Valentine’s Day draws near, and with it comes the opportunity to express our love to those significant people in our lives. Unfortunately, for many of us, this celebration of the heart can morph into a serious case of stressing out over details. But if your sweetie is a foodie or home chef, there are some locally owned shops that can help with outside-the-box gift ideas to make the day special.
“Everyone’s idea of romantic is slightly different,” says The Tree and Vine owner Terri Karlsson. The store offers a wide selection of high-end olive oil, balsamic, tea, coffee, wine, gourmet foods, kitchenware and other fun gifts and accessories. Karlsson has run the business, which includes locations in Gerber Village and Knoxville, Tenn., alongside her husband, Paul, for about six years. “Somebody may prefer to grill a filet for Valentine’s Day, and we have all kinds of stuff for that … spice blends, barbecue sauces, everything for the griller. But really, we have everything for the wine or spirit connoisseur and everything for the foodie,” says Karlsson.
For those looking to double down on traditional V-day themes in a nontraditional way, The Tree and Vine offers a collection of heart-shaped items, including olive oil dishes, ice cube molds that can be used for cocktails, homemade chocolates or shooters, and cake pans from Nordic Ware, “so you can make your own bakery-quality Valentine’s cake with very little effort,” says Karlsson.
Other ideas she offers include sourwood honey from Black Mountain, treats from Chapel Hill Toffee, a Valentine’s Day red ceramic French coffee press paired with a bag of coffee from Black Mountain’s Dynamite Roasting Co. and gourmet chocolate-covered peanuts from Hubs in Virginia. She also recommends including a bottle of Spanish Cava wine that she says is a bargain at $13.99.
“Cava is so amazing,” says Karlsson. “It’s made exactly the same way as Champagne, except it’s made in northern Spain, in the Catalonia region surrounding Barcelona. … I find myself shipping it to people all over the country who have difficulty getting it where they are.”
Michael Liss has been running Common Housefly, a Black Mountain indie shop that bills itself as a “Toy Store for Foodies,” for nearly a dozen years. “If your valentine is at all into food or drinks, then we’re your spot,” he says. “The store is like a big treasure hunt. There are probably about 1,800-2,000 things that people haven’t seen before — ingredients, tools, gadgets, things people freak out over.”
Liss recommends visiting the shop to check everything out, but he offers a few ideas to get started. “It’s not necessarily a traditional Valentine’s thing,” says Liss, “but we have these beautiful handblown glass pitchers from West Virginia. It’s actually still the oldest handblown-glass company in the U.S., called Blenko, which is a family name.”
He also suggests Theros extra virgin olive oil, which has a unique local connection. “The Theros family live here in Asheville, but they own an olive orchard in Greece,” Liss explains. “They only bottle what’s from their own farm. And when it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s amazing stuff.”
Liss also raves about a product line from East Asheville resident Karen Paly, who owns Karen’s Spice Kitchen. Paly’s company offers a line of gluten-free, natural and preservative-free spice blends for use in making exotic, restaurant-style meals in less time at home. Paly, who’s originally from South Africa, says, “It’s a very, very easy way to make one of these dishes that would be otherwise intimidating. … You’d have to go out and buy 10 to 12 different spices. You have to know how much to put in; most people are just really intimidated by it. I figured this way would make it easy for people.”
Karen’s Spice Kitchen products come in 13 flavors and are available in 23 stores in the area, including Common Housefly. “It’s a a great idea if you want to cook your sweetheart a meal,” says Liss.
Another option for a romantic evening at home is to swing by The Rhu in Asheville. “We’re promoting an awesome wine and cheese basket,” says Ellie Wigodsky, assistant general manager and director of marketing at The Rhu and Rhubarb. “They include wine, laminated baguettes and a selection of cheeses. We’re also doing some individual chocolate tarts. It’s a great package to pick up if you don’t want to go out for Valentine’s Day and just want to have a special night with wine and cheese at home.”
In addition to other interesting retail and gift options for the baker or cocktail lover, Wigodsky notes that the store is also offering packages of macaroons with aphrodisiac flavors. And staff are available to help customers assemble custom gift baskets at the store.
Karen VanderElzen runs The Shop Around the Corner, an independent store in Weaverville with a flair for French country meets cottage shabby chic. She recommends giving regionally produced gourmet foods as Valentine’s Day gifts. “Two of the coolest things we have that are totally local and exclusive to our shop are gourmet marshmallows and candied, sugared pecans from [Weaverville-based] the Blue Eyed Baker and the Hazel Eyed Taster,” she says. Some of the more popular marshmallow flavors include maple-bacon, lemon meringue, chocolate raspberry, Key lime pie and toasted coconut. “They’re out of this world,” says VanderElzen.
Tea lovers can also be accommodated with an unusual item from The Shop Around the Corner. “We actually have Downton Abbey tea, which is kind of cool,” says VanderElzen, referring to the British television drama. “That’s from the Republic of Tea, and we’ve done real well with that.”