Destination Dining.....you know, when you don't care how long it takes to get there or about the long drive home, because the meal itself just rocks all your primary senses, and the scene and the setting compound the outstanding flavors. And more than likely, the chosen menu items are local and seasonal, cooked in a slow or at least a soulful way.
DRIVING2EAT is not a crazy thing to do. Edible adventures are extremely satisfying, in more ways than just solving your hunger game.
So, every now and then, Carolina Foodie is going to take you on a road trip to a very special place to eat. Grab your keys, gas up the car, and get hungry.
PEEP'n EAT ON THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Leaf peepers are out in droves on the Blue Ridge Parkway during the colorful fall months. Cars snake down the spine of these southern Appalachian mountains, some times bumper to bumper with painfully slow rubberneckers. Reds and golds dominate, while rocks, waterfalls and mountain silhouettes delight even the most impatient drivers.
Then the hunger games begin, and there are only a few dinner options to play.
You can enjoy a delightful picnic at a gorgeous overlook, not a bad option if you planned ahead and packed some gourmet goodies. But it does get dark earlier now, and chilly, too.
Or, you can settle for some ordinary fried chicken and mountain trout, along with long wait lines and eccentric waitstaff at the few restaurants that are actually located on the parkway itself. We once had an elderly waitress tell us at 7:15 pm that if we wanted the trout, she'd have to stand there and watch us eat it, or we could just order that fried chicken that's sitting right there ready to go because the restaurant closed at 7:30. Yes ma'am.
Or, you can exit the parkway at several touristy crossroads, and again, face few options beyond the standard, ho-hum fare.
Or, be a winner in the hunger games and follow this locavore’s lead to some pretty good restaurants that rank as edible destinations all by themselves, with the Blue Ridge Parkway just a colorful way to get there.
And that's a winning combination in this Southern part of heaven - a marvelous meal and a dramatic drive. There are even motels nearby. Just make sure you phone ahead for reservations for both.
THE NORTHERN HALF
If you start at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, up near the Charlottesville, VA area, head down and around Roanoke, VA, which will take you a good day, especially if you stop and take a gander, and maybe lunch, at Peaks of Otter.
Near Mile Post 160 at Tuggles Gap, head west on Route 8 to funky Floyd, a one-stoplight town with a couple of great places to eat.
Natasha's Market Cafe, 227 North Locust Street, 540 745-2450, is above a great gourmet type market, Harvest Moon. Natasha, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, worked as a chef in several places before settling in this SW Virginia community. Try goat cheese truffles, zucchini pancakes, or pasture-raised beef brisket slowly braised to melt in your mouth. Seventy-five percent of her food is sourced from local and organic farms, and from the coast of VA and NC.
Oddfellows Cantina, 110A North Locust Street, 540 745-3463, like it's name suggests, features casual but gourmet with a bit of a southwestern flair. They too, pride themselves on using local and seasonal foods. Some nights you can catch a great musical performance of progressive bluegrass, blues, Latin or Irish music.
NC'S BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY
Blowing Rock, okay, yeah, it's a touristy town. But it's still got that old time charm, and Jimmy Crippens will use lots of his charm welcoming you into his namesake inn and restaurant, Crippen's, 239 Sunset Drive, 828 295-3487. A new chef, Stan Chamberlain, grew up in these mountains, and takes the food he cut his teeth on, like collards and trout, and gives them a creative contemporary twist. Plus there's foie gras and tuna and other delectables not necessarily Appalachian but definitely prepared with Southern polish. Some of the produce and herbs comes straight from Jimmy and wife Carolyn's farm garden.
In between Linville Falls and Crabtree Meadows, head west to Spruce Pine, an old railroad town that's on the bank of the Toe River. Down on the lower street you'll find Knife & Fork, a surprising little gem of a place at 61 Locust St., 828 765-1511. Chef Nate Allen won the Small-Town Chef Award from Cooking Light magazine, and Western North Carolina's Chef Challenge this year, then placed third in NC's Best Dish Contest, and in my book, is one of the best chefs around. He and wife Wendy Gardner decided to leave the star-studded but stressful L.A. area where he'd successfully cooked for ten years, and return to their home state. To Spruce Pines, population of about 2,000, that perhaps never gave up that farm-to-table status. You'll find rabbit, house-made bratwurst, and yes trout, but it's been house-smoked, among a very diverse menu.