The dining scene in Asheville, North Carolina is exciting, with new restaurants and more local chefs focusing on Appalachian cuisine. Landis Taylor, Public Relations Manager at Explore Asheville, says, “When people talk about Appalachian food, there are many levels involved. You can refer to heirlooms and a shared pantry that the chefs use here in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. You can also talk about techniques that emerged from life in the mountains that required pickling, preserving and an intense focus on seasonal strategy, ingenuity and creativity to use everything edible (or wild) and get it through hard times and cold To survive winter. Another lovely slice of Appalachian food is all of the cultures (Cherokee, African-American freed slaves, Scots-Irish, German to name a few) that have mixed together to influence the dishes and techniques that have evolved over time have developed.”
The Asheville food scene is called Foodtopia and it’s more than just restaurants. This is a very collaborative food community where chefs work directly with the makers and farmers of the ingredients that make up their culinary masterpieces. The Asheville area is abundant with cheese factories, gatherers, dairies, family businesses, beekeepers and bakers. Visitors to the area can enjoy immersive culinary experiences like a guided foraging, farm tours, cheese trails, chocolate factory tours, and a variety of food festivals celebrating bacon, cheese, beer, cider, and more.
Pro tip: I was overwhelmed with all of the choices and couldn’t make up my mind, so I went to an expert: Brittany, the concierge at the Foundry Hotel. I explained the situation that I was a travel writer working on amazing restaurants in Asheville. I said I look for different price ranges and not necessarily the trendy places that everyone is writing about, but the restaurants that the locals prefer and visit again and again. She then gave me suggestions for each meal, and once I made up my mind, she made reservations for me for each choice. I strongly recommend using this service if you are staying in a luxury hotel.
The foundry hotel
I looked at the locations of all of the hotels in downtown Asheville and chose the Foundry Hotel as my place to stay. It is a short walk from all downtown activities but is on a quiet side street. The hotel accommodated me for one night and gave me a media rate for the second night. I paid for food and drinks at the hotel.
The foundry hotel is located in an area of Asheville known as “The Block”. This was Asheville’s historic African American business district. The menu pays homage to that story at Benne on Eagle, where you can enjoy a modern take on soul food favorites from rising star chef Ashleigh Shanti. The culinary mentor is Hanan Shabazz, who ran a soul food restaurant in the neighborhood in the 1960s. Benne on Eagle highlights the often forgotten influences of West African origins on southern cuisine.
I arrived late on a Friday and was able to enjoy cocktails and live music in the restaurant Workshop lounge. What a lovely venue. It has a speakeasy feel to it, but the high ceilings prevent it from being that dark. I enjoyed a communipolitan that mixed titos, buchaunt, sweet pomegranate molasses and fresh lime. I loved the attention to detail such as the bartender who filled the martini glass with ice to keep it cool while he made the cocktail. This was such a fragrant drink. My husband had a smoked old fashioned that had pieces of wood lit and the glass placed on top to trap the smoke. It was a very cool presentation and the smoked old fashioned one was the most frequently ordered drink while I was sitting at the bar. The workshop lounge also offers small bites. We shared a provision board with local cheese, honey, beef sticks, ham, hearty mustard, pickled raw vegetables and lavash crackers. It was easy, but oh so good. It went well with wine and cocktails.
We ate at Banish eagles for breakfast on the recommendation of Britney, the hotel’s concierge. She said it was one of the best brunch in Asheville. I had the sweet potato pone, which was made from crushed sweet potatoes and spices that were cooked like cornbread and topped with plain eggs and drizzled with blackberry sauce. It comes with a side salad but I was able to substitute french fries and added a very generous side of thickly cut bacon that was enough for two. My husband enjoyed the three-egg omelette, a simple dish made from bacon, cheddar, spring onions, and benne seasoning. He also replaced the side salad with french fries. This was just a really good breakfast. It was very simple, but the fresh, local ingredients and use of spices made these dishes stand out.
Storm Rhum Bar
Chef Jay Medford created a destination restaurant Storm Rhum Bar, popular with connoisseurs for a young local crowd who love the 1am closing time (late night menu from 10pm) I was lucky enough to get a reservation thanks to great Brittany. Local ingredients and classic American dishes with a worldly twist from other cultures and the experience of Chef Jay create a very eclectic menu.
I started with a craft cocktail; My Mai Tai was very aromatic and lemony without being sweet. As a starter, I tried the Pok Pok Pork Meatballs, which were served hot. I loved that it highlighted those perfectly flavored meatballs with no sauce, just a slice of pickled ginger on top and garnished with fresh greens and blackberries.
I was looking for shrimp and grits during my visit to North Carolina so I had to try Chef Jay’s version which was a thing. A buttermilk waffle was topped with creamy Yellowstone grits and then covered with prawns that were fried with red pepper and pears in a sauce with maple syrup. The huge portion could be divided easily and was very tasty paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.
White Duck Taco Shop
The White Duck Taco Shop is located in the River Arts District on a large lot with ample parking overlooking the east bank of the French Broad River. It has colorful picnic tables and umbrellas in a courtyard with a “beer bus”. Indoor seating is also available. The name came from a chef who was excited and spoke quickly to the kitchen staff who gave her the nickname La Pata Blanca, what does white duck mean. The menu is simple: a variety of fusion tacos with unique culinary combinations like duck with mole, Korean beef bulgogi or mushroom potato with romesco. The menu changes frequently and everything is served a la carte to keep it affordable. Well worth dining by the river or downtown.
Blue Ridge at the Omni Grove Park Inn
The Blue ridge serves the legendary Sunday brunch of the Omni Grove Park Inn. When a resort has been serving guests for more than a century, you know it will be good. The experience begins with your drive to the historic hotel just outside of downtown Asheville through a beautiful neighborhood. The excitement rises as you wind your way up the hills to the resort. You can park for up to 3 hours in the multi-storey car park for free.
Sunday brunch is the classic luxury experience you would expect in a hotel of this caliber. The dining room looks out over the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. The artisanal buffet from farm to table fills three full rooms with delicious treats. There’s even a room just for desserts. It redefines everything you imagined a brunch to be. Stops include a carved steamboat with beef au jus, omelets, eggs benedict with poached eggs, and even an avocado toast station. The culinary offerings include a cheese and sausage display, fried balsamic vegetables and Rockefeller oysters. Chafers are filled with a variety of breakfast and lunch dishes, and a variety of salads are available. My favorite was the dessert room with an action station where a chef prepares bananas foster and serves various chilled desserts from a box. Another section contained custom sized desserts. It was an incredible variety and I was in dessert heaven.
Pro tip: If you’re not a buffet fanatic, head to Sunset Terrace for lunch. This beautiful covered loggia offers incredible views and the restaurant has won the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence ten times. It’s known for hand-cut steaks, premium chops, fresh seafood, and partnering with local farmers.
Take some time before or after your meal to explore the hotel and its surroundings. The Moni Grove Park Inn truly is Asheville’s grande dame of accommodations.
The dining room at the Biltmore Estate
Plan at least one meal at the Biltmore Estate while in Asheville. The on-site restaurants were farm-to-table before that was even a thing. George Vanderbilt was a pioneer in sustainable land use and the property raises Angus cattle, white Dorper sheep and Berkshire pigs to provide beef, lamb and pork for the property’s culinary program. A variety of products are grown and the estate winery produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Biltmore supports local farmers and food producers when demand exceeds production on the property.
The most exclusive restaurant on the property is The Dining Room at The Inn at Biltmore Estate. It was awarded four stars by the Forbes Travel Guide in 2019. As you step into this dining room, you feel like you’ve stepped back in time and almost feel like you’re dining at the Vanderbilts. The beautiful views of the property along with the white linen tablecloths, fine china and crystal create an elegant atmosphere perfect for enjoying masterfully prepared cuisine. The menu offers a variety of meat, seafood, handmade pasta, and vegetarian options that highlight seasonal properties and local ingredients.
Note that clothing is casual for business purposes. To dine on the estate, guests must require a day pass, a Biltmore annual pass, or an overnight stay in an estate.
These are some of the places I enjoyed on my visit and there are so many others that I didn’t get to. To learn more about food and dining experiences in Asheville, visit here.