Apricot Jam, and local sage

Had a great dinner at  The Admiral , a buzz worthy spot and aptly self described as having

With the feel of a dive bar, the food they send out of their open kitchen belies the atmosphere.  It reminded me a bit of Richmond's Mamma Zu.

Buttermilk Fried Frog Legs were served with a Hotyaki sauce and Smoky Blue Cheese dip
...crispy, moist and tender

HNG Beef Tenderloin Tartare

Beautifully presented on a cutting board, this local beef was served with a quail egg, Cahills Porter, and Roasted Garlic Aoli.  Fresh beef studded with capers.  wow. 

With home beckoning we spent our last day at The Biltmore-  America's biggest house, built by George Vanderbilt in the 1890's.

The stonework was impressive with gargoyles staring out onto the gorgeous grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture.

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