Road Trip to Asheville: Day 2: Brews and Food

Cocktail Coaster at Grove Park Inn

Cocktail Coaster at Grove Park Inn

A tepid rainy Friday in Asheville, I begin my day with my customary puja of mediation and yoga before popping in to the Grove Park’s Executive Club Lounge for a light breakfast of yogurt, house made granola, fruit and tea with a side of smoked salmon, pickled onion and capers.  I adore good granola and have often mused over the prospect of investigating home/in-house granolas for a comparison story – may still do that someday- and found the Grove Park’s granola to be quite good.  Crunchy nuggets of oats and sweetener (possibly agave) accented with dried apricots, cherries and cranberries (I am guessing here as I neglected to speak to the chef about it) but overall a medium amount of crunch with enough flavor to be distinctive without being overloaded.  I liked it.  In fact, everything I ate in the Exec Lounge was wonderful and often better than the hotel’s restaurants.  Other breakfast offerings that morning (they switch it out daily) included an egg sandwich on an english muffin, a selection of cereals, bagels, pastries, croissants, juices, coffee and a stunning array of fresh fruits and berries. Oh and the tea,  I became practically addicted to the herbal chai and was practically moved to tears the following morning when the Blue Ridge Dining Room failed to offer it.

I met Tracy Johnston-Crum, the Grove Park Inn’s Marketing Director and Julia Akers for a tour of the property.  The Grove Park Inn has quite a history.  Its creator, Edwin Wiley Grove made his fortune concocting and selling a tasteless quinine tonic for warding off maleria and other diseases and seeing the potential of Asheville as a place of respite and recovery.  He purchased the property where the Grove Park and surrounding neighborhood now exists and began adding to his millions by selling real estate.  He saved the plum piece of property for his vision of an Inn and in 1912 commissioned his son-in-law to design and build the distinctive flagship stone structure depicted in post cards as the main building.  Grove demanded that the building be operational in one year so 450 workers where hired to work 10 hour days six days a week to complete the Inn on time.  They did it and the doors opened for guests 362 days later.

Among presidents and other luminaries, F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the Inn while his wife, Zelda, convalessed at a sanitorium near by.  And of course there is a ghost (what cool old place would be complete without one?) known charmingly as “The Pink Lady”.  The legend goes that she was the unregistered “guest” of a politician who fell (or perhaps was pushed) to her death from a 5th floor balcony in the Atrium in the wee hours of a morning during the 1920’s.  Not wanting to draw attention to the situation, the management had her body rolled up in a blanket or something and disposed. The incident remained unmentioned until guests began to see a pink mist at times and some unexplained pranks happened around the hotel.  Makes a good story at any rate.

Following the brief tour of the Sammons and Vanderbult wings including glimpses into Horizons and the Blue Ridge Dining Room, we hopped on a Tour Trolley to see Asheville.  We stopped at the Mast General Store two levels of wood floored old fashioned hodge podge. A place where one can buy candy out of a barrel, find an unusual kitchen gadget or buy the hippy- inspired clothing that abounds in this relaxed, outdoorsy town.

For lunch we stopped at the Wicked Weed, Asheville’s latest micro-brew pub.  Asheville is known for beer, the perfect casual drink for such a laid back place.  It is also known for good food and a farm-to-table mindset. The restaurant was expecting us and designed a beer tasting with one of the brewmasters.  Sadly, for you beer enthusiasts out there I have little interest in micro-brewing and found the tastes of all their beers to be too pungent and raw. I failed to be enlightened as to the process or nuances of the Wicked Weeds signature beers because it grew so loud in the place that the brewmaster’s lecture became inaudible.  I do recall one very fruity beer that smacked of grapefruit. Anyway, everyone else seemed to be enjoying their tastes.  Appetizers were very good, particularly the onion dip with house made potato chips, the mussels and the calamari which is fried in cornmeal making us gluten free people very happy.  The bison burger I ordered was hard, dry and virtually flavorless.  It is easy to overcook bison because it is leaner than beef and the cook made this mistake. My lunch sat in my stomach like the rock it was and I was pretty miserable for the remainder of the afternoon.  The service could have been better as well.  I was never asked about side options and was automatically served fries where some of my dining mates were brought delicious grilled brussels sprouts.  It also took almost an hour for our food to come out of the kitchen once ordered.  We were there for almost three hours with beer tasting, lunch and a 15 minute tour of the brewery. Wicked Weed is only four months old and is possibly still working out the kinks.  My recommendation is to go for aps and a beer and stay away from the main courses which are mostly sandwiches and less than stellar by my experience.

On the flip side of my mood which was dampened by the arduous lunch and pouring rain, was a quick visit to my favorite place in Asheville and really, one of my favorite hang outs on the planet, Battery Park Book Exchange.  I love this place because it is a champagne/coffee bar packed floor almost to high ceiling with tidy shelves of books where one can lounge on tasteful leather furniture set on fine orientals  surrounded by Chinese red painted walls and nice art to (prepare for a shock) read a physical copy of a newspaper or an actual hard bound book.  It reminds of sitting in a sophisticated intellectual’s Park Ave apartment library at any time on a weekend day. A true literary conclave. Plus dogs are welcome – as they are almost everywhere in Asheville.

Asheville also has a designated Arts district, a place that evolved as most art districts do, industry went bust and warehouse rentals became cheap encouraging artists to move in and oh, you know the rest… the next thing you know there is a restaurant opening and tourists coming in droves.  The Asheville arts district is situated along the river and is on its way to becoming a true commercial destination as Sierra Nevada plans to open a brewery there with a restaurant.  One cool thing about it is that people will paddle in canoes and kayaks from above and below the district, pull their boats out at a designated boat landing and then walk around the area and grab a bite to eat.

I got back to the Grove Park just in time to get down to the spa and take the cold plunge, an experience much needed to wake me up for dinner.  In a designated women’s area of the spa, next to the eucalyptus room, sauna and steam room lies a “C” -shaped hot tub nestled by an in ground cylinder of a cold water about four feet in diameter and maybe six feet deep.  One soaks in the hot tub with or without jets running until they are quite warm then quickly plunge feet first into the cold pool. It was just the exhilerating stimulous I needed for the second long reasonably unsatisfying dining experience of the day at the Inn’s Horizons restaurant.

But Cocktails in the Great Hall with the General Manager first. The Grove Park Inn has created several specialty cocktails in honor of its 100th birthday that come in glasses you can take home.  Having a penchant for ghost stories, I tried the Pink Lady which was tasty yet sweet then switched to a Corset (a glorified Margarita).  Below is a list of all the Centennial Cocktails:

Sunset Terrace Caipirinha

11⁄2 OZ 10 CANE RUM

1 OZ GINGER LIME SIMPLE SYRUP 1⁄4 CUP BLUEBERRIES

CLUB SODA

SPLASH OF SPRITE

2 LIME WEDGES

Muddle lime, simple syrup & blueberries. Add rum, ice & add soda, top with Sprite. Garnish with blueberries & lime wedge.

Grove Park Inn is nestled on the western- facing slope of the Sunset Mountain within the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Bootlegger

1 OZ TROY & SONS’

PLATINUM MOONSHINE

6 OZ CRAFT KÖLSCH BEER

1 OZ STAR ANISE &

CLEMENTINE HONEY SYRUP

Build in glass over ice. Garnish with an orange wheel.

Bootleggers & Moonshiners worked hand in hand producing & distributing alcohol during Prohibition.

Grove’s Tasty Chill Tonic

11⁄2 OZ BULLEIT BOURBON 1 OZ SIMPLE SYRUP

1 ORANGE WHEEL

1 LEMON WHEEL

CLUB SODA

Muddle fruit & simple syrup. Add ice, bourbon & club soda.

Dr. E.W. Grove was made famous for his “Tasteless” Chill Tonic, sold as a preventative for malaria. Grove touted “It’ll cure what ails you!”

The Corset

11⁄2 OZ DON JULIO BLANCO 1⁄2 OZ GRAND MARNIER

1 OZ FRESH LIME JUICE

1⁄2 OZ AGAVE SYRUP

Shake vigorously with ice, strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wedge. Sea salted rim optional.

The Corset gave women the hourglass figure they were looking for. Our version may not enhance your figure, but it won’t add to it either.

Love Potion No. 13

11⁄2 OZ CAPTAIN MORGAN BLACK SPICED RUM

1⁄2 OZ COINTREAU

2 DROPS GRAPEFRUIT BITTERS 2 OZ BEET SIMPLE SYRUP CLUB SODA

Combine, pour over ice & top with soda. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

Dr. Grove’s tonics could have cured what ails you, our Love Potion No. 13 may just “beet” the ailments of love.

Perfect “Inn” Manhatten

2 OZ BULLEIT BOURBON 1⁄2 OZ BRANDIED

CHERRY RESERVE

5 DROPS BLOOD ORANGE- VANILLA BITTERS

EQUAL PARTS SWEET &

DRY VERMOUTH

Combine over ice, shake throughly, and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with brandied cherries.

The Grove Park Inn was built in 1913. Completed in less than a year, opening on July 12, 1913.

The Pink Lady

11⁄2 OZ KETEL ONE VODKA

1⁄2 OZ GRAND MARNIER

1⁄2 OZ PISTACHIO SIMPLE SYRUP 11⁄2 OZ AC,AI & POMEGRANATE JUICE

Combine, shake well & strain into glass. Top with Grand Marnier. Serve with a pistachio biscotti on the side.

It is belived that a ghost of a young woman surrounded by a mist of pink haunts the Palm Court, where she fell to her death in the 1920’s.

Donald Ross “Tee”

11⁄2 OZ HENDRICK’S GIN

1⁄2 OZ EARL GREY AND BAY

LEAF SIMPLE SYRUP

2 DROPS CELERY BITTERS

CLUB SODA

Combine and serve over ice. Garnish with an orange wheel.

The Grove Park Inn’s famed 18 hole golf course was designed by legendary course designer Donald Ross in 1926.

Seely’s Craftsman

1 OZ BULLEIT BOURBON 6 OZ CRAFT BROWN ALE 1⁄2 OZ MAPLE SYRUP

Build in a glass over ice. Garnish with brown sugar crusted black pepper bacon.

Fred Loring Seely was Edwin Wiley Grove’s son-in-law. He oversaw the construction of the Grove Park & managed it for 27 years.

Horizons is known for its view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and boasts spectacular sunset sightings.  The view is indeed splendid and we were graced with a decent sunset which added to the pleasant ambiance. Under the leadership of chef Duane Fernandes, obviously this is considered a pretty special place as one couple was having a romantic dinner marked by the three dozen long stem roses set on their table and several other patrons were rather well dressed.  I was thrilled by the three mini gluten free biscuits presented to me in place of regular bread and the prospect of eating something other than red meat for dinner.  To be fair, the menu looked good but almost every dish featured something with gluten in it. I opted for a potato, leek, celery soup to start and roasted chicken with vegetables which was offered with pasta but adapted to gluten free with mashed potatoes.

The soup was so salty it was almost inedible.  It tasted very much like Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup from a can to me but with a rougher texture (an improvement). I ate less than half the bowl, unable to tolerate it even for politeness sake.  The chicken dish was dull. Perhaps the substitution made it more bland than it would normally be but it was simply boring,  The chicken itself was perfectly cooked, however, juicy and tender.  Dessert was the highlight. A sharp lemon custard served with a blackberry sorbet balanced by a glass of ice wine.  I could have eaten a gallon of this mouth-puckering concoction it was so light yet sharply flavorful.

Service was slow though the staff were all very pleasant and accommodating.

Dinner which began at 7:00 finished at 9:50.

I was in bed by 10:30 in order to be well rested for zip lining at Navitat the next morning.

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