This summer I was placed in Asheville, North Carolina for my clinical nutrition supervised practice rotation. Asheville is a city in the mountains of western North Carolina. I was so excited to get placed here because I had heard great things about their gluten-free food scene. Here I go through the restaurants, coffee shops, cideries/breweries I visited as well as some of the attractions I visited throughout my ten weeks here.
I’m excited to tell you readers that I am staying in Asheville for the time being! I was set on leaving North Carolina, but Asheville seems like it has a way for making people fall for it’s charm. These are the places I was able to visit this summer, but I am sure I will find more in my time living in Asheville too.
All Day Darling
In my opinion All Day Darling is a Celiac’s dream. I heard about All Day Darling from a coworker that is also gluten-free. All Day Darling is a little cafe with a variety of menu options. On the menu they advertise that most menu items can be made gluten-free, and dairy free if necessary. For me, I only stay away from gluten, but it is nice to see for others who may also be sensitive to dairy. And the absolute best part…everything that goes into the fryer is gluten-free. So all those fries and fried foods you can never have, you can have here. So like I said, a celiac’s dream.
So I have actually visited All Day Darling a few times because of their awesome menu options and great location. They are close enough to downtown, but you don’t have to deal as crazy parking situations. The first time I went in I had some questions and the person helping me at the register was so awesome. I told them I was gluten-free and asked about what my options were. They then asked if I was celiac and mentioned that many people with celiac dine there often and they put it in the system as well so the back of house would know to take all the precautions. I am always just super impressed when restaurants employees know about Celiac, although it should be required education in my opinion. That’s a topic for another day. At that visit I ordered the gluten-free fried chicken biscuit and made a rookie mistake and did not order the tatertods, another reason I knew I had to go back. They also stock Oatly oat milk, my favorite milk alternative, so I also had a nice iced oat milk mocha.
During my next visit I knew I had to get the tatertods because so often I can’t eat fried potatoes because of the frying oil and cross contact. I again got the fried chicken, but this time I got it in the thunderbird sandwich. Both were pretty similar and both extremely delicious. And the tatertods came out nice and hot and crispy just like they should. This time I had just come from a coffee shop so did not get a coffee drink, but did treat myself to a mimosa. Similar to everything else it was really nice, it did have a bit of pulp which wasn’t my favorite, but I still would likely order again.
Bluebird Bubble Tea
Bluebird Bubble Tea was one of the first places I went after getting to Asheville this summer. I went on a Bumble BFF date here with a now good friend. They used to operate out of a food truck, but now have a cute little brick and mortar location. They offer a variety of bubble tea options to chose from. I had the strawberry bubble milk tea. It was very delicious, and different from what I’ve normally ordered at other bubble tea places, but it’s good to try new things right. I enjoyed the tea as well as the company of my new friend. Similar to other places I’ve visited when with friends, I don’t have too much to say because in those times I’m more interested in the company. I forsee myself visiting Bluebird Bubble Tea again, and if you enjoy bubble tea give them a try!
Itto Ramen & Japanese Tapas
Itto was another place where I went with a new friend from Bumble BFF. This friend had previously been to Itto and invited me to get ramen with her. I’ve only had real ramen a few times, and most of my memories include it being too hot for me to handle, even when it was supposed to be mild to medium heat. After perusing the menu I agreed to meet here despite being a bit hesitant about the gluten-free noodles being kale noodles. The fact that rice noodles in the US aren’t gluten-free is already frustrating enough, but like kale noodles really? But I was excited to get out, hang out and try a new restaurant, and there were other options available if I really did not want the kale noodles. I started off with one of their signature cocktails that was lavender flavor and had sake. I’d never had anything like it before and it was delicious. It was surprisingly light even with the sake, and a bit floral from the lavender, and quite boozy. As I was looking at the clearly labeled menu I was having quite the internal struggle, to try the kale noodles, or to go for multiple tapas. I ended up somewhere in the middle and ordered the garlic edamame and the gluten-free and vegan vegetable ramen. One thing I did learn from talking to the waitress was that the kale noodles and the gluten free veggie broth could be used in many of the other ramens to make them gluten-free. In other words, the noodles and the broth were the parts of the other ramens that have gluten and they could interchange those with the gluten-free versions. I stuck with the one labeled gluten-free on the menu for ease and peace of mind. The edamame came out first and were delicious. I’ve never had edamame with anything other than sea salt before, which is delicious itself, but with the addition of the garlic, ugh so good. The ramen, I’ll be honest, not my favorite. I really was not too impressed with the kale noodles. Had they used gluten-free rice noodles I think I would have enjoyed it much more. I’m used to noodles not carrying much flavor, and the kale noodles had a powerful flavor that just was not my favorite, it wasn’t terrible by any means and I ate my leftovers over multiple days, but I don’t know that it would be my first choice if I returned. The one very positive was that the broth was not too hot for me by any means, it was very mild. I was not sweating while eating, which I can vividly remember from some ramen restaurants in Chicago with my brother. I would definitely dine here at Itto again, but would likely try some of their other gluten-free offerings. I was really thankful for the service we received and the waitress was helpful when I asked questions about the menu.
Strada is another Celiac’s dream. I’m telling you friends Asheville is a great place to visit if you have dietary restrictions and enjoy eating out. I went to Strada for brunch on one of my first weeks in Asheville. I saw it online on an article related to gluten-free food in Asheville. When I was looking online on their menu I was captivated by the fact that on their brunch menu they have gluten-free pancakes. So I went ahead and made an online reservation to give the pancakes a try. The online reservation system is a bit confusing because they have seating upstairs and down, but don’t always serve the same menu depending on the dining room you are in, so that is something to note and maybe call to make a reservation. While I was there I was talking to the waitress and asking her about some of the gluten-free options. She then went on to tell me why they have such an extensive gluten-free menu. Supposedly the owner who is also the chef comes from a traditional Italian family and at some point developed an intolerance to gluten. So he went gluten-free and realized how important it was to have options for good gluten-free food. So now on his menu there is a large selection of gluten-free options. So I thought that was cool and unfortunately I’ve only been able to try the pancakes, but if they are any indication of the other gluten-free menu items I can’t imagine you’d be sad ordering any of them.
For my brunch at Strada I started with a peach bellini. I’ve never had a bellini and it sounded nice and sweet and fun. It was quite boozy, but delicious. For my meal I ordered the gluten-free pancake with bacon. Pancakes are one of those things that I can really easily make at home, but having someone else make it for you once and awhile is so nice. Like having options is nice, until there are too many great options and then I have trouble choosing. The pancake came with maple syrup, and fresh fruit and was delicious. I probably did a happy food dance at the table by myself and I don’t even care who may have seen it. It was a pretty traditional pancake, my only comment is that it was not as light and fluffy as I’d like a pancake to be. But it was still a great pancake and they made my bacon perfectly crispy. When I was finished the waitress came back and offered the gluten-free tiramisu. Let me tell you, I was very intrigued. I’ve never actually had a tiramisu, but I was quite full and the pancake breakfast was sweet and I felt satisfied. Now I have to find someone that can go back with me for dinner and dessert before I leave. And of course I’ll give an update if I get the opportunity to try it. Another cool thing was that the waitress gave me some suggestions for other restaurants that have good gluten-free options in the area. I thought that was cool because they could like try to convince people to only frequent their restaurant and be competitive, but they chose to nurture each others businesses and support local people that are being inclusive to people with dietary restrictions.
Friends, I am loving the gluten-free scene in Asheville. I think every time I try a new restaurant I feel like it is my new favorite. And TacoBilly is no exception. I had passed TacoBilly multiple times noting the bright blue colored building, but it wasn’t until I realized they serve breakfast tacos all day that I went and checked them out. If you don’t know, I love a good breakfast taco. I first had breakfast tacos at one of my favorite Columbus restaurants and you best believe I had a lot of breakfast tacos when I lived in Austin, TX. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a breakfast taco place near Chapel Hill. When I saw that most menu items at TacoBilly were either naturally gluten-free, or could be made gluten-free by switching to the corn or plantain tortilla I got very excited.
When I went to TacoBilly I first confirmed that the items were gluten-free. The website made me feel safe, and most restaurants I’ve been to in Asheville are pretty aware of dietary restrictions, but it’s always good to confirm. The person at the counter taking orders mentioned that they had a G on the menu for items that contain gluten, and like I’d learned online most menu items were gluten-free on the two gluten-free tortilla options. I ordered two tacos thinking they’d be a standard size taco, I was mistaken. These were big tacos, and they were stuffed full. I ordered the Billy Holiday and the Mama’s Favorite. The Billy Holiday was a sausage, egg, and cheese on a corn tortilla, so a pretty standard breakfast taco. And the Mama’s Favorite was sausage, egg, cheese, sweet potato, spinach, and goat cheese on a plantain tortilla. They also do house made juices, so obviously I went ahead and tried that too. The person working the register suggested mixing the watermelon and pineapple and I could drink that all day every day. Unfortunately, you only get one free refill. Of the tacos my favorite was the Mama’s Favorite. The goat cheese was so creamy, and the plantain tortilla did fall apart a bit, but it was sweet and almost pancake like. All the flavors together just complemented each other so well. The Billy Holiday was also delicious, it just wasn’t as interesting and as exciting, which I expected just based on the description. Either way, It was all so tasty and fun and I can’t wait to go back and try some of the other tacos. They also offer lunchtime tacos and adult beverages if that is something you are interested in getting while you eat these mouthwateringly good tacos.
High Five Coffee
I am a big fan of coffee ever since I worked in a coffee shop in college. One of the things the place I am staying offers is complementary coffee. The first day I had stayed I tried to drink the coffee because I did not have any coffee and I was very sad when it was undrinkable. I try my hardest not to be too much of a coffee snob, but it was not worth it to me to try to drink that coffee. So that evening after work I knew I had to find a coffee shop that I could get a bag of beans that would be ground correctly for the french press. Through a quick google search I found High Five Coffee and drove over to buy a bag of coffee. When I can, I love buying from local coffee shops for many reasons, one of those reasons is it can be fun to have conversations about the coffee and really learn about its flavor profile before purchasing. When I went in I was asking about their retail coffee and had a nice conversation with the employee. Unfortunately for me, many of the retail coffees were a bit more on the expensive side. As I have worked in coffee before I understand why that is, but as an unpaid intern on a budget almost $20 a bag for retail coffee is not what I can do all the time. Because I was already there, and had already had a good conversation with the barista I opted for their house retail coffee which was closer to $13. I also asked them to grind the coffee for a french press, and they ground it fine which is not the best grind for a french press. I was surprised by this based on how knowledgeable they seemed to be about coffee. So that was a bit of a disappointment, but it just means that next time I will need to be more specific. The coffee itself was delicious and it helped me have my daily cup that is an enjoyable part of my routine.
Bold Rock Cidery
Bold Rock Cidery is a local cidery that uses apples from the Blue Ridge Mountains in its ciders. Currently they have three locations in North Carolina and Virginia. I had previously had bottled Bold Rock from the store, but didn’t realize they had a location until I got to Asheville. It seems like they just recently opened the Asheville location, and it is a great location. If I have the chance I would like to go out to the location in Mills River because I’ve heard great things about it too, but it is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Asheville.
I ended up at Bold Rock on a Bumble BFF date. During my visit I got a flight, because it can be fun to try multiple ciders and oftentimes places don’t have enough ciders to do a flight. Even if a bar or brewery has a cider, they often only have one or two. In the flight I got the traditional apple, blackberry, margarita, and pineapple ciders. My two favorite were definitely the pineapple and apple. I was really surprised I was not a big fan of the margarita, but I do actually enjoy the taste of tequila, so I’ll just go for a traditional margarita when I have the opportunity, or when I want one. There are so many cider options here though that if I do go back, I could try a whole new flight and find some new favorites.
So because I was meeting up with a new friend I tried to pay more attention to our conversation and getting to know her as opposed to really studying every detail of the place. The things I do remember was that it was a huge place and they have these awesome garage type doors that were open the evening we visited. And a random memory was that the fixtures in the bathroom were black and that was surprising to me and we had a conversation about it when I made it back to the table. They also had some large television screens around if you are going out to watch a game, or something on TV. That feels a bit odd at a cidery, and something I’d expect more at a sports bar, but I’m sure they’d play an important game if you asked for it. Overall, it is a well designed space. There is plenty of tables as well as bar seating. We were there on a weeknight, so most of the tables in the back were empty, but I can imagine it being a happening place on the weekends. Definitely check it out, or the original North Carolina location if you enjoy a good cider.
New Belgium Brewery
Asheville is definitely known for its abundance of breweries. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any yet that serve gluten-free beer, though that isn’t a problem for me. This gal never acquired the taste for beer as I was 17 when I went gluten-free. But with that said, most do have wine or ciders offered for us gluten-free drinkers. When at New Belgium I got a newish to me brand called Fruit Smash. I have only recently been introduced to them, but they are hard seltzers. The beverage was good, not necessarily my favorite. But what I really liked about New Belgium was their location. They have a super large green space area next to the French Broad River. They just did some renovations to the deck/patio area which also has a stage for live music. And if you are interested they also offer brewery tours on site as well, though I’d imagine if you’re reading this article a brewery tour may not be the best option unless watching everyone else get drunk is entertaining and fun for you.
Another even cooler thing than their space is their business model. If you’re anything like me, you like supporting local people and businesses working to positively impact the people that work with them as well as their community. New Belgium does this with their Human-Powered Business Model. I’m no expert in this, but based on their website and things I’ve learned it seems that they really value the people that work with them and make it a point to invest in them. That is the kind of business I want to buy from when possible. I definitely will be back enjoying some adult beverages with friends at this cool brewery.
The Asheville Tourists are the minor league baseball team in town. They play at McCormick Field which is close to downtown. I went to a game on one of my first weekends in town and it happened to be a double header. The general admission tickets are very reasonably priced and I would definitely go back to see another game. I grew up going to minor league baseball games and it brings back a lot of great memories mostly with my grandparents. I went back in May when it was still not too hot outside which made it great. As I was walking in and scanning my ticket I asked the women checking my bag a question about the stadium and stated that it was my first time there. She then proceeded to give me a button that says First Tourists game and mentioned that she normally gives them to children but thought I’d enjoy it. It made me laugh. I don’t know what about that interaction made her believe I would enjoy it, but altogether it was a funny interaction. Once inside I walked around to see all the vendors and the food options that might work for me. This is where they get you to spend the money. I had read online that they did have vendors who had gluten-free options and options for other dietary restrictions as well. I started the evening with a local cider from Noble Cider. Of the local ciders I’ve tried, I did not enjoy it very much. I don’t know how to describe it other than not pleasant to me, but supposedly they are one of the more established cideries in town. I sipped my cider and watched some baseball with many other fans on a nice Asheville evening. Eventually, I did get a bit hungry and opted for a hot dog on a gluten-free bun. The other option I was contemplating was nachos, but how often do you get to go to a sports game and have a gluten-free hot dog? For me, it’s not that often, so when the opportunity presented itself I took it and enjoyed it. It was a nice hot dog, the only thing I wish was it was $1 like the regular hot dogs were that day due to a promotion. One day we will get equal pricing for gluten-free foods, but unfortunately today isn’t that day. Overall, I had a great time watching a baseball game at McCormick Field. Similar to other baseball games they had fun games between innings to keep the crowd entertained and of course the infamous seventh inning stretch, although it was a bit early since it was a double header. I definitely would suggest seeing a game here if you enjoy sports and need a fun, family friendly evening activity. They also do fireworks on Friday evenings, which I was a party pooper and left before them because I don’t enjoy them very much and it did start to rain a bit.
North Carolina Arboretum
The North Carolina Arboretum is so amazing and beautiful. It was recommended I check this out after I mentioned to someone that the botanical gardens really only had green plants and I wanted to see more colorful flowers. There is a charge to get in here, but it is not outrageous. And if you are living in the area I would suggest getting the yearly membership and then you can go whenever you’d like. I did ask it they give student discounts and they do not. The person working the gate said they do offer triple A discounts and I was like perfect and pulled out my card. Triple A is my lifesaver, literally. But the card I have has the correct account number it is just an older card and one of the employees did fuss about it a bit. In the end I got a $1 discount and the fuss seemed a bit unnecessary to me. I do understand people wanting to stick to company policy and all those important things, but if you go and give them an old Triple A card they may or may not offer you the discount. The big thing is, you pay by car, so if you are going with multiple people try to squeeze everyone into one car if possible and then you can split the cost.
There is so much to do, and so many things to see at the Arboretum. I started at the Bakers Visitor Center Exhibit Hall where they had a display of artwork of the Vorhees Family. It was cool to see the artwork from each of the family members and how they all had their own interests and styles. I then ventured outside to check out the trails. One of the cool things about the arboretum is they offer free guided tours for guests that would like to learn more. I saw a guided trail group on my way onto the trail and decided to go on my own and just explore. Just exploring led me to a creek, a butterfly garden, and also got me lost in the woods. To be fair I wasn’t really lost, I did find my way back to the visitors center and parking lot it just took longer than intended. It was also a good reminder that sometimes in life the journey to get to where you’re going may be different than you expect, but you’ll always get to where you need to be. So getting somewhat lost in the woods can make you have profound thoughts. On the trails in the back it was similar to the botanical gardens where most of the plants were green. But then you get to some of the gardens which are beautiful. They have a bonsai exhibit with probably forty plus bonsais of all different shapes and sizes, then they have the quilt garden which had beautiful tulips in a quilt pattern. On the one side of the quilt patterned garden they have a landing and you look past the quilt, and a fountain, straight towards the mountains and it is picture perfect and breathtaking. While I was there they were also setting up for a wedding that I believe was occurring later in the evening. They had some lights with the tables and chairs and I wish I could’ve stayed because it had to be such an awesome venue to have a wedding. If you are in the Asheville area and enjoy being outdoors I highly recommend checking out the arboretum. It’s great for anyone and everyone and a great place to visit and just enjoy the great outdoors.
Western North Carolina Farmers’ Market
I visited the Western North Carolina Farmers’ Market as part of one of my projects for my internship. While visiting I was so impressed and thought I’d share a bit about it with you as it is one of the nicest and well developed markets I’ve visited. This market is open most days of the year and has a variety of vendors selling mostly local products. One of the things I appreciated most is that despite most of their offerings being fresh, and local, the prices were not unreasonable. They may have been slightly more than grocery store prices, but not incredibly more. I only visited the retail area, but they also have a plant nursery and buildings for more local farmers to sell from. One of the perks of my internship is that I can eat at the hospital for free, and therefore have not had to buy too much food. And as you likely can tell, I’ve treated myself to more restaurant food than I typically would. If I were buying more produce I would definitely be trying to buy some from here because it all looked of good quality and freshness. I mean I walked by a display of Geogria peaches and was enticed by the delicious scent, I wanted to buy them all and peaches aren’t even my favorite fruit. Aside from the produce they also had vendors that offered local meat and cheeses, and some staple food items. I was especially impressed when I saw some gluten-free products, though these were brand name and not local. A couple days a week they also have a deli that offers ice cream. If you’re looking for local foods, or just love to learn about local food offers this is a great place to check out.
Asheville is just such a cool place and this post is truly only scratching the surface. As I now have a full time job and I’m hoping to work on some other projects to support the Celiac community, I may or may not add restaurants as I visit them. But I hope this post helps and I’m sure you will find plenty of great food and fun things to do on your Asheville visit.