Sunday, August 27, 2017

Carolina Elf

Your Elf and Big Solid have been going to Asheville North Carolina in August for the past several years for primarily two reasons:  the surrounding mountains with cooler temps AND the food. For a town of about 80,000, there are more vegan options per restaurant than ALL of the restaurants in Mississippi combined. "Who'da thunk it?" Not only that, there is at least ONE restaurant that is ENTIRELY VEGAN. Opening in 2011, Plant (on Merrimon Avenue) is not only still going strong, it has now a reputation for one of the best Vegan restaurants in the country.
We will talk about Plant further with our dining experience later but we think you get the picture.
Laughing Seed
This has been and continues to be our ‘GO-TO’ place for consistently great vegan food. It is not totally vegan but it IS totally vegetarian with a TON of vegan (and raw) options. It has, until recently….like this trip, had one of the best Bloody Mary’s in town. We made a beeline to Laughing Seed Monday for our Asheville inaugural lunch and libation. Since it was already quite warm outside, we were seated inside and our server took our orders…Pinot Grigio for Big Solid and a Bloody Mary for Your Elf. In the meantime, we wanted to purchase a hoodie and a long-sleeved t-shirt but they were sold out of Elf sizes. It’s just as well since the quality of the merchandise was way less than the last time we were there. So, we saved a bit of money. Then our drinks were served and, Holy Downsizing! The Bloody Mary was about half the size it was in 2014. Here is a picture of the one we had then..complete with olive and spicy stuff.

And here is the one from this past olive or spicy stuff but a lot of vegetables.
We were quite disappointed but forged ahead. Big Solid got his usual Dragon Bowl
and since we had reservations for supper at Plant, Your Elf did not get her usual raw manicotti dish, pictured here from 2014.
It was just going to be too much food for one day. So, we opted for the ‘soup of the day’ after our server said how delicious it was and the Hummus Trio. Jason, our server, was such a delight…he was thoughtful, professional, knew the food/dishes, and just an all ‘round good server. We decided that every time we ate at Laughing Seed this trip, we’d sit wherever he was working. Anywho…the Hummus Trio was OK, not great. There was regular hummus, a Black Bean hummus, and a Baba Ganoush (not really hummus but a great dip made from eggplant) and was served with blue corn chips and pita bread.
Then there was the soup of the day…a Pineapple and Kimchi Gazpacho.
Oh.My.God! What a treat to the taste buds! Even Big Solid liked it and he does not like Gazpacho. So, now we are on the search for a recipe so we can try it at home. OH, and we had gone to The Spice and Tea Exchange to stock up on our supply of Ghost Pepper and Scorpion Pepper salts when we found two other cool things to get. Gochujang Salt and a Hot Sauce made locally from the hottest pepper of them all, the Carolina Reaper.
It would not do but for us to try a bit of the sauce in the Gazpacho. It was worth the try; very nice flavor initially with a definite slow burn. Big Solid decided on a Bloody Mary as well
so we had a leisurely and fun lunch. While we were eating, we overheard a fellow patron tell Jason that she was vegan. So, of course, we struck up a conversation. She comes to Asheville from KY every year to EAT..we think KY is about as vegan friendly as MS, so we understood completely. She recommended a breakfast place that serves vegan biscuits and gravy. We’ll get to that one in a bit! Next up…
Oddly enough, Your Elf’s first visit to Plant was the year it opened in 2011. We were working in Asheville and decided to give it a go. Shannon Hall, our partner for so many work experiences, agreed to try it since were both moving toward plant-based eating. It was fantastic! Since then, when we have gone to Asheville, we’ve included it on our food itinerary. This time was no exception. We even had a martini (vodka, bone dry) to celebrate
and ordered the Tofu Bibimbap, which is a Korean dish. Big Solid had a salad and Sriracha Broccoli…he said he was still full from lunch.
Our server got very busy with a large table and never got around to asking if we needed anything with our meals or how things were…even though I wanted a glass of wine. The Bibimbap was OK but we wished we’d gotten something else.
This trip to Plant did not rock our world as in the past.

Tuesday we could hardly wait to go to breakfast and have vegan biscuits BUT decided we had to justify a biscuit breakfast with a rather long walk around a local park at a beautiful lake. With bellies growling and feeling so splendidly exercised, we took off for…
Biscuit Head
Asheville is currently undergoing a growth explosion resulting in a plethora of construction projects downtown. Therefore, it’s damn near impossible to get through town without running into a wall of construction and/or machinery. We, of course, got lost trying to find Biscuit Head but we DID find it.

Unfortunately, so had a substantial component of the other folks in town. We ALMOST turned around since the line was out the door but we decided to hang in. And we are SO glad we did. That place is run so efficiently that the line never stopped moving and we were in, ordered and seated outside lickety-split.

We ordered their vegan biscuits and gravy. We initially had been told that the ‘chorizo’ gravy was vegan but it is not…it has a cream base, so we opted for the coconut milk and sweet potato gravy, which IS vegan. So, we’d hardly gotten seated when our plates were brought out! These guys rock at getting people served!! The vegan biscuits are drop biscuits and are quite good. The gravy was good but the 'chorizo' gravy sure would have been nice!
Your Elf wonders if they might veganize the vegetarian 'chorizo gravy' by using cashew cream in lieu of real cream. Nonetheless, here was what Your Elf's plate looked like when we finished.

We wonder if a Biscuit Head could be brought to our area…including the vegan options. Our full little (and expanding middles) led us to the decision NOT to eat again until supper!

Nine Mile
We discovered Nine Mile on our trip to Asheville in 2015. Located in the Montfort district (what a story that is), it was within walking distance of the little house we’d rented and LOVED (a link is posted later on in this bloggery). It’s a neighborhood restaurant serving Jamaican food with many vegan options. It’s extremely active and the food is outstanding. Your Elf had a dish called The Mesach
along with one of the few beers (brewed in Asheville) that we actually like, Hi-Wire Brown Ale.
Big Solid had the Nine Mile
and lapped it up quite nicely.
That being said, we both had enough left to take home and have as another meal. The one downer for us this time at Nine Mile was the noise level. With the pending eclipse and seemingly billions of people in town, the place was jammed with people all talking, apparently, at the top of their lungs. Nevertheless, the quality of the food helped assuage our poor eardrums.

Wednesday found us at Laughing Seed again for lunch and we were damn lucky to get a place in the big parking garage near the restaurant. When we arrived at the lot at 11, there were only 7 spaces left!! BUT our lunch mates were what made this day so special! It has been 43 YEARS since Jim Blalock and I were in graduate school together at Middle Tennessee State University. He was the band director at Manchester High School with a young and growing family. Your Elf had waited 5 years to enroll in graduate school to be a school counselor. We had such a great time with the same senses of humor and inquisitiveness about learning. And, he helped me survive a major Elf meltdown over a Statistics final. Long story short, we reconnected a few years back…Jim is now a Lutheran minister, newly retired, with a larger family. He and Ida have now been married 56 years!! So, finding out how close we were in NC, it would not do but to gather. And OH WE DID!! We had mimosas and great food, for sure (served again by Jason) but the memories, joy and nostalgia that flowed through that meal was incredible. It was like  43 years disappeared! What a time it was! Even Big Solid enjoyed hearing about all of the things Jim and Ida have been involved with as well as enduring some ‘remember whens?” No food pictures but we gotta show this one. L to R Big Solid, Your Elf, Jim, and Ida.
Our supper Wednesday night was left-overs from Nine Mile with some of our own plant-based chicken we cooked up.

Thursday found us at 
Spring Creek Tavern and Inn
We like Hot Springs so much!! It’s right on the Appalachian Trail and is frequented by through hikers who may need a rest or a job or maybe just a beer. And we ALWAYS go the the Spring Creek Tavern for a lunch or a libation or both. This trip, we went TWICE! Big Solid and Your Elf drove over on Thursday and swore all we were going to have was a Bloody Mary/Beer. Of course, we wound up having some fries with that. And the perfunctory picture.
They have a vegan friendly menu (in a town population 560) which Betty Matens and Your Elf took advantage on Friday, splitting their Vegan Wrap (see below).
Their selection of craft beers is outstanding as is their Sake Bloody Mary (seen in our picture).
Chupacabra Café
We ate closer to out little ‘home’ on Thursday night at the Chupacabra Café. Big Solid had a salad
and Your Elf had the Vegan Tacos (made with tofu). Very very nice.
The server was excellent and very attentive and their Tamarind Margarita went down nicely.

With the approaching eclipse, we decided that it would be smart to leave a day early, take a blue highway route home to see some potential sites for future vacations. So, that left Friday. Big Solid and his friend Paul Matens had a golf game planned for the course at Black Mountain, so Betty and Your Elf drove to Hot Springs as she’d never been. And of course, we had to say we'd walked on the Appalachian Trail.
We had a ball and ate lunch at the aforementioned Spring Creek Tavern where we split a Veggie Wrap.
As many times as we have been to Asheville, we had never eaten at this Italian restaurant even thought it is VERY easy to get to and is in one of our favorite Asheville neighborhoods, Montfort.
Chiesa's menu is one of the most interesting and well-conceived we’d seen in a long time. So, we opted to have our remaining meal with them. And thanks to Open Table reservations, we were able to secure a reservation with only two openings left!! When we first looked at the menu, we THOUGHT we noted at least three vegan options on the menu (all pasta related), so we were doubly excited at being able to order different entrées and taste. What I SHOULD have done, when the reservations were confirmed, was contact them to make sure that the pasta was egg-free but NOOO…we assumed that with such a large vegan population, at least one would be egg-free. We were wrong…the only vegan entrée was house-made zucchini noodles with a sauce. However, the server brought this to the attention of the Chef who came to our table to tell us what he could do on the spur of the moment (one more thing that could have been prevented had we THOUGHT AHEAD!). His ideas were terrific and we settled in with a terrific pour of a nice Proseco (Elf’s fave) and Pinot Grigio for Big Solid.

The meal was delicious and our zucchini noodles were covered with a nicely flavored Tempeh, artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, red pepper, tomatoes, and capers in a vegan Beurre Blanc sauce.
It was incredibly good so we will most definitely come to this place again when we are in the Asheville area. Your Elf's plate was pretty empty!
In fact, our friends Paul and Betty Matens had supper there on Saturday night and RAVED about it!! This is a restaurant where the quality of the food is paramount and so is customer service. AND, you know what, it’s very very reasonably priced in an age where a lot of restaurants feel that the higher the price, the better the turnout.
So, there you have our gustatorial commentary on our Asheville trip. We missed many restaurants that have vegan options but, gosh darn it, we don’t eat three meals a day and if we do we are miserable. Just gives us something to look forward to next go around, adding Chiesa to our MUST list.
As we publish this little bloggery, please remember the folks in Texas who are dealing with unbelievably horrific conditions. We never know when we will face a catastrophe such as Harvey; Hearts Up for Texas!

So, until next week y’all, remember to Look for the GOOD, be an EXAMPLE of the GOOD, and ACT for the GOOD as HARD as you can, in as MANY WAYS as you can, EVERY DAY that you can.
Your Elf

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