Asheville’s been welcoming weekend warriors for years now, but some of the best times to be had are when the visitors return to big cities like Atlanta and Washington and leave Asheville to the locals—and savvy travelers who know midweek is the best time to explore. The restaurants are less crowded and the bars and nightlife become the domain of the local iconoclasts who give Asheville a flavor all its own. Consider the following suggestions a midweek tasting menu.
Tuesday morning: Rise and shine with a cup of java and a scone from Izzy’s Coffee Den and leave Asheville’s urban confines for a tour of the city’s rural regions with agri-guide Ann D. Stauss and her Asheville Farm to Table Tours. Ann takes groups in her van to visit local family farms where you can pick, pluck, and taste some of the produce that will find its way onto the plates of Asheville’s best restaurants that evening. Lunch is a sit-down affair, with a farmer or two holding court.
Tuesday afternoon: Head to French Broad Chocolate Lounge to sample the local company’s candy and other sweets or take a tour at their factory and tasting room at 21 Buxton Ave. If it’s rhythm you want, Billy Zanski of Skinny Beats Drum Shop and Gallery can offer you a drumming lesson or a celestial meditation.
Tuesday evening: Immerse yourself in a swirl of flavors at Gan Shan Station, chef Patrick O’Cain’s take on Asian food. The restaurant, with outdoor tables in nice weather, is known for small plates of Chinese dumplings and Korean-style chicken wings, ramen, and mains like red-curried shrimp and Thai beef salad. After dinner, check to see who’s playing at the Orange Peel Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a beloved local music and entertainment hall, or sample some of Asheville’s celebrated craft beers at Wicked Weed Brewing’s pub.
Wednesday morning: Sleep in, but not too long, because breakfast beckons at Biscuit Head, a West Asheville café devoted to stuffing its namesake with fried green tomatoes, eggs, scallions, and country ham. Then head off for an Asheville by Foot tour conducted by historian Kevan Frazier and others. Browse The Grove Arcade and stop by stores such as Asheville Bee Charmer to sample from their honey bar before giving in to your appetite with platters of spicy Indian food to share at Chai Pani.
Wednesday afternoon: Spend the day discovering beautiful Buncombe County by driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, part of the nearly 500-mile-long road that stretches from North Carolina through Virginia. Its highest point, at 6,047 feet, is near Mount Pisgah. Consider stopping at the Folk Art Center run by the Southern Highland Craft Guild, dedicated to supporting the art and crafts of the mountains. Find soaps, essential oils, and herbs for every mood or illness at Maia Toll’s Herbiary before heading next door to Sovereign Remedies for concoctions and cordials and what they term “foraged” cocktails: daiquiris made from dandelions as well as artisanal gins, tequilas, bourbons, and bitters.
Wednesday evening: Dinner at Buxton Hall Barbecue is like sitting on a rambling Southern porch where you are fed and watered by gracious, attentive relatives. The smoked pork barbecue is eastern North Carolina style, treated at least 18 hours with a vinegar infusion and accompanied by Buxton’s famous bourbon-laced slushies. The dinner menu changes nightly but there’s plenty of standard comestibles: buttermilk-fried chicken sandwiches, hush puppies, and the restaurant’s famed smoky pimento cheese spread. Dessert, too, is daily and seasonal, but expect a variety of fruit pies with buttery, flaky, hog-fat crusts.
Wednesday night: Check out the musical schedule at ISIS Restaurant & Music Hall. Housed in a 1937 movie theater, the performance space features three stages, and any one of them may be featuring good local performers. Run by Atlanta expats, Isis offers a range of Asheville’s eclectic music and dishes up New American eats if you’re still hungry. Ben’s Tune Up in the South Slope neighborhood is a bustling former garage that offers music, drink (craft beer and sakes), and a friendly crowd in its open-air garden.
Thursday morning: Goodbye, Asheville. But only for now. Before heading out, grab a bag of cardamom buns from Old World Levian (OWL) in West Asheville. Savor their sugary, lemony taste as you head out of town. True to form, Asheville’s sweetness lingers.