Mountain magic

Ahhhhh … Asheville, my favorite North Carolina spot. My soul’s at home in the mountains, and Asheville’s a growing, funky, eclectic town with a nice food scene. And my daughter has relocated there, so I have plenty of excuses now to visit more frequently.

The Asheville Public

Erin’s gotten in on the front end of a very good thing. The Asheville Public — in the space formerly occupied by a greasy spoon diner — has only been open a few months. Some reviewers would say they’ve spent those months trying to find themselves. But it seems to me the search might be over based on a shift in ownership, brand-new menus created by new executive chef Ryan Kanupp and the rest of the staff, and the stellar meal I enjoyed last weekend.

I love a restaurant that does both a Saturday and Sunday brunch, don’t you? My Saturday afternoon meal consisted of a great bloody Mary and a to-die-for Appalachian Benedict.

The only standard benedict ingredients were poached eggs and hollandaise. TAP swapped the usual Canadian bacon for delicately smoked-in-house local trout, and substituted cornbread for the English muffin. Wilted salad greens comprised the bottom layer, and a light drizzle of what tasted like balsamic syrup over the top added a nice kick.

                 

The wait staff deliver checks in small booklets inviting comments — a clever way to solicit feedback. My daughter’s was full of service kudos, of course …

And I predict plenty of future kudos for this baby eatery’s winning combination of a charming, casual atmosphere, creative fare and eager staff.

Curate

Curate is one of Asheville’s hottest dining tickets, and I was not successful in securing a reservation. But Erin and I lucked out when we wandered in early and scored seats at the bar for dinner. (Which are actually the best seats in the house, overlooking the high-energy prepping and cooking space.)

I started out drinking beer, but switched once I spied a lovely, refreshing-looking drink that I did not  recognize as a gin and tonic. Curate calls theirs “the ultimate” for a number of good reasons. Like Hendricks gin (which my daughter swears is the best), Fever-Tree Indian tonic water, lemon verbena, juniper berries (gin comes from juniper — you know that, right?), lemon, lime and an edible flower grown out back.

Erin and I shared several tapas. All were fantastic, but our favorite consisted of cool, tender asparagus spears flavored with a lemon tarragon vinaigrette and standing on end in a house-made mayo the menu proclaims is “light as air.” And it was. A kind of delectable mayo foam that still somehow managed to be rich.

Sorry no pic — it was yummy but not so photogenic. Also delicious and much prettier were sauteed shrimp and garlic, and piquillo peppers stuffed with melted cana de cabra cheese.

         

Even when I used to eat meat on a daily basis I was never a ham fan, so Erin plans to return with her boyfriend, an fellow appreciator of pork, to sample Curate’s renowned hams-from-Spain. There are three tiers of quality — the highest comes from swine that eat nothing but acorns. A whole one of those ham legs was staked and on display (and being served). It must be some damn fine ham, considering the $2,000 price tag. Maybe I should have tried it.

French Broad Chocolate Lounge 

It’s a good thing that longtime favorite French Broad Chocolate Lounge truffles are bite-sized, otherwise there wouldn’t have been room for them in our tapas-stuffed stomachs. I scarfed mine down before I managed to take photos, but I remember that one of them was a fig and port combo.

I did manage to snap a picture of some brownies, one of which I took home to enjoy much later that night. I was a bit worried because it wasn’t one of the heavy, dense brownies that are my favorites. But my concern dissipated with the first bite. It had a slightly crisp exterior and was very, very chocolatey. The chocolate nibs baked inside lent a nice crunch, and heat from the cayenne lingered pleasantly on my tongue, oddly enough.

The Dripolator 

I fell in love with nearby Black Mountain’s Driplator coffee shop years and years ago, and I believe the Asheville location used to be associated with it but isn’t any longer.

I had nice early breakfasts there both mornings while the young folks slept in. Tasty homemade granola one morning, and the best chocolate croissant I’ve had in years the next.

And finally … cherries 

Erin enthused so much about a jar of maraschino cherries made by her boyfriend’s mother that I determined we had to make some ourselves.

I won’t tell you how much I spent on the maraschino liqueur, multiple pounds of cherries, a new cherry-and-olive pitter (with which I’ve fallen completely in love — no buyer’s remorse there) and other ingredients. But the resulting fruit is wonderful. I plan to serve some up on rice pudding this coming weekend.

Next I’ll try a non-alcoholic batch that’s suitable for combining with breakfast yogurt. But in the meantime, here’s the boozy version recipe.

About atarheeltastes

I'm a passionate foodie who started this "temporary" blog during a gustatory tour of Tuscany. I decided to continue, since I love to dream about, plan for, prepare, eat and write about food!
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