Sometimes its hard to appreciate the thing next door especially for those of us who suffer so powerfully from wanderlust. 'It is far away' can automatically confer status. I was reminded of this recently on a trip to Asheville. I grew up in North Carolina and live here now. It is a beautiful state with an almost unlimited number of things over which to rave. Still I have always been drawn to things 'far away'. This is surely in part the result of having grown up at a time in North Carolina when it felt far away--far away from interesting and important things, far away from the cultural moment, whatever that moment might have been at the time. This perception may not have ever been true. Nonetheless, at least in the past, it sure felt true. It feels infinitely less so now. Which brings me back to Asheville. The food scene in Asheville is just incredible. I travel a lot. In even the tiniest towns now there is at least that one hipster restaurant and as for local ingredients sometimes I swear I could almost go for a slab of endangered species trucked overland at great expense and waste rather than have to hear this mantra one more time. I think it is easy--easier than we realize--for innovation to overwhelm talent. All this probably makes me sound churlish. I hope I'm not but I do take my food very seriously and in Asheville what we have here is the real deal. It is a food scene with not only an abundance of seriously talented people making seriously interesting and complex food but it has now begun to exert true gravitational pull, attracting more talent, more innovation--more excellence--at a seemingly ever-accelerating pace.
On my recent trip I ate at All Souls Pizza. All Souls takes local to a new level. Much of the grain used for the pizza dough is locally sourced by the chef/owner David Beaur, who also owns Farm and Sparrow Bakery. Much else that is served up at All Souls is grown on the restaurant's premises. I had an arugula and summer tomato salad along with a tallegio and potato pizza.
All things I've had before perhaps but what set the meal part was not the story behind the food. It was quite simply the taste. Each and everything was delicious, bursting with flavor but yet every flavor balanced within a perfect matrix of ingredients. It was a summer evening on a light-festooned patio filled with standard issue treated lumber picnic tables--more lobster pound than bistro--and yet it all added up somehow to the relaxed grace of an Italian cafe. That's talent--and it's just one example.
There is so much going on food-wise in Asheville these days that it is hard to keep up. And talent just keeps attracting talent. Katie Button comes from elBulli to open Curate and now, her new place, Nightbell. John Fleer, the chef who made Blackberry Farm a food destination, has recently opened Rhubarb. There's The Admiral, The White Duck Taco Shop, Cucina24, Table, Chestnut, Blackbird, Isa's Bistro--believe me when I say I am only scratching the surface and there is no getting to bottom of this list. Every month there are 2 or 3 new standouts or so it seems...frankly I gave up trying to perfect my list for this post. There are just too many choices so in cheerful acknowledgement of defeat I include links below to several recent articles on this burgeoning scene.
Really, it's an incredible town. Makes me awfully glad it's not far away...