Our town has restaurants. Lots and lots of restaurants and many of them are very good. So when we are giving suggestions to guests at our Bed and Breakfast in Asheville, we generally send them downtown where they can make a complete evening of it–enjoying the general buzz of activity on the streets, stopping by a bar or two for live music and browsing through galleries and then walking home to the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. Sometimes guests ask us where the locals eat and we are not lying when we tell them we eat at the same restaurants we are sending them to.
But lately James and I have discovered a couple of really nice restaurants which are not in the downtown area or in any of the more frequented areas of Asheville. They are both good in different ways and they would be a great choice for a guest looking for something off the beaten track.
The Stone House Market is located in a 1930’s gas station on Old Leicester Highway. The USA is riddled with roads called “The Old — Highway”. Roads which were once the primary route between towns but have been replaced by newer, although not necessarily better, routes. To get to The Old Leicester highway, you drive away from modern Asheville past the faded and dilapidated factory buildings of her past to the fields and
pastures of the farmland surrounding our city. It’s a pleasant drive along the river then curving next to low hills and the mountainsides. At seven or eight pm the sun casts a golden glow over everything and the heat of the day has dissipated. We were already in a good mood when we arrived in front of a tiny stone cabin. The front area was once the carport for the gasoline pumps but has been closed in and provides a small dining area of about five tables. A second set of five tables and a small bar inside completes the seating. If you go you will need a reservation. The Stone House Market is open Thursday-Sunday and is exclusively run by Dan and Deb Rogers. He cooks and she serves. It’s a marriage made in heaven.
Because it is such a small restaurant the menu is different every week and you know the food is being cooked to order. Deb makes sure your food arrives promptly but still manages to keep the pace unhurried and comfortable. The interior is charming and cozy. ” What about the food?” I hear you ask. The food is good. It’s not really cutting edge, foodie, cuisine, but the dishes are imaginative and well presented, the meats cooked to perfection and the portions copious. We shared spicy mussels, artichoke bruschetta and fried green tomatoes for starters. Following this, Abby’s lamb with blackberries and fig was delicious, my London broil with cilantro jalapeno sauce was cooked perfectly and James enjoyed some ribs. What can I say? I would go back again in a flash, whatever the season, whatever the weather. The entire experience is delightful. I have yet to find a bad review of this treasure.
Our second restaurant worth a trip falls into a completely different category. Ambrozia Bar & Bistro has the misfortune of being located outside of the central business district in a small shopping center so it won’t get the traffic it might if it were in the way of the tourist trail. This is a pity. The decor of this restaurant is light, fun, and different from what we are seeing downtown these days. And while the menu caters to local southern produce it does so with a different twist. The chef at Ambrozia is not afraid of bold flavors. If you can’t stand the heat, be careful in this kitchen! It’s not overwhelming but it is definitely present. A small plate of watermelon salad with feta and pickled jalapeno was a visual feast which delivered fragrant sweet watermelon, salty feta and a punch of peppery heat in just the right proportion. Cheerwine braised beef short-ribs were to die for: a rich meaty gravy over a delectable pimento cheese mashed potato had me wanting to lick the plate. There were some misses in the mix. Most notably the bar snacks could use some tweaking. Buttermilk popovers with pimento cheese were presented beautifully but the popovers were dense and the cheese needed to be at room temp so that when it hit the hot popover more of it melted without leaving a curious hot/cold effect. And The Chocolate Bomb has some good parts but still needs work. However, the Blue Cheese Cake, a ricotta-based cheese cake topped with blue cheese with spiced chutney and nuts, had us fighting over the last bite. After dinner we talked a bit with the manager about the various dishes and it was easy to tell that these are people who are passionate about food and enjoy tweaking the menu and their dishes in the hunt to find the perfect bite. This is a restaurant for those who enjoy watching a chef try things out, celebrate the hits and applaud the effort for the misses.