Tupelo Honey Cafe, Asheville NC

This weekend, Marie and I finally got to try the Tupelo Honey Cafe. This took long enough; it has been eluding us for almost a year. Well, that’s not true; it eluded us about eleven months ago and we haven’t been back to town since, but it was absolutely worth the wait.

Just to give you a little backstory, I fell in love with Asheville when the kids and I came to the city for an overnight visit in 2005. Some years later, when Marie and I started getting serious, we had a discussion about our future and where we will live. We agreed to stay in the Atlanta area for the next few years, but to move just a little north, to a smaller, cooler city, after a while. Asheville was one of the cities on our short list, and so when we took a honeymoon road trip last July, we visited each of them to see what we thought. I had my fingers crossed that Marie would like Asheville as much as I do. Happily, she did. We elected to make a second, longer visit before finalizing a decision. Now that we’ve done so, we’ve confirmed that, health, jobs and money pending, we will move up here in a few years.

Prior to our honeymoon trip, we laid out a battle plan of restaurants to try along the way. Marie, responsible for Asheville, selected Tupelo Honey Cafe on the strength of dozens of glowing reviews. But when we arrived in town last July, we stumbled right into the annual Bele Chere festival and 300,000 music lovers. Downtown was a little inaccessible to people who drove in not knowing to expect that; so were the first three hotels we tried! So we had supper instead at a pretty good barbecue place out on Tunnel Road and decided Tupelo Honey would wait until our next visit.

Downtown Asheville is an incredibly vibrant and fun place, with dozens of small, local business that stay open late selling books and music and clothes and art, and dozens of restaurants, many of whom source their food from local farmers. The city attracts a huge, young, fun-loving crowd of free spirits. While we waited for a table at Tupelo Honey Cafe on Friday night, a drum circle had started up in the park across the street. There’s a big traffic island between the one-way streets of College and Patton which the city has turned into a park, and the park gets occupied by musicians and performance artists from sunup to sundown.

Tupelo Honey Cafe is small enough and popular enough to result in there always being a short wait, but we had a snack on the drive in and amused ourselves watching the music and silliness, so the half hour passed instantly. And it was worth it. This food is just amazing.

The restaurant starts your meal with completely wonderful biscuits, served with honey and with a blackberry jam which is to die for. Marie had flank steak with cheesy cauliflower and declared it magnificent, and washed it down with a glass of rosemary peach lemonade, which was quite strong but very tasty.

But while her meal was completely great, on this occasion, I lucked out. I have the worst problem with what I call menu envy; invariably somebody else at my table orders something that ends up better than my selection. That didn’t happen this time. Marie’s flank steak was certainly great, but I had the evening special: almond encrusted rainbow trout, served with garlic mayo and tomatoes with cheese grits. I’ve never had trout so good. The restaurant claims that their Friday trout is just hours old, harvested earlier in the day.

Supper for two could easily run upwards of $60 here if you’d like wine, appetizers or a dessert, so it’s not a place we can justify all that regularly. But we’re tempted. I worked up a “cons” list about Asheville. Apparently the only negatives to living here are the number of smokers, the number of dogs, and that, wherever we might find jobs, we’ll either be perpetually broke or perpetually cranky from fighting the temptation to have three meals a day here. Maybe some of our other Asheville finds will be a little easier on the wallet.

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