I lived in Asheville as a child. Now, having traveled all over the world, it remains one of the best places I have ever been. It has been green and organic far before it was the cool thing to do. (Although I totally support the trendiness of the organic food movement, misguided as a lot of it may be.) In Asheville, we lived in a pretty stone house on the side of a mountain where you could get up in the morning and go pick blackberries for your breakfast and then go swim in a waterfall. There aren’t really any chains there, everyone is very community oriented, etc etc. This is why it is often compared to Brooklyn/Portland. Regardless, I love going back to visit and will probably move back there eventually, and live in a self made cabin in the woods away from all this city nonsense. But for now, I visit. And when I visit, I always make pretty much my first stop Tupelo Honey Cafe, which has always been one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at. This time I traveled there to hang out with my best friend Charlie, and I also tried his favorite, Sunny Point Cafe for the first time, which was awesome.
We drove from Lancaster, SC, where we had been staying at my parent’s lake house (That post will come next) and didn’t even bother to drop off our stuff. We went straight to Tupelo and got on the wait list. We wandered around the cute little park across the street for a few minutes, and then it was tiiiime! We got seated at the bar so we could watch the chefs in action, not because they were hot, although the entire staff does happen to be very good-looking, which certainly doesn’t hurt things. Haha. I can only imagine how creeped out they must have been having two fat people staring at their backs and threatening to steal other peoples macaroni and cheese as they tried to work. Our server, Avery, was the best, super helpful, really attentive, the works. Sometimes living in New York, where bad service is considered normal and acceptable, you forget that places full of people with manners exist. Asheville definitely has impeccable manners.
Some places give you chips and salsa. Pickles and cole slaw. Bread and butter. Tupelo gives you the best biscuits I have ever had (Including my grandmother’s AND my own) with a side of their homemade fresh fruit preserves, butter and honey. This particular day’s special was blackberry preserves and peach butter. ::Wipes tear:: Seriously, I could have eaten just the biscuit and been the happiest girl in the world. But there was more to try, and only so much room in my belly. So I behaved, and set half my biscuit and spreads to the side to deliver to my mother later, as did Charlie. We are such good kids.
Grits are a favorite in my kitchen, but grit cakes I have yet to make, awesome as they are. I think its because if I learned how to fry food like this, I would, well, fry food. We got an order to split, and I again set half of my aside for my mom. The waitstaff is starting to think I am insane, as I will not let them take my half eaten plates and am continuing to order food. The cakes are make with cheese grits and are doused in hot sauce and served with sunshot salsa (so so fresh and good) and sour cream. Yum.
Next up, veggie melt. We couldn’t decide between it and the roast beef po-boy, and as perfect dining companions, I got the veggie melt and he got the roast beef and we traded halves, my favorite way to eat. This baby is served open faced on grilled sourdough wheat bread topped with fried green tomatoes, lemon aioli, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, spinach and melted havarti cheese. Be still my heart. The really need to rename this one though. “Veggie Melt” is something people pass over. It should be called The Fried Green Garden. Or something. Regardless, I am very particular about sandwich ratios, and this was absolutely perfect. Thin yet sturdy bread, mostly veggies, and a well thought out cheese. Love me some havarti. And I chose sesame asparagus as my side, and was pleased to get a huge pile of it. I hate when you order fries and get like, 4 potatoes worth, or a vegetable, and you get 3 little stalks. Who can eat four potatoes? Also, pickled okra comes with the sammich. SCORE.
And the roast beef po-boy. Holy Shit. Too much bread for me, but I am a freak. I peeled the crusty part off and squished the soft parts around everything else. Yes, I know. I try not to do it around people who aren’t used to being embarrassed by me. Which is no one. Tupelo says – “We slow-roast and season our thinly shaved prime rib to medium rare, then serve it with fried green tomatoes, shredded lettuce and cherry pepper aioli on world-famous Gambino’s bakery bread. This special sandwich is served cold so the cook of the prime rib is fully appreciated.” I wasn’t sure I was going to appreciate this cold, and I was WRONG, and they were right. It was unbelievable.
It really has been so SO long since I had a meal that good. And I really did get a tear in my eye. I know part of it was because I consider the south my home, and it felt good to be back, but it was also partially peach butter.
This isn’t food, but it is worth mentioning. Charlie is in the hotel business for half the year (the other half he is lucky enough to make wine in New Zealand) and this is where he works. The breathtaking Grove Park Inn. So dreamy. And made me want to watch The Shining really badly.
We had drinks on their terrace, and this is the view! Also a good example of how my beautiful, fit mother did not share any of her great Native American genes with me. Haha. Well, besides the hair. That I won.
We got up early the next day and headed to Sunny Point Cafe to try their famous all day breakfast menu and tour their gardens. Here you can see whose genes I DID get. Haha.
Sunny Point grows a lot of their own food, as a lot of places in Asheville do, and most get the balance from the surplus of incredible farms nearby. There is no question that this is why this city has some of the best food in the world to me. Great soil + great people = great product. It is as simple as that. i mean, just look at this bounty, and right in their backyard.
Yet another face shaped meal has come my way this year! I ordered the Southern Omelette, a decadent hug of egg around fresh tomatoes with thick cut smoked bacon and pimento cheese. Chipotle grits and an angel biscuit. If you have never heard of an angel biscuit, they are sweet, not savory, and lighter than a usual biscuit. These had sugar on top and tasted very croissant-like.
The grits were good, but mine are better. Either way, this is how they should look, Northerners! Texture porn!
And pimento porn. : ) Don’t worry, we hiked and swam in the mountains for the rest of the day, and I am sure I burnt off at least a bite of this decadence.
My father got the Greek omelette, which was filled with baby spinach, fresh tomatoes, artichoke confit, red onions, and feta cheese, and it was awesome as well.
I find the best thing to do after a day full of exercise is to drink. And aren’t I lucky that one of my oldest and most wonderful friends, Geoff Alexander, owns and operates a beautifully curated wine and beer shop. Appalachian Vintner is an incredible space, and I couldn’t be prouder of Geoff for what he has done with the place!
Geoff was unfortunately out of town, but his supercool brother Charles hooked us up with a great flight of all the beers they have on tap. And although I fell in love with 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon on this trip, which I got to have again here, the stand out of this flight for me was the Petrus Aged Pale, an old, sour beer that puckers your lips and makes you feel strange and new.
You can’t visit the south without having some good BBQ, and since 12 Bones unfortunately not open for dinner, we headed to what we were told was the second best place. Luella’s BBQ where I was served a super spicy Bloody Mary with…..olives stuffed with pimento CHEESE. Yes Ma’am!!! Sorry for the horrendous photo. And for the two missing olives. Whoops.
Charlie got the pulled pork with fries and mac and cheese, which was mediocre. I loathe crinkle fries, so I can’t comment there. But the pork was great. As were the hush puppies.
I got the baby back ribs with fried okra and green chile grits. YUM. Both were spectacular. Green chiles make everything better. And check our yummy pimento cheese dip starter in the background. I only ate half of this meal and I still thought I was going to have a heart attack.
But isn’t that what America is all about? And don’t we love it here!?! We do. We also love sarcasm. And in our case, we celebrate by wearing ridiculous outfits when hiking and pose in front of waterfalls making phony smiles and using fake accents.
Nothing else compares to this.
And for a fried green tomato recipe without all the fried, check THIS SHIT out.