A Whirlwind Culinary Exploit in Asheville

by Debra Zides

Student Debra Zides recaps her gastronomic escapades in Asheville, North Carolina.

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Cucina 24 Restaurant owner and Chef, Brian Canipelli, serves up his canestri pasta

Last weekend I hopped a flight into Charlotte, North Carolina, grabbed a rental car, and drove two hours to the artisan community of Asheville for a whirlwind weekend exploit. For years, friends had been telling me about the town’s great restaurants, breweries and art galleries – so I decided to put my newfound Gastronomy program education to the test.

I began my adventure Friday with the Eating Asheville High Roller Walking Food Tour. We met up with our tour guide, Hank, at Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar and kicked-off our culinary experience with a glass of French Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine and locally-sourced Gouda cheese spread and smoked trout spread on bruschetta. Hank provided background about Asheville’s restaurant scene, discussing the trends in supporting local farmers and sustainable foods. Then we were off to our first excursion, Cucina 24. Restaurant owner and Chef, Brian Canipelli, personally met our group and served us his canestri pasta creation paired with a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. He spent time with our group discussing his restaurant concept and some of the challenges of owning a business. It was interesting to note that his greatest challenges are not in the kitchen, but rather the administrative and business sides.

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a server putting finishing touches on the chimichanga at Zambra

We said “thank you” to Chef Canipelli, and we were off. Over the next two and a half hours we explored and additional five restaurants where we met chefs, owners, and managers. At Table, we were served a delightful Devils on Horseback appetizer consisting of bacon-wrapped stuffed dates topped with a balsamic reduction. Zambra had the most amazingly exotic sangria packed with port sherry, brandy, mulling spices, and citrus which paired very well with the chef’s signature chimichanga served over pureed avocado sauce. Isa’s Bistro introduced us to a Black Angus beef tartare, which was presented cleanly in a small white dish atop a triangle-cut slice of toast. Strada Italiano is a 3 star green certified facility, and while not a standout with their inconsistent Tucson Poached Egg appetizer, the restaurant is an example of why Asheville is considered the first Green Dining Destination as per the national Green Restaurant Association with over seven percent of the city’s restaurants certified Green. We finished our culinary experience at the French Broad Chocolate Lounge cleansing our palates with a conversation about the critical role of terroir in chocolate making and sampling their supremely decadent chocolate truffle steeped in Earl Grey tea.

But there was no time to kick back and enjoy the food coma, as I had also booked a brewery tour for the following afternoon.

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A view of Twin Leaf Brewery tasting room and the brewing facilities

The tour was run by Asheville Brewery Tours. I selected the Sunset Deluxe 4-Stop Tour, which was a driving tour and enabled us to visit several parts of town. Our knowledgeable tour guide, Eli, was originally from the Boston area and had worked at Harpoon Brewery prior to moving to Asheville to become a part of the microbrewery scene. Today he and his partners are in the process of starting up their own brewery, which is expected to open Spring 2015.

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Touring Green Man Brewery

Eli took us to four sites, including Twin Leaf, Urban Orchard, Green Man, and Catawba Brewery. He leveraged the various facilities to demonstrate key beer making processes as we sampled an array of concoctions. The most unique stop on the tour was Urban Orchard, which is actually a hard cider production company that uses locally sourced apples from Hendersonville, North Carolina as the base for their creations. We had the opportunity to visit the production facility on the lower level, then returned to their bar for a tasting of their ciders currently on tap. We sampled the dry Ridge cider, ginger cider, and a jalapeño cider. The jalapeño cider was a treat, starting very subtle and timid, and then suddenly, “Bang!” as you felt the rush of heat from your mouth through your esophagus.

Overall, I found Asheville a culinary delight. One weekend was definitely not enough to gain a full appreciation for all the cultural and gastronomic activities. This city will be staying on my list of places to visit.

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