Friday, May 22, 2015

Eating and Drinking Through Asheville: Part 5

In which our intrepid explorers experience Art!  Beer!  Ciders!  And The Admiral!

Day 6

OK, so Asheville has been good to us so far this trip, with pleasant weather, great food and great beers.  Hm, what should we do on day 6?  How about more of the same?  Sounds like a plan!

Sj ready to get messy with BBQ!
We started out the day a little late with lunch at 12 Bones, a local BBQ joint known for its line outside the door and amazing North Carolina BBQ.  Located right in the midst of the Asheville River Arts District, this was a good excuse to get in the car and explore the city a bit more.  We got there shortly after they opened and didn't have to stand outside longer than about 10 minutes.  Pretty much everyone I talked to about the area had suggested this place, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed.  My ribs were dry, tough and hard to eat with little bone fragments in several bites.  The pulled pork came out in a bowl filled with watery juice and was quite bland on its own.  They did have several BBQ, mustard, and vinegar sauces to try with the meats, but none really wowed me.  We did get very quick counter service though.  I also tried the pale ale from local Pisgah Brewing and this prompted me to visit that brewery the following day.  The best BBQ I had on this trip was actually Black Dog Smokehouse in Urbana, IL of all places!  Oh well, you can't win them all.

From 12 Bones we walked across the road to a cluster of warehouses that had been converted to artist studios.  There were many such places in the area, and they offered a cool way to check out some of the local art and explore a bit.  The map of the River Arts District made it look easy to walk from studio to studio, but we discovered that there was no sidewalk and that places were farther apart than they looked on the map!  No problem, we foraged over high grass, braved narrow roads, and went cross-country across train tracks and through crumbled buildings.  I enjoyed the derelict nature of the area and had plenty of things to take pictures of.  Seriously though, the city should invest in some sidewalks to encourage more traffic to these places.

Coolest art studio ever?

We visited cool studios with pottery, woodworking, glass blowing, painting, metal smithing, and more.  Many of the old buildings were a treat to examine as well.  We did pick up some jewelry for Sj and also an amazing painting on tin from old Asheville.

Not far from here, we met up with an old friend of Sj's from Alabama, Amy Pike.  Amy has been in Asheville for some time and seemed to know just about everyone we ran into!  We met at Urban Orchard, a local cidery with 8 ciders on tap.  The place was new, spare, and comfortable, with the windows open to a warm breeze.  Our server was very attentive and seemed to actually know a lot about the different ciders, and didn't hesitate to tell us her favorites.  We ended up getting two samplers so we could try them all!  It was great to meet Amy, and I'm really glad that she and Sj had a chance to catch up on quite a bit of time.

The ciders at Urban Orchard were surprisingly good.  So many ciders I try these days are overly sweet, and none of these had that issue.  I gave pretty much all the ciders a 4 out of 5 star rating, except the Wit which really didn't have the right balance.  My favorites were the Black Hole (Blackberry!) and the Sidra Del Diablo (Habenero!) but I really also enjoyed their flagship Dry Ridge dry cider.  They do also offer some snacks for those who work up a hunger while drinking cider.  We had a great time hanging out in this comfy tap room and I would highly recommend stopping in if you are interested in trying some unique cider options.

After saying our goodbyes, we headed back to the Arts District to visit Wedge Brewing, which had just opened at 4 PM that day.  Nestled in among the art galleries, in a three story building originally used for livestock distribution, this place has some serious character.  Outside, railings, tables, chairs are all made of welded "found" metal tools and items.  Just wandering around the place is a treat!  It was getting pretty hot and sunny by the time we visited so we didn't want to sit out in the open patio with most of the crowd.  We headed in to the small taproom proper, where there was really just space to line up and order, with only a couple stools inside.  We got two samplers, going to a second alternate serving station outside to fill up one of the beers we ordered.  I like the chalkboard sides of the samplers--something I haven't seen before.  They also have bowls of peanuts and buckets for shells...something I haven't seen at a bar for years!  So if you have a serious peanut allergy, you may want to stay away from Wedge.

Just one of many cool metal sculptures outside Wedge

We ended up sitting outside on cool rotating and moving chair sculptures, out of the brightest of the hot sun.  I drank through the samplers and enjoyed many of the beers.  The Julian Price Pilsner was well made and very refreshing!  A hemp ale was actually tasty and will probably make me test positive on the next drug test I take.  And the Iron Rail IPA was classic and well balanced.  My least favorite was, much like Urban Orchard, the Wit.  Overall, a very cool space, vibe, and a good collection of solid beers.  I'm glad we went back to this place instead of heading back into downtown.

Parking our car quasi-legally outside Hi-Wire Brewing, we had one more stop before dinner.  I mean what else were we going to do?  Our server at Sierra Nevada had mentioned that her husband was a brewer at Hi-Wire, a brewery that had not really been on my radar before that, but I added it to the list after talking to her.  This is a small working brewery, with a tiny bar and a few high top tables for seating.  Not the most glamorous, but very "real".  I quickly tasted through the sampler and found all of the beers to be well crafted and good examples of their styles.  Nothing crazy, but all good.  My favorite double IPA of the trip was their Man Eater, and they happened to have just bottled them, so I took a few home with me.  Second favorite was the very nice ESB.  We also briefly got to say hi to one of the owners there who seemed appreciative of our business.  Getting back to our car to avoid towing, we headed on to our next destination.

Next we headed over to a place in West Asheville that had been suggested by our niece Anna as well as friends of Sj's: The Admiral!  This is the restaurant for the foodies.  The building is pretty tiny and unassuming, made of ugly cinderblock, with minimal signage.  Entering through a small door, the restaurant is small, close, and dark with booth seating along one side and tables in the center.  The small kitchen is visible from the seating area, and chefs bustled around throwing flames and tasty foods around like circus performers.  The place has the feel of an only slightly revamped dive bar or 1950's diner.  Our server was great, and very attentive.  With a menu changing daily based on local and available foods, the options are limited but all interesting.  We started with the Sweet Breads in spicy honey sauce and buttermilk ranch and my heart skipped a beat or two.  For those who don't know what sweet breads are: they are thymus glands, usually tossed as trash, but in the right hands can be a flavorful, buttery textured, culinary heaven.  And these were perfect.  We split some other dishes to get a good mix of things and everything we tried was stellar.  This place is a gem hidden in a tarnished base metal setting. This was by far the best meal we had on our trip to Asheville.  And yes, we had more sweet breads for "dessert".  Because they were just that good.

Back alley speakeasy entrance to One World
Not to be finished after two breweries, a cidery, and one of the best meals ever, we were ready for more!  Back to the hotel to drop off the car and back out to downtown.  One World Brewing was very close to the hotel and I had been saving it for just such an occasion.  Hidden down an alley right next to Farm Burger restaurant, the entrance is through a large metal framed portal (manned by a bouncer), down some stairs past a door with sliding peep-hole (speakeasy?) and into a dark and minimalist basement space.  The space itself is fairly relaxed looking with a small bar near the entrance.  When we arrived they had the World's Most Terrible DJ (TM) playing awful, bone jarring house music from hell.  Sj gave me "the look" saying silently, "Get your beers, drink them, and get me out of this place."  Which I promptly did.  The bartender was cheerful and quick, getting me the sampler without fuss.  I'll be honest here, the beers were not very good.  Not infected or unintentionally-sour-bad, but just not very good and not well balanced.  The exception was the Citra Bomb that I gave a 3.5 star rating since I'm a whore for Citra hops.  Looking at the homebrew sized brew system in the corner of the basement, I can see why they probably have some variability in batches, but these guys need to step it up if they want to compete in Asheville!  I didn't finish my beers and we escaped the hellish racket to the free air above ground. Your results may vary.

Our desire for a relaxing night-cap foiled, we continued to walk around for a bit.  Passing the famous French Broad Chocolates building and seeing no line out the door we at first thought that it must be closed.  But no!  It was actually open, so we finally had a chance to get some chocolates.  We both got decadent sipping chocolates that have to be the richest thing I've ever put in my mouth.  We also stocked up on Mother's Day presents.

OK, now that is the way to finish the day!  Only one more left in Asheville...What to do tomorrow?  Perhaps eat and drink some more?  Sure!

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