I had thought that my next posting would be all about the night skies and stars above Asheville as James and I were supposed to go on the Starwatch Tour Tuesday night. But the weather refused to cooperate and we have had to put that off for another week. Fortunately James had a Plan B for our evening: a restaurant crawl of the River Arts District.
The River Arts District (RAD) is located in West Asheville in an area that was deserted after the 1930’s Depression ended the early boom years of our town. Around 1985, a group of artists moved into one of the dilapidated warehouses in the area and the Arts District was born. Over time more and more artists have moved in and the area is now thriving. It is relatively unique because the artists all agree to open their studios to the public whenever they are there working. Twice a year they hold a studio stroll for which most of the artists are present and many will hold special demonstrations of their work. The first one this year takes place this weekend on June 9-10. A free trolley will run from the Montford Visitor’s Center (just a short walk from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast) to the studios.
Up until the last year or so RAD was home to two dining spots: 12 Bones, purveyors of arguably the best BBQ in Asheville, and Clingman Cafe, a reliable if uninspired cafe for lunch and dinner. The Magnetic Field opened two years ago and was an immediate hit. (I reviewed it in a previous blog). Lately guests had been reporting that there were a number of new spots to eat in the district so James and I decided it was time to try them out and for variety we decided to do a “restaurant crawl” and have a different course in each of three locations.
Our first stop was The Junction, located at the far end of Depot Street just down from the Magnetic Field. Their menu is eclectic and seasonal with some unusual presentations. The owner told us that his head chef had moved over from Rezaz in Biltmore Village so it’s no surprise that this was the best of the three restaurants we tried. James and I shared a starter of house-made Spatzle, with fresh peas, smoked Shiitakes, and Asparagus. It was topped with pickled Chard stems which had been deep fried. At first bite, we thought the Chard was too astringent but soon found that it cut the richness of cheese and lemon creme fraiche sauce on the Spatzle to the point where we had to split the last one! We will definitely be returning for a full dinner sometime soon.
Just outside of the District on the other end of the area is an old diner which had closed a number of years ago. This classic building has been renovated and is now the home of TAP (The Asheville Public). TAP is owned and operated by Chef Ryan Kanupp who envisions his restaurant as a showcase for the meats and charcuterie of his home country, South Africa. The menu has already been revised to incorporate some vegetarian and less meat-oriented dishes. This is a restaurant which bears watching. The staff is friendly and enthusiastic, the decor bright and pleasing and the food is good if heavy on cured meats. James and I shared a charcuterie sampler plate which was abundant with meat, pickles and house cured salmon.
By now we were starting to feel a bit weighed down by heavy sauces and meats so it was with some hesitation that we went on to our next stop: White Duck Taco. This laid back taco shop with its outdoor dining is one of the new hotspots in Asheville. It features a wide range of “tacos” from many different cuisines. I opted for the Banh Mi Tofu Taco while James had the Thai Peanut Chicken. They were light and delicious. It’s not exactly fine dining but it definitely is giving 12 Bones a run for its money as an alternative lunch spot in the area. They are usually closed Sundays but will be open for lunch for this Sunday’s Studio Stroll if you go.
No joke, we were full now! But we weren’t finished. We wanted to check out the Wedge Brewing Company. The Brewery is located in the lower level of the Wedge Studio Building in what was once a food warehouse near the railroad tracks. They have “tastings” until 10pm. You purchase your beer at the counter and then take your glass outside where there are picnic tables. An ad hoc dance floor has been created in the parking lot with a small band stand (on this night a pretty good band was playing Grateful Dead type country music). There are bar games and bowls of peanuts and, for the hungry, one of Asheville’s new food trucks is usually parked nearby. (On this particular night, the truck was one owned and operated by Stefan and his ex-wife. Stefan laid the tile in our showers which is why we know him. He is French and the ex-wife is Argentinean, hence a food truck which serves crepes and empanadas!)
From the beginning of our evening at the sophisticated Junction to the end at the down home, plain folks Wedge Brewery, we had a wonderful time and it was with full stomachs and a happy smile that we headed home to our Asheville Bed and Breakfast