Blue Ridge Binge: The Hills are Alive, the Car is Not
Perhaps you read my post last week crowing about my upcoming visit to the Asheville Wine + Food Festival. Well, for anyone who read it then rolled their eyes thinking, “This chick, who does she think she is getting free passes to out-of-state parties?” Don’t worry. I got mine. Looks like the gods of gluttony decided my pre-Fest bravado warranted some karmic retribution.
Allow me to set the scene.
Last Friday, somewhere outside of the hippie capital of the Southeast, mere hours before the Festival Sweets event was to begin, my 2003 Ford Escape decided it was 5 o’clock somewhere and Buffet’d out. As in 80 mph to 15 mph on an 85 degree incline. If you’ve ever experienced your vehicle suddenly refuse to accelerate while summiting 2,000 feet, then you too can attest to the horrors of instantaneous cleavage sweat—a decolletage tsunami. White knuckling the wheel, I turned to my co-pilot Jenny Ferrara in horror.
“You should probably put your hazards on and get in the right lane,” she calmly replied. (I know, she’s so cool under pressure, right? Like a Scotch/Italian Jason Bourne, but without the amnesia and, well, female.)
So that’s what we did. Crawling up, then coasting down into town on nothing but a prayer. Once in the city limits, it became apparent I was driving a shake-weight on wheels. But lo, did we decide to take the Escapé to the shop then? Ho ho, no. There were beers to be had at Wicked Weed Brewing. In the cantina with a large outdoor patio and garage windows, Henry VIII holds court in a mural nearly the size of one wall. It’s the kind of place where one can imagine indulging in an epic Sunday Funday, one where the waiter quickly lets out that he dabbles in stand-up. A Dissident IPA for me, a Tyranny Hoppy Red Ale for her and suddenly car troubles seemed like the least of our concerns. “We made it!” we toasted, sipping reality away, munching into a fried chicken, kimchi, and miso mayo sammie.
But hours (and two grapefruit champagne cocktails from The Southern later), the car woes returned. Driving onto the grounds of The Biltmore to our hotel, a burning fragrance began to seep into the windows. Cue sweat.
“I should probably get it looked at tomorrow, huh?” I said. “I think that’s a good idea,” agreed JWow (wow for putting up with me and my car’s ish). In the meantime, though, we had the Festival's Sweets event to attend.
the Scotch/Italian Jason Bourne, aka Jenny
Housed in Asheville’s beautiful Grove Arcade, a collection of the city’s finest pastry makers set up camp, dishing out delicious samples. I finally got to meet Dan Rattigan, owner of French Broad Chocolates—and no one was harmed in the encounter. We sipped Alsgah beer and snarfed one too many macaroons and it was all very down home and cozy. Which defines the Asheville Wine & Food Festival. Unlike Charleston’s polished, celeb-chef extravaganza, Asheville’s is a simpler affair. A nice gathering where local and area purveyors can show their wares. And by my surveillance, those in attendance were eating it right up.
Once we’d taken in the treats, we headed into the neighboring Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar. Charleston, Charleston! Listen, this is what we need! A two-story library that serves cocktails? Literacy and libations? Someone get LeVar Burton on the line. We’re reigniting his career with an adult Reading Rainbow filmed here. “I can do anything—take a look it’s in a book, a reading rain-bar.”
Yep, it was time to go to bed.
Day 2: Tow Trucks & Moonshine
At 7 a.m. the next day I awoke knowing the problem could no longer be ignored—time to get the car checked. But when I turned the ignition and stomped the gas, no bueno. The car would not reverse. And here is where it pays to have AAA. A pro skateboarder-turned-tow-truck-man arrived in 30 minutes and shuttled my ailing vehicle to Precision Auto where a Mr. Blake gave me the prognosis. “It’s probably just the spark plugs. We’ll get you on the road in a bit.”
Relieved, off we went via cab to The Blackbird for a light lunch. French press coffee and a cool breeze through the large open windows calmed my nerves. On our way up, we’d seen a pick-up brimming with peaches, so it was no wonder our starter of chilled peach soup tasted so fresh.
We enjoyed pan-seared sunburst trout and the blue plate salmon special. Mountain fish done right.
Fortified, it was Grand Tasting time at the Cellular Center. Picture a smaller version of the Charleston Coliseum crammed with food vendors—essentially real-life PacMan.
Hi-Wire Brewing quickly caught our eye with their Hi-Pitch IPA and Bed of Nails Brown. Lusty Monk Mustard convinced me to buy a jar of their honey-infused variety (although I could have lived without their collateral branding—a thong panty with the word Lusty splayed across a display of mustard jars). And nearby, the guy at Burial Brewing pouring New Zealand hop-brewed beer had us mesmerized. If the tall, dark, and hipster hadn’t been wearing a wedding ring, I may have never gotten my partner in crime past that booth.
Other highlights included Sallie’s Greatest Jams, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, Farm Burger, and most valuable player award for the gents of Howling Moonshine who looked like they just survived the Battle of Antietam.
Exiting the ant farm, my phone rang. “Mrs. Gidick, this is Blake over at Precision Auto. Looks like we’ll have you up and running in an hour.” Hallelujiah!
We wandered through a bath and body store, then my phone suddenly rang again. “Mrs. Gidick, it’s Blake again at Precision. We have some news, actually it looks like we need to order a part for your car and we won’t have that in until Monday.”
“Yes ma’am Monday and all told it comes to $998.”
Lord Jesus there’s a fire.
So what do you do when you’re marooned in Asheville with a grand in car repairs and a head swirling from that shot of Howling Moonshine? You hope you have someone like Ms. Ferrara there to keep you company. My sidekick shrugged the news off with a “Nothing we can do but wait,” and proceeded to make the rest of the weekend just a humdinger of a good time.
In less than 24 hours we toured The Biltmore; sipped syrahs at Antler Hill Winery; petted goats (yes goats); posed in sunflower fields; did flights at Green Man Brewing; toasted at Jack of the Wood (see video: ); toasted again at Thirsty Monk (are we sensing a theme?); saw Blue Jasmine (just hand Cate Blanchett all the Oscars); and finally capped off the night at Kate Button’s Cúrate with plates of trout ceviche, white asparagus, Iberco ham meatballs, and squid in squid ink noodles. To which the neighboring guest at the table next to us leaned over and interjected “Ya know that’s poisonous—the ink!” We discussed giving her a show (polishing off the dish then falling on the floor in convulsions) but opted for lip-smacking smiles instead. Dear crazy lady, we aren’t dead yet.
Monday morning, by some miracle, the clouds parted, Mr. Blake called, and we were on the road by 10 a.m.—leaving the Blue Ridge Binge with not only a weekend of delicious memories, but two new converters, a #5 ignition coil, egr valve, water pump belt, accessory belt, and two quarts of oil.
I heart road trips.