What’s not to love about a weekend escape to Asheville “Any way you like it” North Carolina? Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town is surrounded by streams, trails, and thick forests in every direction, perfect for whatever your outdoor pleasure might be.
There’s hiking or biking in the North Carolina Arboretum, kayaking down the French Broad River, or fly fishing in nearby Smoky Mountains National Park. For those looking to discover the local culture, there’s “Shindig on the Green,” a free Saturday night folk jam session held in the town square. A wide sampling of instrument-wielding humanity, from hippies to doctors to professors, wanders around the ad hoc groups asking, “You need a fiddle? Need a banjo?” Sometimes they don’t even bother to ask, they just jump right in and start picking to the beat. What follows is the sound of Americana.
If you’re looking for something more opulent, there is the Biltmore Estate. For $54 (!), you can tour the 250-room French chateau that the Vanderbilt family built in 1895 as a summer retreat. Now a museum, the architectural marvel is both amazing and absurd. Who needs 65 fireplaces—especially in the summer? (Photo courtesy of Flickr/dustinphillips)
Afterwards, retire to one of Asheville’s ten breweries. The town of 76,000 people has the most per capita in America. On any given day you can sample some 50 local brews. Besides beer, Asheville turns out Southern cuisine that holds its own against its neighbors and ribs that compete with Texas — yes, Texas. If the town ever wanted to change its motto, it could easily be, “Great food at an honest price.” One look at your bill and you’ll wonder how they can get away with charging so little. The following establishments are some of the best Asheville has to offer. As for what order to put them in on your trip, I’m going to leave it up to you because you should have it any way you like it.
Recommended dish: 12 dry-rub brown sugar ribs, corn pudding, jalapeño cheese grits ($18)
This barebones smokehouse is only open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Anyone who can get away with that kind of schedule must be doing something right. And 12 Bones is, judging by the lines that stretch out the door, around the corner, and around another corner. The wait is worth it. Though you’re in Carolina, try the house specialty — ribs (as President Obama did on a visit last year). The crackly baby back meat comes in a variety of rotating flavors: award-winning blueberry-chipotle, dry-cured brown sugar, salt and pepper “nekkid,” and caramel cola Q. They’re served with two sides, so balance out the meal with a “vegetable,” like the moist corn pudding or jalapeño cheese grits. For those going all in, there are also sides of sliced brisket and pulled pork. (Photo courtesy of Matt McCue)
Recommended dish: Shrimp and goat cheese grits ($15.45), fried okra ($3.25), mac and cheese ($3.25)
Whether you’re starting off the day with the sweet potato pancakes covered in peach butter and pecans or ending it on chef Brian’s shrimp and goat cheese grits, this downtown institution is a smart choice. The outdoor seating offers a complimentary taste of the Saturday night st reet performers—like a man dressed as a nun turning tricks on a seven-foot-high tricycle.
The kicker here is the complimentary warm and buttery biscuits that precede every meal. Drizzle it with, yes, Tupelo Honey. (Dare we say the blueberry preserves is an even better accompaniment?) The “farm-fresh” sides are a steal and can easily make a meal: cornmeal-coated fried okra, a healthy scoop of velvety mac and cheese, or crunchy fried green tomatoes. Of the six local brews on tap, the French Broad Wee-Heavy-Er Scotch Ale is a mouthful to order, but it goes down easy.