Having heard of my longing for Brunswick stew, Christopher took us on Thursday to a barbecue joint called Luella's. Brunswick stew, collard greens, and hush puppies. I was, dare I say it, in pig heaven.
We visited downtown Asheville to see the Basilica of St. Lawrence. This is a Mediterranean style brick building constructed entirely of masonry. There are no structural timbers or steel supports in it.
The architect, Raphael Guavastino, was a big name in the Beaux Arts era. He did the vaults in the New York Oyster Bar. He came to Asheville to work on the Biltmore mansion and apparently decided to stick around.
It's a fascinating space with a huge oval vault made of mortar and tile. The statuary, although on a much smaller scale, reminded me of the Baroque work in St. Peter's. Beaux Arts was an over-the-top time too.
A lot of old buildings are preserved downtown, including storefronts from Woolworth and S.H. Kress five-and-dimes.
The town is filled with street musicians. One group was a jug band, appropriately decked out in beat-up mountaineer clothes. They had a real wash-tub bass—pole, tube, and rope.
Later we met Jill, Christopher's girlfriend, who took us on a tour of the private school where she teaches. It was quite a treat to see the craft projects on the walls about insects and the solar system.
We had dinner at Sunny Point, a simple but very good restaurant not far from the school. Joanna and I shared a plate of Dixie fried chicken, and I had a couple of local ales.
Friday we started at Biltmore Village, a neighborhood outside the gates of the Biltmore Estate. It's mainly an upscale shopping area—Jos. A. Bank, Brooks Brothers, Talbot, Williams Sonoma, that sort of thing.
It reminded me a bit of Upper Montclair and Southampton.
The most interesting thing there is the Cathedral of All Souls. This is a brick structure with steep roofs that look like they are sweeping down to the ground. It's bigger, but probably because of the deep red color, has a feel like the Church in the Dunes at Southampton. One look and you know it's Episcopal.
We strolled around the village with iced coffees in hand. Christopher bought some fly fishing equipment at Curtiss Wright Outfitters.
Then it was time for something completely different. Christopher took us to the Smith Mill Works, a startup designed to support small businesses. He works for the owner, Mike, as a consultant because Christopher specializes in advising startups.
Mike bought a huge abandoned complex of greenhouses and is renting space to a growing number of organic farmers and others.
We spoke to Sally, the owner of a hybrid growing system called Sunburst. She has a separate company that farms fish. She has some fish in tanks at the greenhouse. They fertilize water in which many of her crops grow. Other plants are set out in conventional sets. Much of their business is supplying herbs to chefs at high-end restaurants.
Sally showed us a tray of small radish plants. They will shear off the tops for salads. In this case, you would be eating the greens instead of the roots of the radish.
There was mint that tasted like it was peppered. Several trays held a bright red plant, amaranth, which has been cultivated for millennia.
Another tenant cultivates fungi in a walk-in cooler.
We pulled up outside a Quonset hut and we could hear a sharply rhythmical metallic ring. It was the workshop called the Surly Anvil, where John the smith makes custom-order suits of plate armor. He even has swords there.
He showed us gloves with articulated fingers that looked like lobster tails. All over the shop are lightweight castings of torsos and limbs of customers who have ordered suits. Most of them are reenactors who actually knock each other off horses.
Another novel stop was Pour. You get an ID bracelet, which lets you draw your own beer. You are charged by the ounce.
I finally got to sample a Belgian red sour ale that I had seen bottled in stores, Brouwerij Verhaeghe Duchesse du Bourgogne. It was the hit of the day, gang. All that deep red ale flavor plus the tartness of wild yeast. It's right up there with Cuvee des Jacobins as one of the best ales I've ever had.
Other good ones were New Belgium Lips of Faith, a golden ale, and Asheville Brewing Perfect Day IPA.
An unusual treat was Birra Etrusca from Dogfish Head, a Delaware brewery that I know mainly for IPAs. Etrusca was described as an "ancient ale." According to the brewery's website, the recipe is based on chemical examination of 2,800-year-old Etruscan drinking vessels. It is made with barley and wheat, and includes hazelnut, honey, and pomegranate among its incredients. Very strange and appealing.
Pour makes no food, but takes orders for the deli next door and will bring the stuff to your table. Highlight for me was the bowl of Brussels sprouts. They were deep fried and delicious.
Jill joined us at Pour when her school day was over, and we all went to the Biltmore Estate. Jill and Christopher have passes, and Joanna and I got in free because it was after five. Christopher had to dodge the automatic gate as it started to close on us.
There were deer and turkeys by the roadside, but as far as we could see, no bear.
Much of the estate is a sprawling forest with winding roads and both native and imported flora. We walked through a bamboo grove, for instance.
Some of the land is farmed. One field contains mustard. Christopher said it is used to make biodiesel to run the estate's vehicles.
Dinner was steamed red snapper that Joanna made at Christopher and Jill's house.
A long, good day for us.
The same to you.