Asheville is slowly becoming a foodie’s paradise. From restaurants that embrace the Farm to Table concept, to vegetarian restaurants, to eco-conscious cafes, this city is on the verge of something great. Already known as an artist’s city and home to the grand Biltmore Estate and Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville can now add food city to its resume.
Within the past several months, one of my innkeeping comrades, Chris Ortwein, has started offering food tours in downtown Asheville & Biltmore Village. There are three different tours, each with between six – nine restaurants or shops where tour goers get to taste test foods, wine, local beer, spices, chocolate, and just about anything food-related. In December, my mother and I went on the Biltmore Village Tour and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, as well as stuffed ourselves with everything from calamari to beet soup to chicken skewers.
Today, we braved the chilly and sometimes rainy weather, to go on one of the two downtown tours. I enjoyed myself even more, if you can believe it. Everyone met at the Grove Arcade at 1:45 and off we went at 2:00. Our first stop was the Flying Frog. I had eaten lunch there several times, but had never been downstairs where they serve dinner. The Chef at the Flying Frog, I learned, is German and Indian, so his menu combines dishes from both cultures. We sampled some duck breast over sweet potatoes and arugula with an apple butter sauce. I had never tried duck before and was pleasantly surprised.
Next, it was on to The Chocolate Fetish, my favorite place. I already buy chocolate truffles from there for our Romance Packages, but I got to try something new today. They were serving dark and milk chocolate truffles topped with two different types of sea salt. Salt, you ask? Yes, a very fine and expensive type of sea salt. The combination of chocolate and salt was surprisingly delicious. I will definitely try those again.
Stop 3 was the Spice & Tea Exchange where we got to sample some run-of-the-mill pork rinds sprinkled with a spicy salt mix. Again, surprisingly good. Mom vowed to come back after the tour to pick up a pitcher they had that had a small canister-type thing inside where you can put lemon, lime, orange slices, or whatever you want. Fill the pitcher with water and the juice from the fruits will seep into the water to taste it without the seeds getting into the water. There was also a spice she wanted to get. But since we had to keep moving with the tour, we had to come back afterwards.
Stop 4 was the Green Sage Coffeehouse and Cafe. The owners of the Green Sage are the same people who started Earthfare. After it became successful, they sold them and started the Green Sage. It calls itself the greenest restaurant in Asheville, and for good reason. Just about everything they use, buy, sell, whatever, is produced locally, recycled, or composted. The restaurant produces so little trash that it only needs one small trash bin. There was a line to the door of customers waiting for coffee, tea, smoothies, or other quick-make foods. Our group got to taste some delicious tomato soup, a quiche, turkey sandwich, and a veggie burger of some sort. The drink was a red berry sparkling cider that I had never seen before. Everything was delicious!
Next, we were off to Fiore’s, an Italian restaurant with a Tuscan flare. Here we got to sample some beer from local brewery, Asheville Brewery, called Old School Pale Ale. Delish! Along with that was a small caesar salad and a New York-style pizza with tomatoes, garlic, and spinach. i don’t typically like thin-crust pizza, but there was something about the crust. While it was thin, it tasted fluffy. Very good pizza.
Then, we walked several blocks to the Soda Fountain inside the Woolworth Walk. The Woolworth Walk is “store” with artist booths throughout and a small soda fountain off to the side. Here we had a root beer float which really hit the spot. Afterwards, we crossed the street to Mayfels and got to sample a binette (sp?). It was a puffed, warm, doughy pastry shaped like a small square and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Served fresh out of the oven, they were wonderful after being out in the cold.
I had always heard good things about Cucina 24, but had never been until today. Located on Wall Street, the backside overlooks the intersection of College Street and Patton Avenue. It’s owned by two brother chefs and they serve upscale Italian food. Chef Brian demonstrated for us a crepe filled with a cheese mixture (with a bunch of other savory seasonings which I can’t remember). Rather than roll it up like a traditional crepe, he rolled it into a ball, then baked it in the oven for about 5 minutes. It came served with a slightly spicy chunky tomato sauce, just the way I like it. I definitely will be going back there!
Our last stop on the tour was Carmel’s, a restaurant I have been to many times. It’s located omn one of the corners of the Grove Arcade, where we first met for the tour. This place is great, especially during the summer when you can sit outside and people watch to your heart’s content. Today, Chef Sugar (as she’s called) demonstrated a tuna, avocado, cucumber dish that was topped with a sauce mixture that I can’t remember. I am not a fan of raw tuna, but was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it when it was paired with all the other items.
I had not been to most of the places on the tour so I am extra glad to have been able to go today. Thanks again to Chris for opening the tours up to innkeepers (at no charge) as he gets them going. I was able to pick up menus from most places for the menu binder I keep at the Inn for guests and now I can recommend some of these places. Plus, there are a couple I definitely want to return to. One of the benefits of attending the tours is that you receive a passport afterwards that can be used for up to 5 days after the tour at all of the places on the tour. And you receive a discount, typically 10%, when you present the passport for a future meal.
I hope to be able to go on the other Downtown Tour before the end of February since it also has several restaurants I haven’t been to. Right now, I am offering 2 FREE tour tickets to guests when they stay 2 or more mid-week nights (Mondays – Thursdays) in February. This is a $50 value and well worth the ticket price. Biltmore Village tours are on Tuesdays, Downtown Tour 1 is on Wednesdays & Fridays, and Downtown Tour 2 (the one we went on today) runs on Thursdays and Saturdays. All tours start at 2:00 and last about 2 1/2 hours. Walking and eating, a great combination!