dining out, FOOD, TRAVEL
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What We Ate (and Drank) On Our Blue Ridge Journey

Every single vacation we plan usually revolves around food—there are few exceptions. Last summer’s trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, despite the fact that this was a very different style of vacation, was no different. And there was plenty of food to be had—drinks, too. So without my usual lengthly pre-amble, let’s do it.

Wilmington, NC

While Wilmington isn’t counted as a destination along the Blue Ridge Parkway, (far from it, actually), it was where we began our trip. We’d never pass up an opportunity to revisit the place where we made our first home together, and, when we found out Shakey Graves was playing a night there, nothing was gonna keep me away.

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Dock Street Oyster Bar
Since we scored an awesome house to stay in downtown, it was a short walk to Dock Street Oyster Bar for a pre-concert dinner. Though it’s been in business 18 years, we’d never once been in our college years. I loved the casual environment and simple, well-prepared food. On our plates: The Dock Street Steamer Platter (lots of seafood, corn, and potatoes—I ate lots of potatoes), and a steamer chock full of clams and crab, washed down with a couple of beers. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this place marks a new favorite, but I’d definitely recommend it, and most certainly would go back.

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South College Sandwich & Deli
An old colleague of mine has a kid in college at UNCW, so when he found out that it was my alma mater, South College Deli was one of the first topics of discussion. The funny (embarrassing?) part: I had no idea what he was talking about. He was damn near offended that I spent four years of my life in this town and had never been—and once we ventured there for lunch, I instantly knew why. This place is amazing. Incredibly good sandwiches, homemade chips (and dip!)—I’m left wondering if my college experience was all that it could have been without a handful (or a hundred) visits here. At least now I know.

Indochine
I consider myself fairly well-traveled—I’ve come a long way since never leaving the East Coast before college—and as such, have eaten a lot of food. And still, Indochine is my all-time favorite restaurant, and no amount of experience has changed that. It’s true that the restaurant holds a ton of sentimental value: This was the place we had our first (sort-of) date, celebrated subsequent anniversaries thereafter, and it was where I dined with girlfriends for my bachelorette party. But it’s not just sentiment that helps Indochine to maintain its spell over me: The food is really that good. I have never in my life had a bad meal here, and I’d even say that this most recent visit was the best meal I’ve been treated to.  I only wish my iPhone photos did the meal justice (the restaurant’s lighting, while romantic, does not make for great picture-taking).

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J, making new friends 😉

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Love me a good spider roll!

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Appetizer sampler (the Gold Bags are one of my favorite things in the world)

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The best red curry I’ve ever had—I dream about this dish

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I could have cried, the coconut cake was so good. (I might have cried when it was all gone?)

Bryson City, NC

Since Bryson City was our glamping destination, most dining was done from the comfort of our yurt. We cooked bratwursts on the grill, packed picnics for our boating and hiking days, and cooked up some s’mores on the (poor excuse for a) campfire. I wish I had better photos of our spread and better tales to tell, but honestly, most meals were just chips and beer (not that I’m complaining).

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Asheville, NC

Asheville quickly became one of my favorite cities in America—and it was about damn time, too. Despite my 8-year residence in North Carolina, I had never been (it’s South College Deli all over again!). The food and drink scene is more than enough reason to plan a trip back—and we most definitely will.

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Skybar
I’m pretty confident that Skybar is one of those gimmicky places that can charge sky-high (womp) prices for drinks because of the view it offers. It was a little bit of a hassle to snag a table due to competition from other patrons (get in touch with your obnoxious northeasterner, if only momentarily),  and service wasn’t amazing (in their defense, it was super busy). I’m not unhappy with our visit—my cocktail was delicious, the sunset, memorable—I just wouldn’t do it again. But if you want to score a view like that? Definitely do it—just once.

Cedar Crest Inn
Our home-away-from-home for our stint in Asheville was the Cedar Crest Inn, a bed-and-breakfast with a pretty pink presence (it’s like, the girliest dollhouse you’ve ever seen). This was my first bed-and-breakfast, and I was…is nervous the word? I wasn’t optimistic about staying at a B&B, to be honest. Cedar Crest changed that, so much so that I would seek out B&B’s for future trips. The bed was great, and the breakfast was tasty, too. All we had to do was show up on the porch in the morning, and breakfast was served. No menu, no ordering (is this normal for B&B’s? I have no reference point). Sure, some of the meals were better than others, but who’s complaining? This made starting our morning so easy, and the setting for our morning meals was so beautiful.

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The pancakes were so good—my favorite of the breakfasts enjoyed here (the chocolate sauce may have something to do with that)

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This little smoothie was a great start to one of our mornings (complete with crunchy granola on top)

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No fibbing: I didn’t really like this one. It was way too much egg for me—but this Polish girl is happy with a plate of potatoes any day, so there was that.

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Ever meet someone who DOESN’T like waffles? 

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Biscuit Head
And the award for best restaurant goes to…Actually, that would be rather hard to say, given Asheville’s lineup. But damn if Biscuit Head doesn’t make it in the top three. This is one of those places that you wait in a super long line for, and I often find myself skeptical of those. Is it really worth the hype? Is the mile-long line really just for the Instagram opportunity? Yes, Biscuit Head absolutely met our expectations—exceeded them, even. No, the line isn’t just for the Instagram pic—but take one anyway, because it looks really damn good.

My selection, a cardiologist’s dream, the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit: Mimosa-fried chicken, sweet potato butter, and a poached egg, piled high on a freshly-baked, amazingly crumbly and delicious biscuit. I didn’t even share. J opted for a decidedly lighter option: A biscuit breakfast consisting of eggs, bacon, and single biscuit, which he enjoyed by dipping into the many jams and jellies on sample at the restaurant. He loved the blackberry jam so much, we couldn’t leave without buying a jar to take home. It didn’t last long between the two of us.

Chai Pani
“Indian Street Food” is what’s on the menu at Chai Pani, and it’s absolutely unforgettable. I just finished raving about Biscuit Head and I feel just the same—maybe even more strongly—about our meal here. A couple of beers paired just right (beer goes with everything though, doesn’t it?) with the small-plates-style dining. The restaurant scene itself is completely unassuming: It has sort of a counter service vibe, definitely not the feel of an actual sit-down restaurant—it actually took us a few confusing moments of, “Does someone wait on us? Do we order at the counter?”—but thankfully, someone came around. The quality of food here for the price far surpassed any and all expectations and I’d go back a thousand times over.

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Bhel puri: Puffed rice, crunchy chickpea noodles, cilantro, and onions, tossed with tamarind and green chutney

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Vegetarian thali (basically a sampler platter—and a great one at that)

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The full spread (sort of), including the Bombay Chili Cheese Fries (at top), made with lamb, masala fries, and tomato chutney—these were the absolute kicker.

Asheville’s Beer Scene

You could literally make a beercation out of your trip to Asheville. Pick up an Ale Trail map and just guzzle your way through. I can report that we made it through three stops—sigh, not very impressive. But if you do enough beer flights at each place (rookie mistake?), you can only go so far. Still, what a great time it was.

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We kicked off our beer hike with brews (and nachos!) from Asheville Brewing

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His-and-hers beer flights at Hi-Wire Brewing

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Sort of strange: almost beer/wine hybrid tastes from Wicked Weed

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Buxton Hall BBQ
There were a handful of amazing BBQ joints recommended to us (by people we knew, and the internet), while planning our trip to Asheville. Buxton Hall BBQ was not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, the food was OK, but barbecue is an institution in North Carolina, and it’s not unreasonable to expect the best. Our visit to Buxton Hall was a result of too much beer (post-brewery crawl), not enough energy, and the need for food in our bellies ASAP. Again, this is a perfectly fine restaurant, you just won’t find me raving about it as I have done for the others. Next time—and there will be a next time—we’ll hit up one of the intended recommendations.

Also! See our visit to Asheville’s pièce de résistance, the Biltmore Estate—including tea time!—here.

Blowing Rock, NC

Blowing Rock is one of the quaintest, loveliest little towns I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time in—and believe me, when your home for two nights is a tent, being here really is a pleasure. Though we stayed at a campsite just outside of Blowing Rock, we did venture into town more than a few times (we even came to use their public bathrooms because the campsite ones were that disgusting—that may be an overshare). While dinners were enjoyed around a campfire, we had one quick opportunity to enjoy the food/drink scene, and I’d be interested in coming back for more.

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Blowing Rock Ale House
That we stumbled upon Blowing Rock Ale House was fortuitous: It had just started to rain, and the pub’s cozy atmosphere provided a temporary respite. The pretzels were piping hot, the beer was good, and the joint was hoppin.’ While I can only speak for the pretzels (which were delicious dipped in cheese), the dishes on other diners’ tables looked promising.

Linville, NC

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Habanero’s
This is one of those special places that either you have to be adventurous enough to just pull over and try it, or (in our case), do some research about where to eat and let the directions take you. Or, you could just be in the know (you are after reading this—you’re welcome). Habanero‘s is basically a permanent food truck, and it’s the master of fantastic freaking tacos. From Hawaiian-inspired to Thai, jerk chicken, and crab cake, they have everything. Two thumbs up.

Buena Vista, VA

At this point, we’re technically off the Blue Ridge Parkway—Virginia’s Skyline Drive has taken over for the remainder of the journey—and even then, I think we’ve pulled off altogether (gotta get gas somewhere!).

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JJ’s Meat Shak
This is another one of those random finds, though it proved to be delicious. Despite the fact that JJ’s Meat Shak spells its name without the ‘c’ in shack and it infuriates me, the grub was pretty good. The barbecue sliders gave me a good taste without being too heavy, and I mean, cheese fries are always going to win some sort of award in my book. I wouldn’t recommend you go out of your way to get here, but if you happen to pull off the parkway in Buena Vista, it’s a solid option.

Linden, VA

We are nearing the end of our journey, folks. Now off the parkway altogether and DC-bound, this was our final stop (well, except for Wegman’s—boy, do we love visiting Wegman’s).

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The Apple House
Being from upstate New York, apple orchards and cider donuts (a necessary complement to apple cider in the fall), are a big thing. They are, unfortunately, much harder to find where we live now, so The Apple House, our final stop as we made our way home to DC, was a memorable one. Though they didn’t yet have apple cider (it was still August), they did serve up some freshly-made, piping-hot donuts. They don’t quite compare with those found back in NY, but they were a more-than-decent alternative. (That doesn’t really sound like high praise, does it? It is, I swear it is!). Let’s put it this way: We got half a dozen, and very happily, very hastily, gobbled them up.

The journey is complete!

P.s. for more on our Blue Ridge vacation, check this out.

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