Below the Mason-Dixon

First stop: Asheville, North Carolina. Tucked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this city is an eclectic blend of Civil War history and new-age influence. Home to The Biltmore Estate, a 250-room mega-mansion once occupied by the Vanderbilts, Asheville has a heritage all to its own.

 

Asheville has been on the local/sustainable/organic wagon for decades – it was hard to find a restaurant without a nod to the area farms. I am a huge fan of Southern food in general, but unlike Paula Deen, I try to avoid using 3 sticks of butter per recipe.  You can imagine my delight when I found healthy Southern food.

The Early Girl Eatery is a very popular spot for breakfast-all-day and everything in between. The menu had that “from scratch” vibe (all desserts are still made by the owner’s family.) We started off with the Early Girl Platter with black-eyed pea hummus, pimento cheese and avocado relish served with fresh fruit and crostini. The hummus was a little spicy and paired well with the creamy avocado. Pimento cheese is a Southern staple – a creamy cheddar cheese dip flecked with red pepper. Cant go wrong with that!

For my main course, I chose the “Meat & Two”, a choice of protein and 2 side dishes. For my “meat”, I chose pan seared grouper with squash casserole and local greens. Served with a huge buttery biscuit and blackberry jam, I was a happy girl.

 

Squash casserole: tastes better than it looks

 

My mom chose the Early Girl Benny,  grit cakes topped with tomato, spinach, poached eggs, tomato gravy and avocado.

 

Eggs Benny

 

For dessert, we shared a piece of Red Velvet Cake, their last piece of the day. Couldn’t resist!

During our last day in Asheville, we did a bit of shopping and visited a few local art gallery. One space, Woolworth Walk, is an old department store turned artisan marketplace and old-fashioned soda fountain. Another must-see is the Grove Arcade, a French-style indoor boutique mecca.

For lunch, we stopped at Tupelo Honey Cafe, a bustling joint with a Europe-meets-earth mama atmosphere. I chose a mug of their homemade tomato soup (did I mention it was freezing last weekend?! Snow, wind, the whole bit!) On the side, I had an open-faced veggie melt with fried green tomatoes, caramelized onions, mushrooms, peppers, spinach and harvarti. The sandwich was served with a side dish, so naturally I chose brussels sprouts. My mom joked that I am the only person she knows that would order vegetables with a side of vegetables. Expect a recipe recreations of that veggie melt – it was pretty epic. Like the Early Girl, Tupelo Honey serves up complimentary biscuits and blackberry jam. I wish more NYC restaurants would do this!

The real reason we were in Asheville was for a good family friend’s wedding, and not just any wedding, a chef’s wedding! That’s right, one chef married another chef. The ceremony and reception took place on a beautiful farm – picture perfect. Needless to say, the food  was amazing, a blend of the North and South with barbecue and vegetarian fare side by side. If you are ever in the area, be sure to visit the newlyweds restaurants, Curras Nuevo Cuisine and The Corner Kitchen.

Next stop: Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I didn’t take many pics, but I do have some reccs…

For tasty Island cuisine and lots of veggie options…Roastfish and Cornbread

For fresh seafood and great views…Old Oyster Factory

While I do love the change of pace in the South (aka slow), I have to admit I was glad to return back to NYC. Now if only it was a little warmer…

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