Do you have a travel bucket list? I do. I take it a step further, though, and keep a travel experience bucket list. It includes things like:
- stop and listen to a strolling accordion player alongside a Venetian canal
- drink something hot and spiked at Christmas in a German village
- capture the perfect photo at Lake Louise
Last week, we spent three nights in Asheville, North Carolina and I was able to check off another travel experience bucket list item: picnic along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the fall. I absolutely adore hearing/reading about destinations both exotic and not-so-much, especially when I’m researching for a trip. With that in mind, I wanted to share our experience. Come on along with us. In case you just want to skim for opinions and not do in-depth reading, I’m offering a letter grade of each experience.
Asheville is a quaint little foodie-friendly city in North Carolina’s mountain country. Maybe best known for the opulent Biltmore Estate, my family discovered that even without a visit to George Vanderbilt’s stately country home, Asheville is a city brimming with opportunities for active young families and couples.
Where to stay in Asheville
Aloft Asheville Downtown – A+
We opted to stay downtown so that we could easily walk off all the calories we consumed. As it turns out, that was a good call because we did indeed consume a lot of calories during this trip. Our hotel, Aloft Asheville Downtown, did not disappoint. Have you ever stayed in an Aloft hotel? From the moment you walk in, you’ll notice trendy decor and a definite hipster vibe. The lobbies and guest rooms in each Aloft I’ve stayed in have been furnished with artsy pieces that have clean lines. Public spaces are spacious, but inviting. The Aloft Asheville Downtown had an open-air dining space that overlooked the bustling Biltmore Avenue.One of things we most appreciate about Aloft Hotels, though, is that they allow dogs to stay without any extra deposits or fees. If you look towards the lower right-hand corner of this photo of the hotel lobby, you’ll see a dog crate. During our stay, this crate was inhabited by Ginger, a local rescue dog in need of a home. We loved staying at this hotel because it was within walking distance of some of Asheville’s top restaurants. It also served as a convenient jumping off point for exploring the city on foot. Parking is available in an attached garage for $7 per night.
Where to eat in Asheville
Asheville definitely qualifies as foodie-friendly. Flavors and textures and aesthetics rule the plate. I liked that there was a little something for everyone, from small plate, tapas-style restaurants to hip new breweries to upscale fine dining establishments. Here’s a glimpse at what awaits the Asheville-bound traveler.
Biscuit Head :: B
If I’m being honest, I have to admit that Asheville’s reputation for ‘culinary cool’ is what left me dying to visit. And, friends, my thighs might wish I could say differently but the truth is that my taste buds were rewarded time and time again during this trip. Our first meal in town was at Biscuit Head–named that way because their biscuits are the size of a cat’s head.
When we arrived for breakfast at about 11:00 on a Saturday, the line stretched out the door. I hear that’s a common occurrence on weekend mornings. Still, our wait was not long at all–maybe twenty minutes.
Food here is ordered at the counter and then delivered to your table. We struggled because even after we ordered, we found there to be a scarcity of open tables with seating for four. Seeing that we had two littles with us, a kind couple offered to give up their spot for us but a table for four opened up at the last minute and we snatched it right up, gratefully declining to displace that kind couple.
We started the meal with a pitcher of mimosas ($17).
Jeff ordered the pulled pork biscuit, which came topped with local pulled pork, jalapeño pimento, bacon, poached egg, and maple syrup.Jayce had the mimosa fried chicken biscuit which came with mimosa fried chicken, sweet potato butter, sriracha slaw, and a poached egg.Cassidy had biscuits fried like donuts and served with lemon curd (not pictured). I was creeped out by the whole poached egg thing and opted instead for a classic that came topped with cheddar and scrambled egg. But once I saw the topping bar, I decided to eat mine open-faced and leave half of my biscuit for a slathering of sweet potato chai butter. Oh, friends, I did not regret that decision. My brunch also came with a side of chevre cheese grits and they were delicious.My food was good. The chai slathered biscuit was better than the cheese/egg biscuit which was a little dry and didn’t taste fresh. Based on that and the fact that seating wasn’t seamless, I’d give Biscuit Head a solid ‘B’. Given the chance, I would revisit Biscuit Head but I think next time I would order just a plain biscuit and go wild at the topping bar.
Posana :: B-
Later that evening we headed just up the sidewalk from our hotel and dined on the patio at Posana. The weather that night was perfect. The restaurant looks upscale, but our kids were welcomed and treated very kindly by both the hostesses and our server. They even had coloring menus and crayons.
Jeff and I were still fairly stuffed after Biscuit Head so we opted to share an appetizer and entree. We started with the Brussels Salad. It came topped with Asian pears, candied spiced walnuts, sesame seed goat cheese and honey buttermilk dressing.This salad looked better than it tasted. It was somewhat bitter and just not all that tasty. The red fish we ordered for an entree was much better. It was served over a bed of October beans and came with seared honshimeji mushrooms, sweet corn and red wine. The portion size was just right for sharing given that we had late breakfast.Given the chance, I don’t think I’d return to Posana. While the food was good, it wasn’t great, though the prices suggested it should be so.
OWL :: A
On Sunday morning we hopped in the car and drove to OWL bakery. OWL, in this case, stands for Old World Levain.I cannot explain to you the adorableness of this bakery. Storefront-wise, it looks like a tiny little house. We actually drove right past it the first time, thinking it was a residence. Google Maps insisted though and we circled around. It’s just as cute inside.
Jeff and I shared an apple turnover. It was easily the most perfectly-tender and flaky pastry I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve eaten pastry in Paris, mind you).We also tried something new. The young woman at the counter called it ‘porridge bread’ and described it as a thick, oatmeal-y bread. It was the exact opposite of the pastry in that it was dense and hearty. It was SO good. It was unmistakably artisan-made. We just cut slices and ate it untopped and untoasted. We liked it so much, though, that we went back and bought a full-size loaf for that day’s picnic lunch.The kids ordered the Sunday special, which was two thick slices of French toast filled with pumpkin cream and topped with house pumpkin syrup and toasted pecans. At $5 per order, it was a steal.
I also had the most lovely hot buttered spiced chai latte made from loose-leaf tea. I’m going to do my best to replicate it at home. I would revisit OWL bakery in a heartbeat and highly recommend that you stop by if ever you’re in Asheville.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge :: B-
This is another fun foodie place that was well within walking distance from Aloft. We went on a Sunday afternoon right around three o’clock and the line was out the door. Service was noticeably slow, too; we waited for quite a long time. The good news is that the interior of the lounge was very cute and trendy.
They serve ice cream, sipping chocolates (they call them liquid truffles, isn’t that great?!), assorted baked goods, housemade truffles, coffee, tea and milkshakes. We bought two truffles, some peppermint brownies and a tall slice of pumpkin spice cake. Our reviews are mixed, but mostly not great. The horchata truffle we got was really quite good. The chai one, though? Not so much. The pumpkin spice cake was okay but the frosting was awful–truly terrible. It tasted greasy and flavorless, like it had been made from margarine. The brownies were for the kids; I didn’t try them.
I suspect that this would be an ideal location to sit down with a cup of sipping chocolate and a carefully selected truffle and I might revisit for that purpose. I would not, though, ever order a piece of cake from here again.
Mamacitas :: A
With all the amazing dining options in Asheville, it might see odd that we opted for takeout nachos one evening. Here’s the deal, though: the Arizona Cardinals were playing and when the Arizona Cardinals are playing it’s a fairly safe bet that my handsome husband and I can be found in front of the TV. Mamacitas was located just down the street from the Aloft hotel we were staying in. About an hour before game time we walked up the street and bought some goodies from the Chocolate Lounge and then down the street to Mamacitas. We bought two orders of nachos to go.This is a counter service restaurant similar to Subway in that you place your order at the front of the line and then work your way towards the register as the person behind the counter prepares your order based on your preferences. We piled our nachos high with all the fixings. They used housemade chips and pico and also, real cheese! None of that nasty queso sauce was anywhere in sight.I’m not going to pretend it was a gourmet meal but I will tell you that they were yummy nachos with plenty of toppings. I would totally revisit Mamacitas.
Filo :: A
While we were eating at OWL we overheard fellow patrons talking about another great bakery in town, Filo. We wanted to give it a try. We left the kids to watch cartoons one morning and went to grab breakfast. This was another super cute bakery, inside and out.
We ordered chai lattes (have I ever told you guys that I don’t do coffee?) and a couple of pastries to share–an almond croissant and a pumpkin scone. The kids had cinnamon rolls (not pictured). We even got a fresh-baked dog treat for Mowgli, which he appreciated quite a lot.
Our pastries and lattes were both very good. The chai needed a little something–either an added kick of spice or a little sweetener, but overall it was pretty good. The scone was flavorful and had great texture but it paled in comparison to the almond croissant, which was delicious.
I would definitely revisit Filo and can enthusiastically recommend it.
Tupelo Honey Cafe :: A+
If I’m being honest, I have to say that I suspected Tupelo Honey Cafe might be a tourist trap; I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype. I was proved wrong.
We went for lunch and were really looking to sample several dishes rather than stuff ourselves with individual entrees. We ordered three small plates: fried green tomatoes, fried avocado and crispy Brussels. If you notice a “fried” theme, you’re much quicker than I. We typically don’t really care for fried food but for some reason those three appetizers called our names and we went with them. It wasn’t until they were all plated before us that we sort of winced at the fried-ness of our choices. It didn’t stop us from digging in, though. I’ll start by telling you that there is a reason fried green tomatoes are infamous, and it has nothing to do with the movie. These were served over a bed of soft yet hearty chevre grits. Our only complaint about this dish is that there were only four servings; we ended up licking the plate clean.The fried avocado was a bit of a different story. We are avocado aficionados around my house but we agreed that while the dish was cute and creative, it didn’t win us over in the taste category. Avocados, I believe, are best served freshly-mashed with lime juice and cilantro on a tortilla chip. Still, this dish wasn’t bad, per se, but I’d relish the opportunity to try something different during a future visit. The last dish we tried at Tupelo were the crispy Brussels served with lemon zest, bacon and freshly-chopped herbs. Do you like Brussels? I absolutely adore them in most any presentation, crispy notwithstanding. I don’t think these counted towards our vegetable serving that day but if they had, it would have been win-win. I would be remiss not to show you of the biscuits Tupelo is famous for. I’m told that these are served with every order, no matter how big or how small.
Would I go back to Tupelo Honey Cafe? You bet I would.
Taco Billy :: B
On our last morning in town we headed to Taco Billy for breakfast tacos. This was my first experience with breakfast tacos, but it wasn’t my last. Taco Billy is a cute little joint safely nestled away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Asheville, not far from OWL Bakery.
The menu is fairly simple and straightforward (and penned on butcher paper which was super cute).We ordered, you guessed it, breakfast tacos. The standard creations seemed somewhat limiting to us so we went with the build your own option. I wish I had thought to specify what type of tortilla I preferred because corn wins every time but I forgot and they didn’t ask, so soft flour it was. I chose eggs, sweet potatoes, goat cheese and avocado as my fillings. My taco was served with a small side of avocado tomatillo salsa which was really the tipping point on making this breakfast a memorable one.
Jayce, too, ordered the build your own variety of breakfast taco but unlike mine, his included just about every variation of meat that was offered. Like I said, I do wish I had ordered the corn tortilla but even on the relatively flavorless flour tortilla, this taco was quite good, especially with the addition of the salsa. My complaint about Taco Billy was that they kind of failed by using store-bought tortillas. Maybe it’s the Arizona in me but I can’t help but believe with the whole of my heart that if you have a restaurant that serves only tacos, you really have no excuse not to serve housemade tortillas (flour, corn and otherwise) with aforementioned tacos. No excuse. That said, the tacos were yummy and did inspire me to recreate them at home–on corn tortillas, of course!
Yep. I’d totes try Taco Billy again.
What to do in Asheville
Shop @ the Tobacco Barn :: A+
Confession: outside of eating, we didn’t do a whole lot in Asheville. That’s not to say that there is nothing to do. There are a plethora of active options including miles and miles of trails for hiking and biking. Visitors can drive the Blue Ridge Parkway for beautiful views. There is a lively River Arts District filled with galleries–if that’s your thing. And there is ample opportunity for shopping, which we took full advantage of on our first day.
Asheville has an outlet mall and we did stop by there for just a hot minute. There were a variety of shops but we didn’t stay long because it wasn’t really my thing. I did, however, spend upwards a significant amount of time wandering through the most fun antique mall, the Tobacco Barn. They had so very many finds that were perfect for my farmhouse-style home. Here’s a peek at just a sampling of them. After leaving the Tobacco Barn, we headed to a nearby park just to stroll and take some photos.
Explore Downtown :: B
Our conveniently-located hotel was the perfect jumping off point for exploring downtown Asheville. I graded this activity a ‘B’ instead of a ‘A’ because I would have like to see a larger variety of shops downtown. There were a lot of art galleries but not a lot else. I enjoy perusing through cute little general stores and gift shops as much as the next girl and those types of shops were few and far between in Asheville’s downtown. Still, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up and down the streets. Here’s some of what we saw.
Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway :: A+
One of the things I knew we had to do whilst in Asheville was drive at least a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway, for those who aren’t familiar, is a National Parkway that winds 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, connecting Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We’re told that traffic on the parkway is often bumper-to-bumper during the peak of leaf season along this stretch of “America’s Favorite Drive.” Luckily and all also not-so-luckily the peak of the season hadn’t quite arrived when we visited and traffic wasn’t bad at all.
Before embarking on our Sunday drive, we picked up picnic fixings at Whole Foods and then set off on our way. Our destination for the afternoon was the Craggy Pinnacle Trail, which was about a thirty minute drive from our hotel. Upon arrival we laced up our hiking boots (okay, tennis shoes) and easily made it to the lookout point up top–about a 3/4 mile hike. We stopped at a picnic spot just down the road after the hike.
The North Carolina Arboretum :: A
I’ve never visited an arboretum before, have you? If The North Carolina Arboretum is a fair example, I have to say that I’ve been missing out. Similar to a botanical garden, the arboretum provided ample opportunity to explore beautiful walking paths or just sit and enjoy the autumn splendor. There were also several indoor exhibits but we timed our visit poorly and missed seeing most of those. This attraction is a steal for families because admission is free. There is, however, a nominal charge for parking.
I hope you enjoyed touring Asheville along with me. We had such a relaxing, lovely fall-ish trip. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have in the comments.