A long weekend in Asheville: Days 2-3

SO.  When we left off (you know, like a year ago), we were just leaving the Frog Level Brewing Co on a trip to we took with friends to Ashevile, NC that occured almost two years ago.  Don’t remember (because, why would you)?   Let me refresh your memory:

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We had spent the morning hiking and ended up at Frog Level to hydrate and grab some snacks.  We decided that we wanted to be able to enjoy more than one beer and we had about a 30 min drive ahead of us, so we went back to the apartment.  We had a pretty exciting activity set up for the night:

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Drunk bike rides!  I’m sure you are familiar with the setup, I’ve seen similar activities in a lot of different cities (on our recent trip to Budapest we even spotted a bachelor party wearing tighty whities having a brisk ride around town).  The premise is that you bring your own beer on board and ride around for about an hour and a half.  For anyone that was worried about physical exertion like I was, the bike has a small motor and is not actually dependent on your pedaling.  The driver was funny and we had a good crew on our ride.  We used Amazing Pubcycle and it looks like they’ve changed their tours up a little bit.  Now they offer a 1.5 hr ride with stops at a few bars or a 40 minute Nomad tour.  Either sounds fun, but the one we did had no stops.

After our ride we decided to track down some dinner.  We heard a lot of good things about Tupelo Honey Cafe, but they had a ridiculous wait time (seems to be the norm, we have one in Greenville and it’s ALWAYS packed).  We walked around a bit more and happened upon Mayfel’s.  We looked it up, it had good reviews and a more reasonable wait time, so we got in our best Mardi Gras mindset and Cajun’ed it up.

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Our waitress recommended peel n eat shrimp, so we got that as an appetizer.  It was good, but didn’t really stand out from any ol’ peel n eat shrimp?  We also enjoyed some Seafood Etouffe, Gumbo, and Meatloaf, among other things.

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All of our main entrees were great, but the dessert was probably the best part.  Beignets!  P.S. I’ve tried to make beignets before from a mix someone brought us back from New Orleans and they were so flat.  These were 1,000,000x better, unsurprisingly.  Very soft and fluffy.

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After dinner, we continued to chip away at the population of Asheville breweries.  Our first stop of the night was Funkatorium.  This is Wicked Weed’s brewery and taproom that is dedicated to sour beers.  Which, as it turns out, I was the only one in our little quartet that likes sour beers.  So, I loved it.  Everyone else tolerated it.  We decided to split a flight rather than get individual drinks and I think I ended up finishing them all after everyone had a sample.  You certainly have to like sour beers to enjoy but it’s so unique and a cute space so I think it’s worth a stop!

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Our last stop of the night was Hi-wire Brewing.  This place was pretty packed and had some sort of live music going on.  I was impressed with their diverse selection of beers and had a hard time narrowing it down.  We sat at the bar and enjoyed a few beers before calling it a night.

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We started off our final full day much like we started our first full day.  Exactly like it, in fact, with a plate full o’ biscuit.  I went with the Chicken Mimosa biscuit this time and a side of fried chicken gravy.  All delicious again of course.

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After breakfast we drove to the Biltmore with plans to see the estate all dolled up in holiday splendor.  We drove all the way there, stood in line, and were told that tickets were $75 PER PERSON to walk around this giant house.  A bit steep, no?  Ultimately we decided that we weren’t willing to invest several hundred dollars into this high fallutin’ endeavor and went back to what we do best, beer.

We went to Sierra Nevada for lunch, we couldn’t get all of the food that we saw the other day out of our heads.  We inquired about a tour but they were booked up for the next few weeks (??), apparently this is the sort of thing that you need to do arrange in advance.  After two failed attempts at activities, we decided to just accept what the universe was telling us and just sit/eat/drink some more.  At this point in the trip my body was completely rebelling against all of the rich and fattening food and demanded some vegetables and roughage (ifyaknowhatimean).

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We each did a beer flight and I got the seasonal salad (which was some combo of arugula, chickpeas, roasted red pepper and a vinaigrette).   The food at Sierra Nevada is almost all small plate/shareable type dishes with a focus on local ingredients.  The menu changes often and everything we tried was fantastic!  Nick and I have been back on a few occasions and have always been impressed with what we’ve tried.asheville73

While we were out and about we decided to visit another brewery outside of town, Oskar Blues.  This place was about as different from Sierra Nevada as you can get.  No grand entrance, no fancy hipster menu.  Just a warehouse, some beer, and games.  My favorites from here were their IPA Pinner Throwback IPA, and their pilsner Mama’s Little Yella Pils.

We enjoyed several challenging games of Jenga (Nick’s first move was always to remove the bottom two sides so the whole tower was balancing on ONE block) before heading back to Asheville proper.

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Once we were back at our apartment we decided to stay close by and enjoy a few West Asheville establishments (besides Biscuithead).  Things were a tad fuzzy at this point so I don’t exactly remember where we went for dinner.  I do know that we went to Pour Taproom, which was such a cool place.  Rather than serving beers by the pint, you get a wrist band and they have like 30+ taps set up.  You scan your wristband and pour as much as any beer (or cider, or wine) that you want and just pay by the oz at the end.  I was able to enjoy more sour beer here and have this lovely, blurry, pic to commemorate the event.

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They also had a lot of games in the basement (including pool and GIANT SIZED Jenga) that we enjoyed until we went home and concluded our Asheville trip.

Overall this was a great trip with great friends, we loved staying in West Asheville and found it to be a great cheaper alternative to downtown Asheville.  I don’t think I had a bad beer or meal the entire time we were here and can’t wait to go back!

The Best Places to Beach/Eat/Drink in Wilmington, NC

Wellll I planned on recapping our December Asheville trip for this Travel Tuesday, but with all the moving, I am not even close to going through all of the pictures on my camera. So that will have to wait for another day.  Try to contain yourselves.

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If you missed it, we are in the process of moving from Wilmington to Greenville, so I thought it might be a good time to list some of our favorite Wilmington spots before they are all a beloved distant memory and I have no recollection of the beautiful beach dream that I’ve been living (not dramatic at all).  This past weekend was likely my last weekend in Wilmington for the forseeable future, so we spent some time hitting up my favorite spots.

Beaches:

Aka, the best part of the area.  There are three main beaches in the Wilmington area, and even more if you look across the river in Brunswick County or north at Topsail.  For the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the three around Wilmington.

Wrightsville Beach is probably the most popular beach near Wilmington.  It’s easily accessible from downtown (a straight shot on 74), has a ton of restaurants, is home to “The Loop” (a popular running route), has more beach houses than hotels (which helps keep the beach less crowded), and is generally a “nicer” beach.  You will also see more boats and activities like kayaking and stand up paddleboarding, thanks to the lovely Intracoastal Waterway.  If you are looking to really explore Wilmington and/or are an active vacationer, Wrightsville is your jam.

Look at all that empty sand space

 

The Intracoastal.  via

Carolina Beach is a little further away from Wilmington proper and is more….touristy?  than Wrightsville.  There are more souvenir shops, kitschy beach themed restaurants/buffets and bars, more high rise hotels, etc etc.  This reminds me of the beaches that I would vacation at as a kid.  There is a boardwalk with an arcade and a small amusement park.  Definitely a family vacation vibe.  If you have kiddos on board, Carolina is a winner.

My hot dogs hanging out at Carolina Beach

Kure Beach is just past Carolina Beach and is the quietest of all three.  It has less restaurants (but still enough to get you by) and shops than either Wrightsville or Carolina.  There is also free parking so Nick and I hit this beach a lot (is there any harder pill to swallow than having to pay for parking at the beach where you live?  In Virginia Beach there are some lots where you can park for free as a resident, get with it Wrightsville.).  If you plan to be a total beach bum and want quiet and serenity, Kure is the beach for you.

Eats:

Oh, the food.  The glorious, glorious food.

This is definitely one of the things I will miss MOST about Wilmington.  For the first six months we lived here, we talked nonstop about how much we loved the weather and the food.  We couldn’t shut up about it.  We annoyed and alienated all of our friends.  But it’s ok, because we filled that void with MORE FOOD.

Fish Bites – This isn’t a surprise to anyone that knows us.  This is stop 1 on our Wilmington tour when people visit us.  Fish Bites is very unassuming, it’s in a shopping center in the middle of Wilmington, far from downtown or any of the beaches.  But it’s our number 1 recommendation if you are looking for simple seafood.  We had family members want to go here 3 times in one long weekend visit, it’s that good.  Their fresh catch is my default choice, and I highly recommend the coconut sauce with that (unless it’s tuna).  They also serve raw oysters during oyster season that are delicious if that’s yo thing.  The mussels appetizer, the crab dip, the zucchini fries, all amazing.  I could go on and on about this place, but I’ll spare you.  Just be sure to go.  We tell everyone we know about it and have never gotten anything less than glowing reviews in return.

 

Delicious, free corn muffins
Salmon and zucchini fries for me, Scallops and mixed vegetables for Nick

Catch – Catch is located on Market St., also in a shopping center and not near downtown or the beaches (I guess I have a type?).  The chef was featured on Top Chef Texas and is a bit of a local celebrity.  It’s a bit more expensive than Fish Bites (~$30 per entree) but the food is a little more high end/modern/creative as well.  Their menu changes frequently, so my recommendations are probably useless, but their asian-ish entrees are always amazing.

Las Olas – Mexican food is my favorite food.  Period, the end.  And for me, Mexican food really comes down to the salsa, and the salsa here is FANTASTIC.  It’s super fresh and super cilantro-y.  Their seafood tacos are amazing, and you have to get the Street Corn as a side.  Nick and I used to live across the street from this place when we first moved to Wilmington, and I could have eaten here weekly.  Or daily.  The owners of this restaurant own a couple other in the area, I’ve tried k38, but not Tower (which is located in Wrightsville), and it was just as good.

Britt’s Donuts – I will preface this recommendation by saying I don’t even like donuts.  Whaaat?  I know.  But here I am, recommending a donut joint.  We heard about Britt’s from our apartment maintenance manager when we first moved here, and after the conversation I promptly forgot all about it, because I am anti-donut.  We were checking out Carolina Beach a week or so later and walked right by it and I was all “oh yeah, that’s that donut place that guy was telling us about.”  We were between meals and decided just to have one each to see what the BFD was.  OMG IT WAS HEAVEN.  These are the lightest, sweetest, fluffiest donuts you will ever have in your entire life.  They only make one kind, but it’s the only kind you will ever need.  They created the absolute perfect donut and it would be an insult to you to serve you anything else.  There is usually a line all down the boardwalk during the summer, but it’s worth it.  I recommend getting at least half a dozen per person.  My brother-in-law holds the current record of eating an ENTIRE dozen in one day.

Nick and I got a half dozen for a between meals snack
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Looookk at it

 

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This is what the line looks like at 2 pm

Mott’s Seafood Channel – I know, this isn’t even a restaurant, but it is hands down the best fish market in Wilmington.  If you are visiting and have access to a kitchen, do yourself the kindest favor you possibly can and make dinner in one night.  And buy that dinner at Mott’s Seafood.  It’s located near Wrightsville Beach, and after trying a ton of different fish markets in the area, it’s the only one we go to now.  Their seafood is always SO fresh, and we have fun trying all kind of different things according to what’s in season.  The employees are especially helpful and we always ask what is the freshest/what looks good.  If you happen to be visiting between October and May GET THE STUMP OYSTERS if they have them.

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Look at the color on the tuna (far right)
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We went with Wahoo and Tuna and both were amazing

SO, those are my “must-do” places in the Wilmington area, and now I’ve successfully bummed myself out about not being able to visit them again.

I’m going to go be sad about not living at the beach anymore, K bye.

 

This post is part of the Travel Tuesday linkup!

 New York City: February 2015 Trip Recap

Is there anything better than a girls trip? (No there is not.)

I was scheduled to fly in and out of LaGuardia in February of this year for work, and I could NOT waste that opportunity to see some more of beautiful NYC.  I had been there once before in college, as part of a career fair trip.  That trip was quick and we really only had time to hit Times Square and didn’t eat at any place that wasn’t a chain.  I was also missing my Pittsburgh girls (we moved from Pittsburgh to Wilmington, NC in July of 2013) and thought this would be a great opportunity to see them and enjoy a fun place together.  Luckily, they were totally on board (good friends right there, to agree to meet you in a frigid, potentially snowy city in February) and we started the planning!

Picking a hotel was relatively easy, we knew we wanted to see things all throughout the island, so we decided to stay in Midtown (for info on the Manhattan neighborhoods, see here).  Megan is a planning MASTER and found a hotel for a great price in approximately 5.2 minutes (Our Facebook group message from putting this trip together is seriously the most efficient thing I’ve ever been a part of.  Quick and easy decision on EVERYTHING.).  We also tentatively put together a list of things we wanted to do:

  • Eat at Morimoto’s (Megan’s sister had been here before and recommended it)
  • Go to the top of the Empire State Building
  • Visit 9/11 Museum
  • Find some New York pizza
  • Walk on the Brooklyn Bridge
  • See Times Square
  • Go to Serendipity’s for frozen hot chocolate

We all arrived in the city around 2pm on Friday and decided to just do some general exploring and walking around.  We headed to Times Square and had some fun looking at all the signs and buildings.  We went into the M&M shop and ogled all of the columns of different colors and flavors (dark chocolate almond <3).  We each walked out with a giant sack of M&Ms (originally intended to be gifts for others, but which ended up being excellent snacks for US for the rest of the weekend.  sorrynotsorry).

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We walked a good ways north before deciding to cross over to 5th Avenue and browse all of the fun stores on our way back to the hotel.  Some highlights include looking at engagement rings at Tiffany’s (we are all happily married, but ya know.  Tiffany’s!) and picking out makeup at the giant Sephora.  We were basically a salesperson’s dream in Sephora.  Any time one of us picked anything up, the other two were like “OOH what’s that??  A sponge in the shape of a cone?  I DEFINITELY NEED THAT, hand me one!”  I think we all three walked out a significant number of literally the same products.

We had reservations for that night at Morimoto’s NYC.  We made a reservation in advance of our trip so we had plenty of time to anticipate and browse their online menu in excitement.  Morimoto’s definitely has a sleek, modern and upscale vibe.  The bathrooms especially were the most luxurious and complex that I’ve ever had the honor of using.

Pretty much everything on this menu looked fantastic, Japanese and sushi are in my top 3 favorite types of foods and we had a really hard time choosing.  We conferred with our waiter and ended up getting the Shrimp Tempura appetizer and the Sea Bass, Braised Black Cod and Ishi Yaki Buri Bop for our meals.  And a bottle o’ wine, natch.

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“Please stop taking photos of me.”  Molly was such a good camera sport all weekend.
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Shrimp Tempura

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Ishi Yaki Buri Bop. Say that three times fast.  Unfortuntaely I didn’t get any pics of the other girl’s meals, they were beautiful and delicious!
Hot Mess Express. Woot wooot.
Hot Mess Express, woot woooot. Nothing better than making a loud mess in a restaurant where you already feel out-fancied.

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After dinner, we went to a bar that was nearish to our hotel and had a couple of glasses of wine.  Wine and girl talk and listening to T. Swift was pretty perfect.  After we were a few several glasses in, we started talking about what to do the next day and realized while googling that the Empire State Building stayed open until 3 am!  Soo…we should just go NOW (approx. 1 am) and then we have more time for other stuff tomorrow!  Great idea!  We aren’t buzzed at all!  We teetered and zig-zagged our way over to the Empire State Building and made instant friends with the guard.

It was one of those situations where in our heads and recollection, Brock (the guard, first name basis) loved us and was totally entertained by our life stories and toootally agreed that it was CRAZY how late the ESB stayed open!  Can you even believe it!  But in reality he was probably like omfg get these drunk girls away from me, I’m just trying to do my damn job in this 10 degree weather.

We made our long trek up, and lo and behold, on level 86 (I think…things are rather fuzzy), there was Brock again!  OMG BROCK ARE YOU A MAGICIAN?!  HOW DID YOU GET HERE SO FAST??  IT’S US!!!!  He was considerably less thrilled to be reunited and tried to quickly usher us through (that’s the last we ever saw of him 😦  I hope Brock is happy, wherever he is right now).

When we made it to the top, the wind was whipping around and it was even more freezing than it had been down on the ground (soberingly so).  But the views were really amazing and so worth it!  It was really cool to see all of Manhattan and beyond all lit up.  I always forget how small NYC actually is, it’s crazy to think that there is so much (art, food, culture, history) packed into one little island.  We were also basically the only people up there at this time of night.  If you find yourself with some time late night in NYC, I would definitely say tackle the Empire State Building.  The lights were so cool to see, and it took us much less time overall than if we gone during the day with crowds.

Yes it was a little chilly. Why do you ask?
Yes it was a little chilly. Why do you ask?

After we made it back down, late night pizza was extremely necessary.  We enjoyed a few slices, attacked our M&Ms, and then hit the hay.

Day 2

Day 2 started off a little slow.  We all slept in a little more than we probably would have liked, but didn’t feel bad about it since we were SO productive the night before.  BAGELS were on the agenda and we used Yelp to find Best Bagels & Coffee, which was a highly rated nearby bagel shop.

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wtf is snow.  On our walk to Best Bagels & Coffee.
Everything bagel, smoked salmon, and scallion cream cheese. YUM.
Everything bagel, smoked salmon, and scallion cream cheese. YUM.

We were all really anxious to check out the new 9/11 memorial and museum, so we headed south to the site of the former Twin Towers.  This was a very sombering and heavy activity, but so, so worth it.   It seems weird to say we enjoyed it or that it was “good”, but the museum is very well done and a worthwhile stop for anyone visiting.  The museum delved into so many aspects of the preceding days, the day of (initial news reports, physics and physical debris of the planes and attacks, rescue efforts, activity on the planes, etc) and the aftermath (continued rescue efforts, survivors, activity in the Middle East).  The museum also had a lot of the more disturbing videos, audio, and images in separate rooms with warnings, so that you (or young kids with you) can avoid, which I thought was a nice touch.

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Freedom Tower

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We were all a little emotional and disoriented (or maybe that was just me, as someone who is not emotional as a general rule…) after our morning.  We decided that food would be a good next step and headed back north through Soho and Little Italy to get some pizza from Lombardi’s.

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The pizza certainly lived up to its hype, what you see here is merely 1/3 of the pizza I put down.  Lombardi’s claim to fame is that it was the FIRST pizza place in New York to serve up the thin, Neopolitan style crust.  We decided to keep it simple with mozzarella, tomato and basil.  I think you would be hard-pressed to find a BAD piece of pizza in this area, but we were really happy with our restaurant choice.  We also had a good time walking and wandering through this part of the city,  we found several good shopping spots and picked up some fun stuff (my husband lucked into me buying myself an early bday gift from him)!

After our morning full of walking we decided to head back to our hotel so that we could drop off our stuff and rest our poor, poor feet for a hot second.  We also did a quick check of our “to-do” list, so that we could evaluate our next move.  The only two items yet to cross off were the Brooklyn Bridge and Serendipity’s.  We rallied ourselves for another walk and headed back south to the Brooklyn Bridge.

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The bridge was really beautiful and I was especially impressed by the overall size and the organization of the lanes and bikers/walkers.  Much different than the bridges in little ol’ Wilmington, NC.  More water, lights, buildings, etc surrounded us and we spent some time just looking around and enjoying the views!

We ended up catching a cab since back to our hotel, due to the fact that our feet were dead and it was cold af by this point.  Since we had a late lunch none of us were feeling particularly hungry. We briefly discussed heading to Serendipity’s for dinner and frozen hot chocolate, but we called and they had an hour+ wait, and we weren’t sure that their non-frozen hot chocolate items would even be all that special.  Also, with the weather, frozen anything wasn’t sounding especially good.  Next time, Serendipity’s.  Instead, we walked down the street and stumbled onto Parker and Quinn.  We decided to split a bottle of wine and just get some appetizers to share.  The food here was great, the meatball sampler was especially good (but doesn’t look like it’s on their menu anymore?).  It had several different kinds of meatballs with unique combinations of meats and spices.  There was a lamb/cilantro meatball that was my special favorite.

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The back left is a BBQ flatbread, middle is the meatball appetizer, and the front is hummus!  All great selections that I would recommend.

Early flights and general exhaustion from the day eventually got to us, and we headed back to our room around 11 pm.  I had such a great time this weekend, and I think the combination of traveling + girl time was good for the soul.  We spend the rest of the evening packing and talking about what US city we would take on next!

What major US city is next on your list?  Help us with ideas for our next trip!

 

This post is part of the Travel Tuesday link-up!  Thanks for hosting, Courtney and Lauren!

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