Hampton hates buying presents, which is why we always take a trip for our anniversary. Since we celebrated his 40th in Miami in February, we went slightly more low-key and headed up to the mountains of North Carolina to celebrate #4 in one of our favorite places: Asheville.
After getting stuck in terrible traffic (which wasn’t at all terrifying while finishing Station Eleven – which features traffic jams as society as we know it ends), we checked into a hotel recommended by our brother-in-law, the Downtown Inn & Suites.
The Downtown Inn was new-to-us… but definitely not new. What it lacked in beauty, however, it made up for in price, location, and a free breakfast that lasted well into brunch time – perfect for when on vacation. This is definitely our new go-to lodging in the San Francisco of the East.
We quickly met up with our friends Josh and Sarah. Fun fact: I presided over their wedding in April 2014, and then Sarah got ordained to do ours the next month!
Sarah and Josh are that good type of friend with whom you don’t talk very much, digitally, but have a blast with when you do meet up in person. We met at Tasty Beverage, a great bottle shop (there’s one in Raleigh that we used to visit regularly)…
…to catch up and decide on dinner. Hampton was craving a burger, so we hit the Rankin Vault Lounge. I don’t know if it was truly the best burger in Asheville, but I had an amazing fancy grilled cheese (with bacon and avocado) with my favorite Zapp’s chips, so it was a great choice.
We made several other stops while dodging raindrops that night, including One World Brewing.
While we were there, we saw a band setting up – which is always vaguely terrifying when you know you want to have a conversation. However, the Bean Tree Remedy was fantastic! They covered some of my favorite songs, and the singer’s voice effortlessly adjusted to the different styles.
The next day, we grabbed a very acceptable bagel breakfast at the hotel, then went shopping. I had decided that since we would be near outlets on this trip, I needed to finally update my work wardrobe and retire the multiple pairs of decade-old Banana Republic trousers whose zippers no longer properly function.
We had mentioned the night before to Josh and Sarah that we wanted to hit the outlets, and they mentioned another great bottle shop where a friend of theirs works. Tonic Mrkt was a total hit, not in the least because they had The Bruery’s Girl Grey, which was brewed in collaboration with one of our favorite celebrity chefs, Brooke Williamson.
She won the first season of Top Chef that I made Hampton watch, so now he feels responsible for her (: I had a draft in store, and we brought a bottle home. The bergamot and tea flavors were much more pronounced in the bottle, but a big win either way. How neat that a bottle shop in an outlet mall A – exists, because clothes shopping sucks, and B – had a keg of this random CA beer!
After shopping, we set out to meet Josh and Sarah at the newish Sierra Nevada Brewery. The Californian company expanded east in 2015, and, as good North Carolinians, we prefer our local and/or craft brews, but Josh is doing a forestry internship there, so we went to check it out.
And were blown away.
Sarah told us, as our mouths were gaping while we took in all the sights, that they joking call the place “Malt Disney World.” And for good reason. Not only can you check out the bottling process, a la the Wonka factory, there’s all kinds of space to hang out and enjoy a brew and some food, a stage, and you can even walk down to the French Broad River… when it’s not flooded…
But the best part: the whole place is super environmentally-friendly, from being a certified bee friendly farm to having composting and recycling bins instead of trash cans.
Once we realized how impressive the place was, we were sad we got a forgettable lunch near the outlets. We couldn’t resist this dessert, though!
It’s a bit of a drive from Asheville proper, but SO worth checking out!
That evening, we went to our first Chef Katie Button restaurant. Well, Nightbell is her second restaurant, but it was our first reservation of the minibreak (: All of the drinks this season are inspired by Tolkien, which was super fun for Hampton.
It’s a sharing menu, so we made our first choices, a mini steak tartare “ice cream cone” and a caesar salad “taco” in a jicama shell… but our server also talked us into their “deviled” egg. Now, neither of us like traditional deviled eggs because we hate mayonnaise, but our server was insistent that it was not like anything we were thinking of.
And, boy, was she right.
Served in a hollowed out egg shell, there’s layers of smoked trout, a corn pudding, and salmon roe. So glad she talked us into it! Salty fish + sweet corn = win.
Our other single bites were also delightful, not to mention a cheese plate, beet salad with bresaola, and clams with homemade pasta, pepperoni lardons, and pickled fennel.
Our other favorite surprise of the meal was these grilled hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. They had a great char plus the sweetness of a caramel-y fish sauce sauce plus a hit of citrus all on a subtle garlic cream. Divine!
We visited a few more bars and breweries – if you can’t find one you like in Asheville, you’re vacationing wrong – and on the way home, stopped off at Top of the Monk. We had been to their basement Belgian bar and thought it would be the same thing, just with a better view.
Just like Sierra Nevada and Nightbell’s “deviled” egg, this is why you don’t make assumptions.
Top of the Monk specializes in pre-prohibition cocktails. It was hard to narrow down, but eventually my curiosity won out, and I chose a drink… with goat cheese in it.
Totally. Worth. It.
The subtle tang of the goat cheese was a pleasant foil to the rich smoothness of the frothy egg white, the almond flavor wasn’t overpowering, and the salt sprinkled on top pulled the whole thing together.
Also, they have this fun vault where you can choose your own snack with every drink!
The next morning, we debated going to a can release event at Burial, but decided when we saw the line that we didn’t want to carry cans around (: We decided to properly start the day with Vortex donuts, then stopped Asheville Brewing on our way en route to one of my favorite places in the world.
Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar… well, I’m sure you can see appeal just from its name. Sipping a sparkling wine cocktail while browsing used books is basically my idea of heaven.
We next stopped at a wine bar we’d never been to, Santé. Being indecisive, I got a flight, and we decided to share another cheese plate and beet salad. Because we’re predictable like that. Hampton preferred the ash-rinded robbioloa, while I was all about the Guinness beribboned cheddar. And the fig jam and mustard. And olives.
Our next stop was the Captain’s Bookshelf, which happens to be owned by an acquaintance of Hampton’s dad – who deals in used books himself. It was closed when we had been in town before, so we stopped in to browse and say hello. As a former Miss Adelaide (a bucket list role!), I couldn’t resist this compilation of Damon Runyon stories.
And then the owner gifted it to me! A very pleasant surprise.
That evening, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in the entire world, Cúrate. This tapas spot is where we first became enamored of castelvetrano olives, so we had to get a jar of their mix.
There was also chorizo wrapped in potato chips, octopus with a potato puree, sauteed shrimp with a garlic/sherry sauce that was so delightful our thoughtful waiter brought us extra bread to sop it up before we even requested it, and grilled iberico pork that was just stupidly melt in your mouth delicious.
It shouldn’t need said, if you’re at all familiar with my body of work, but, clearly, these pictures do not the food anywhere near justice.
The next day, we had brunch at Table. I had an openfaced mortadella sandwich with fried egg, balsamic, and parm, and Hampton had super fancy stuffed french toast.
Stuffed ourselves, we hit the road back to get to separate auditions. More on that later (;
Another successful trip to Asheville in the books – pun totally intended – visiting some of our old favorites and finding new ones! I thought my “buttonbreak” hashtag was hilarious, since we made our two Katie Button reservations before finding housing, and then I ended up barely posting as we ate and drank and visited our way through town. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Cover photo courtesy of Morsus Engel.