Laughing Seed: Asheville, North Carolina

I didn’t just randomly walk into The Laughing Seed in Asheville, North Carolina. I was invited by the bar manager, a friend I grew up with in Marietta, Ohio. I kept that in mind as I searched the winding streets of downtown for the restaurant. This could be a hole in the wall or this could be fine dining—in which case I’m under-dressed… I meandered between these thoughts inside my head and out loud to Ben, who, bless his heart, often has to hear my inner ramblings when they’re haphazardly spoken.

Upon finally arriving at The Laughing Seed, I found it to be an immediate relief. People were parked outside under umbrella tables exorcising their happy hour-fed thoughts and the crowd was just as politely lively inside the restaurant. I took a seat at the bar and, after catching up with my friend, another Ben, began to order what would soon be categorized as one of the most non-obvious vegan meals I have ever had. Crab cakes, a burger, curly fries, an Asian Salad, a vegan cookie, and the best damn Bloody Mary I ever had later, I was thanking my lucky travel-writing stars that out of all of the places Ben II could have worked in Asheville—it was this place. This delicious place with vegan food I swear to G_D you wouldn’t know was vegan if you didn’t hear it from me. And if you didn’t read the website or menu carefully before ordering. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with vegan food that doesn’t convincingly taste like meat, but this is the kind of place you could bring your “Salad is what meat eats” father to and probably get away with it.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

Mount Mitchell, North Carolina

When I asked people in Asheville which mountain I should pick for a good ol’ sweat-breaking hike, the answers varied, but nearly everyone included Mt. Mitchell in their response. So Mt. Mitchell it was. A winding 35 minute drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway later, Ben and I found the mountain and parked a couple miles down from its peak at an information booth. We took some pictures and indulged in an age-old pastime: gathering spare change for the pop machine.

As I drank my Mellow Yellow and reminisced over catchy songs and old Gap commercials with Ben before taking off to the peak, a nasty storm rolled in. I mean, it was menacing. It was Harry Potter dark magic with thick clouds that hid the valley below.

Not prepared to hike in freezing pounding mountain rain, we cowardly decided to just drive to the mountain’s peak instead of hike.

The drive to the top didn’t take long, of course, but the storm continued brewing as we drove and it was at a deafening peak by the time we’d walked to the peak, taken our pictures, bought some souvenir jam, and returned to our car.

We made the way back down the Parkway to Asheville slowly, with caution and good music sound-tracking the gray afternoon. Although you might dismiss a planned hike on Mt. Mitchel due to rain when in the area, I insist: if you have a car, make the drive. It’s eerie…and spectacular.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

The Admiral in Asheville: A Dive Bar with Gourmet Food

You won’t have a problem finding a place to eat in Asheville, North Carolina. I didn’t. The town takes you by surprise (unless you’ve already heard of it). With a population under 100,000 people, you might expect to find your standard run of the broken mill dining establishments. A diner. A choice Mexican place. A choice Chinese place. A bunch of Bars’n’Grilles downtown. Fortunately, Asheville is a special small(ish) town. It goes beyond the culinary scope of every other small town. There are attractively painted restaurant fronts framing the streets of downtown. They’re complemented by chocolate shops and brick streets and mountains peaking along the horizon. Asheville is, if anything, too adorable. So where do you go to dine if you’d like to eat well but dodge the so-cute-you-might-puke-rainbows downtown? The Admiral.

I heard about The Admiral because the innkeeper at Asia Bed & Spa went there the night before I did. He described The Admiral as a dive bar across town he’d been hearing about–a dive bar with delicious food. He had me at dive bar. Ben Britz and I drove across town the following night partially because we’d been genuinely interested in The Admiral and partially because we’d arrived downtown too late to eat (ALL the restaurants seemed to close at 10pm. We’re not used to that). The Admiral serves a special late night menu for the hungry in town who won’t be happy, at least not the following morning, with Taco Bell.

On the outside, The Admiral could have been a trailer. Maybe it is. Maybe it was. On the inside, The Admiral could have been one of Pete Wentz’s famed Angels and Kings bars–dimly lit and draped in red velvet. It was late at night on a Wednesday night and the bar/restaurant was packed. The music was flawlessly GOOD across the board (and not good in a “Hey Guys! They’re playing Smells Like Teen Spirit!” kind of way, but more so in a “Hey Guys! They’re playing Rape Me” kind of way).

With Champagne cocktails on the list and bacon cheeseburgers (Applewood smoked bacon, mmmm) alongside Vietnamese Hoagies–we were not only hungry, but particularly interested to see what kind of food would come from this impressive menu, the kind of menu you don’t normally find in a dive bar… or a biker bar… or a used-to-be-a-trailer-home bar… or an across-the-street-from-a-giant-billboard-of-Obama’s-face bar…

Once all was said, done, and eaten, the food was really, and I mean REALLY, freaking good. Mouth-watering. We couldn’t believe it. For all of the tempting restaurants in Asheville’s downtown (there are over 50, just downtown), this gem is a few miles away. It’s a locals’ hideout, a traveler’s treasure, and lame-ass tourists haven’t ruined it. It’s perfect.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

Beaufort House: A Gem in Asheville

I’ll start this piece out by just getting to the point: I love Beaufort House. There. I said it. This B&B in Asheville, North Carolina deserves awards.

I pulled up to Beaufort House, a coral-colored Queen Anne Victorian style building shaded on the edges by draping tree limbs and crawling ivy, in the middle of the afternoon. Shown three rooms for the picking, I chose a newer room downstairs, which is an extension on the home’s old food pantry, but not without taking with me an imprint of one of the other rooms I was shown.

The Rose Room not only includes a bathroom bigger than bedrooms I’ve seen in New York City, but Charlton Heston, who used to own and live in Beaufort House with his wife, used to sleep in the Rose Room. Folklore has it that marks from his burning cigar ashes have scarred the wooden floors near the teal tile framed fireplace. It would have been a nice room to stay in, but the room I eventually chose, the Arbor Room, had a jacuzzi bathtub and a private deck. Jaccuzi bathtub and private deck trumped history for me. I was hot and exhausted. You can’t blame me.

The room was great, but the entire inn is really what’s great…the inn in its entirety. Social hour each late afternoon is accompanied by wine-pourings. Too many glasses of red wine later, I retired to my room to just skip dinner and sleep after having chatted for hours with a fun music-loving mom from Nashville. This is how wine socials at inns should be. You should meet new people. You should drink with them. You should trade email addresses with them at breakfast the next morning after you’re served Morning Cake, sweet and delicious Citrus Crepes (topped with orange zest sugar), juice, coffee, and tea.

And Beaufort House is how B&Bs should be. You should feel comfortable in someone else’s home. You should get to know that person who owns that home—you should want to get to know them. You should feel full, clean, welcomed, and liked. And that’s how I felt at Beaufort House. And I’m guessing that’s how you’ll feel too when you stay there during your next Asheville visit.

By: Elizabeth Seward, Photos By: Ben Britz

ASIA Bed and Spa – Asheville, NC

It’s not everyday you find a bed and breakfast that is also a spa. ASIA Bed & Spa in Asheville, North Carolina manages to successfully be both of these things. The thing about B&B’s is that you’re entering someone’s home—and you’re staying the night there,  luxuriating, stretching out on the beds, peering out the windows, and sitting on the porch. You need to make yourself completely at home, first and foremost, for the bed and breakfast to prevail. ASIA, though, blows mere prevailing out of the water and goes straight to “exceeds expectations”.

The Java Suite at ASIA Bed & Spa is the room I called home while visiting Asheville. The ceiling is bamboo, and vaguely Asian accents like this give the whole place an exotic feel while still remaining comfortingly homey. Bamboo curtains hide the sunlight which will fill your room corner to corner during summer afternoons. Intricately sewn fabrics hang from the walls and delicately carved wood frames a mirror that runs horizontally across the two person Jacuzzi—which sits at the foot of the king size bed.

The wood carving and threaded patterns come together for the bed’s headboard, which is made of a little bit of both.  A (gas) fireplace sections off a corner of the suite as the sitting and working area. The bathroom’s shower is enclosed with transparent glass walls and a stream of turquoise, white, brown, and clay red tiles snakes its way from the shower wall onto the shower floor, across the bathroom floor and it climbs up the opposing wall (a small detail I plan on recreating in my own home eventually).

Tom Dredge is not the inn owner, but he is certainly the innkeeper. Formerly owner of a bed and breakfast in Hawaii, he came to settle in Asheville and felt at home with ASIA (A Spa-Inn Asheville). He explains the amenities of the inn room by room (and room theme by room theme) in enough detail that we don’t need to ask any further questions. He does us completely unnecessary and in no way expected favors like highlight on a map of Asheville where we should dine, leave breakfast out late so we can sleep in, and even throw a load of our post-Bonnaroo laundry in for us. We really owe him for that one.

The sauna out back is first-come, first-served, as is the steam shower downstairs. A homemade well-water shower hangs outside the sauna, which is built next to the on-site massage room. A sun room stretches along the street side of the inn, but all you see are flowers and leaves of lively trees. All you hear are birds. The postman says hello and wishes you a good day while you’re eating Tom’s breakfast:

Frittata filled with cherry tomatoes, Gouda, and perhaps a million other awesome ingredients that make it so delicious; and homemade honey yogurt mix, cherry orange bread, fruit, coffee, tea, and juice make breakfast the best part of the day at ASIA.

To say ASIA Bed and Spa is the perfect relaxation getaway is somehow not saying enough. Asheville is a small town with big city flavor and astonishing wilderness. And ASIA, decorated by Tom (who is actually a talented spatial designer, which really comes through in the grace and beauty of the place) and with a spa to boot, is the dream house you’ve always wanted. This inn gets a gold star for doing everything an inn should do (and a lot more). Nothing can help you so completely forget the trials and tribulations of the City like unwinding by candlelight in a jacuzzi tub you don’t even have to leave your bedroom for.

Story By: Elizabeth Seward

Photos by: Ben Britz

A New Twist on Southern Hospitality

On a particular roadtrip, though much off of the route which I was on, I decided in a nostalgic, spur-of-the-moment decision to meander to a town in North Carolina which I once lived: Gastonia. Though nothing in-particularly special about this town, it did hold 6 months of life and had been left in the dust eleven years prior, so I decided to grace the place with my brief presence- to drive past my old middle school, my old house, and to grab dinner from a local establishment which we used to order carryout from most every Friday night: Twin Tops Fish Camp.

About four miles off of the interstate, Twin Tops is not a restaurant commonly visited by those passing through- rather a local gem, favored by those already part of the Belmont/ Gastonia community. Fried food is not my favorite, but this particular place is considered a gem by locals and it did remind me of a brief chunk of my adolescence. Continue reading