On the first crisp days of fall, open air dining is a dream anywhere. In Asheville, North Carolina, however, dining outdoors has taken on a entirely new meaning with elevated experiences that combine the best of outdoor adventure with a tall order of gourmet delicacies.
While AUX Bar, a new downtown haunt from the minds of the Blind Pig Supper Club, hosts an outdoor, late-night cinema and Isis Restaurant and Music Hall is featuring a free outdoor concert series, other establishments are giving their guests the option to roam. Those seeking a more immersive dining experience beyond an open kitchen layout or sitting at the chef’s table, several of Asheville’s culinary community has formed picnics, farm tours and afternoons of foraging.
Apple- and pumpkin-picking seasons are just the beginning. With pleasant weather throughout most of the year and a near constant supply of produce available each season, itineraries suggested by local restaurants extend beyond warm-weather days and past peak leaf-peeping weekends. Visitors and locals alike looking for an exhilarating afternoon or a quiet escape to the countryside will find the perfect opportunity to dine al fresco with the help of local restaurants. These four outings are guaranteed to thrill–and lessen the decision maker’s burden.
Take a curated, gourmet lunch to-go
Chefs around town, namely second additions of two Asheville staples, are curating picnic baskets perfect for an on-the-go date or outdoor activity like hiking in nearby state parks. James Beard-nominated John Fleer, famously known for his work at Blackberry Farms, is providing a selection of options at The Rhu, a café and bistro next door to his full-service restaurant Rhubarb. Guests can also build their own lunch filled with products made both in-house and locally.
A local-favorite for approachable French cuisine, Bouchon, opened their second restaurant in East Asheville this summer. The new establishment, RendezVous, will also offer a range of French-inspired picnic options. Though designed for take-out, consider dining on their lawn or in the specialty garden for an atmospheric setting without wandering too far away.
Dine like a Vanderbilt
Those seeking more action will love exploring the Biltmore grounds, an 8,000-acre estate, by way of a private three-hour horseback ride. From walking through forests and across expansive meadows, guests will enjoy a unique experience and views of the iconic Vanderbilt home. After spending some time in the saddle, guests can select an idyllic stop for their packed picnic included with the day’s adventure. While the horses rest, enjoy the meal and don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine to share from the Biltmore’s own winery.
Get up close and personal on the farm
Proving to be a more leisurely day, full- and half-day options for farmland tours can be arranged throughout Asheville’s lush surrounding countryside. Take an active role by feeding the animals and gathering eggs while learning more about the city’s culinary scene and surprising insight into the local produce production. Of course product tastings–think craft beer, cheese, fruit and southern spreads–will take place at the farms as well.
Other dining arrangements can be made with Asheville Farm to Table Tours. Guests can visit creameries, flower farms, Appalachian produce farms and the pottery studios of local artisans. Take lunch at one of the small homesteads like Little Round Farmhouse complete with a bakery. Don’t forget your wallet. You and everyone you know will want souvenirs to take home (or at least eat on the way home).
Forage for ingredients
An exciting day of discovery can be found on a mushroom hunt with No Taste Like Home through the second-richest temperate ecosystem on the planet. A fixture of the community, this company is planning to add more tours and a monthly immersion series to their repertoire.
Though the tour may focus on educating its participants with regard to one ingredient, this outing plays by the “finders keepers” rule: everything edible can be picked. With baskets full of greens, berries, nuts, flowers, and more from the Blue Ridge Mountain terrain, head back to one of the company’s four partnered restaurants for a prepared lunch or dinner featuring your finds. Plates these award-winning restaurants have served after the tour include wild mushroom pizza, daylily tamales and wisteria ice cream.