Asheville, NC: The Curated City

Retail space inside the DryGoods store on Haywood Rd in Asheville. 

A trip to Asheville this time last year completely changed my life. The mountain air, the yoga retreat, the city itself; I came home and jumped into the unknown that brought me all the way to where I am today. Since that time, I've been drawn back to explore with an urgency that brings it up in conversation more often than I care to admit. On Friday, I tagged along with my friend Sophia's already-planned Asheville. In the seven hours we had, this is where we went. 

Second breakfast at Biscuit Head

Picture: Appalachai, which is by far the best chai concentrate I've ever chai'ed and Sophia's zero-waste silverware set. Homemade, the crafty gal. 

Picture: Appalachai, which is by far the best chai concentrate I've ever chai'ed and Sophia's zero-waste silverware set. Homemade, the crafty gal. 

Right off the bat, I wish I took more photos. Biscuit Head was vibrant, homey, and full of little gems that pull your attention for just a moment and make you giggle to yourself. Like the table numbers, which are unique in their cat photos and display a quip of cat trivia on the back. 

Growing up with Yanks for parents and early-discovered gluten intolerance, I had zero experience with biscuits before Biscuit Head. I'd seen them at places like Cracker Barrel and Denny's and found them wildly unappetizing. As explained to me, it's because they aren't the real(est) biscuits. 

Cat-Head Biscuit

A biscuit baked in a big pan that's cut from the mountain range of fluffy baked biscuits to be about the size of a cat's head. Holy moly. 

This delicious (and filling!) experience was complimented by a choice from 16 different types of house-made jam, which I organized in spoonfuls by color on a spare plate for streamlined trying. Ten jams and 1.5 biscuits later, we stepped out into high noon Asheville and started our day. 

Clothing Exchange at Reciprocity

Had I thought it through, I'd have brought clothes to exchange as well. Secondhand stores seem to be plentiful in Asheville. Not just thrift stores, but curated boutiques of gently worn and consigned clothing. This wouldn't be the last clothing store we visited, but I left with a vest and a longing for those 20%-off Frye boots into which I sadly couldn't cram my big lady feet. 

Everywhere needs West Village Market

I can't imagine more than 40 people being in this market at one time, simply because it's packed to the gills with the most varied, high-quality selection of necessities and grocery products I've ever seen. When you walk in, you're greeting with a festive holiday squash + pumpkin display, a community board bursting at the frame, and small vignettes of products arranged just close enough to make it cozy. 

A full-service grocery with a deli, juice bar, baked goods, frozen section, produce department, and all the pantry items you could think of. There are locally crafted items intermingled seamlessly with the array of products, including multiple iterations of elderberry syrup and a few different (and renamed) versions of Fire Cider. I could've spent an hour just perusing what was there. This market seemed perfect - urban location, healthy offerings of everything one could need, and compact enough that it does suck resources the way a superstore does. 

Giving adventure items a second chance at Second Gear

We briefly stopped into Sophia's other clothing consignment option, Second Gear. Coming from a place where adventure sports meant fishing and paddle boarding, we didn't have enough demand for a store dedicated to the sale of gently used gear. This place was a paradise for people who are not always able or willing to pay full price at REI or from a retailer, but who need high-quality adventure gear. 

The indisputable zen of The DryGoods store

What does a space look like when you bring together a seamstress, a leatherworker, and an architect share a space? 

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In my opinion, like perfection. Crisp white walls, original concrete floor, mid-century modern furniture, and a curated retail space you can't quite wrap your head around. The retail area makes an L-shape around the front of the building, which is lit by full-width shop windows. Every surface appears covered by not cluttered. Books next to baskets of leather cutoffs for sale; old sewing machines next to freshly made leather tote bags; hand-sewn linen shirts in a wire basket marked down for sale. All encompassed by an intriguing slatted-wood accent corner. 

The architect's style is what pulls the whole space together. He was the only soul in the shop when we visited - when we walked in, he had a podcaster's stern voice filling the space, working behind an enormous iMac in the most organized corner of the otherwise open floor-plan. His work is beyond precise. The essence of Japanese zen teahouses with their smooth-sanded light wood surfaces, their right-angled lattice woodwork complimented by stretches of empty space. Yet, the imagery accompanying the work and its, for lack of a better word, vibes, were predominately cliffside coastal. This emanating feeling combined with effortlessly on-trend and classic pieces, an array of thriving indoor plants, and a completely open workshop made this a place we spent more time (and money) in than we may have planned. 

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Villagers, for the urban homestead

I bookmarked Villagers ages ago when an Instagrammer posted a dreamy photo of their stocked interior. Akin to the West Village Market, this smaller-than-you'd-expect space was abundant. Items for which you'd usually have to search the internet or that you'd inevitably settle for a low-quality alternative from Home Depot were meshed with locally-made pottery, seed bombs packaged in folded newsprint, and a library to make your head spin. 

Villagers screams curated. The person who imports vintage rugs from Turkey, who stocks Microcosm zines next to essential oils and blends, and who has every garden tool (rakes, hoes, shovels, you name it) piled in a back corner is a risk taker and master curator. These items are all complimentary - they serve the same people and are along a parallel plane of interests, but the variety is still so uncommon for a small business in a small space. It's what I find so precious about Asheville. It's a city full of people who demand and support local, creative, curated businesses and give them room to thrive without diminishing their authenticity. 

My favorite place to sit and talk: Dobra Tea on N Lexington

This may have been the first time Sophia and I stopped talking for more than a minute. Settling into the lounge at Dobra with menus and drowsy eyes, we read through the innumerable offerings to choose our tea adventure for the afternoon. Each of the descriptions in the Dobra menu are luscious like wine or fine chocolate but authentic and rural in their origins. Sophia chose a Gyokuro with an earthy, strong, heady flavor and a shortbread cookie. I chose the miso soup and a pot of Putuo Fo because I can hardly resist a tea grown at the foot of Buddhist monastery in the shadow of Kuan Yin's gracious gaze. 

At Dobra, you take your seat on a small round meditation cushion in a corner lounge space. You have a small table and when you're ready to order, you ring a small bell to be greeted. We sat quietly reading the menu, occasionally commenting on our teas, but leaving words to the wayside while we caffeinated and enjoyed our treats. 

Side note: Dobra served the best miso soup I've ever had. It was rich, the seaweed was hearty, and the broth was just right. Coupled with green tea and good company, I left nourished and ready to cap off the evening. 

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We ducked into a few shops along the way to our next destination, some in which I took photos, others where I was simply there. When we stopped into East Fork Pottery, I couldn't stop. Have you ever stepped into a place that felt akin to how your organize your life? A place that feels atmospherically like home

East Fork Pottery was undeniably Japanese-minimal with a welcome wabi-sabi element that eliminated the word "sterile" from what some might experience in a white, sparse space. A warm color scheme across curated vignettes of products - linen napkins alongside all-glass French presses; handwoven baskets filled with soft textiles one might be too afraid to use for fear of ruin; ceramic pieces with clean surfaces but rustic edges. The effortless contrast between refined and authentic. Between reiki and human. 

Too late and too dark for photos of the best dumplings at Ben's Tune-up

This was the first time I'd visited a sake bar, and the first time I'd been to a sake bar that was previously a mechanic shop. A welcoming courtyard, unrefined decor, and a stellar sake offering made it difficult for us to leave at the end of the night. Sophia and I mused over our lack of proper Asian food in Knoxville as we sipped seasonally flavor sake - Blueberry Lemon for Sophia and Honey Chai for myself - anticipating our order of "Dumplings of the Day". 

Without a doubt the best dumplings I have ever tasted. 

We laughed, shared stories, flipped through old Facebook photos to supplement our stories, and left Ben's Tune-up with conversation leaning toward what we'd do next time we came back to Asheville. It's not a place you can do in a day, not even a weekend. Asheville is a place where you can't rush - where you take your time to experience the curated neighborhoods, stores, and ideas that the community so ardently supports. It's a place to see in seasons, alone and with friends, through the eyes of locals and with other tourists like yourself.

Asheville is a special place - have you been? I'd love to know your favorite spots - drop some recommendations in the comments and I will add them to my must-see list next time I go.