Asheville staycation: A taste of England

Tower Bridge is an icon of London, England, and one of the most famous bridges in the world. Photo by Tanya Birch

London, New York and Asheville — I am fortunate to have called each of these cities my home at one time, and every step along the way has been an adventure.

While living in England, my husband, Jim, and I explored many English towns and also visited 20 countries throughout Europe. It was a whirlwind tour, cramming in as much as we possibly could during our two-year residency abroad.

Now that my European travel experiences have come to a halt (temporarily), it’s time to get creative and craft my own adventure right from home. What better place to do that than in Asheville? You can find it all here — an exciting food and drink culture, a community of artists and a unique city vibe.

The only thing you can’t find is a cheap flight to England. So here are a few ideas for experiencing a taste of England without leaving Asheville.

Get your fill of fish and chips

According to the BBC.com article “Chipping Away at the History of Fish and Chips,” “the first chippie opened its doors in London [around 1860], where the working class propelled the dish into popular culture. … At its peak in 1927, there were 35,000 fish and chips shops in the United Kingdom.”

For those who haven’t experienced this dish, it traditionally includes fried flaky white fish served with a generous portion of freshly made french fries. At Oyster House Brewing Co. on Haywood Road, although you’ll undoubtedly want to order the oysters, you should also consider the fish and chips. The fish is beer-battered with a house-made craft ale.

A quarter-mile drive west on Haywood Road from Oyster House will take you to your next fish-and-chips destination, the Barleycorn Pub. Look for the category Twisted Traditions on the menu to find the fish and chips. Co-owner Jon Campbell explains how it’s twisted — the staff designs “traditional English and Scottish dishes … [and] add something that makes it unique or has an Asheville flair to it.” Barleycorn’s fish and chips is fish, fries and the added bonus of calamari.

In downtown Asheville, Pack’s Tavern seemingly packs customers in with its fish and chips, the restaurant’s “most popular entrée,” as noted on the menu. Chef Edwin French uses a Yuengling beer-battered haddock for his recipe.

In Biltmore Village, check out the Village Wayside Bar and Grille for the Gateway fish and fries, made with swai white fish fillets. For the beer batter, Village Wayside uses the Gateway Kolsch brewed by its neighbor, the French Broad Brewery.

Go royal

Chef Mark's Fish and Chips at Cedric's Tavern
Chef Mark DeMarco’s fish-and-chips specialty at Cedric’s Tavern on the Biltmore Estate. Photo by Tanya Birch

For a kingly version, don’t miss chef Mark DeMarco’s fish and chips at Cedric’s Tavern on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate.  The fresh haddock is fried and crispy, yet so tender that it seems to melt in your mouth. For an extra-tangy kick, try some of Cedric’s house-made brown-ale vinegar with your dish.

In preparation for the Cedric’s Tavern opening six years ago, DeMarco studied some of his favorite British chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Jason Atherton — and he still gets inspiration for the tavern’s dishes from “watching what they do … (while) incorporating local ingredients to make it fit the estate and Asheville.”

At the Biltmore Estate, it’s easy to pretend you’re Princess Kate and Prince William for the day by participating in the afternoon tea experience at the Inn on Biltmore Estate’s Library Lounge, offered 2:30-4:30 p.m. daily.

Or, go royal by spending a night out at the historic Omni Grove Park Inn. Dress up in your formal wear, drop off your car with the valet and step inside the more than 100-year-old hotel to feel like royalty for the night. Many prominent and talented people have stayed in this hotel, including Englishmen such as the jazz singer Cleo Laine and actor Sir Daniel Day Lewis.

Taste some real ale

Real ale, typically known as a cask-conditioned ale here in the United States, is a term coined by the Campaign for Real Ale organization. Formed in 1971 in the United Kingdom, CAMRA strives to do exactly what its acronym stands for.

Cask conditioned ales at Oyster House Brewing
Cask-conditioned ales at Oyster House Brewing Co. Photo by Tanya Birch

According to CAMRA, real ale is a natural, living product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation.

Most often, the beers you get on tap in the U.S. are kegged, meaning that after the beer has finished fermentation, it is chilled and filtered to remove the yeast.

So how do you get the authentic, real-ale product that’s similar to the kind of beer you’d drink in any one of the more than 50,000 pubs in the United Kingdom?

It’s easy to do in Asheville.

For the double-deliciousness of fish and chips and real ale together, go to Oyster House Brewing, where two cask-conditioned ales are usually on tap.

Green Man Brewery on the South Slope is another spot to familiarize yourself with real ale. The taproom usually serves at least one, and often two, cask-conditioned ales.

Jack of the Wood on Patton Avenue typically has a cask-conditioned ale available to customers, regularly supplied by Catawba Brewing Co.

Highland Brewing Co., Asheville’s oldest brewery, also has a cask program and often premieres cask ales on Wednesday nights.

Cheer on your favorite British football team (or soccer, as we Americans call it)

Join one of your mates at Hi-Wire Brewing’s South Slope location and make sure to time your visit with a day that one of the English Premier League teams is playing. The brewery is well-known to local soccer fanatics as a place to view the matches.

A short walk from Hi-Wire, Green Man Brewery also regularly shows English soccer matches on the taproom TVs. If by this point you’ve had your fill of real ales, try one of Green Man’s flagship beers, such as its IPA, ESB or porter, all made with base malt imported from the United Kingdom.

Right in the center of all the downtown action, you may also want to watch a soccer match at The Bier Garden. The restaurant is an ideal choice for its beer selection, as its name advertises, as well as for its many TVs showcasing all kinds of sporting events. Soccer-viewing is one of those, and the Bier Garden is ready and willing to broadcast your soccer match of choice.

Shop at a local market

In London, there are numerous farmers markets crammed with local produce and meat. My favorite spot was the Maltby Street market under the railway arches at a location that might seem a bit dodgy (e.g. suspicious) at first glance. Dodgy or not, it was a perfect way to start off my Saturday morning.

In Asheville, start off your Saturday by bypassing the supermarket and shopping instead at a spot like the Western North Carolina Farmers Market, where you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, jams, breads, and cookies, among other specialty products.

In the warmer months check out one of Asheville’s many local tailgate markets, including the North Asheville Tailgate Market, Western North Carolina’s oldest producer-only farmers’ market.

One may assume that during the winter, market options are sparse, but a visit to the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s 2016 Winters Farmers Markets listing proves that the choices are vast. ASAP also provides a full listing of all the markets, an invaluable resource for those who want to purchase local food.

Sample some cider

Cider has a long history in England. I experienced it firsthand in 2013 while attending an event at the historic Weston’s Cider Mill (established in 1880) in Herefordshire, England.  The event was called a wassail, a ceremony that involves singing to the apple tree to ensure a good harvest.

Cider in the United States has a much shorter history than in England, but today excitement is growing for this alcoholic beverage made with fermented fruit (usually apples). In Asheville, you can sample a variety of ciders.

Urban Orchard Cider Co. on Haywood Road is a warm, inviting place. Get a cider education and simultaneously enjoy the taste of hard cider, where you’ll have many options to choose from, including sweet varieties like the Sweet English cider to spicier types such as the Sidra Del Diablo, made with smoked habanero peppers.

Another stop to make is Noble Cider in northwest Asheville. Live music and food trucks are usually part of the package during a visit to Noble Cider, along with a fun tasting room experience with 20 taps of hard cider to choose from.

Enjoy the adventure. Cheers!

Editor’s note: Tanya Birch is employed part time at Green Man Brewery giving brewery tours, and her husband, Jim, works at Catawba Brewing Co. in operations and sales. 

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About Tanya Birch
Tanya is a freelance writer specializing in travel and beer-focused stories, and she is the author of two guidebooks, Discovering Vintage Philadelphia and Beer Lover's Virginia. Follow me @barleylinks

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3 thoughts on “Asheville staycation: A taste of England

  1. Big Al

    I visited Scotland recently and was determined to avoid fish and chips, thinking that eating them would be a cliché (kind of like wearing my kilt in public). I was very surprised to discover that on the west coast towns, Fish and Chips are considered their #1 delicacy and are heavily promoted to tourists. Also, when you consider that eating out over there costs 50-100% more than here (even compared to an overpriced tourist trap like Asheville), fish and chips are usually your best value. The prices are only slightly higher than in the states and the portions are HUGE. The fillets are the size of Frisbees and they give you a POUND of chips (that is “French” fried potatoes to you and me).

    As far as British food is concerned, I would much rather have an English Breakfast. I seem to recall Jack of the Wood offering it back in 2008 or 2009, but no longer. Get that on your menu and I will see you there weekly or more. And if you are REALLY adventurous, add Haggis or Stornoway Black Pudding for the Scottish version.

  2. boatrocker

    I like how Asheville, much like England also subscribes to the philosophy of Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” in order to economically subjugate and ‘civilize’ its’ native wage slave population. That and most vegetarian/vegan restaurant food served here tastes just as bland and awful as English food.

    What a cute article,

    • boatrocker

      Oh I forgot, the driving habits strike me as pretty foreign during peak tourist season here too. Everything short of driving on the left side of the road.

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