“Although I deeply love oceans, deserts, and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty.”–Victoria Erikson
After all of the freedom of mask-free living, travel, and dining, it looks as if we might be heading right back into those not-so-care-free-mask-wearing days again–vaccinated or not. Regardless of what position you take on COVID, vaccines, and masks, there is one topic on which most can agree based upon the summer of 2021–our collective love of travel. Perhaps, it’s hard-wired into our DNA from the hunting-gathering days, but as a whole, a large part of our population embraces that wanderlust feeling–hitting the open road and taking off for a change of scenery in order to relax, recharge, and renew.
While my husband and I did not travel as much as we would have liked this past summer, we did discover an off-the-beaten path destination that we hope to return to in the near future–Black Mountain, NC. Ideally, we would like to visit it again during the fall months, but since we are both educators, extended fall travel is not possible. However, for those of you with the opportunity to travel during the fall months, I would encourage you to consider a visit to this charming and scenic area of NC. Even with mask-restrictions, it’s an ideal travel destination due to its fine dining, shopping, museums, breweries/distillery/cideries, crafts, art, music, and more. Plus, it also offers a plethora of out-of-doors activities in which you can practice social distancing if that’s your preference.
Using populars travel apps such as Airbnb, VRBO, TripAdvisor, or Yelp, you will not only find an abundance of ideas for activities in the vicinity, but also a wide range of places to stay sure to fit any budget, including rental homes/condos/apartments, bed and breakfasts, quaint inns, camping or glamping sites, resorts, and hotels. In fact, John and I were overwhelmed with all of the choices, but ultimately went with a VRBO rental home one mile from downtown Black Mountain called Getaway Disoway. The owners, Tony and Tricia Wilkerson, were fantastic and responsive communicators, respected our privacy, and provided us with a clean, comfortable, and cozy cottage built in 1941 that we absolutely loved.
In the same way there are a myriad of places in which to stay in Black Mountain, there are likewise ample choices of eateries! This was good news for John and me since we have two different dining preferences. I have to eat gluten free due to celiac disease, but I choose to also eat plant based; whereas, John is MUCH easier to feed as he is your basic meat, potato, salad kind-of-guy! In spite of our differences when it comes to how we eat, we come together on our preference for eating at eclectic restaurants that are locally owned, and Black Mountain certainly has those!
Our first food stop was FRESH: Wood Fired Pizza, featuring a classic menu of pizza, pasta, salads, and desserts. The chef, Mark Tomczak, an award winning ceramics artist, worked as an assistant chef at The Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls, in Hocking Hills, Ohio. Later, he became head chef at The Colonial, in Jackson, Ohio, before merging his talents. FRESH features Tomczak’s fine food and pottery creations in a vibrant, funky atmosphere featuring ample outdoors dining. Additionally, due to fact his youngest daughter, Emma, has a gluten intolerance, Tomczak’s menu offers multiple gluten free options, and his staff go out of their way to prepare gluten free food separately from the rest of menu items in an attempt to try, to the degree possible, keep their gluten free foods from being cross-contaminated. John and I loved FRESH so much, we ate there twice!
The next day, we visited Cousins Cuban Cafe, where we met the chef and owner, Beatriz “Betty” Sperry, while trying to decide what to eat. Sperry took charge immediately, asking questions, and based upon our answers, making recommendations. Sperry, a first generation American whose parents immigrated from Cuba to Miami, FL, proudly shared with us the story of her family. Their pictures adorn one wall of the cafe. Sperry described Cuban cuisine as being robust and full of flavor, but without being too spicy. Oh my, was she ever right, and they also had THE. BEST. COFFEE. EVER. The cafe’s food was like none other we had previously experienced. Sperry made John and I feel like one of the family as we sat at a small table near the kitchen, chatting with her and soaking up the atmosphere as the kitchen staff jovially, but quickly hustled to feed the ceaseless stream of hungry diners coming in for lunch. We will definitely return to this homey breakfast/lunch bistro.
If you’re going to hike around mountains, you need to fuel strongly, and that’s exactly what John and I did twice at Blueridge Biscuit Company–home of the gluten-free biscuit! Unfortunately for me, since we were on vacation, we slept later than we normally would, so the advertised gluten-free, 9 oz cathead biscuits were regrettably sold out both mornings! No worries for me though, they had numerous other gluten-free offerings, including house made granola and plenty of hot coffee! John appreciated the varied biscuit sandwich choices. (Yes, his biscuits were also 9 oz catheads too!) However, biscuit-based meals were not the only foods served up at this breakfast/lunch eatery, there were plenty of waffles, eggs, proteins, sides, and such, sure to please even the pickiest eater.
What vacation isn’t complete without a little Mexican food to spice up the experience? Which is why we had to visit Ole’s Guacamole. Full confession: I am a BIG eater when it comes to Mexican food, especially vegetarian fajitas. John and I visited Ole’s on an evening after our longest hike, and we were hungry. However, the portions at Ole’s were so generous, even I could not eat all of my food! What’s more, my margarita was so big, I couldn’t drink all of it either! Nonetheless, you did not hear either one of us complaining, and based upon the crowd, Ole’s has plenty of adoring fans ready to take on the clean-plate challenge!
Last up, on our Black Mountain dining adventures was Black Mountain Bistro. This locally owned and run restaurant offers an eclectic food and drink menu, including vegan/vegetarian and gluten-free options. While dining there, we met Jaiden, our server extraordinaire who answered all of our questions, made recommendations, and even made time to discuss her favorite hiking spots in the area. Our food was outstanding, the atmosphere was inviting, and it appeared to be a local favorite hang-out based upon the people we met. We had hoped to return, but our trip turned out to be one day shorter than planned, thanks to my poor booking skills!
All-in-all, John and I left a bit of our heart in Black Mountain, NC. It is full of ample out-of-door spaces to explore, stunning scenery, a vibrant arts and craft scene, a hip, but welcoming vibe, and just the right amount of one-of-a-kind locally owned shops, restaurants, and businesses. Stay tuned for more as we are already planning for a second trip to this mountain haven.