Whether you're seeking comfort food or have an adventurous appetite, Asheville, N.C., excels at an impressive array of cuisines.
The fresh flavors of the Carolina coast meet Southern specialties and Island spice, while classical cuisine stars at upscale inns and passionate chefs create inspiring menus in hip venues in the bustling downtown. This picturesque lesbian- and gay-adored town offers eating emporiums from down home to stately homes (visit www.exploreasheville.com).
Named after an Indonesian legend, and a legend in its own way, downtown Asheville's The Laughing Seed (40 Wall St; 828-252-3445; dinner entr?es: $5-$15) serves the best vegetarian food in town. It's also a winner for those seeking casual dining. Delicious Mexican and Asian concoctions grace the menu -- from sweet tangy barbeque roll-ups to East West quesadillas. One of the top Southern dining destinations, Savoy (641 Merrimon Ave.; 828-253-1077; dinner entr?es: $19-29, fixed price menus $65-$135) is a modern venue that serves a succulent selection of line-caught fish alongside home-baked breads and desserts.
Caf? on the Square's (1 Biltmore Ave.; 828-251-5565; dinner entr?es: $8-11) picture windows peek out onto downtown Asheville's bustle. Those inside or on the perfect people-watching patio sample fine American cuisine from Carolina flounder to Cajun fried eggplant and andouille sausage, as well as charming seasonal menus. For Asheville's most extravagant dining experience, Gabrielle's at Richmond Hill Inn (87 Richmond Hill Drive; 828-252-7313; dinner entr?es: $19-27, fixed price menus $79 and $139) offers Four Diamond dining in a rich cherry-paneled room with a three-tiered chandelier.
Mark Rosenstein, a remarkable chef who built and opened his first restaurant in 1971 when he was just 19 years old, is responsible for The Market Place's (20 Wall St; 828-252-4162; dinner entr?es: $24-30) intriguing and innovative continental cuisine. Flower-adorned plates of Southern home cooking with an uptown twist are the specialty of Tupelo Honey Caf? (12 College St; 828-255-4404; dinner entr?es: $8-18). Every morsel is delicious -- from biscuits and apple butter to Creole cassoulet and Tupelo honey frozen custard.
Raising the Bar
Asheville has a flotilla of great breweries with tasting rooms. Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company (675 Merrimon Ave.; 828-254-5339) offers some excellently crafted brews, as well as a second run theater, pool tables and video games. It's popular with the local college crew. Green Man Brewing (23 Buxton Ave.; 828-252-5502) is a small operation, offering opportunities to watch the brewer concoct his brews.
Tastings at the out of the way French Broad River Brewing (101-D Fairview Rd.; 828-277-0222) are often accompanied by live music. Sant? Wine Bar (1 Page Ave.; 828-254-8188) opened in 2006 and serves a palate-pleasing selection of olives, cheeses and crackers with its excellent selection of wines by the glass.
In the summer, fields around Asheville are laden with strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, plums, peaches and watermelon. If you want to take home the freshest tastes of North Carolina, head for one of the many U-Pick operations. Check Asheville Tourism for the best farms for the fruits of your desire. Stock up on award-winning wines from America's most-visited winery, Biltmore Estate Winery, whether your tastes run to red, white, ros? or sparkling. Check the site for times of behind the scenes tours and grape stomps.