Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

Raise a Glass to Spring in Hendersonville

by Zenda Douglas
images by Sam Dean Photography

The freshness of spring will soon fall over North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains—and its towns—and will return the landscape, once more, to green. Flowers will begin to blossom and townspeople will respond by tumbling out of doors to welcome the new season. Hendersonville, one of the country’s prettiest mountain towns, welcomes visitors to experience nature at its best and to enjoy their first taste of spring in a place that has much to offer.

An exciting getaway to Hendersonville renders sweet surprises—a vibrant mix of arts and culture, entertainment, agri-tourism, and locally-brewed spirits. Its downtown is welcoming and offers a variety of shops, boutiques, and more than 30 dining establishments—impressive given the town’s size. Also impressive are the thousands of tulips that bloom around mid-April along the wide sidewalks downtown. The town typically celebrates this annual show of color with a month-long Tulip Extravaganza. More color comes to Main Street on Memorial Day weekend during the Garden Jubilee Festival. Garden Jubilee takes up eight blocks with more than 250 vendors, including 40 nurseries selling plants and flowers.

Hendersonville sits just 22 miles south of Asheville and is easily accessed by major highways and area airports.

One of the area’s most important claims to fame is its apple production. Henderson County is the largest apple-producing county in North Carolina and the seventh largest in the nation. The most widely grown apples are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Honey Crisp, Granny Smith, Stayman, Fuji, and Gala. While the apples won’t be ready for picking and eating for a while (the North Carolina apple harvest season is celebrated from early September through mid-October), there’s one apple product that is enjoyed all the rest of the year—cold, crisp hard cider. Henderson County’s abundance of orchards makes the area a natural home for the emerging hard cider market. Plus, the beauty of budding orchards scattered across mountain vistas is a sight to see and, alone, is worth the trip.

Three cideries have taken up residence in Henderson County: Flat Rock Ciderworks began producing hard cider in 2014. Its flagship ciders are Wicked Peel and Blackberry Gold. Its tasting room is on Main Street in downtown Hendersonville. Bold Rock Hard Cider boasts two production facilities and a state-of-the-art tasting room. There are nine Bold Rock ciders on tap. Live music and food trucks make the tap room a popular spot. Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders sits across the road from Saint Paul Mountain Vineyards and is located inside a renovated 1940s-era barn.

The cideries are part of the Cheers! Trail, which also features five breweries and two wineries. Beer lovers will be blown away by the brewery facilities at the East Coast headquarters for Sierra Nevada, complete with an outdoor amphitheatre with a regular schedule of live music. Wine enthusiasts will be happy relaxing on the beautiful grounds and tasting room at Burntshirt Vineyards.

While you’re outdoors, enjoy full access to nature at DuPont State Recreational Forest, which encompasses 10,600 acres in Henderson and Transylvania counties. Its multi-use trails offer a special place for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and fishing. Waterfall seekers won’t be disappointed here. Hooker Falls drops 12 feet into Cascade Lake, which has become a popular swimming hole. Triple Falls has three distinct cascades totaling about 120 feet. Scenes from the movies The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans were filmed here. Bridal Veil is quite unique, dropping eight feet off an overhanging ledge before the water rushes down a long inclined plane of granite. High Falls is the tallest of the falls.

For a moving sunset, head over to Jump Off Rock, a scenic overlook that provides panoramic views of rolling pastures and the Blue Ridge and Pisgah mountain ranges, as well as Indian legend. Three hiking trails can be experienced at Jump Off Rock, varying in length and difficulty.

Join thousands of visitors each year who come to the Flat Rock Playhouse, officially designated the State Theatre of North Carolina, for a professional play or musical. For more than 60 years, Flat Rock Playhouse has been offering Broadway-quality entertainment at a fraction of Broadway prices. Flat Rock Playhouse has now opened a second location on Main Street in Hendersonville, bringing shows and concerts to the center city. Its main, and original theater, is located in the historic neighboring Village of Flat Rock. More than a hundred years ago, Flat Rock gained population by the arrival of affluent Charlestonians who wished to escape the summer heat and associated diseases of the Lowcountry. So many families from the Charleston area came to Flat Rock that it became known as “The Little Charleston of the Mountains.”

Save an entire day to appreciate Hendersonville’s history through its numerous historic sites and museums. Step into the Historic Henderson County Courthouse and the Henderson County Heritage Museum. Roam about the Historic Johnson Farm. Take a reflective stroll through the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site to get a glimpse of how this treasured writer, journalist, folk singer, social activist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet lived his final 22 years. The estate, which houses Sandburg’s furnishings and his collection of 12,000 books, was called Connemara. Visitors may tour the house and barn and see the descendants of Mrs. Sandburg’s champion dairy goatherd.

To assure visitors’ overnight comfort, Hendersonville has a wide array of lodging and accommodations ranging from hotels to bed-and-breakfast inns to cottages. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the Queen Anne Style, 1898 Waverly Inn located in the heart of Hendersonville. With its beckoning wraparound porch, guests will want to take advantage of the rocking chairs as soon as they are settled in. The Historic Charleston Inn, with its newly appointed rooms, sits next door. Formerly known as The Claddagh Inn, it is within easy walking distance to all that downtown has to offer. Each of these establishments has provided rest and relaxation to travelers for over 100 years. At Mountain Inn & Suites, locally-owned and operated, guests enjoy a comfortable bed and all of the amenities they need to refresh themselves from a full day of seeing the sights, all delivered with sincere Southern hospitality.

 

A Tourist Has to Eat!
Don't Despair—Hendersonville Is a Dependable Match for the Hungry Traveler

Those who are hungry for meat won’t go lacking at Hubba Hubba Smokehouse, an authentic wood-fired smokehouse. What you won’t find here are any electric smokers. Honoring the Carolina craft of low-and-slow barbecue, the meats have been slow smoked for hours over a special selection of native hardwoods, including red and white oak, and hickory. Sides and sauces are made from scratch on site. Hubba Hubba’s casual environment and picnic-table outdoors dining make for a great gathering place for friends, families, and groups.

When the mood calls for more sophisticated dining with an Italian flair, there’s no better place than Mezzaluna Brick Oven and Tap House. The cuisine here is prepared in an open kitchen at the foot of a magnificent mural of A Starry Night by Van Gogh. The menu is built upon the simple elegance of the finest Italian cuisine. Make a beverage selection from the
extensive wine list, draft beer list, or hard cider list to accompany your meal. To start, try the stuffed banana peppers with Italian sausage, Parmesan, and marinara. A mezzaluna salad of field greens, gorgonzola, tomato, red onion, and balsamic vinaigrette will inch you closer to your chosen entrée, perhaps the spicy Tuscan stew with seared scallops, shrimp, mussels, chili, tomato, and pancetta. If pasta’s on your mind, go for the delightful housemade fettuccine with asparagus, pine nuts, crisp pancetta, and Parmesan cream.

Check out Sierra Nevada’s Taproom and Restaurant for artful, chef-driven fare. You’ll find an abundance of incredible food and great craft beer—there are 23 beers on tap, many produced just a few feet from the restaurant. Cuisine here is focused on small plate, sharable, whole animal, and farm-to-table dishes sourced mainly from local suppliers.

Tucked into the Charleston Inn and spilling over onto the side porch is The Lantern Restaurant & Bar, with its innovative Lowcountry menu of small and large plates and signature cocktails, it’s fine dining at its best. Guests will find a host of enticing appetizers and entrées as well as thoughtfully-crafted desserts. Start your meal with a handcrafted cocktail or a glass of wine from the restaurant’s impressive wine list.

A great way to inspire your appetite is with the Charleston Cheese Dip, made from Wyke Farms vintage white cheddar cheese, smoked jalapeño, and crispy black pepper bacon, served with housemade grilled focaccia points. Continue with a bowl of Louisiana gumbo, made from a rich dark roux, fresh gulf shrimp, and smoked andouille sausage from Louisiana’s own Cochon Butchery. Expect the housemade crab cakes to be made from South Carolina blue crab and jumbo lump crab meat. Guests rave about the shrimp and grits, prepared from local stone ground Geechie Boy Grits and fresh Gulf shrimp swimming in a roasted red pepper, brown butter, and unoaked Chardonnay reduction.

Finally, a message to those lucky enough to dine at Etowah Valley Golf & Resort or neighboring Old Etowah Smokehouse just outside of Hendersonville: don’t skip dessert. Hendersonville native and culinary guru Robert Hammond, whose work has been featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Food Network’s “Best Of,” and “Roker On The Road,” as well as in The New York Times and Bon Appétit, has recently come home to Western North Carolina after working as a chef, pastry chef, and culinary instructor for 47 years in some of the top kitchens across the country. Hammond now heads the pastry program at the Etowah properties. These days, Hammond turns out some of the best desserts in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Food aficionados rave about his decadent cheesecakes in creative flavors such as caramel-apple-bourbon, and they also delight in such Southern specialties as fresh coconut cake.