Before it was Beer City or Foodtopia, Asheville was known as the Land of the Sky. The name conjures mental images of ubiquitous local vistas: Massive, elongated skies, streaked with sinewy cirrus clouds and bracketed by hazy blue mountains. In the evenings, those clouds glow neon with pinks, purples and blues. Talk to some old timers in the area, and they’ll tell you they miss the Land of the Sky label and the time when Asheville was known simply for what it is rather than what it produces.
With those beautiful views and an abundance of available outdoor activities, it’s easy to spend the majority of your time in Asheville outside. And lately, an increasingly varied selection of local eateries is offering options for appreciating the city’s food and drink offerings in an outdoor setting. “I think that the fresh air is a big deal to a lot of people,” says Kristie Quinn, an Asheville native and managing partner at the Smoky Park Supper Club. “Asheville has a lot of really beautiful spots that should be outdoor hangout spaces. But when you really start to look, we’re still kind of limited on what the offering actually is.”
The River Arts District serves up a slew of recently added al fresco dining options. Situated on the banks of the French Broad River, the Smoky Park Supper Club dishes out fancier plates for the outward bound. The entirely wood-fired kitchen pairs its food and cocktails nicely with a sprawling patio and lawn that leads right up to the river’s edge. “The property itself kind of dictated itself in how we were going to meet the land,” says Quinn. “We had a lawn and a river right out in front, and it was definitely [owner] Matt [Logan‘s] motivation to work around the river and have that beautiful green space and the lawn and the patio to create a really communal outdoor space. People can order a drink from the bar, walk around the property, go down to the river, or go to a picnic table.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, Salvage Station offers a slightly elevated riff on standard bar fare — tater tots accompany slow-cooked pulled pork, fancy nachos and the like — as well as a full bar and a yawning, several-acre lawn to play about on. Just up the road on Riverside Drive, Ole Shakey’s offers outdoor games like root ball and cornhole while customers sip on cold beers and wait for their food from one of the venue’s rotating list of food trucks.
Up the hill from the river, visitors to the South Slope can kill two birds with one stone at Burial Beer Co. Guests can grab a beer at the bar before hitting the backyard to get a bite from permanently installed food truck Salt & Smoke. Dishing out Old World European cuisine with a Southern twist, it’s quickly becoming known as one of Asheville’s best places to eat and a perfect place to do so in the sunshine.
For many locals, an easy downtown weekend brunch fix for the past five years has been the Yacht Rock brunch at the The Southern Kitchen and Bar. DJ Kipper starts the pleasure cruise around noon, bedecked in his sailor cap and manning the wheel at the turn table. Regarding the edibles that accompany the entertainment, chef Joe Marple notes, “We always try to make an effort, whether it’s with food or cocktails, to make a more pleasant experience on the patio for people by just providing lighter options.” The Southern’s menu currently offers summery items like a kale caprese salad and a roasted chicken dish with cucumber salad and green beans.
The charming patio at The Southern is a significant asset for the restaurant. “If it’s too cold for people to be dining on the patio, that’s 14 tables that we’re losing right there,” Marple points out, noting that outdoor seating isn’t just about a pleasant experience but is also a great way for smaller spaces to increase the number of people they can serve. “It basically doubles our seating capacity. It’s definitely a big difference when the patio season comes into play.”
Just up the block, Sovereign Remedies serves lunch, dinner, brunch and its highly regarded classic craft cocktails on a tiny patio that was converted in April from what was previously parking spaces and a loading zone. Owner Charlie Hodge worked with the city of Asheville to rezone the area next to the eatery to accommodate the 16-seat outdoor area. “The way that they’ve worked this out, we are in this really perfect situation where they were able to move the loading zone up and move another parking space,” Hodge told Xpress in an April interview. “So it’s not like we’re taking over a bunch of parking spaces.”
On the north end of town, hidden off of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Liberty Street, the Liberty House Café is an old house retrofitted to be a neighborhood coffee shop. With a menu offering fresh salads and sandwiches galore, the tree-lined patio makes a great place to linger over a plate, sip an iced coffee and catch up on some light reading.
Those in a little more of a rush might want to check out Mamacita’s sister restaurant, the Taco Temple on Charlotte Street. With ample outdoor seating behind a white picket fence, the counter service makes it easy to grab a margarita and taco (wrapped in a house-made tortilla) and duck under the shade of an umbrella.
Also on Charlotte Street, Gan Shan Station boasts another great outdoor area with plenty of shade to accompany its Pan-Asian cuisine. With at least as many, if not more, tables outside as in, there’s usually a spot available on the patio when most other venues might be full.
On the east side, there are some great porches for watching the sun set as well. By day, Filo has a few outdoor seats roadside, which lend themselves to the restaurant’s evening transition into Post 70 Indulgence Bar. Situated in front of the rustic architecture of the old stone building, the patio makes an idyllic setting for Post 70’s seasonal oyster roasts and regular Sip & Smoke cigar and spirits tastings. Also on Tunnel Road, Copper Crown serves a diverse menu of small plates and entrées that range from homespun American cuisine to European comfort food on a large covered patio that’s perfect for watching an evening rain wash away the remnants of a hot summer day.