With the warmer weather finally here, there’s no better time to start planning adventures to get out – as in outside, where it’s no longer miserable – and explore. While it’s wonderful to plan an elaborate trip to a far-off destination and completely escape your nine to five, there’s plenty to see and do in places that are closer to home and only a drive away.
Asheville, North Carolina, for example, is a prime choice for a weekend getaway. Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville has a notable restaurant scene where farm-to-table is the standard, not the exception. Locavore fare and homegrown talent have put the city’s culinary offerings on the national radar, with local restaurateurs including James Beard semifinalists Katie Button (Nightbell, Cúrate) and John Fleer (Rhubarb, The Rhu). The city is home to a growing number of craft breweries, including Highland Brewing (Asheville’s first craft brewery) and Wicked Weed Brewing(known for its barrel-aged sour beers), as well as a bean-to-bar chocolate maker and confectioner, French Broad Chocolates, which has a popular chocolate lounge.
For our trip, we took the 2018 Buick Enclave for a spin and took advantage of the many features that come with this luxury vehicle. On the drive up, we enjoyed the roomy interior and QuietTuning feature, which diminished much of the ambient road noise, making for a peaceful, comfortable drive. Built-in USB ports (six total) allowed us to listen to podcasts and music on the car’s speakers while our phones charged. The rear camera mirror proved helpful when parking on steep mountain roads to access scenic trails, and the Wi-Fi hotspot gave us peace of mind while navigating in remote areas where cell phone service was unreliable.
Inspired by the local bounty that fuels the seasonal eateries around Asheville, we took part in a foraging tour hosted by No Taste Like Home, a company that invites guests “off the eaten path.” Public tours run on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays throughout the year, though March through October is their main season. The tours last three hours and what you’ll find – greens, berries, mushrooms, flowers, and more – will depend on the time of year.
Our tour took us to Garren Creek, a 20 minute drive from downtown Asheville. There, we met our group and foraging leader, Jillian. She took us around a field and through a forest, stopping when she found something edible and inviting all of us to gather the same item and have a taste as she described the plant. We found onion grass, violet flowers, turkey tail mushrooms, bittercress and even a small patch of trout lily – a rare find which Jillian was particularly excited about. She answered our questions about the local flora as we sipped tea made from pine needles she foraged earlier that morning. At the end of our tour, Jillian cooked our finds with some additional ingredients (like butter, which makes everything delicious). When foraging, especially in wet grass, waterproof shoes are a must – a lesson I learned the hard way.
The foraging fun continued with dinner, where we ate at one of No Taste Like Home’s restaurant partners, which prepare a complimentary appetizer with three foraged finds for tour participants. Of the list, Rhubarb was the clear choice for me, especially since it was a Sunday and I’d heard great things about the chef’s Sunday Supper, a weekly-changing family-style prix fixe menu. Our meal began with trout brandade fritters, roasted parsnip hummus, a warm spinach salad and grilled asparagus, plus a dish made with the ingredients we brought to the restaurant earlier that day: onion grass (wild garlic), chickweed and violets.
It was incredible to see how the chef had transformed our raw ingredients into a complex dish. He presented a plate of fromage blanc gnudi with an onion grass pistou, grilled daylily shoots, picked Japanese knotweed and a chickweed and violet salad drizzled with a black walnut vinaigrette. It was followed by the main course: sweet tea fried chicken (Fleer’s recipe) with buttermilk smashed potatoes, sweet and sour collards, B&B (bread and butter) pickles and chow-chow. For dessert, a rich lemon cake filled with a tangy lemon curd and topped with jam was served.
Our home base for the weekend was the Biltmore Village Inn, a charming luxury bed and breakfast near the Biltmore Estate: a gorgeous mansion owned by the Vanderbilt family with picturesque gardens and rotating exhibits (currently Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie). The Inn, built in 1892 in the Queen Anne style, is nestled on a hilltop and offers mountain views, which we enjoyed from our suite and on the wraparound porch. Our suite (the Kathleen Suite) had a light-filled turret with benches alongside the windows lining the room. It was the perfect place to read a book or simply lounge and take in the surrounding views. At breakfast – an intimate two-course affair served at 9AM every morning in the main dining room – we chatted with the chef and some of the other couples staying at the Inn; fellow travelers who had also chosen Asheville for a weekend trip.