Western North Carolina Highlights
We took off for a few days in Nancy’s new Mustang GT to explore some of the roads that we have reported on before and we actually found a couple of new ones. We also discovered some great places to eat and some not so great.
Our first stop in Asheville was to tour the new Troy & Sons Distillery where they are making legal moonshine. Tours are on the hour from 4 to 8 pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. We toured the distillery and sampled this 80 proof Crooked Creek Corn moonshine. The corn used in the recipe is an heirloom that had nearly disappeared in the modern world. It has been documented as an unadulterated original American corn, rare indeed. We were told that there is only one ear of corn per stalk. We have a couple of the first bottles with signatures of the makers. TroyandSons.com
We spent two nights at the Grove Park Inn, a luxury accommodation with rooms priced from $269 a night. Our room was on the third floor in the Historic Main Inn which opened in 1913. The well appointed room had a tremendous view looking over the underground Spa and golf course with downtown Asheville and mountains in the distance. We had to keep the large casement windows opened since the air conditioning shut off when the outside temperature dropped below a certain level which made the room a little stuffy. This was okay except for two things. The room was directly over the exhaust vent for the downstairs kitchen and the cooking smells continually stimulated our hunger. And then at 5:30 am a team of tent builders began tossing around aluminum posts and beams as they set-up for an afternoon wedding on the patio below.
Friday night we had reservations for dinner at The Admiral. This crowded, Haywood Road Dive Bar has become “the place” in Asheville with reservations needed weeks in advance. From all appearances it’s a local juke joint and Drew the owner even promotes this image with a Budweiser neon sign with only the letters “dwe” operational which appear to spell “dive”. Others describe the place as “hipster” and “eclectic”. We wanted to try a special wine but they were sold out. But Drew returned with a substitute that was phenomenal.
Everything on the menu looked good, but we decided on three small plates after learning that the main course Hog Nose Snapper was sold out. DARN !! We decided on PEI (Prince Edward Island) Mussels, Veal Sweetbreads (calf thymus glands) and Seared Creekstone Spinalis (best part of the ribeye steak). All were excellent. For dessert we split a Mint Creme Brulee and a Roasting Press Pot O’ Joe. Needless to say we were sated. TheAdmiralNC.com
Up bright and early with the banging of aluminum on concrete we toyed with the idea of going out for breakfast. Sadly we decided to eat at the Grove Park. Not being big eaters we decided against the buffet and ordered eggs, grits and coffee. They were good, but not worth the $29 tab.
At 9:00 am we signed into The Spa. A weekend daily pass is $80 per person, but we had heard so much about the experience we had to try it. There are a number of special treatments available such as massages, exfoliation, body masques and other things we know nothing about. This mostly underground grotto is a hedonist’s dream. After being assigned a locker guests are given a heavy, luscious robe and slippers to wear. The men’s and women’s areas each had a sauna, inhalation room, eucalyptus-infused steam room, 103 degree hot tub and a cold water quick-dip tub. A Relaxation Room featured coffee, tea, fruit/nut snacks and easy chairs. There was even a tub of “iced towels” to cool one’s neck. The showers and bath were well stocked with toiletries. And this was only the beginning.
The Spa itself is a massive rock grotto with high skylights. Here we found a 90 degree mineral pool with underwater music, two 103 degree hot tubs with waterfalls, and a 90 degree lap pool with star lit ceiling. On the back patio there is a sun deck, a large 103 degree pool and open fireplace. From this terrace there are views of the golf course and distant mountains.
After two-hours of swimming we dressed and headed out for lunch. We decided on the 51 Grill which has great burgers, but found it was closed on the week-ends 51Grill.com. The next option was the new Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack on Patton Avenue. We split a wing plate (6 wings $7.50) with different grades of heat on each. Let me say that their claim as “the hottest chicken you ever dared to eat” is not an exaggeration. Now we love hot foods and habanero peppers are our favorite, but even the “Medium” burns the mouth and there was no real flavor. The “Hot” had tears running down my cheeks. Nancy tried the mild and then went for the plain. The coleslaw was good, but probably because it eased the pain of the heat in our mouths. To us the wings were overcooked, and way too hot. And what’s with the inedible slice of bread soaked in hot sauce? We heeded the warning on the restroom doors, “Wash hands BEFORE and after using restroom”. RockysHotChickenShack.com
Another great burger place in Asheville was Burgermeisters on Haywood Road, West Asheville. The menu was wild with twenty different burgers including the Dawg-on-It …. a burger with a hot dog topping. The Mix of Sweet Potatoes and New Potatoes with Herbs was great. Nancy liked the Ginger Iced Tea. Sadly, this place closed in 2013.
By 12:30 pm we were entering the annual Brew Grass Festival. This year there were over 40 American breweries showcasing some 120 different beers. On entry into the stadium each person is given a small beer glass and the fun begins. Various bluegrass bands appear on the stage and the brewskies flow from noon until 7 pm. Drink all you want. Some of the lines are thirty people long; others are easier to get to the tap. Nancy liked a Crispin Cider beers, the Smoky Mountain Brewery light beer and anything from our local NantahalaBrewing.com, while I mostly drank the darker stouts from anywhere. There are few better places to people watch than Asheville and Brew Grass is the ultimate. One T-shirt I saw said it all, “If you’re too freaky for Asheville, you’re too freaky”. This was our fourth year and we always enjoy the festivities. BrewGrassFestival.com
After three hours of beer we were ready to return to The Spa and cleanse our bodies. It was much busier than it had been in the morning but we still had a good time. The cold water plunge after coming out of the steam room is a great way to sober up in a hurry!
Back in the room we dozed a little, watched a little football and then headed downstairs to the Saturday Prime Rib Buffet. We ordered a half bottle of wine and headed for the buffet. We are not buffet lovers but wanted to try this one. We will likely never try another. There was a large selection, but quality was not on the menu. The prime rib was cold as was just about everything else. Our bill including tip was $160. The night before at the Admiral dive was $77 and it was enormously better. Returning to the room the wedding reception downstairs was just heating-up. The music and party clamor was now keeping us from sleeping with our open window.
To summarize the Grove Park Inn experience where ten United States Presidents have stayed (now 11 after Obama): We highly recommend that you stay here at least once if you get the chance. Our 100 year-old room was comfortable (other than the noise from outside), The Spa is a real experience, the golf course is lush but crowded and the overall atmosphere is nostalgic. Negatives are the cost, crowds, and dining. We did not try the other restaurants at the Grove Park Inn, but we have heard they are better.GroveParkInn.com
Sunday morning we headed east looking for a better and cheaper place to have breakfast. In the past we had eaten lunch at the Veranda in downtown Black Mountain and it was excellent, but they were closed Sunday morning. VerandaCafeandGifts.com We used Trip Adviser and found the Morning Glory in nearby Cheshire Village. It was busy so using our rule of thumb it must be good. We were not disappointed. Good Service, fantastic pancakes, grits and eggs done just right, and the bill was just $15, half the cost of the Grove Park Inn breakfast. The lunch and dinner menus looked interesting too. TheMorningGloryCafe.com
We found a couple of good twisty back roads that we hadn’t known about as we headed toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. We stopped and chatted with Blind Kenny who takes photos on NC 80 AKA the Devil’s Whip and part of the Diamondback Loop. Ken isn’t blind, but you’ll have to explore his website to find out how he came up with this name. BlindKenny.com
Crossing the BRP on NC 80 we descended to the crossroads known as Micaville. Here we found the One of a Kind Gallery with their welcoming iron dragon at the front door. The owner wouldn’t sell the 14-foot tall piece of art that was chained to the front post and closely watched by a surveillance camera. There were some other unique pieces of art such as the Wrench and License Plate Chair.
For lunch we once again consulted Trip Adviser and found the Knife & Fork in nearby Spruce Pine. This quaint small town attracted Chef Nate Allen after 10-years of big-city cooking in L.A. His dishes make the most of local grown crops and meats served in his small 35-seat eatery looking out at the railroad tracks. We ordered what sounded like a rather dull pulled pork sandwich with potatoes. We ordered a single meal as Nancy and I usually eat light. We had planned to just eat the meat as we are on a high protein diet, but Nate delivered two “slider bun” sandwiches and after one taste of the delicate homemade bread the whole sandwich was “on”. The pork was excellent and the twice fried crispy potatoes were seasoned to perfection. They didn’t last long either. This is a definite stop whenever we are in the area! KnifeandForkNC.com
The next stop was the Switzerland Inn located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Little Switzerland. The owner Gary Jensen is a rider and last year opened the Diamondback Lodge offering clean lodging at a reasonable rate. We always enjoy having dinner and a few drinks with Gary in his Fowl Play Pub. We stayed two nights on this trip and did some more road exploring. This is THE place to plan an overnight stop on your Blue Ridge Parkway tour. SwitzerlandInn.com
We revisited the roads known as the Snake at Shady Valley, Tennessee. The Country Store at the US 421/ TN 91 cross roads hasn’t changed much in the 11 years we have been going there. The roads haven’t either. Certainly some challenging twisties, but no comparison to the Tail of the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway in our humble opinion. ShadyValleyCountryStore.com
A quick spin through Mountain City and then off to Banner Elk back into North Carolina. After consulting Trip Adviser we found The Frog and The Monkey just off Main Street. We shared a tasty Bison Burger and Kale Salad. Had to have seconds on the salad. Sadly, this place was closed in 2014.
The next stop was to see the Banner Elk Winery and Inn. BlueBerryVilla.com This three-story, eight bedroom, luxury accommodation has some of the best furnishings we have seen anywhere. There is a great view of the vinery, golf green, stocked ponds and winery. We got the grand tour from Angelo the Owner and Valerie his Vice President. This high end B & B would be a real treat for any special occasion. And the wine is good too. We took a couple of bottles back to share with Gary at the Switzerland Inn.
Monday morning we revved-up the Stang and headed into Virginia to get Nancy’s new puppy, a red healer she appropriately named Red Dog. And in 2015, 4 years later, has become a real hyper-pain. Hope Nancy doesn’t read this.
click on image for larger view