Outdoor patios may be a fair-weather rage in Asheville, with culinary ratings that go sky-high, but their proximity to sometimes stupid-busy traffic tends to keep them off lists devoted to scenic mountain-area dining. Such a list follows here, although it is by no means exhaustive: Pre-emptive apologies go out to all the regional restaurants that were overlooked.
Many Western North Carolina inns include great views among their amenities. Notable examples include such historic resorts as Highland Lake Inn in Flat Rock and Jackson County’s Balsam Mountain Inn.
But Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a locally unique destination. Unlike other inns with restaurants, more people go there to eat than to sleep (lodging is usually booked a year in advance). And once diners have made the steep but stunning drive from Asheville, their competitiveness to score a window seat requires sharp diplomacy from Pisgah’s hostesses.
One long row of the restaurant is devoted to a panorama of unmatched splendor, about which the inn’s assistant manager, Ben Kershner, reports: “Our view covers 180 degrees, facing mainly southeast from the slopes of Mt. Pisgah where Thompson Ridge meets Slate-Rock Ridge at 5,000 feet above sea level, half a mile from the summit.
“To the east,” he continues, “we can see Fletcher, Mills River and the outskirts of Hendersonville. Route 280 from Mills River to Brevard is obscured from our view by Buttermilk Mountain, Rich Mountain, Funneltop Mountain, Laurel Mountain, Poundingstone Mountain, McCall Mountain and Clawhammer Mountain.
“To the southwest, beyond the Cradle of Forestry, is a spectacular view of Looking Glass Rock, and beyond it, John Rock, all in the Pisgah National Forest,” Kershner adds. “In the distance, about 16 miles as the crow flies, is South Carolina, with the distinctive ridgeline and tower at Caesar’s Head directly across the valley from us.”
Kershner is quick to clarify that “there are no roads visible from the restaurant, except a short stretch of the Parkway which can be just seen at the south-southwest edge of our view.”
If you can stop looking long enough to eat, the menu features reasonably priced mountain favorites (trout, country ham) and a few fancier entrées, including nightly specials.
Milemarker 408 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Open daily through Nov. 3 this year, 7:30-10:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. for lunch and 5-9 p.m. for dinner; www.pisgahinn.com or 235-8228.
Sunset Terrace Chophouse at Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa
The lordly view is what you’d expect from Asheville’s most storied, upscale resort. As its name implies, Sunset Terrace—one of the Inn’s three restaurants—faces west: Expect a lush theater of distant hills peppered with bits of Asheville skyline. Prices are high and the food is extraordinary. Last year, Sunset Terrace received an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator.
At the Grove Park Inn, Macon Avenue in North Asheville. Open for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday; open nightly for dinner, 6-10 p.m. Reservations are recommended for dinner; www.groveparkinn.com or (800) 438-5800.
Canyons Historic Restaurant and Bar
Offering the biggest view for your bucks, super-casual Canyons in Blowing Rock also gets a kiss for its stepped-up environmental initiatives, including the recycling of fryer oil to heat the building’s air and water. Among a thick smorgasbord of peaks, Mt. Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain are what revelers take in along with their Cali-style wraps and other light, trendy food. The Sunday Jazz Brunch is a popular destination.
8960 Highway 321 in Blowing Rock (about two hours northeast of Asheville). Lunch and dinner daily, 11 a.m. until … ; www.canyonsbr.com or (828) 295-7661.
Joey’s Pancake House
Open 42 years, this breakfast-only hotspot in Maggie Valley is such an institution that it even sells its own pancake mix. The menu boasts everything from whole-wheat to peanut-butter versions of the signature dish, and kids’ cakes come with smiley faces. An encouraging view of the approaching Smokies is visible from the dining room’s outermost rim of tables and booths. Leave the parking lot in that direction and enjoy a gorgeous drive into Cherokee, including the purported “most photographed spot in the Smokies.”
4309 Soco Road in Maggie Valley. Open every day except Thursday, 7 a.m.-noon; www.joeyspancake.com or 926-0212.
My Father’s Pizza & Pasta
Downtown Black Mountain is a topographically fortunate place. Turn in any direction on Cherry or State streets and absorb particularly intimate views of the surrounding hills. The spacious front patio of My Father’s Pizza & Pasta is an ideal place to enjoy the town’s be-here-now ambience. The food is family and college-student casual, featuring all the expected favorites.
110 Cherry St. in Black Mountain. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday (closed Tuesday); www.myfatherspizza.com or 669-4944.
The booths along the far wall of this award-winning home-style eatery face a pretty mountainscape, though the Inn on Biltmore erupts through the green in one spot. Some out-of-towners promote the hotel as part of the panorama, like one dine.com reviewer who remarked: “The view from the back dining room wall of the Inn and the mountains are worth the trip alone.”
570 Brevard Road in Asheville, adjacent to the WNC Farmers Market. Open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner; 255-0920.
Food Court at Asheville Mall
Snort if you must. Prominently displayed via a 180-degree window, a sweeping southeastern vista of the Blue Ridge greets the shopper who pauses to pick up an Orange Julius or Chik-Fil-A sandwich. The view is initially impressive, though closer inspection reveals fresh scars of development. There’s more irony here than fat grams in a Big Mac.
Open mall hours; www.asheville-mall.com.