The dining scene in Asheville, North Carolina, is exciting, with new restaurants and more local chefs focusing on Appalachian Food. According to Landis Taylor, Public Relations Manager at Explore Asheville, “When people talk about Appalachian food there are many layers at play. They can be referring to heirloom ingredients and a collective pantry that the chefs here are using in one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. You can also be talking about techniques born of mountain living that required pickling, preserving and an intense focus on seasonal strategy, ingenuity, and creativity, using every edible (or wild) thing and making it last through hard times and cold winters. Another beautiful piece of Appalachian food are all of the cultures (Cherokee, African American freed slaves, Scots-Irish, German to name a few) that mingled to influence the dishes and techniques that have evolved over time.”
The food scene in Asheville is called Foodtopia and it is more than just restaurants. You will find a very collaborative food community where chefs work directly with the makers and farmers of the ingredients that make up their culinary masterpieces. The area surrounding Asheville abounds with cheesemakers, foragers, dairies, family farms, apiaries, and bakers. Visitors to the area can enjoy immersive culinary experiences such as a guided foraging expedition, farm tours, cheese trails, chocolate factory tours, and a plethora of food festivals celebrating bacon, cheese, beer, cider, and much more.
Pro Tip: I was overwhelmed with all the choices and couldn’t make a decision, 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 fantastic restaurants in Asheville. I said I was looking for different price points, and not necessarily the trendy places everyone is writing about, but the restaurants that locals favor and visit again and again. She then gave me suggestions for each meal, and once I decided, she booked me reservations at each choice. I highly recommend using this service when you stay at a luxury hotel.
The Foundry Hotel
I looked at the locations of all the downtown hotels in Asheville and chose the Foundry Hotel for my lodging. It is a short walk to all the downtown action but located on a quiet side street. The hotel hosted me for one night and gave me a media rate for the second night. I paid for food and beverages at the hotel.
The Foundry Hotel sits in an area of Asheville known as “The Block.” This was Asheville’s historic African-American business district. The dining program pays homage to this history at Benne on Eagle, where you can enjoy a modern take on soul-food favorites. Hanan Shabazz, who ran a neighborhood soul-food restaurant in the 1960s, serves as a culinary mentor. 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 at the Workshop Lounge. What a beautiful venue. It has a speakeasy feel, but the high ceilings keep it from being so dark. I enjoyed a Communipolitan, which blended Tito’s, Buchaunt, sweet pomegranate molasses, and fresh lime. I loved the attention to detail, such as the bartender filling the martini glass with ice to chill it while he prepared the cocktail. This was such a flavorful drink. My husband had a smoked old fashioned, where bits of wood were lit on fire and the glass put on top to capture the smoke. It was a very cool presentation and the smoked old fashioned was the most ordered drink while I sat at the bar. The Workshop Lounge also offers small bites. We shared a Provisions Board which had local cheese, honey, beef sticks, ham, hearty mustard, pickled crudité, and lavash crackers. It was simple, but oh so good. It paired nicely with both wine and cocktails.
We dined at Benne on Eagle for breakfast at the recommendation of Britney, the hotel concierge. She said it is one of the best brunches in Asheville. I had the sweet potato pone, which was shredded sweet potatoes and seasonings cooked like cornbread and topped with over-easy eggs and drizzled with blackberry sauce. It comes with a side salad, but I was able to substitute home fries and added a very generous side of thick-cut bacon which was enough for two. My husband enjoyed the three-egg omelet, which is a simple dish of bacon, cheddar, local scallions, and Benne Seasoning. He also substituted the side salad with home fries. This was just a really good breakfast. It was very simple, but the fresh, local ingredients and the use of seasonings elevated these dishes.
Storm Rhum Bar
Chef Jay Medford has created a destination restaurant, Storm Rhum Bar, loved by diners in the know to a young local crowd who love the 1 a.m. closing time (late-night dining menu beginning at 10 p.m.). I was lucky to get a reservation thanks to the awesome Brittany. Local ingredients and classic American dishes with a worldly twist from other cultures and Chef Jay’s experience create a very eclectic menu.
I started with a craft cocktail; my Mai Tai was very flavorful and citrusy without being sweet. For an appetizer, I tried the Pok Pok Pork Meatballs which were served piping hot. I loved that it highlighted this perfectly seasoned meatball with no sauce, just a slice of pickled ginger on top and garnished with fresh greens and blackberries.
I have been on a shrimp and grits quest during my visit to North Carolina, so I had to try Chef Jay’s version, which was a doozy. A buttermilk waffle was topped with creamy Yellowstone grits and then covered with shrimp that was stir-fried with red peppers and pears in a sauce that included maple syrup. The huge portion could easily be shared and was very tasty paired with a Sauvignon Blanc.
White Duck Taco Shop
The White Duck Taco Shop is in the River Arts District on a large property with plenty of parking overlooking the east bank of the French Broad River. It has brightly colored picnic tables and umbrellas in an outdoor courtyard with a “Beer Bus.” Indoor seating is available as well. The name came from a chef who would get excited and rapidly speak to the kitchen staff, who nicknamed her La Pata Blanca, which means White Duck. The menu is simple: a variety of fusion tacos with unique culinary pairings such as 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. It’s well worth a stop to dine along the river or at the downtown location.
Blue Ridge At The Omni Grove Park Inn
The Blue Ridge serves the Omni Grove Park Inn’s legendary Sunday brunch. When a resort has been serving guests for more than a century, you know it is going to be good. The experience begins with your drive to the historic hotel well outside of downtown Asheville through a lovely neighborhood. Anticipation builds as you wind your way up the hills to the resort. Free parking is available in the parking garage for up to 3 hours.
Sunday brunch is the classic, luxury experience you would expect in a hotel of this caliber. The dining room overlooks the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. The farm-to-table artisanal buffet fills three full rooms with delectable treats. There is even a room just for desserts. It redefines everything you imagined brunch could be. Stations include a carved steamship of beef au jus, omelets, Eggs Benedict with eggs poached to order, and even an avocado toast station. Culinary displays include a cheese and charcuterie display, balsamic roasted vegetables, and Oysters Rockefeller. Chafers are filled with a variety of breakfast and lunch favorites, and there are a variety of salads. My favorite was the dessert room with an action station with a chef preparing Bananas Foster and serving a variety of chilled desserts from a case. Another section held individually sized desserts. It was an amazing variety, and I was in dessert heaven.
Pro Tip: If you aren’t a buffet fan, check out the Sunset Terrace for lunch. This gorgeous, covered loggia has incredible views and the restaurant is a ten-time recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. It is known for hand-cut steaks, premiere chops, fresh seafood, and a partnership with local farmers.
Take some time before or after your meal to explore the hotel and its grounds. The Omni Grove Park Inn is truly the grande dame of Asheville lodging.
The Dining Room At Biltmore Estate
During your stay in Asheville, plan to enjoy at least one meal on the Biltmore Estate. The restaurants on the estate were farm-to-table before that was even a thing. George Vanderbilt was a pioneer in sustainable land-use practices and the estate raises Angus cattle, White Dorper sheep, and Berkshire pigs to provide beef, lamb, and pork for the estate culinary program. A variety of produce is grown, and the estate vineyard produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Biltmore supports community farmers and food producers when demand exceeds production on the estate.
The most exclusive restaurant on the estate is The Dining Room, located in The Inn at Biltmore Estate. It was awarded four stars from Forbes Travel Guide in 2019. When you enter this dining room, it is like stepping back in time and you almost feel like you are dining with the Vanderbilts. Beautiful views of the estate along with the white linen tablecloths, fine china, and crystal provide an elegant atmosphere perfect for enjoying expertly prepared cuisine. The menu has a variety of meats, seafood, hand-crafted pasta, and vegetarian options that highlight seasonal estate and local ingredients.
Note that dress is business casual and to dine on the estate, guests must have a daytime ticket, a Biltmore Annual Pass, or stay at an estate overnight property.
These are a few of the places I enjoyed on my visit and there are so many more I didn’t get to. To learn more about food and dining experiences in Asheville, visit here.