Long known for its citywide focus on locally produced goods, Asheville, North Carolina, is undergoing a bit of a renaissance that’s transforming its hippie-chic reputation into something more sophisticated.
Take Nightbell Restaurant & Lounge, recently opened downtown near Pack Square by Heirloom Hospitality Group’s Katie Button and Felix Meana, also owners of Asheville’s widely acclaimed Curate tapas bar. Whimsical decor (think electric-blue chandeliers and glossy black wingback chairs straight out of “Alice in Wonderland”) complements imaginative cocktails made with local spirits and tempting desserts like the unique petits fours collection from talented pastry chef Carmen Vaquera. Items like liquid apple pie truffles and frozen sweet potato pie are served inside a vintage cigar box. Button spilled that Heirloom will soon cater for private events too—good news for planners.
Sovereign Remedies, a local watering hole that opened in late summer 2014 on Market Street, partners with local farms to source herbs like sarsaparilla, sassafras, burdock and other ingredients for truly handcrafted cocktails. Owner Charlie Hodge says he thinks of it as “harnessing the energy of Asheville,” revealing that the town’s geographic location on the same latitude as China means many Chinese herbs grow perfectly there.
Also playing off that energy is The Omni Grove Park Inn, refreshing its historic appeal with new dining establishments alongside 55,000 square feet of meeting space. Its new Edison Craft Ales + Kitchen is the hot spot to network, watch the big game and nosh on impressive small plates, like Carolina bison meatballs, chopped kale salad and fried green tomatoes, made with 86 percent locally sourced ingredients. The chef himself admits to using his personal vacation time to work on local farms and find better produce for his kitchen—how’s that for dedication?
Rhubarb, a crowd favorite in Pack Square, recently began offering a three-course communal Sunday supper, and its chef and owner, John Fleer, a three-time James Beard finalist for Best Chef: Southeast, revealed he’s opening a private event space later this year.
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the abundance of local beverage in Asheville, a scene that’s growing by leaps and bounds. Sake, hard cider, moonshine and even mead all have new production facilities and tasting rooms around town, in addition to more than 100 local beers from 18 craft breweries.
> Molten peanut praline cake with dark chocolate and mandarin sorbet at Nightbell
> Berber pie with butternut squash-apple mostarda and Benton’s prosciutto at Rhubarb
Photo: Nightbell dessert
Credit: Evan Sung