Asheville NC - please weigh in on our tourism choices

I and a couple of friends will be in Asheville for a conference next week. Most of our time and meals will be taken up with the conference, but we will have a small number of hours and meals to ourselves, plus we’re flying in a day early so that we can have all day Sunday to see Asheville (inasmuch as it’s possible to do that in one day. :frowning: ).

We’ve put together a list of potential bars & restaurants and I was hoping for dopers’ thoughts on our choices.

All our breakfasts and lunches (except for Sunday) will be part of the conference, and two evenings we’ve signed up for outings: One is to 12 Bones BBQ and one is a Brews Cruise that will include pizza at Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.

That leaves us with 2 lunches, 3 dinners, and 3 beer drinkings to cover.
We won’t have a car, and we understand that the buses don’t run on Sundays, so we’d like to walk to as much as possible. We’re staying at the Renaissance on Woodfin St)

n.b. we like beer, local art, stinky cheese, good pub food and a whole range of ethnic food - we eat most everything and are adventurous ; we’re not much into shopping, but enjoy shops if they are local and/or funky

What do folks think of these places?

Restaurants:
[ul]
[li]Zambra (tapas)[/li][li]Early Girl Eatery[/li][li]Tupelo Honey Cafe[/li][li]Mellow Mushroom Pizza[/li][li]Doc Chey’s Noodle House[/li][li]Bouchon French Bistro[/li][li]Salsa Mexican Caribbean Restaurant[/li][/ul]

Beer drinkings:
[ul]
[li]Jack of the Wood (is this the same as Green Man Brewing? they share an address)[/li][li]Lexington Avenue Brewing[/li][li]Thirsty Monk[/li][li]Charlotte St Grill & Pub[/li][li]Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. (this will be on our brews cruise, but we do not object to visiting a good place twice)[/li][li]Barley’s Taproom[/li][li]Wedge Brewing Co.[/li][li]French Broad Brewing (on our brews cruise)[/li][li]Highland Brewing Company (on our brews cruise)[/li][/ul]

Tourist things:
[ul]
[li]Biltmore Estate (we may not make it out there, though, because we only have one day free, and we might rather spend it taking in downtown Asheville)[/li][li]Mast General Store/Voltage Records area[/li][li]Grove Arcade[/li][li]Woolworth Walk[/li][li]Cotton Mills / North Crescent Iron / Wedge studios[/li][/ul]

I should have added: Feel free to add your own recommendations.
We will visit as many as our stomachs/livers/wallets allow.

Go to Grove Park Inn, for sure… I don’t really recommend the food, but touring the hotel is probably some of the best sights I’ve seen in that area overall.

The best restaurant I’ve eaten at by far in the area was at Rezaz. I’ve eaten at a lot of expensive restaurants and Reza’s was up there with them. Link

Zambra’s is good. I’m not a fan of pubs in general, so can’t comment on much of your list, YMMV. I would not recommend eating at Biltmore House restaurants – totally not worth it and they served me frozen seafood – but do take a look at the McDonald’s there, it was voted the most unusual McDonald’s in the country.

If you’ve got the time and inclination, go to the Carl Sandburg farm.

Adding Rezaz to the list, as well as the Carl Sandburg Farm. Our lists for our trips are always about 40 times longer than we can possibly ever accomplish. Thank you!

Grove Arcade is a building that is now a nice small indoor mall. It was built for stores before WW II and was taken over by the feds for WW II - and they kept the building until 2002.

Mellow Mushroom pizza is very good. The downtown area is very nice but it’s small. Asheville used to be known for being a big retirement area but in the last 20 years a lot of young people have moved there too. Many of the young people like the area for hiking, biking, kayaking and other outdoor sports. You run into people with degrees waiting tables because there are not a lot of professional type jobs there.

Restaurants: Zambra/Tapas is good drinks but overpriced (still pretty good, and varied) food. Early Girl is simple, good, relatively cheap, and very Asheville. Tupelo Honey is also these things taken to the next level. Mellow Mushroom is best avoided - it’s all the manufactured schmaltz of a TGIF or Chili’s, but done in a hippie vein which somehow makes it more offensive. (More importantly, the food is utterly mediocre.) If you want good pizza in Asheville do Asheville Pizza and Brewing, since it’s on the cruise anyway. (I recommend the Greek - nummy.) Doc Chey’s is cheap and solidly between mediocre and good - if you want cheap and good, just walk a couple blocks further and go to Mamacitas. The others I haven’t been to.

Beer drinkings I can’t really comment on, as most of mine is done on my porch. (I will give my porch a solid five stars, though.)

Touristy things: Biltmore Estate is great, very impressive - totally worth it, but it will eat up a whole afternoon. (Still, if you’re into such things, the architecture, the views, the gardens and estate, and the pure ostentatiousness are tough to beat.) Spending the time doing downtown would be less in-your-face impressive, but more engaging fun, I think - you could easily do Mast/Voltage, then check out Woolworth Walk as you head to Grove Arcade for a drink - they’re all within a couple blocks of each other. As for the worthiness: Grove Arcade is snazzy and decently interesting, some good food and art but somewhat tourist-trappy; Woolworth has lots of local artists; the Mast/Voltage area is an area that does exist in downtown Asheville. (Mast is one I don’t really get - it’s a general store. If you need glowsticks or a canteen, great, if not…) The River Arts District is always worthwhile if you’re into such things, though it does help to wait for the Studio Stroll - not that that does you much good.

(All IMHO, of course - I see Bijou Drains and I already disgree on Mellow Mushroom.)

I’ll give my recommendations below piecemeal.

I really like it, but I’ve not been to a lot of tapas places. It’s run by crazy chef Hector Diaz, so there are a lot of odd tastes that work wonderfully, like the saffron flan or the lavender mussels.

Pretty good, but nothing special; if your hometown has a great, slightly hippy breakfast place (the kind where you can choose homemade veggie sausage), they’re probably as good as Early Girl. I wouldn’t go there if I were really limited in choices.

I’d go here instead. Really fine Southern food. If you’ve always thought pimiento cheese was revolting, try theirs: it’s a revelation.

Bleah! Trendy, shitty ingredients, shitty service by hippie hipsters who think they’re too good for the tourons, or for the locals for that matter. Give it a miss, IMO. Asheville Pizza and Marco’s are both far superior: Asheville Pizza for their good pizza and glorious beer, and Marco’s for their gourmet ingredients.

Decent, but not really worth going out of your way for. They’re more of a comfort food thing, not anything all that special.

Never been, not familiar with it.

Another of Crazy Chef Hector’s restaurants (he also runs Modesto’s and Chorizo’s, neither of which is quite as crazy but both of which are delicious). His mad genius really shines through here: your spiced beans and rice might have bits of banana and coconut in it, or your grilled fish might have a curried yam bed. It’s my wife’s favorite restaurant, and if you’re an adventurous eater, I highly recommend it.

Yep, same thing. Green Man Ales is the brewery that serves Jack of the Wood (the downstairs British pub) and Laughing Seed (the upstairs upscale vegetarian restaurant). Jack of the Wood, IMO, has the best hamburgers in town. I prefer Asheville Pizza’s beer, but Jack of the Wood is pretty good.

I haven’t been yet, but the folks who’ve been tell me two things: getting a table is really difficult, and it’s spectacular.

Downstairs is a pretty awesome place, specializing in European, especially Belgian, ales. Upstairs is just a good pub, with lots of US microbrews; it’s the downstairs that’s worth going to if you’re in from out of town.

Meh. Your standard dimly-lit grill; nothing special.

Their Shiva IPA is the perfect accompaniment to pizza, IMO, and their other beers are really good as well. My favorite pizza there is a peppercorn crust with spinach, walnuts, and feta; try it out! This is one of our standard restaurants.

Meh. Lots of beer, irritating atmosphere, mediocre pizza.

The only other restaurant I’d consider adding to the list is Jerusalem Garden, a pretty good Middle Eastern place with belly-dancing in the evening. Oh, and a Himalayan restaurant just opened a couple doors down from Jerusalem Garden, might be worth looking at. Oh yeah, and then if you’re downtown at lunchtime and want a quick bite, there’s Chai Pani, a new restaurant specializing in Indian street food. It’s light and delicious.

All very good breweries. I don’t think I’d bother going there twice, though: the cruise ought to be enough.

Of those, the only one I’d really recommend is the Woolworth walk. Lots of local artists set up shop there, and there’s a lot of real crap–but there’s also a fair amount of decent stuff. Biltmore is fine if you go in for that sort of thing (okay, I lie, I’ve never been there–that’s what I hear secondhand, since I definitely don’t go in for that sort of thing). Grove Arcade has nothing to recommend it IMO. Mast General Store is the same sort of cheap touristy shit you can get at the beach, with a sparse REI selection tacked on.

Carl Sandburg is definitely nice. Depending on the weather, you ABSOLUTELY should make it up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway–rent a car for the day if you need to, the parkway is that beautiful. If you can get transportation, the NC Arboretum is near one of the entrances to the parkway.

Walking around dowtown is a blast, though. If you’re there on a weekend night, mosey on by Pritchard Park (ask a local for directions, or just wander up and down Patton/College until you find it); there’s often something interesting happening there. Malaprop’s is a pretty good independent bookstore that often has readings going on in the evenings. And West Asheville is an up-and-coming neighborhood that might be good for a stroll; West End Bakery is a great place for a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee and a soaking in of the local feel.

Hope that helps!

BTW, the local independent rag Mountain Xpress runs a Best of WNC readers’ poll that I find is a pretty accurate barometer for a variety of local activities.

Ooh, good call, Randolph!

One more restaurant to mention: if you do go to the Arboretum or to the Parkway, there’s a good and immensely popular Mexican restaurant on the way there or back: Papas and Beer. Don’t just go for their $2 pints of Highland Gaelic Ale (as a flamboyant friend of mine declared, it’s the only place he knows where you can get a Gaelic for $2): go for their pretty dang good Mexicali food. It’s nothing exciting, but it’s very well done.

Based on that poll I see other heathens like me like Mellow Mushroom. :slight_smile:

Town Mountain Rd. goes from downtown Asheville directly to the Blue Ridge Parkway - the road is very winding and steep so it can be scary for some drivers but it’s a great scenic drive if you like that kind of road.

I am really enjoying the differences of opinion that are cropping up. :slight_smile:

When we put together the list of restaurants (and the non-brewery pubs) we were looking primarily in the neighborhood of the hotel - within stumbling distance is high on our list of priorities.

But we can definitely travel further, especially for dinner, for a place you think is especially good or important.

I’m willing to hear: Throw out your list, Motorgirl, and use mine!

Going through the posts more thoroughly now…

Heh, Bijou–yeah, there are some heathens out there. (Note that it came in third place in the pizza category, behind Asheville Pizza and Marco’s–and offhand I can’t think of many other local pizzerias).

Ooh, another recommendation for downtown fun: the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. They’re freakin’ spectacular, I mean, totally amazing chocolatiers. My favorite thing to do is to order a variety of different truffles and a pot of coffee. Definitely check them out if you can!

A few things from that link to skip: Moose Cafe (big fat tourist trap with decent food but nothing special); Marble Slab ice cream (something about the place is like nails on chalkboard), and Asiana (it’s a great generic place for a co-worker lunch, but absolutely nothing you’d want to visit from out of town).

So my recommendations, all of which will be within walking distance of the Renaissance:
Lunch 1: Chai Pani (the Indian street food place)
Lunch 2: Heiwa Shokudo (a very small, very good sushi restaurant on Lexington)
Dinner 1: Salsa’s or Zambra’s.
Dinner 2: Jack of the Wood or Zambra’s
Dinner 3: Tupelo Honey
Drinking 1: Thirsty Monk
Drinking 2: Lexington Ave Tav
Drinking 3: Jack of the Wood or Zambra’s, the same night you go there for dinner.

I think that’d get you a pretty good feel for the city’s excellent restaurant scene, and you won’t have to drive at all.

Who is this French broad that everything is named after?

The Blue Ridge Parkway north of Asheville is very high so not all of it is open in winter.

BTW, Asheville only has 3 pizza joints? I know it’s not a big city but I have 3 pizza joints within 1 block of my house and my town is about the same size as Asheville.

French Broad is the main river - it was named because the river flowed into French territory - the Tenn. River and then the Mississippi. There is also the Broad river nearby which was called the English Broad because it flows east.

I’ve long maintained that the French Broads would be a great name for a local burlesque troop.

Edit: Bijou, I’m talking about local places, not chains. And for the Mountain Xpress’s purpose, it needs to be somewhere that seats a significant number of people, or else it won’t have enough customers to compete in the listings with the big three. There are a few other places, but I can’t think of any others that are as well-known as those three, are locally run, and that focus on pizza.

Google Pizza Asheville NC. There are considerably more than three.

IF you go to the Biltmore, you should know 2 things: my cousin is the dessert chef and awesome. (Okay - he’s not my cousin, he’s the nephew of my SIL but I watched him grow up). And there is a very cool McDonald’s that has been featured on TV because of it’s “Biltmore” type atmosphere.

(of course, now that i’ve linked you a videao - you don’t necessarily need to go . . .)

Zambra is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere–it’s not cheap, but I still eat there anytime I’m in town. (It would probably be cheaper if we didn’t insist on making pigs of ourselves every time we’re there.)

We’ve only eaten at the enoteca part of Rezas, but it was wonderful. We’re planning to do the restaurant proper the next time we’re in town.

I’ve been to the Biltmore twice, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, despite it not really being my sort of thing. The gardens were a big part of it, though, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it this time of year.

We don’t usually limit our drinking to one place–we like to bounce around, and downtown has a lot of good possibilities (most of which you’ve mentioned). Asheville Pizza and Brewing and the Thirsty Monk are very close together, so that’s a good place to start. If you’re a fan of beer, don’t miss Bruisin’ Ales, a truly great beer store where you can drink one while you shop.

Are y’all flying in to Charlotte? We should do a dopefest!

I happen to know the names of 2 good massage therapists in Asheville - my SO and I went to Asheville for New Year’s Eve and one gal came to our cabin and gave us some awesome massages one right after the other - it was divine.