Off the Beaten Path in Asheville—A Local's perspective
For all my commentary on the wonders of Asheville, a certain collection of locales goes unmentioned. I do not mean to omit anything, rather there are simply so many things to do in Asheville, that even the most outstanding establishments may not find the limelight. This post attempts to remedy such a situation.
Asheville’s a downright cornucopia of diversions—there will always be some excellent, unsampled outing, tucked away in an unassuming corner. Thus, I invite you to read on and discover some of the best visits off the metaphorical “beaten path,” where one finds perhaps the most local of local favorites.
Despite their location on Biltmore Avenue—one of downtown’s foremost streets—I find I have barely mentioned Curate in
previous posts. If only I had written on the “Top 5 Iberian Restaurants in Asheville,” or the “Best Restaurants in Renovated Depression-Era Bus Depots,” Curate would not have gone so unspoken. Shame on me, for Iberian cuisine is some of my favorite and this restaurant plays into exactly what makes it so great: familiar ingredients, with a twist.
Throughout Curate’s selection of tapas and larger plates, ham and potatoes are some of the most off-mentioned foodstuffs. But rest assured, this is not mere pedestrian fare. While not straying into the unpronounceable realms of “foie-gras” and “bourguignon,” Curate manages to engineer surprising creations, such as salt-cod fritters with honey, chorizo with fig jam, and squid sandwiches. Such is the skill of their chefs, and quality of ingredients, that I endorse it all.
In terms of beverages, Curate was voted one of the nation’s top 100 restaurants for wine in 2018. Since Asheville is “Beer City,” not “Wine City,” such an honor may be considered blasphemous, but nonetheless a dinner at Curate is one of the foremost gustatory things to do in Asheville.
Curate is closed on Mondays and somewhat inundated from Fridays to Sundays. Thus, I would recommend reservations.
Behave Like a Local: It is tradition among Ashevilleians to shout “exquisito!” after every bite at Curate, loud enough to be heard throughout the restaurant. Trust me, it’s the thing to do.
I was first acquainted with Biscuit Head when I was a Sophomore in High School, following a series of events related to foam-covered pipes, and Medieval combat enthusiasts. Since that blessed day, I’ve considered Biscuit Head as a landmark, West Asheville’s gateway from the south end of town.
Biscuit Head is an excellent example of how far you can run with an idea—in this case biscuits—given enough innovation and savvy for Southern delicacies. Among their specialty biscuits lie the unforgettable mimosa fried chicken, and brisket benedict, while their to-order menu includes no less than six kinds of gravy, and every manner of side-dish, from sausage to fried catfish. Accompany your breakfast with a maple-bacon late, or house-made chocolate milk, and there will be little more you could ask for.
As they are busiest on Saturdays and Sundays, and open from the morning to early afternoon, I’d suggest visiting Biscuit Head for a weekday lunch. Alternatively, if you absolutely have to wake up before noon—I shudder at the thought myself—there are few better things to do in Asheville than to breakfast at Biscuit Head.
Behave Like a Local: Biscuit Head offers a discount if you place your biscuit on your head—like a hat—before eating. Its only polite.
Located just next door to Biscuit Head, Isis Music Hall is a local go-to for live performances. Their kitchen offers upscale Southern fare—fried chicken with green apple slices, duck-leg nachos, etc.—and beers both local and national. Such selection, I’d say, nicely mirrors Asheville’s proud music-scene; it is a blend of the traditional, and the unexpected.
Early evening shows, usually starting around 7pm, are held in Isis’ smaller upstairs lounge, while later shows are held in their expansive music hall. Tickets are on sale now via Isis’ website for their regular Tuesday bluegrass sessions, an evening with Tom Rush (folk and blues), and the Alash Ensemble (Tuvan throat-singers).
Out of all the things to do in Asheville, I’d say that seeing live music is one of the most popular among locals, and yet I’ve seldom referred to the matter. Hopefully, a visit to Isis will constitute a good foray into that culture.
Behave Like a Local: At concerts, Ashevilleians snap instead of clap. After all, lyrics are poetry of a kind.
I hold it as a universal truth that all those who try Indian food find they like it. Perhaps its simply all the vegetarians I surround myself with. Perhaps it’s the spices, and generous allotments of cream. It would follow that going out for Indian must be among my preferred things to do in Asheville, whether on or off the beaten path. Downtown’s Chai Pani is one of the best Indian places in town, priding themselves on hip décor and unpretentious street-fare.
I do not mean to imply that their dishes are simplistic—far from it. There is a surprising variety among Chai Pani’s wraps and sandwiches, and they are the only restaurant I’ve found in Asheville that offers uthappam, savory crepes made of a rice-lentil batter. Personally, my go-to is saag paneer with hot chai, but I do intend to sample their entire menu over my lifetime.
Located near the Grove Arcade, finding parking near Chai Pani should be relatively easy. However, I find the place fills up fast, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
Behave Like a Local: When served your chai, it is customary to shout “chai chai chai!” Actually, that might be a Dobra Tea thing, now that I think of it. In any case, no harm could come of it.
How could I have glossed over The Hop for so long? They were always there. Every school event, every family get-together, every night hiding under my bed, whispering “You’re from Asheville. Ashevilleians like The Hop. Don’t forget The Hop.”
With three locations spread across town (and one in far-flung Black Mountain), I like to think of The Hop as the glue which holds our community together. After all, everyone likes ice cream. Even vegans can enjoy The Hop, with their dairy-free selections.
What strikes me about The Hop—and really, all my favorite things to do in Asheville—is an element of experimentation. Sure, you could get a scoop of vanilla, or chocolate, or whatever other flavor you’ve grown accustomed to. But how about golden beet? Chinese five-spice? Avocado? Now there’s a story to take home. So far as I can see, that ought to be the point of visiting Asheville: experience, experiments, exquisite ice cream.
Behave Like a Local: All of The Hop’s locations have a secret, locals-only backroom, where they serve beer-flavored ice cream. To access it, one needs only to speak this passphrase to the manager: “No, not Nashville. I said Asheville. With an ‘A’.”
13 Biltmore Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
733 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Isis Music Hall
743 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
22 Battery Park Ave, Asheville, NC 28801
The Hop (North)
640 Merrimon Ave #103, Asheville, NC 28804
167 Haywood Rd #20, Asheville, NC 28806
The Hop (West)
721 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806