Asheville: The Top 25
How do we love North Carolina's favorite mountain town? Brad Tuttle counts the ways, in no particular order
17. The great barbecue debate
In these parts, barbecue means one thing: meat, usually pork, that's slowly smoked and seasoned over a fire, pulled off in shreds, placed in a bun, and served with coleslaw and deep-fried nuggets of cornmeal called hush puppies. But while chefs in the eastern Carolinas use a vinegar-based sauce, the prime ingredient in Asheville and the western Carolinas is tomato sauce. Naturally, both regions claim superiority. At the local mini-chain Little Pigs B-B-Q, you can order your barbecue either way. 1578 Hendersonville Rd., 828/277-7188.
18. The four-state view
An asphalt road twists up most of Mount Mitchell--at 6,684 feet, the highest peak east of the Mississippi--before ending in a parking lot that's a quarter-mile walk from the top. Hikers climb a lookout tower for views of four states (Tennessee, Virginia, and both Carolinas) and a look at the tomb of the mountain's namesake, Dr. Elisha Mitchell. A scientist and preacher, he died here from a fall in 1857. Mount Mitchell State Park, 2388 Hwy. 128, Burnsville, 828/675-4611, ncsparks.net.
19. 70,000 square feet of junk
In an industrial area between downtown and the Biltmore, the Antiques Tobacco Barn (the crop used to be processed here) hosts more than 70 vendors selling hand-carved headboards, rocking chairs, stained-glass windows, dining room sets, you name it. For that matter, the entire region is crazed for collectibles: There are 53 entries in the Asheville Yellow Pages under antiques--dealers. Downtown, secondhand stores around the corner of Walnut and Rankin Streets are filled with dusty old finds. Antiques Tobacco Barn, 75 Swannanoa River Rd., 828/252-7291.
20. Sons of Ralph
Asheville digs all kinds of music, and has more than two dozen venues for live tunes. No band is more beloved around here than Sons of Ralph. The lead vocalist, mandolin player, and inspiration for the band's name is 76-year-old Ralph Lewis, who's been playing "mountain music" in the region for seven decades. Ralph is accompanied by sons Marty (guitar) and Don (fiddle, banjo) and two "adopted children," Gary Wiley (bass) and Richard Foulk (drums). Their free-flowing mix of bluegrass, rock, and Cajun, with influences ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Hank Williams, has earned them best-band honors in an annual poll for four years running. "We don't rehearse, and we never have a set list," Ralph says with pride. They draw a good crowd for a regular gig at the Jack of the Wood, a smoke-free pub downtown. "I don't know if it's the acoustics, the audience, or what," Ralph says, "but whenever we play there, it's magic." 95 Patton Ave., 828/252-5445.
21. The hillbilly in the sky
Tunnel Road, looping through the outskirts of downtown, has a Red Lobster, Blockbuster, Applebee's, and a holdout from another time: the Mountaineer Inn. The welcome sign--which includes a giant neon bumpkin in overalls and a floppy cowboy hat, plus several letters in the motel name written backward--has been a city fixture for more than 50 years. There's a nine-foot-deep pool, and the low-maintenance clientele doesn't seem to mind that it's surrounded by blacktop and looks out over the traffic on Tunnel Road. Rooms are bigger than you'd expect for the price, a decent breakfast is included, the people are friendly, and guests are always welcome to grab a hot cup of coffee in the office. 155 Tunnel Rd., 800/255-4080, mtinnasheville.homestead.com, doubles from $40.
22. The really green grocers
Asheville's 70,000 residents are health-conscious enough to support two organic grocery stores--not tiny boutiques, but sprawling, where's-the-milk supermarkets, each taking up more than 20,000 square feet. Originally opened in a little storefront in 1980, Earth Fare now occupies a sizable chunk of strip mall in west Asheville, and it even has a sit-down buffet and a community room for health seminars and book signings. (A second Earth Fare debuted in Charleston, S.C., in 1997, and there are now about a dozen stores in the Southeast.) Greenlife Grocery, an all-natural supermarket from Chattanooga, Tenn., quickly gained a loyal following after opening a location last July in a former A&P just north of downtown Asheville. Earth Fare, 66 Westgate Pkwy., 828/253-7656; Greenlife Grocery, 70 Merrimon Ave., 828/254-5440.
24. Scenery made for the movies