Must be something in the air--something, that is, in addition to the snow, sleet or rain depending on your luck and locale this week. On Sunday, the New York Times introduced a redesign of their online edition and here it is not two days later and Studio Traveler rolls out a re-designed website and new blog format. I know. I know. We are must definitely not the New York Times---but I hope you won't let mere scale of operation muddle the comparison here. As I read the NYT's editor's note this past weekend, I was reminded of all the decisions that go into a redesign--and it felt familiar, very familiar. What will improve the layout? The readability? The usefulness? And, in fact, in the case of A CITY A WEEK...it's not just our look that's new. Our focus this year will be on increasing our 'helpfulness quotient'. A CITY A WEEK posts will now always include more recommendations on that city's restaurants, hotels and cultural events. We are also introducing new guest 'columnists', who will join Camille Cogswell in doing reoccurring posts. We start today with Vincent Paul's first review. His 'beat' will be North Carolina restaurants. Why (more or less) 'local' restaurants on a travel site? Because today talent is everywhere. We believe this is just as true in the arts. In the coming months, guest columnists on both NYC arts and NC arts will join Camille and Vincent. So where ever you live and/or travel, you'll have access to just that little bit more info.
Oh and a word about 'Comments'. We love hearing from you! And as it turns out we have been hearing from you far more than we ever realized on the old platform--the comments just weren't landing were they should have been. We think we've got the pipes cleaned out this time around so please--be in touch! When it comes to travel we suspect you know as much--more?--then we do...and we like that!
A Winter Wonderland
And It's Here In North Carolina!
by Vincent Edgar Paul
Having spent a number of vacations in the Alps and loving the ambience, we have looked for years for a spot closer to home in hopes of avoiding both the expense and the jet lag. Having both grown up in eastern Tennessee, my wife Melinda and I have long been familiar with western North Carolina--Beech Mountain and Hound Ears specifically. An uncle by marriage, Frank Coffey built Tweetsie Railroad with the Robbins Brothers and used a modified steam engine to create the snow machines at Appalachian Ski Mountain and Beech. Frank took my wife's mother Muriel on hair-raising rides around Hound Ears to look at lots for $3000. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Anyway, many wonderful weekends were spent at Hound Ears Lodge and our kids learned to ski there. Good food, big fires, big sweaters, Gene Fleri at the piano, stupendous fruit cobblers and general bonhomie. Greensboro's Ann Cone was also a large part of the scene as were Austrian ski instructors Willie and Kitty Falger that Anne recruited. Fast forward to today and the demise of winter restaurant service at Hound Ears. In search of a new and equally wonderful place we lately found Gideon Ridge Inn in Blowing Rock. Owned these days by Cobb and Cindy Milner, this house was formerly owned by Moses H. Cone. Solidly built of mountain stone, there is a big fireplace and views all the way to Chimney Rock, Lenoir--and almost to Charlotte. Rooms are all individually decorated with charming, old world, eclectic touches, evocative of someone's house with the accretion over time of appointments collected with a sharp but relaxed eye.
Off we go on a winter weekend this February. Snow at home and predicted in the mountains at Blowing Rock with a high of minus 3 and low of minus 14. Whew! With long johns and luggage, we headed out with some trepidation. 'No problem' said the staff at Gideon Ridge. 'Roads are plowed and the fire is lit'.
First off, we settled around the fireplace for drinks. You can bring your own but a fine selection of wine and spirits is available. Then to a lovely table by the gas logs in the dining room--a great juxtaposition of crude wood beams and crystal chandeliers. Winds howling and windows rattling brought thoughts of the movie 'Key Largo'.
Now to the starters at a lovely dinner by said fireplace. I adore chicken liver pâté and it was presented by Chef Hunter Womble as a locally sourced pavé of pâté, with a Dijon sauce, a mild cherry gastrique, a scattering of scallion rings and scooped up onto shards of crackers and the pâté itself was topped with a tousle of micro-greens. Magic! Umami Nirvana! Another notable starter was the fantabulous pork belly--Hunter's play on NC BBQ with a hoecake as the hushpuppy, then pork belly, vinegary southern slaw and smoked alder wood salt for hickory taste--pure genius!!
The salad was arugula; soft and baby, little lardons, hazelnuts for crunch and a very light bleu cheese dressing.
While Sirius XM wafted forth with 40's on 4, we waited for the main course. Out came a perfect Colorado Macho Lamb with three flavorful ribs. Thinly cut and heavenly with a dense fruit sauce, sides of Brussel sprouts and root vegetables all with a dab of demi-glace. The only thing I left on the plate was the result of my kale textural aversion. Another notable main course was the duck and the next night the tuna with a Puttanesca sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers. The tuna was sourced out of an excellent purveyor in Morganton, NC, who services the mountain resorts. Finally came out the 'TN sorghum' cake, with salted caramel, bourbon burnt gelato. Tennessee molasses indeed--most enjoyable! So afterward, we gathered ourselves around the fire for a small Courvoisier and chatty conversation with a nice couple from Charlotte. Always a plus at this beautiful place. Breakfast should be mentioned and there is a lovely afternoon tea with 'light as helium' scones, cherry tomato on cracker hors d'oeuvres, mini-chocolate mousse pastries and cucumber sandwiches.
The start of the day always brings stout Ethiopian coffee, juice and interesting choices. Particularly notable is the egg and cheese strata and the cinnamon French toast with a side of crunchy bacon. Yummmm!
Two of the three nights we stayed at Gideon Ridge for dinner. The middle night we tried Rowland's at the Westglow Inn around five miles out of town and to be reviewed at a later date.
All in all, Gideon Ridge Inn is inn keeping at its best. Following Emerson's dictum regarding hospitality--'A little food, a little fire and an immense quiet'. If only the wind gods kept it down a little more on the sound. As it is, though, you can see we have found our own 'little Alpine lodge', right here in North Carolina, no less. Go!