The husband and I recently finished up 30 days of the Whole30 food program. I assure you that there will be a full blog post on that little “journey” coming soon. But grab a Coca-Cola, a cup of tea, or your reading glasses and get ready to read a bit becuase this is an extra long post.
During this 30 days, my husband would watch on TV food programs of all the food he couldn’t eat. I would sit there and tell him to turn the channel as he was only making it worse. But, one night he kept it on the Travel Channel to watch Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods: Southern Barbecue. He figured he could safely watch that as it was about meat which is Whole30 approved. Not sure what is so bizarre about BBQ but I guess Andrew knows what he’s doing.
The show got to the portion of the trip where Andrew (I can call him that right? He doesn’t seem like a Mr. Zimmern to me.) visited Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville. The place looked so incredible and the story of the building itself plus the 2 James Beard Foundation nominated chefs, plus the BBQ made me more than curious. I had my laptop open, so I Googled the place and went to their website. Lo and behold there was a banner across the top that they were having an event with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) featuring John T. Edge (also found on Instagram and Twitter) celebrating the launch of his paperback version of Potlikker Papers.
What?! Are you serious?! This was divine intervention! All of that in a former roller rink from the 30s? Sign me up!
I’ve been following John T. Edge and the SFA for a couple of years, and I love what they are doing.
The Southern Foodways Alliance documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. Our work sets a welcome table where all may consider our history and our future in a spirit of respect and reconciliation.
I should probably write another post telling you how awesome they are at storytelling and their support for diverse Southern food and diverse Southern people. I promise to do that later as well. I’m a regular listener to their Gravy podcast which can tell you a yarn and have you hooked on a story and a history lesson real quick like!
The very next day I get an email at work from the better half saying he’s been thinking of that event. We had been to Asheville 12 years ago but being as it is only 3 hours from Atlanta he knew we had to make a road trip for this event. We bought our tickets and away we went.
We arrived there on a Friday night and checked into the Clarion Hotel Biltmore Village. I really wanted to stay downtown. There are some hotels that I’m sure would have treated us very nicely with plush surroundings but we just couldn’t afford the prices even in off-season especially when the Clarion was only 2 1/2 miles away and $68 a night. It got good reviews as well. SOLD! The hotel is an older outside entrance hotel but has very recently been remodeled. It was super clean which earned it 5 stars in my book right there. Our room was on a lower level on the back side next to a residential neighborhood. It was decorated nice and modern with a huge TV, microwave, and fridge in the room. For the amount of time we spent in the room, it was more than perfect. The pillows on the bed were to die for. Just like I like them; squishy!
My only complaints about the hotel were the noise and the entrance. Both of those can’t be helped I supposed due to the original age of the hotel I’m sure. You could definitely hear the parking lot traffic, the housekeeping carts in the morning, and the people on each side of you. Luckily we didn’t have any honeymooners on either side of us! But, it was not terrible. I slept with earplugs at night and that took care of it. Also, the hotel is up on a hill near the interstate and the only way to get to it is to drive through a Texas Roadhouse restaurant parking lot. This parking lot is small and tight and it seemed to be packed anytime after 11 a.m. So, while that was unusual it wasn’t a big deal.
We relaxed for a bit, changed clothes and called Lyft for a pickup (for a discount on Lyft use referral code KAREN533613) for reservations to Storm Rhum Bar and Bistro. We wanted to be able to drink a bit and not have to worry about driving/parking in a city where paid parking is like Atlanta. It’s everywhere. We drank some rum drinks and ate great Southern food in this quaint, dark little eatery. My grilled swordfish on Anson Mills rice was legendary.
From there we had a chilly walk to downtown to find some live music but the places nearby were already sold out. So, we wound up at the S&W Artisanal Eatery because our server at Storm said they had live music too.
The S&W has recently opened up in a classic Art Deco restored 1929 building designed by renowned architect Douglas Ellington and used as a popular S&W cafeteria for 45 years. It is listed on national, state and local historic registers. The current owners are great-nephews of the architect. Inside is a Greek restaurant and a bar. I wish I had taken more photos.
Downstairs is a nightclub and upstairs is more of the restaurant seating and another bar. The hostess told us the music downstairs that night was electronica/Burning Man type music. Ummmm, that’s not really our jam so that would be a no thank you. We were the only ones at the upstairs bar so I could drink and ogle the architecture to my heart’s content.
I literally was rubbing the walls to feel the texture of 100-year-old Morrocan tile that had been lovingly and painstakingly restored.
Saturday morning was spent wandering through the River Arts District. It was chilly and misting rain most of the day which made a foray into this part of town not the most comfortable. It’s a very industrial area with a lot of graffiti and empty old buildings and very disconnected between the art galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants.
To be honest, it’s not very pretty but it’s gritty and dark. There is so much potential here. According to their website, they have a grand master plan of connecting it all with sidewalks and bike trails and such but that must be a long way out. We just had to drive from section to section which I would have preferred not to do since it was next to the river and would have been nice for walking.
There were a few pieces that spoke to me but I came home with nothing. The pottery vase that I really wanted wasn’t sold individually but only as a set which I was very disappointed with. The artist had thousands of pieces in that place but only one with this design and color. He could have sold it to me and then replaced it in the set with another one quite easily because the other 12 vases in the set didn’t match the one I wanted. Scrooge!
We had lunch at the White Duck Taco Shop in the area. It was amazingly good. If you are familiar with Taqueria de Sol in Atlanta it was much like that but with a funkier vibe. Our bellies were full so it was time for a nap before we Lyfted back downtown for the evening.
We couldn’t get into a lot of the places we wanted to eat dinner at and had heard a lot about from various blogs and magazines like Southern Living and Garden & Gun during our time there. We really wanted to try Curate, The Bull & Beggar, and Cucina 24 but reservations were booked and then we just didn’t get a chance to get over to Hole or Early Girl Eatery. There is only so much eating we can do.
Saturday dinner was at Strada Italiano. It was just ok. Nothing more special than just a plain Italian restaurant. The food wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. Kinda bland and not much seasoning. I will give it to them that they had great bacon wrapped stuffed figs though. It was raining again when we were finished so after a little bit of walking around, we just went back to the hotel.
Sunday mornings in the South call for a biscuit. Biscuit Head certainly fills that desire.
This location was a mile from the hotel and located in an old 60s office park. Easy and ample parking but the line was around the building to get in. It was such a small space for seating inside. We waited for about 35 minutes and placed our order and were then seated. This too is another funky hippy place to eat at. The biscuit with fried green tomatoes was as big as my hand and just scrumptious! They have a jam bar with various kinds of butter and jams in mason jars. Unlimited coffee. Quirky decor.
My only complaint is we were seated at the end of a long communal table with benches for 8 people and the 2 of us made 10. We basically could hardly eat our food. I just had to sit with my legs facing outward and balance my plate on my lap. That was not comfortable at all. I would gladly have kept waiting to be able to sit normally with my plate on the table.
Sunday was a gloriously warm and sunny day and perfect for browsing old record shops, tea shops, bookstores, chocolate shops and more. Downtown Asheville is famous for buskers and the video I took of the Carolina Catskins can be seen here. What an unusual vintage sound they have and I love it.
But what about this album? I mean, look at that hair with her electric guitar! What a star! I’m dying to know what the song “Big Boys Don’t Need Mamas” sounds like. I wish I would have bought it. Then I Googled Margie and Y’ALL……..she is still singing! You have got to check out her video for “Lost in Cyber Space.” Bless her heart!
I also could not pass up this $5 Roseanne Cash gem for my basement album wall. It’s some epic 80s with country going on here.
We had already seen the Biltmore Estate 12 years ago so we didn’t feel the need to go again. But Biltmore Village has a shopping district. My Erasable Podcast Fan Club mentioned a website, Cartographite, where you can check for pen/pencil/stationery store locations. And you know I need more pens and stationery. There was one in Asheville’s Biltmore Village named Origami Ink so I had to stop by. Fountain pen artistry is the name of the game here. Lovingly decorated with fancy pens and stationery ephemera I wanted to drop a lot of money in here. Instead, I bought some more wax for my wax seals I use on envelopes and some beautiful origami paper wrapped pencils. They are too pretty to use!
By Sunday evening we were tired from all the walking but super excited for our big SFA event.
We settled in at the bar of Buxton Hall until it was time for our dinner.
Buxton Hall has a private upstairs room where about 50 of us gathered to listen to John T. Edge read excerpts from his book. The tables were set with place cards and menus. It’s a dark and cozy room overlooking the main dining room and perfect for a small gathering. You can see all of Buxton Hall’s photos from the event here.
Rounding out the list of headliners was Ashley Capps, Buxton Hall Pastry Chef, and Buxton Hall Owners/Business Partners/Chefs Elliot Moss and Meherwan Irani. Meherwan Irani also own Chai Pani here in Atlanta (Decatur).
I felt like we were in the presence of food greatness and I was a bit starstruck. It’s not every day that you can be in the same intimate room to personally talk with three James Beard award-winning/nominated chefs and writers not to mention eat their food. People who you read about in your beloved magazines and books. I enjoyed hearing about Ashey’s grandmother and how she baked treats for her. Meherwan’s mid-life crisis turned into the wonderful career he has now.
The guests surrounding my table of six and the other three tables were quite amazing on their own. There was a Ph.D. candidate at our table who is working on research of the “contemporary field of American fine dining through the lenses of high culture, authenticity, race and ethnicity and gender inequality.” She was absolutely funny and teaches John T. Edge’s book in her class. There were other SFA board members there and genuine people who, along with us, are appreciative of not only Southern food in all its formats but the history and people from where it all came and where it is going as well.
As you can see below the menu was astounding. Thankfully, I’m not a picky eater. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe this bounty and the splendor in my mouth that entire evening. From the drinks and food to the camaraderie and the people it was truly one of the best nights ever. I can’t even begin to think about what my favorite might have been. There wasn’t a single detail or aspect of this meal that they overlooked. There were some firsts here for me; the pig ear sandwich, biryani, and navy bean pie. Oh my they were good.
And even though there were seven courses to this dinner we still left with a treat from an old recipe of Ashley Capp’s grandmother.
There is a complete diaspora that this region has of culturally diverse people. The menu that night covered a good bit of it. I didn’t even wear my stretchy pants but I should have. Our Lyft driver on the way back to the hotel couldn’t get over how good and strongly we smelled of BBQ and said he was turning around after he dropped us off to get some for himself. I wonder if he did. Two days after we got back our clothes from that night still smelled that fragrant and mouth-watering smell of BBQ. Eau de hog. We are going to need another trip so that we can try the regular BBQ menu at Buxton Hall. If you are interested in reading more about the whole hog renaissance happening there are some good articles at Huffington Post and the Washington Post.
Monday morning we lazily rolled our still full bellies out of the bed and headed back to Atlanta. We couldn’t eat another bite. There were no brewery or Biltmore visits this trip. You’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.
Final thoughts. . . . . .after all, isn’t it about time?
Asheville is a great little town but we didn’t see it at it’s best since it was winter. It was mostly dreary and overcast and with all the leaves off the trees, everything just looked so harsh. But that’s just winter in the mountains for you. Don’t let it dissuade you from going during the low tourist time. There is still beauty there you just have to look a little harder for it in the historical buildings, the people, and the food. Next visit I’d like to go during warmer months and do more outdoorsy activities like fishing, and kayaking, and even zip lining.1