Asheville: The Top 25
How do we love North Carolina's favorite mountain town? Brad Tuttle counts the ways, in no particular order
What you'll find in this story: Asheville, North Carolina travel, Asheville favorites, Asheville restaurants, local Asheville secrets
1. Candy by the bucket
Who said the five-and-dime is extinct? There are seven Mast General Stores in North and South Carolina, where under one roof you can find coonskin caps, birdhouses, Radio Flyer wagons, and grape Nehis in glass bottles. The highlight is plucking peanut clusters and Atomic FireBalls out of barrels to fill up a one-pound bucket of mixed candy ($5.50). Built in 1882, the original Mast Store is two hours north of Asheville in Valle Crucis. It's right out of Little House on the Prairie, with sloping floors, creaky stairs, and a monstrous potbellied stove. A location opened in downtown Asheville five years ago. Hwy. 194, Valle Crucis, 828/963-6511; 15 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, 828/232-1883.
2. Transplants and wanderers
Asheville is full of characters who stopped by for a visit--while taking a road trip, perhaps, or hiking the Appalachian Trail--and liked the place so much that they never left. This explains the scarcity of southern accents: The city is in--but doesn't seem entirely of--the South. It's become a gathering place for outdoorsy, community-minded folks who love the quick access to nature but aren't willing to give up movie theaters, quality restaurants, and other trappings of a small city.
3. "The Beer Guy"
The newspaper of record--the Asheville Citizen-Times--has a regular column devoted to ales, stouts, and porters. "You can't make a bad beer and expect to sell it in this town," says columnist Tony Kiss, also the paper's entertainment editor, who started covering the beer scene when the Highland Brewing Company, the first of the city's four breweries, opened 10 years ago. "A lot of people are interested in something more than a six-pack of Bud." Highland Brewing Company, 42 Biltmore Ave., 828/255-8240, tours available.
4. Lincoln Log sleepover
The Pines Cottages, an old-fashioned motor court of 15 one- and two-bedroom cabins, is in a woodsy area just 10 minutes from downtown. Dating to the 1940s, the cabins were renovated when new owners took over in 2001. Most have kitchens and porches, and a few even have fireplaces, which can come in handy on chilly mountain nights. 346 Weaverville Hwy., 828/645-9661, ashevillepines.com, from $80.
5. Knowing where the sausage is from
Down-home favorites at the Early Girl Eatery include eggs with country ham, fried catfish, and biscuits positively drenched in gravy. If that's a little too southern for you, there are also plenty of healthier options, like multigrain pancakes and sesame tofu salad. The Early Girl makes its own breakfast breads, gravy, and sausage, and whatever wasn't made from scratch on-site probably came from a local farm or river. Simple wooden tables and chairs line a long row of second-story windows overlooking downtown's Pritchard Park. The coffee mugs are big, and the young, bright-eyed waitstaff keeps them full. 8 Wall St., 828/259-9292, biscuits with gravy $2.25.
6. The banned-book list at Malaprop's
In addition to titles of gay, lesbian, and transgender interest--and separate sections for graphic novels and local writers and poets--this very independent bookstore has several shelves of books currently banned by schools and libraries around the country. Gone With the Wind, Lord of the Flies, Hamlet, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a few of the Harry Potter titles are all on someone's no-no list. Several times a week, the bookstore-and-café hosts author readings and live music. The bulletin board where locals post events, jobs, and solicitations is absolutely worth a look. One recent flyer read: 2chix lawn care--support the women's movement. 55 Haywood St., 828/254-6734.
7. Nobody wears a tie
Instead, there are lots of baggy shorts, fleece vests, cargo pants, Birkenstocks, and sundresses. Everything is casual--including the typical career path. Jobs take a backseat to leisure, not vice versa.
8. Thanksgiving dinner every Thursday
Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all the other trimmings are served weekly at Asheville's favorite spot for home cooking, Picnics Restaurant and Bake Shop. The mom-and-son operation--owned and run by Ron Smith and his mother, Minnie--has a menu that changes only a little from day to day: wood-roasted chicken, collard greens, cucumber salad, mac-and-cheese. "I'll just never understand restaurants that don't use real butter," Ron says. There are a couple tables for sit-down meals, but the shop brings in a mostly to-go crowd ($27 buys a picnic basket for four with drinks, utensils, plates, and a tablecloth). It's impossible to escape without scooping up a slice of death-by-chocolate cake or blackberry cobbler from the dessert counter by the door. 371 Merrimon Ave., 828/258-2858.