Searching for sustenance on the east side of town
Downtown Asheville’s culinary offerings are certainly no secret, and West Asheville, with its ceaseless onslaught of restaurant openings, is clearly booming as a foodie mecca. But what about points east? Although it is not widely considered to be a dining destination, East Asheville has its own sampling of fun eateries and delicious dishes.
An outing to Creekside Taphouse is sure to bring a smile to every face that walks through the door, starting with the black-and-white cow statue perched on the roof above the entrance. And with a fully fenced-in playground area and several game stations, not to mention a sand volleyball court, the atmosphere is family-friendly and welcoming. This is a true local gem.
“We call Creekside Taphouse a neighborhood joint,” says owner Brendan Dennehy. “Our goal was to provide the immediate neighborhood, as well as all of Asheville, a truly unique gathering place. Since we are tucked back in downtown Haw Creek, we felt strongly to connect with the local neighborhood and have a spot they can be proud to call their own. … It’s really fun to see large groups hanging outside at the bar, lounging by the creek, throwing cornhole or playing volleyball in the sand court. Our menu reflects the feeling we want in the space: comfortable and casual. On the food side, we are barbecue-based, with almost everything house-made, from our sauces to our chicken fingers. We recently won the 2014 Asheville Wing War for our Cheerwine-habanero-smoked wings.”
Dennehy says he and his wife, Patty, couldn’t have chosen a more perfect location for their business. “We love East Asheville. It’s a great area, and people are extremely supportive of the effort we put into the space. We’ve experienced tremendous growth since opening, and we have long-term plans to help make downtown Haw Creek a vital neighborhood center once again.”
East-side resident Zach Renner recommends Creekside in addition to some other local eateries. “I would go with Creekside Taphouse, because they have good service, a loaded menu, and they’re kid-friendly,” Renner says. “The East Village Grille also has good service and excellent food; the tiger wings are amazing. And Ultimate Ice Cream for dessert!” Asked if he thinks the area needs more dining options, Renner said it’s not always clear what restaurants are in which part of town, “because the defining lines between downtown, East Asheville, Biltmore Village and Swannanoa are kind of blurry. And unfortunately, unlike West Asheville, East Asheville is not walkable, so you can’t really compare them. There are options, just more spread out, and they need to be found.”
Not all east-siders are equally positive, however. “There really aren’t enough options on this side of town,” says Devon Randall. “I’ve lived in Oakley for 10 years, and it’s gotten better, but still it’s not great. … It’s a shame that in River Ridge Shopping Center, two large restaurants sit unoccupied. Even worse, we don’t have food trucks. The farmers market in Oakley is wonderful, but it would flourish with some food trucks or hot, prepared foods available.” (Editor’s note: As of its season opening on May 8, the Oakley Farmers Market now hosts food trucks weekly.)
Amy Evans, too, feels East Asheville could use more restaurants. “We often find ourselves downtown or in West Asheville when we go out,” she says, adding, “Wouldn’t it be fun if Fairview Road was lined with places like WALK and Universal Joint?” Still, Evans gushes over one local eatery. “We love Filo for breakfast, lunch or an afternoon treat on the weekend. The atmosphere is friendly and eclectic. They might make the best caffè breve in town, and the pastries, quiche and other offerings are delicious. I dream about the beignets.”
Filo owner Maria Papanastasiou feels a deep connection with the neighborhood. “I love being in East Asheville,” she says. “I was born here; I still live in the same house I grew up in, and it gives me a sense of community and connection. I see the same people every day, and they’re my extended family.” And with “all other sides of town reaching a saturation point,” Papanastasiou says, “I do anticipate growth. However, I hope it doesn’t grow too much. I like having space to move without being right on top of each other.”
Another hot East Asheville dining spot is Café Azalea, which reopened last May under new ownership. If you’re looking for great ambiance and an impressive full-service café menu, this is the place. There’s also a sophisticated wine selection.
“There are so many great wines out there,” says owner Kris Dietrick, the café’s chef and wine buyer. “We’ve got about 35 wines by the glass, even by the bottle if you want it. When someone comes in here, I can help them find something they like,” says the industry veteran.
Asked what inspired him to pick up the reins after Azalea’s original owner closed the restaurant in January 2013, Dietrick says, “I looked at this place, and it had so much charm and character. I fell in love with it.” After spending eight weeks cleaning and repainting the space, he feels he has created “a nice, casual place where you can bring your family.” Customers apparently agree, since the revamped café has seen amazing growth in its first year, he reports, “And the busier we get, the better we’re going to get.”
Sure, many residents say the neighborhood could use more dining options, but the fact is, East Asheville already has its share of hidden gems and beloved community gathering places. So the next time you’re heading out to eat, why not make one of them your destination?