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Word of Mouth: Downtown Asheville

From rare books to locally-sourced eats, our guide to the mountain town that offers much more than just a spectacular view

by Nara Shin in Travel on 06 May 2014

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You know you've reached the South when there is a Chick-fil-A or Cook Out off nearly every highway exit. You won't find any fast-food chains in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, though (save for a Jimmy John's). During our recent trip to Moogfest, we had the chance to visit the heart of the city, which is nestled between the spectacular Blue Ridge and Great Smoky mountains. Stationed in the downtown area, we encountered some touristy but ingenious ideas—like the Amazing Pubcycle (a pedal-powered trolley "bar" that seats 13 people) and Double D's (a double decker bus-turned-coffee-shop)—but also found some unique places, many of which offered unlimited refills of sweet tea and plenty of Southern hospitality. Here are some of the top establishments we visited, all within easy walking distance from one other.

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Over Easy Cafe

Open only until 2PM daily, Over Easy Cafe is a breakfast specialist that champions local ingredients and providers. Using organic, free-range eggs, as well as meats and proteins (which are also free of antibiotics and hormones), the cafe offers a breakfast menu that changes with the seasons and also caters to those who are gluten-free, vegetarian and/or vegan. While there's surely enough space to cram in a few more tables and chairs, Over Easy has made a conscious choice to keep the environment spacious and open—so you're not dipping your elbow into anyone's vegetarian herb gravy. The gravy (which is more flavorful than any meat-based ones we've had) comes with the simple yet filling Downhome Breakfast—be sure to request their house made habanero sauce. Other standouts include Lavender French Toast, the Hash Bowl and the Waking Up juice; freshly made from apple, celery, fresh greens and ginger.

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The Captain's Bookshelf

A typical secondhand bookstore this is not. For starters, The Captain's Bookshelf doesn't smell anything like one. Clean books in pristine condition are arranged neatly on wooden bookshelves, and range in price from a few bucks to a few thousand. In business for over 30 years, the store carries popular titles but is best known for its selection of rare books, all preserved in plastic dust covers. Gems on hand during our visit included an inscribed first-edition of American novelist (and Asheville native) Thomas Wolfe's "Look Homeward, Angel" (1929) in the original dust jacket. We also eyed an eight-volume set of Le Corbusier's Oeuvre Complète (a mix of early printings) and an interesting book on Japanese packaging, "How to Wrap Five Eggs."

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Old North

Walking into this men's lifestyle shop, we immediately spotted familiar brands that have been featured on CH such as Raleigh Denim (made in NC) yet were also introduced to new ones like Norman Porter (selvage denim jeans made in Philly). A mix of long-established heritage brands as well as more contemporary lines, the Old North philosophy is simple: excellent service and quality goods. "We like to curate a space that offers a more natural and fluid buying experience and try to have those key pieces that you can't get everywhere," co-owner Jack Roche explains. They scout out new movements on Instagram as well as taking recommendations from their clients, and the passion and dedication they have for keeping the selection fresh and unique is evident in the great selection. Roche shares some of his favorite pieces currently in stock: Parker Parka from Rising Sun Jeans, Yellow 108's Luke Vintage Fedora, Bounty Hunter shoes from Whites Boots, Lot. 64 "Californian" Uncle Sam jeans from Mister Freedom and Winter Session's waxed and leather canvas bags. Aside from the clothing and accessories, they also carry shoe grease, hot sauces and independent magazines like PORT.

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Static Age Records

Almost a decade old, Static Age Records is a place to discover new music and rediscover the obscure. It has a noteworthy vinyl collection (and even some cassettes) of the "BELOW Top 200 sellers of all genres," stating, "We aim low 'cause that's where the good stuff is." Their strength is in punk and metal records, but there are a lot of surprises, from world music to psychedelic sub-genres to hip-hop. Not only a record store, the small space also functions as a performing venue, a recording studio and the headquarters of a local vinyl label, Family Night Records. If you haven't found that one vinyl you've been on the hunt for, Voltage Records is a minute walk away, but we also recommend making the drive out to West Asheville to check out Harvest Records.

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Farm Burger

This joint is rethinking the art of the hamburger—starting from the "ground" up. Their made in-house burgers are from locally-raised cows who munch exclusively on the sweet grasses in the southeast, never hormones, antibiotics or grains. Build your own burger with such toppings as apple slaw, beer battered onion rings or smoked paprika mayo (gluten-free buns are available too), or choose from a seasonally-changing menu of Blackboard burgers. Sit at the bar in order to skip the long line—and note that all their beers on tap are local, though we couldn't resist ordering a glass of sweet tea with ours. Farm Burger's Asheville location has an area to the side for customers to play bocce ball.

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Hotel Indigo Asheville

Located in the heart of downtown, Hotel Indigo Asheville is a hybrid boutique hotel and condo (the upper floors are private residences that can be owned or rented) with its own private parking garage. The guest room design was nature-inspired, featuring tones of green, yellow and blue; the bathrooms are stocked with similarly environmentally conscious Aveda products. If you're not a sensitive sleeper, we suggest requesting a room with the mountain view (if you're lucky, you could land a corner room with extra windows). It also faces the highway, where the sound of cars zooming by during the day is faintly audible, but worth it. The scenic landscape seen through the window is like a living, breathing painting. But these blue skies and pink sunsets would be impossible to capture on a canvas or even a photograph.

Photos by Nara Shin

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