In October Patty Griffin, Kirsten’s favorite musician, was scheduled to play at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC. I got us a pair of tickets, and with the concert as the centerpiece we cobbled together a mini-moon to celebrate our recent wedding. Our first day was packed, and following a tour of the Biltmore we headed downtown to explore its restaurants with Eating Asheville. Promising “fresh plates” and “fascinating insights about Asheville’s great restaurant scene” we were both excited to eat (and drink) our way through the city.
The adventure began at Battery Park Book Exchange. Parking was a nightmare. After circling downtown we eventually found the lone open spot on Grove Street and sprinted towards the embarkation point, Battery Park Book Exchange. We were the last couple to arrive, and slid into an open space on a long couch. Battery Park is part used book store, part champagne bar (with 80 wines available by the glass), and 100% cool. Introductions were made (our guide remembered everyone’s name), champagne was poured, and the first of the tasty noshes, a smoked trout dip, was passed around. Special accommodations had been made for Kirsten, due to her debilitating seafood allergy, and she received a pimento cheese. Both dips were delicious and as we finished the champagne it was time to depart for stop number two.
Darting in an out of people on the crowded sidewalks we made our way towards Cucina 24, where chef and owner Brian Canipelli creates modern interpretations of classic Italian cuisine using local ingredients. On the menu this afternoon was grilled octopus with fava beans and homemade pepperoni. Our guide announced the no fish proviso concerned only “fish with fins,” and that octopus was the only thing on the menu. I was sad for Kirsten, but as the first piece of octopus slid past my lips, my belly was happy for two servings. The octopus was perfectly cooked, and rather than being rubbery had a pleasing texture. The beans and pepperoni paired well together, and of the items sampled on the tour this was my favorite.
A stack of plates and used wine glasses were all that remained as our guide ushered us out of Cucina 24 and towards Strada. He reminded me of the March Hare as he looked at his watch and urged us not be late. Our brisk walk was rewarded with a sample of traditional Tuscan cuisine by chef Anthony Cerrato. Grilled ravioli filled with a mixture of spinach infused fontina and ricotta cheese was served atop balsamic drizzled arugula and a light tomato sauce. The pasta was delicate while the cheese mixture paired with the tomato sauce was sublime. Kirsten really enjoyed this stop and wished we had a second ravioli.
Chocolate Gems is owned by an adorable couple who craft handmade chocolates using high end ingredients. While one of them gave us a brief history of the business and what they try to do as chocolatiers, ramekins of chocolate panna cotta were distributed. Following three savory samples the silky sweetness of the grown-up version of chocolate pudding was delicious. So delicious that I ran my finger around the inside of the ramekin to ensure nothing was missed. As we departed a cardamon truffle was provided (which was very good).
Next on the tour a was the Gourmet Chip Company. This was an unplanned drop in, and we were told it was only for a quick snack. The Gourmet Chip Company offers various handmade chips topped with a unique combination of toppings including chardonnay smoked salt, Belgian chocolate, and smoked bacon. We lined up and were handed a paper cone stuffed full of the Parisian. The kettle style chips were topped with rosemary, thyme crusted goat cheese, a white truffle spritz, and sea salt. Amazing would be an understatement, as I have never had such a flavorful chip.
The penultimate stop on our journey was the Social Lounge. We arrived and were presented with a small tipple called the Snapdragon. It was a play on the classic Old Fashioned with Bulleit bourbon paired with fresh ginger, lemon, and orange bitters. In the first hiccup of the day, the staff thought we would arrive at a later time, and did not have anything prepared for our group. Due to the Social Lounge being associated with Strada a quick fix was made, and we were served tortellini in vodka sauce. I’ve never refused a plate of pasta in my life, and happily ate it.
The food tour concluded at Rhubarb. With our horseback riding tour of the Biltmore slated to begin in less than an hour we were not able to linger over the wild mushroom arancini. I popped the deep fried rice ball in my mouth, declared it to be delicious, and then ate Kirsten’s due to her avoidance of foods with an earthy flavor (truffles, mushrooms, etc.) With that we said goodbye to our fellow food nerds. The tour was a wonderful way to get a glimpse into Ashville’s culinary scene and was one of the highlights of our mini-moon.