2020, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to North Carolina Day 2: Asheville Saturday February 29, 2020

We had big plans for this morning. Or rather, I should say, I had big plans. To go hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had looked up a bunch of “winter” hikes, which would be accessible at any time of the year. The night before our shuttle driver recommended heading up to Mount Mitchell if we could. And I had already thought of this, as it’s the highest point in the eastern (mainland) North America and something I’d love to check off. So if we couldn’t hike I at least wanted to drive to a nice lookout.

The problem was it snowed and rather a lot. And there we were with a sedan without a snow brush and no winter tires. The weather report said a full inch but, as I was brushing it off the car with my gloves – fortunately I brought my gloves – it felt like more. In any case, driving into the mountains was no longer a possibility. So we went for brunch instead.

Corner Kitchen

The guy at the rental car counter had told us to try Corner Kitchen. We looked it up, found it was in Biltmore Village, an area we thought we hadn’t yet been to, and we headed out.

Biltmore Village is even more chichi than downtown Asheville. Lots of boutiques and one way streets. We found a place to park and went to find the restaurant.

We didn’t think about reservations because, in Toronto, most brunch places don’t accept them. Turns out, we should have emailed or called. We ended up waiting a little bit to sit inside because we didn’t have a reservation. I should point out Jenn and I rarely wait in line for anything but, in this case, we were told it would be 10 minutes – it was a little longer – and we had also been told that this was the place to eat and had no backups. So we waited. Fortunately, Corner Kitchen know how to handle this: they have a deck out front which they covered with a heavy canvas cover with plastic windows in it. And they had coffee for those waiting in line. It’s an idea I cannot believe I have never seen in Canada.

The food was excellent and well worth the 15 or so minutes we had to wait for seats. They appeared to have interesting spins on brunch cocktails too, but I was driving so I stuck with the food: homemade corned beef for me.

After brunch we decided we would try to see if we could see Biltmore from the road. We decided to do this because tickets to Biltmore – the one thing you’re supposed to do in Asheville – run CAD$106 per person, and that’s before paying for an optional tour of the grounds or building. I mean, it’s just a building. (Sure, it’s the biggest privately owned house in the United States, but it’s still just a building.) If it was owned by either the state or the federal government, there’s no way the tickets would be remotely that expensive.

So instead we went looking to see if we could at least see the building. But the joke my dad told me about the Biltmore driveway – that it was 50 miles long, or something – wasn’t that far off. It seems that the people who own it haven’t sold much of the land, because you just can’t get near it on public property. It was also at this time that we realized we had actually driven right by it the day before, and just missed it because it’s the States and the signage is amazing.

So we decided instead to go to the River Arts District. After a brief drive through winding roads – Asheville isn’t very big but I don’t think there’s a single road that runs in a straight line for more than a few blocks – we found ourselves in an industrial area.

What we found there was not very walkable and not very clear as to what it was. It seems as though they are mostly relying on the internet to do the work so far but even the online map wasn’t very helpful. Once Jenn realized it was mostly just galleries in old warehouses – and a lot of the surrounding area was under construction – we decided to move on.

Riverside Cemetery

And that meant heading to the cemetery. (Too early for Botanical Gardens, I think.)

Riverside Cemetery is one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever been to. We don’t have a picture of how dramatically it slopes but, like all of Asheville, it is manifestly not flat. It feels like the kind of cemetery a movie would be shot in. I don’t know if it’s ever been featured in a movie, but it should be. I’m a sucker for a hilly cemetery and I’m not sure I’ve been to one so dramatically hilly.

After the cemetery we drove through various Asheville neighbourhoods back to our hotel. We then gathered ourselves and headed back downtown on foot.

I was actually surprised we were not the only pedestrians in the tunnel but it’s pretty clear that it’s not frequently used by people. It acts as a barrier between the area out by the highway and the rest of the city.

Our plan was to walk to “Helen’s Bridge”, a private, supposedly “haunted” bridge in the hills above the tunnel. However, as with many semi-rural roads there was nowhere to walk and we were concerned that an overly enthusiastic local might rip around a corner at us. So instead we headed downtown.

It didn’t take very long to walk there. It was actually pretty surprising how close everything was but then you remember this isn’t the largest city. It turns out it was so doable that we might have done it most times if we had been there longer. And it’s amazing that it’s such a foreign idea, given the disparity in hotel prices between where we stayed and downtown.

We wandered around downtown for a bit so Jenn could shop. We found the local Anthropologie where we encountered our first “Closed due to weather” sign. I should point out at this point that 90% or so of the snow was now gone, if not all of it (except for the stuff on the hills) and it was sunny and warm. It was one of those mountain days you here about that starts out with snow and ends with heat (well, not quite heat). And yet multiple stores in downtown were closed because of the snow. I guess maybe the staff lived out of town on roads that were unusable? Anyway, it was weird. It was especially weird to be standing in the sunshine, thinking about how you’re possibly overdressed, reading one of these signs.

We soon found ourselves in the northern end of downtown and so decided to to go Trader Joe’s. Yes, we’re those type of Canadians. We had driven by it earlier in the day and I was surprised how close we were to it. One thing I kept noticing was how big Asheville seemed while driving and then how small it seemed while walking. I blame the constantly snaking roads.

After Trader Joe’s we headed back into downtown to look at one of Asheville’s unique public art pieces:

Yes, that’s a giant iron

Then we headed to the Grove Arcade, a gorgeous upscale, Gothic Revival mall that belongs in a European city, not a city in Appalachia. It’s not so impressive on the outside but inside it is an absolutely gorgeous building. It reminds me of others I have seen – late 19th/early 20th century “arcades – in the UK and, funnily enough, Australia.

Wicked Weed Brewing

After the Arcade we headed back to Wicked Weed to see if we could get in during the afternoon rather than at night. We found it just as busy at 3 ish as it was the night before at 7 or 8. The only reason we could get seats is because people were out on the patio, as it was quite sunny. This is what I meant when I said it’s like Asheville’s Bellwoods, people are just desperate to get inside at any time they’re open.

We got two flights and people-watched. I had perhaps my favourite beer of the trip, a fantastic brett pale ale called “Goatscape”. Some of this might come from the fact that the other brett beers I had on the trip were so disappointing but this was, to use Jenn’s phrase, my catnip.

A note about the flights: Wicked Weed is so popular on weekends that they are not choose-your-own, which is both annoying and also completely understandable: they are rammed all the time so it’s harder to handle personalizd flights.

I was worried a bit about a place this popular but the beer was mostly very good and I understand why the place is popular. I’m not sure why it’s so much more popular than all the other breweries, except that it is on the main street – rather than a block or two away – and it is huge. I guess people just want to go to the closest, busiest place. I don’t know. Still, the beer was quite good though it wasn’t our favourite of the four breweries we made it to.

After beer we walked back up the main street and went into a wine shop featuring all sorts of strange bio-dynamic wines we’d never get in Ontario. The selection was kind of overwhelming but Jenn eventually settled on two to bring back with us. One of the many things I enjoy about the US is the freedom around alcohol (in most states). We’re pretty sure these types of wines wouldn’t be allowed in the LCBO for many reasons, one of which is that they would probably fail “quality controls” since they are never the same.

Then we grabbed a cab back to the hotel so we could drop off our stuff and get some dinner. The cranky cabbie marveled that we had walked downtown earlier in the day, a walk which had taken us maybe 20 minutes tops.

We took the shuttle back downtown and walked the couple blocks to what I thought was a restaurant.

Sovereign Remedies

It was actually a cocktail bar full of rich people dressed up. (And some people who looked like us.) Initially they sat us on an end of a couch with a table only one of us could use. This didn’t bother Jenn but really bothered me, in part because I thought we had gone out to dinner but we had actually just gone for a drink. We soon grabbed seats at the bar. When our drinks – which were pretty good and not as expensive as expected for such a fancy place – were delivered, they made sure to tell us we had moved. We had bone marrow tater tots, which were very tasty. I liked the drink and the appetizer but I found the whole thing a little obnoxious. Moreover, the place was insanely busy. We left when we finished our drinks, in part because of how noisy it was. It was impressive watching the bartender, though, and I will say that, once we were seated in real seats, the experience was fine. I just don’t like when a place seats you in seats that barely qualify as seats. Tell us we have to wait. (Ah but then we wouldn’t spend money, right?)

Burial Beer Co.

We headed back to Burial because I wanted to try more stuff. I know we probably should have tried more breweries but we had only tried four from here and people had told me it was the best in the city.

This time we had their excellent BA RIS and a flight of four others, bringing us up to 9 of their beers tasted. I liked this flight more than the first, as it was more of styles I like a lot, including some IPAs and a barley wine. (The latter Jenn didn’t enjoy, but I like barley wines much more than her.)

We also had dinner, with Jenn enjoying an excellent burger and me having the North Carolina version of a Po Boy, which was fine but not as good as her food.

We met a really nice younger couple from Columbia and we spent a long time complaining about liquor laws in Canada and the US. He recommended a couple breweries in Charlotte we should check out. He also made me think we were missing out by not going to Biltmore, as that’s what they were doing the next day and they both were going again – for what seemed like one of many times in his case. However, some of that was just FOMO and the beer talking. I don’t actually want to pay CAD$100+ for a tour of a house.

Bhramari Brewing

We then returned to Bhramari. I’m not really sure why we stopped trying new breweries, I guess we just liked both of these enough to go back. (Also, we had only had 4 beers at Burial the first night.)

We had another flight here, bringing our total to 12 from this brewery. This time we tried a couple of normal styles without adjuncts and I was happy to find that they were good. I had joked earlier that a brewery like Bhramari probably couldn’t make a normal beer if they tried, but turns out they can at least make a sour and an IPA.

We then headed back to the hotel, earlier this night in part because we had walked more and in part because we had to get up the next morning.

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