Posts Tagged With: Asheville

Who the heck is Zebulon B. Vance?


I asked that question every time I visited Asheville, North Carolina. On the way to Well Bred Bakery in Weaverville, I always saw the signs to “Vance Birthplace.” But I never took the time to actually go there until my last trip. And I have to say, Zebulon B. Vance’s birthplace is an interesting historic site.

If you’re a native to North Carolina, you probably know who Zeb is. The third of eight children, Zebulon Vance practiced law in Asheville and at age 24 was elected to his first public office. His mountain upbringing helped him achieve success. He was a man of the people, promoting basic human rights, and was “a champion of local self-government and individual liberty.”

He was a well-known political leader during the Civil War and after. He was elected governor of North Carolina three times and was also a three-term senator for the state. He was known as the “War Governor of the South,” helping out soldiers and their families during the difficult years of the Civil War.

The birthplace site, in the Reems Creek Valley near Weaverville and off the Blue Ridge Parkway, is a collection of buildings furnished with household items representative of the period of 1795 through 1840 when the Vance family lived there.


The Vance family home has five rooms, an unusually large size for the time period. Also on site are a corn crib, springhouse, smokehouse, loom house, slave house and tool shed. The visitor’s center has exhibits about the famous Vance family and a short film about the life of Zebulon. Throughout the year, there are special events at the site where costumed interpreters demonstrate life of the early settlers in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the Zebulon Vance’s time.



What I found most interesting about the site was how you really felt transported back in time to the late 1700s when the Vances lived in the log home.  We had a guide take us through the house and explain what life was like at that time. The guide was very, very knowledgeable about the time period and the site itself. You could almost picture the family by the hearth, women sewing, men chatting, children playing.

The Vance Birthplace historic pioneer farmstead is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9am-5pm. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Dates of Visit:  May 2012

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“Taste the Love” at Luella’s Bar-B-Que


There used to be a really great barbecue restaurant in Asheville called The Fiddlin’ Pig. At least, I thought it was great. Good food, good service and live music every night. Well, unfortunately, The Fiddlin’ Pig went out of business. So, on my last trip to Asheville, I was looking for a new place for barbecue. I found it at Luella’s.

The place is named after founder Jeff Miller’s grandmother as well as his daughter, nicknamed Elly. “Grandma Lue” cooked for all the family gatherings and handed down her love for good cooking to Jeff. His interest in food, along with his family background and the desire to create an authentic barbecue taste, prompted Jeff to open a restaurant.

To compliment the smoked pork, beef, chicken and turkey — and that’s how Jeff looks at sauces, as complimentary, not overpowering – are five distinct sauces: Hot Flash, Smoked Jalapeno, Lusty Mustard, Scooter’s Vinegar and the most popular, Sweet Pisgah. (The last two are homemade and gluten-free.)

Their top seller is the chopped pork sandwich with macaroni & cheese. I had the chopped pork sandwich and topped it with the Sweet Pisgah sauce. Instead of the mac & cheese, I had a side salad with homemade blue cheese dressing. The meal included hush puppies, which were great. That’s what I loved the most about The Fiddlin’ Pig, their hush puppies, sweet and crunchy, and soft in the middle. I’m glad Luella’s has great ones, too.

This made-from-scratch barbecue brings in customers of all types from retirees to students to business professionals. The building used to house a pizza joint which was a popular hangout for students from the University of North Carolina. So when Jeff remodeled the place, he kept that in mind, creating an atmosphere that pleases everyone.

Asheville is known as a beer town and six local microbrews are featured at Luella’s. I’m not a beer drinker, so I tried the Ultimate Luella’s Strawberry Lemonade with fresh strawberries, Absolut Citron, lemon and ginger ale. Quite refreshing and delicious.

Portions are a good size, service is very good and prices are competitive. And sometimes they have live bluegrass music. If the parking lot is full, which it always is at Luella’s, then you know it’s got to be good.

Dates of Visit:  May 2012

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Rockin’ the Cradle of Forestry


I live in a beach state — Florida. And even though I love living in Florida, I really do like the mountains more than the beach. That’s why I like to go to the mountains at least once a year. And my favorite mountains are in the Asheville, North Carolina area.

High in the Mount Pisgah National Forest, about 40 miles from Asheville, is the Cradle of Forestry, the birthplace of forest conservation. It was established over 100 years ago during the construction of the nearby Biltmore Estate. This is where the first school of forestry, the Biltmore Forest School, was established by Dr. Carl Schenck, chief forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate.

It is here that students learned how trees can be harvested while still preserving the forest as a whole. Carl Schenck was so passionate about the forest he said, “Woods are sanctuaries. Send the kids to the woods. They are better for them than any classroom built of brick.”

There are two paved trails that wind through the property, transporting you back in time to the early years of the forestry school. Take the Biltmore Campus Trail to see the seven restored historic buildings on the site: a schoolhouse, a blacksmith’s shop, commissary and several student quarters and lodges. The Forest Festival Trail includes a seedling nursery, saw mill and a 1915 logging locomotive. Weavers, toy makers, quilters, basket makers and wood carvers often appear on site Thursdays through Sundays.



In the Forest Discovery Center you can explore hands-on exhibits or ride the fire fighter helicopter simulator. The only disappointment on my visit to the Cradle of Forestry, and what unfortunately lowers Teddy’s rating, was the movie in the main theater of the Discovery Center. Don’t waste your time seeing There’s Magic in the Cradle. It’ll be 30 minutes of your life you’ll never get back.

My advice – immediately ask to see the OLD movie. They’ll play the old movie by request. I sure wish I had known about that option earlier in my day. I was expecting to see a film about the history of the area, no such luck.

I work in the video production business, so I have at least some knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. This doesn’t work. The concept for the story was just bizarre and wasn’t at all what I expected. I can’t even begin to describe it because it just didn’t make much sense. And honestly, it doesn’t deserve as much space as I’m giving it here in this post!

I really wanted to know why this film was produced and playing at the Cradle of Forestry, so when I got a chance I did some research. Come to find out, the film was produced for another purpose and renamed There’s Magic in the Cradle. Don’t be fooled by the good review on Internet Movie Database. I’m sure it was written by those involved in the making of this piece of…um, garbage. I just hope that they’ve stopped running it and have gone back to only showing the original 18-minute movie about the history of forestry in America.

Dates of Visit: May 2012

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The Tupelo Honey Café and Their Awesome Sweet Potato Pancake


On one of my many trips to Asheville, North Carolina I was looking through a magazine and came upon a marvelous photo of the Tupelo Honey Café’s Sweet Potato Pancake. I could have licked the page, it looked that delicious. So, I vowed that I would get to the café to sample this delight.

Well, on that particular visit, the Tupelo Honey Café had had a flood in the basement and was closed! Noooooooo! I would have to wait until my next trip. It may have been a year later, but I have to say, it was well worth the wait.

Tupelo Honey Café is known for its Southern style cuisine, but with a different twist. Using farm-fresh ingredients from local suppliers, Chef Brian Sonoskus has designed dishes like Root Beer Molasses Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Green Apple Salsa and Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca with Country Ham and Mushroom Marsala, neither your traditional Southern fair, but original creations that make this restaurant a must try. They also offer soups, salads and a variety of sandwiches. They have a yummy dessert menu and have gluten-free options as well.

But back to the Sweet Potato Pancake. This is what Tupelo Honey Café is famous for, what was pictured in that magazine article. This buttermilk pancake is flavored with cinnamon and sweet potatoes and is topped with their fabulous peach butter and spiced pecans. It actually fills the entire plate. I’ve never been able to eat the whole thing in one sitting. I can’t imagine getting the double stack.

I almost hate the fact that this pancake is so good because it has kept me from trying all the other wonderful food that they have. Next time I’ll have to go there for two different meals so I can try something besides the sweet potato pancake.

Tupelo Honey Café has been part of the Asheville food scene since 2000. They now have two Asheville locations, downtown and southside.

Dates of Visit:  May 2009, May 2012

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Explore Asheville on the Red Trolley Tour


If you’ve never been to Asheville, North Carolina before, or even if you have, taking the Red Trolley Tour is a great way to spend your first couple of days in town.

The fully narrated tour takes you to some of the best of Asheville, a city that’s more full of history than you might expect. The Red Trolley Tour is run by Grey Line, a worldwide leader in city tours. The drivers are very knowledgeable about the area and some of them are very entertaining.


What’s great about this trolley tour is that it’s a hop on/hop off style tour. You can get off at any of the 9 stops and spend as much time there as you’d like. Grab a bite to eat, go shopping, stroll around. Then, just hop back on when the next trolley comes around. With trolleys stopping every 30-60 minutes, you have a chance to explore the stops at your leisure or just stay on the trolley for a one and a half to two hour tour of the city.

The ticket price includes two full days of unlimited riding privileges. You can catch the trolley and buy your ticket at any of the stops, but the best place to catch the trolley is at the Asheville Visitor’s Center where they have free parking and restrooms.


Here are the 9 stops on the Red Trolley Tour:

Stop 1: The Asheville Visitor’s Center. Here you can get all kinds of information about the area-hotels, restaurants, activities. And there’s a gift shop!

Stop 2: The Grove Park Inn. This legendary hotel is a must see, even if you don’t stay there. The views of Asheville and the surrounding areas are beautiful from the Grove Park Inn. You can also visit the Grovewood Gallery and the Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum on the property.


Stop 3: Thomas Wolfe District. Your Red Trolley Tour ticket includes free admission to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Historic Site. (Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit the Thomas Wolfe House, though I had wanted to. We ran out of time!)

Stop 4: Pack Place, Pack Square. This is right in the heart of downtown Asheville. From this stop you’re within walking distance of some great shops and restaurants.

Stop 5: Haywood Park Hotel. This is another stop in downtown Asheville, close to the St. Lawrence Basilica.

Stop 6: Grove Arcade. The Grove Arcade is a lovely shopping area with some great restaurants and shops.

Stop 7: River Arts District. Asheville has a rich art community and the River Arts District is at the heart of it. Painters, potters, jewelers, sculptors, furniture makers, glass-blowers, photographers, all have studios in this area.

Stop 8: Biltmore Village. This historic area outside of the Biltmore Estate is a collection of cottages, galleries, shops and eateries.

Stop 9: Grand Bohemian Hotel. This stop is also inside the Biltmore Village.

And if you’re more daring, why not try the Haunted History & Murder Mystery Ghost Tour? This 75 minute tour takes you through “the dark side” of Asheville where you’ll hear ghostly stories about the Pink Lady of the Grove Park Inn, the mystery of the WhiteGate Inn and the child spirits at the haunted hospital. This tour departs from Pack’s Tavern on the weekends. Check the website for dates, times and prices for all tours.

Dates of Visit: May 2012

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Stoney Knob Cafe-Weaverville’s Best


Weaverville is a little town, just north of Asheville, about a 10 minute drive from downtown. Population: just over 3,000 people.

If you’ve driven through Weaverville you might think of it as just a sleepy little hamlet, but they’ve got some great eating spots. I’ve already written about the Well-Bred Bakery. Definitely check that out if you’re there. But if you’re looking for a great meal at a fun, funky bistro, try the Stoney Knob Café.

When you walk in, you’d think you were in a restaurant in downtown Asheville or even a much more metropolitan city. The décor is a “whimsical blend of artifacts and artful spaces,” as their website says and the menu is made up of American, European, and Mediterranean cuisine.

The Stoney Knob Café started out as a small diner back in the 1960s. When original owner Gus Dermas emigrated from Greece to the US, he discovered Weaverville and fell in love with it because it reminded him of his homeland. The restaurant is currently run by Gus’s sons, John and Yotty.

In 2000, the Stoney Knob Cafe was expanded. The original diner remains, but is now flanked by two other dining areas. On one side is the Red Room where you can enjoy an intimate dinner by the fire. On the other side is the Mediterranean Room, also called the “saints and sinners” room. This larger dining room is decorated with a mish mash of everything from velvet Elvis paintings to a life-sized statue of the Virgin Mary. So, one restaurant with three distinctive looks, but all of them inviting and fun, and like nothing you’ve probably ever seen before.

The menu is as eclectic as the atmosphere. They prepare dishes “from near and far” combining local tastes with world-wide flair. You can get Spanish paella, Greek moussaka, Asian spring rolls, falafel, Kobe beef burgers, and filet mignon. There are also seafood, vegetarian and gluten-free choices.

We started off our meal with an excellent cocktail, the Love Potion #69, a blend of strawberry kiwi Vodka, peach schnapps, lemon juice and sour mix. Delightful. They have other original cocktails, a full bar and an extensive wine list.

For entrees, the tortellini with chicken was light, creamy and totally delicious with a parmesan carbonara sauce, prosciutto and peas. And as the menu says, the tender braised boneless short ribs with asiago stone ground grits were “to die for.” We rounded off the meal with their luscious Italian lemon cake.

Service was excellent, as was the food and the entire experience. There’s really nothing negative I can say about the Stoney Knob Café. I can’t wait to go back there on my next trip to the Asheville area. 

Dates of Visit:  May 2012

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Get Back to Nature at the North Carolina Arboretum


Describing the North Carolina Arboretum in words is not an easy task. So, I’ll just let my pictures tell you all about it. I will include a few words, though.

The North Carolina Arboretum, just south of downtown Asheville, is a 434-acre public garden near the Blue Ridge Parkway.



There are 65 acres of lush cultivated gardens, 10 miles of hiking and biking trails, ever changing indoor and outdoor exhibits, a fabulous Bonsai collection, and the incredible quilt garden (which was being replanted on our last visit, but was beautiful in 2009).


The Arboretum is open daily, weather permitting, except for December 25th. There is no per person admission fee, but they have a parking fee of $8.00 per vehicle. Visit the first Tuesday of the month and parking is free.



You can grab a light bite at The Savory Thyme Café Tuesdays through Sundays. And if you’re looking for a location for your “green” wedding, the North Carolina Arboretum is the perfect place.


It’s a beautiful way to spend a quiet day getting back to nature. I recommend it.

Dates of Visit:  May 2009, May 2012

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Cougars and Otters and Bears, Oh My!


Take a walk on the wild side of Asheville at The Western North Carolina Nature Center, a 42 acre nature sanctuary not far from downtown.

The Nature Center is home to more than 220 animals and the largest collection of Southern Appalachian animal species in the world. It is also where injured or orphaned animals are taken who cannot survive in the wild on their own.

The Nature Center is very nicely landscaped with tree lined walkways. All the enclosures are designed to represent the native habitats of each animal. So, it’s not your traditional zoo.


One of the most popular attractions is the River Otter Exhibit. You can sit for hours watching these playful creatures jump in and out of the water, playing with toys and swimming around.

I was most fascinated with the black bear habitat. Instead of being caged, these black bears roam free with a raised walkway for visitors to get a close up view of these lovely animals.


There were also white-tailed deer, red wolves, grey wolves, and two beautiful cougars. There is a reptile house featuring rattlesnakes, frogs and the largest salamander in North America, the Hellbender. There’s also a petting zoo for the kids with sheep, goats and donkeys.


The Nature Center is open year-round, seven days a week, from 10am to 5pm. It’s a nice way to spend a few hours of your day, roaming along the quiet trails, seeing all the animals, and of course taking lots of pictures.

Dates of Visit:  May 2012

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Yum, Yum, the Asheville Food Tour


Asheville is quite a culinary town. It’s even referred to as a “Foodtopian Society.” There are so many restaurants to choose from. No matter what your taste buds crave, you’ll find something to please your palate.

One of the best ways to sample all the fantastic food Asheville has to offer is to take the Asheville Food Tour. As their slogan says, “Asheville Food Tours introduces you to the city bite by bite.”

It’s a two and a half hour walking tour of downtown, stopping at 7 to 10 different restaurants and/or specialty food shops to savor their flavors. We went to a total of 8 places, each of which gets a separate mini paw rating from Teddy.

Our guide’s name was Chris. He and his wife created Asheville Food Tours. And what’s great about it is that you get to sample more than just a few bites of food. You get to try items right off the restaurants’ menus or dishes specially prepared for the tour. By the time the tour is done, you’re full! And you get a discount card to use when you visit any of the stops at a later date.

Here are the 8 stops we made:

The Chocolate Fetish (3 mini paws)
Here we tried three different samples of chocolate: truffle, caramel and plain dark chocolate. And we got to see behind the scenes of their chocolate making process. It’s a nice place with lots of exotic chocolate options, but I still love the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. The owners, Bill and Sue Foley, are very nice people and they led the tour through their shop.

The Green Sage Café (3 mini paws)
This is one of Asheville’s “Green” restaurants. They recycle all paper products and compost all leftovers. And they pride themselves in being a restaurant that buys locally from local suppliers. We had zucchini soup and a vegetable hummus wrap.

Strada (3 mini paws)
This is one of the newer stops on the tour. Strada is an Italian bistro. We were served goat cheese pizza and a fig stuffed with goat cheese and wrapped in prosciutto, along with red wine.

Olive & Kickin’ (2 mini paws)
This was a most unusual stop. This shop sells different types of olive oil and balsamic vinegars. And to taste the different olive oils, we did shots of them. Yep, shots of olive oil. Pretty odd. No dipping bread in the oil, just drink it up.

Mr. Frog’s Soul Food and Creole Kitchen (3 mini paws)
This was another fairly new restaurant. The chef talked at length about his history and why he started the restaurant. We had cucumber water, ribs, an oyster, and a Cheerwine truffle.

Chorizo (3 mini paws)
I’m not big on Latin food, but the pork quesadilla and fruit drink were very good. After the trip, I made the fruit drink (orange juice, pineapple juice, cranberry juice and club soda) at home, adding in some pineapple/coconut rum.

Karen Donatelli Cafe (3 mini paws)
By the time we got to this bakery, we were already pretty full of food. We sampled a pecan caramel square. Karen Donatelli mostly creates cakes, but she has some very creative desserts available as well. Wish we weren’t so stuffed!

The Spice & Tea Exchange (3 mini paws)
The final stop was the Spice & Tea Exchange. They feature a huge variety of spices, teas and flavored sugars. I bought an orange creamsicle tea sample to try along with maple syrup sugar and raspberry sugar.

Overall, the tour was great fun. Great experience, great food, great town. I’d do it again since Chris doesn’t necessarily go to the same stops each time.

Some things to keep in mind about the tour. They are held rain or shine. Wear comfortable shoes. There are no substitutions for dietary restrictions. Tours are limited to 12 people, so book early. Tours are held March through November, Tuesdays through Fridays at 2pm. The tour costs $39 per person.

There is a second tour offered that takes you through Biltmore Village, a quaint collection of shops and restaurants just outside the historic Biltmore estate. We plan to try that one next time.

Dates of Visit:  May 4, 2012

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Take in a Show at the Flat Rock Playhouse


I have visited the Asheville, North Carolina area about twelve times in the last twelve years and each time I’ve wanted to take in a play at the Flat Rock Playhouse in Hendersonville, about 30 miles south of Asheville. But every time I had a trip planned, there wasn’t anything playing at the theatre that I was interested in. This time I planned a trip around a performance I really wanted to see. But before I talk about that, let me tell you about the Flat Rock Playhouse itself.

There are actually two theatres. The original Flat Rock Playhouse is south of Hendersonville and was “born” in 1952 when Robroy Farquhar and his Vagabond Players made it their home. It’s next door to another historic site in Hendersonville, the poet Carl Sandberg’s home. The architecture is reminiscent of its summer stock beginnings back in the 1940s. Today the facility has been completely updated with state-of-the art lighting and sound and seats 506 patrons.

2012 marks their 60th season. From dramas to comedies to musicals, the Flat Rock Playhouse has done it all. Their 2012 season included Nunsense, Guys and Dolls and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. There’s even a series of shows for young audiences.

The newest theatre is in historic downtown Hendersonville and opened in 2011. It’s a very intimate setting, only about 250 seats set up in a horseshoe around the stage. If you can get a front row seat, that’s the best way to see a play there. But if you don’t, all seats have a good view. We were lucky enough to get front row, center seats and they were terrific. This downtown venue is where I saw the play, Say Goodnight, Gracie.

Say Goodnight, Gracie was written by Rupert Holmes. I had a massive crush on him in the 1980s when he was well-known as a singer/songwriter and had the hit single “Escape,” otherwise known as “The Pina Colada Song.” I even wrote him two fan letters, both of which he answered…but I digress.

Say Goodnight, Gracie is a wonderful production. It’s a one-man show about the life of comedian George Burns and his relationship with his partner and wife Gracie Allen. George Burns was portrayed perfectly by Joel Rooks. He’s been playing this role for a long time, starting on Broadway in 2002.

I’ve always loved George Burns, from his early TV show to his film appearances. Joel Rooks embodied George Burns so well it was like he had been reincarnated. He had Burns’ mannerisms and voice down pat. The story was both funny and sad, but always entertaining and included the audio recorded voice of actress Didi Conn, (Frenchie in the movie Grease) who played the voice of Gracie Allen. She, too, was perfectly cast.

Now that I’ve been to the downtown Flat Rock Playhouse, I definitely want to go back. It doesn’t matter what’s playing. I think I’d like to see just about any performance that the state theatre of North Carolina has to offer.

Dates of Visit:  May 2012

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