Monday, May 4, 2009

Biltmore in Bloom

I wanted to share some of our experience in Asheville, NC this past weekend.

We visited the Biltmore Estates around Christmas time last year, and it was so beautiful we bought year-long passes.  We're now trying to make good use of those passes by going at least once a quarter to visit.

The interstate is always so boring we decided to take historic US 25 all the way to Asheville.  We found some very interesting things along the way.

Right outside of Newport, TN, we decided to try to find something to eat.  At this point, we had lost all sight of civilization.  Nothing but mountain tops and grassy fields along the way.  Finally, we saw a glimmer of life at this lil convenient store/gas station/eatery - The Slab Cafe.  Getting out of the van, we noticed an old SUV over in the grass - it had been
burnt to a crisp!  We had a lil hesitation after seeing that but we were hungry.  We headed in and there was a store side, and a restaurant side with booths, and a counter.  We sat at the counter, and I got the special of the day:  Catfish, fries, hushpuppies and coleslaw.  Didn't care for the coleslaw, but the hushpuppies were awesome, and the
catfish was tasty.  Ed had the usual burger and fries.  Now don't get too excited - none of this was homemade.  It came out of the freezer and into the deep fryers.  But it was cheap, it was good, and it was there.  Some locals came in, and of course they all knew "Scooby" the apparent manager of the place.  She was at the register hollering back at them as they harassed her about selling some truck outside.  Two young dudes came in, and she got a lil miffed with them.  When they left, she addressed the whole store, and told us that those two just asked her if she knew anybody that had some weed!  hahaha.  She was shocked that they just came right out and asked her and they didn't even know her.  Then they started gossiping about this missing girl whose picture was posted on the front door.  They had all signed up for various times to help with the search, and now they were trying to figure out what happened.  It reminded me of sitting around in Lebanon.  Fun times.  Now on to Biltmore!

At this time of year, Biltmore is in full bloom!  It is absolutely beautiful!  We didn't even go inside the house this time because we spent so much time in the outdoors.  

After we had checked into our hotel, our very first stop was the Gardens @ Biltmore.  The path down to the arboretum and surrounding gardens was full of blooming wisteria.
  Some of that wisteria has been there since the original planting when the house was built.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  The front walls of the gardens were lined with tulips of every color - and I don't mean a small single line, I mean a full wall of tulips!  As you walk down you see all the pansies, elephant ears, lilies, more wisteria, and other flowers whose names I cannot recall. Unfortunately, the rose garden had not bloomed yet.  The roses were about to bust, but were not quite ready to pop out just yet. 

Inside the arboretum was an assortment of beautiful vibrant plants and flowers.  Of course, I don't remember all the names, but they were stunning.
Leaving the gardens, we headed to the winery, where we tasted their two newest wines:  rose & white Festival of Flowers.  We purchased one of each to add to our Biltmore collection that we purchased during Christmas.  You should definitely try them!

By now we were in need of food.  So we planted the van in a parking spot, and began walking to a restaurant we noticed earlier.  Before we made it there though, we ran into a community theatre that was having an open night for one of their plays.  We walked in, made inquiries, and walked out with two tickets to the play.  

On we went to Magnolia's from there, and secured outdoor seating - it was a beautiful evening.  We had a tomato, mozz, balsamic vinegar appetizer.  Ed had the root beer glazed double cut pork chop served with mashed sweet potatoes, braised collard greens, and topped with caramelized onions - he loved it!  I had the blackened salmon served over a sweet pea saffron risotto with a bleu cheese lump crabmeat sauce - delicious.  It was a bit pricey (~$18 entree), but worth it for a vacation dinner.  

Afterwards we shuffled over to the play - Enchanted April.  It was a wonderful story line - it actually was wonderful how the play was intertwined with a story of wisteria, especially after seeing all the beautiful wisteria at the Biltmore Gardens. Below is the tagline from their website about the play:

"When two frustrated London housewives decide to rent a villa in Italy for a holiday away from their bleak marriages, they recruit two very different English women to share the cost and the experience. There, among the wisteria blossoms and Mediterranean sunshine, all four bloom again—rediscovering themselves in ways that they—and we—could never have expected."

It was very funny and uplifting.  If you get there before May 17, you definitely need to check it out.  For community theatre, they were very professional and perform their craft very well.  Ironically, during intermission we met a couple from Winchester, KY!  The husband and wife said they traveled by Asheville so many times on other trips, they decided to check the city out.  

After the play, we went in search of coffee downtown - but the two shops from my iphone were both closed.  Of course, later we found out we were within minutes of coffee shops that were in fact open.  We tried to swing by the Starbucks at the Biltmore entrance, but to our disappointment - closed too.  So we made some awful coffee at the Howard Johnson's and called it a night.

The next morning, I was full of energy and was showered & dressed before Ed even made it out of bed - this had to be noted because this never happens.  We had no real plans for the day, other than a Legacy of the Land tour at the Biltmore and we wanted to explore more of Asheville.

So we found a local breakfast cafe - Over Easy Cafe.  Their menu was entirely organic.  All of their eggs are from local chickens who are "free-range" chickens, no steroids, no antibiotics, etc.  I chose the Deluxe Breakfast - two eggs, home fries, organic toast, and soy sausage - it was all fantastic, even the soy sausage.  Ed had the quiche of the day - turkey bacon, spinach and cheese I believe.  He loved it.  They also had smoothies so we both had the red, white, and blue - raspberries, blueberries, and yogurt.  I also had an "elixir" put in mine that had fresh herbs and blackberries that was supposed to "hydrate".  It was extremely delicious and we sucked them down before we got halfway down the street.

We got moving to the Biltmore for our Legacy of the Land tour.  We hopped in the shuttle, and the guide discussed all the features of the land surrounding Biltmore - how it began, how it was grown, how it was built, etc.  We stopped a few times for pictures and more in-depth discussion.  The Vanderbilts were quite generous people we found out - you need to hear the stories sometime.  The tour is well worth the money.

After the tour, we walked back through the gardens one last time, and stopped in the Gardenside shop to make a few plant purchases.  From there, we headed back to the hotel to rest a moment and figure out what was next.

We found that there were a few free wine tastings going on - and of course we jumped on board!  We drove to downtown Asheville.  If I haven't mentioned it yet, Asheville's downtown scene is very "artisan".  Lots of local artists, their shoppes, local eateries, wine shoppes, music venues, musicians on sidewalks, and gobs of people walking everywhere.  We had no idea!  

Our first wine stop was at the Asheville Wine Market.  Their walls were completely covered in wine.  I've never seen so many wine bottles in one shop.  Unfortunately, they tend to sell European - old-world wines.  Ed & I haven't really explored those yet - mainly focusing on local, American new-world wines.  So we were not very knowledgeable.  But of course, we plopped down for the wine-tasting anyhow.  We tried 4 different wines from various places in Europe.  The price points for most of them were actually quite low - and we ended up purchasing the 2007 Vignerons de Caractere "Petit Caprice" from France.  According to the website, this wine is "soft, ripe, and medium to full-bodied, displaying loads of lavender, pepper, and black cherry characteristics.  A blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah...".  It was tasty - that's bout all I know.

From there, we headed to a more local scene wine shop - Appalachian Vintner.  The guy doing our wine tasting there was very knowledgeable all things beer & wine in North Carolina.  He had a very positive attitude as well.  We met a lesbian couple that was also doing the wine tasting - turns out they are visiting Lexington, KY in two weeks & so we swapped ideas about what to do in Lexington & Asheville.  There are two places mentioned below that we never made it to, but I included them because they came highly recommended from this couple.  Our wine tasting here was both old- and new-world; disappointingly nothing local was on board for tasting.  We decided on a spicy red from the tasting, and we had the local guy recommend a local vintner from Asheville.  If you do visit, you'll also have to check out their micro-brewed beers.  It seems the locally produced beer may be more popular than the wine!

The lesbian couple had steered us to our next venture - a unique Mexican-Caribbean restaurant named Salsa's.  We saw it the day before, but just thought it to be another typical Mexican restaurant but we were wrong.  The chef is becoming locally famous - he now owns three restaurants in Asheville.  Salsa's is a small, quaint place.  The food is inspired from the chef's Puerto Rican heritage.  We started with the Chipotle and tomatillo salsa & chips.  It was the simply the best salsa I've ever eaten.  A lil spicy, lot of garlic, but not overbearing.  Ed was not happy with his meal because of the spicy heat - we found out afterwards that we could ask the waitress to make it mild, medium, or hot.  He had the chicken quesadilla with roasted red peppers, wild mushrooms, fresh spinach, Monterey cheese, and annatto seed sauce served over rice and black beans.  I had the Pork Quesadilla with pineapple chutney, fresh cilantro, Monterey cheese, and herb-avocado blend over rice & black beans.  Mine was also very spicy but I loved it!  The portions are huge!  Prices were around $15 per entree, but the portions made it well worth the money.

We were feeling spent by the wine and stuffed by the quesadillas, so we decided to call it a night.  We did finally make it to Starbucks while they were open.  We thought we had called it a night, but then we took a joyride around Asheville.  No stops, just having a look-see.  Later that night, we did venture back out because we had found Ed's all-time fave:  Chik-fil-A.  We completely missed the running of the roses back home at the Derby, but we planned ahead.  We popped open our bottle of Chrisman Mill's 135 Kentucky Derby Blush.  Then we crashed.

The next morning, we were not so energetic, but we trudged on.  We zipped through the Biltmore McDonald's & headed to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville.  We came in and were heartedly greeted, and ushered to the visitor's table - well after we zoomed over to the coffee counter first!  We were amazed at how organized they were.  You walk into the main foyer area, and everything is labeled with signage - there was simply no excuse for missing something.  Lots of greeters on hand, lots of information, lots of conversation.  The main chapel area was beautiful.  Stone walls lined with wood rafters, and lots of sunny windows.  Pews lined in different directions from the pulpit sitting next to a choir area complete with piano and organ.  It was quite different from our own church in both design and structure - building & service.  But it was a terrific service.  Lots of music, lots of history, lots of personal story.  We'll definitely be back when we visit again.

After church services, we jumped back on historic US 25 and made the journey back home.  We can't wait to visit again and explore more of Asheville, and see what new things Biltmore has in store for us.

Below are links to many of the places we visited/mentioned above.  Check them out!


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful tale, however he didn't mention that we did stop into some shops in Asheville. There is a General Store that has all kinds of neat things. I found a leather hat that I loved...James didn't think I looked good in on we went! If you haven't been downtown Asheville...think of a mix of Gatlinburg and Miami. Very interesting!!