Ambiance: Elegant, with great views
Service: Friendly and prompt
The foundations of the Grove Park Inn are built from boulders weighing up to 10,000 pounds each, and the hotel’s 9,600-square-foot main lobby has fireplaces large enough to roast a mini-van. Suffice it to say that the GPI does nothing on a small scale.
The same holds true for dining. The resort offers myriad places to eat, including Horizons, with its notable prix fixe menu, the Sunset Terrace Chophouse, with its sweeping views, and the Blue Ridge Dining Room, with its almost equally sweeping buffets.
The Sunday brunch buffet in the Blue Ridge is most notable for its sheer magnitude. Tables groan under the weight of lavish spreads of pork in every imaginable form and ice sculptures stand guard over legions of little pink shrimp and clutches of menacing-looking crab legs. Chefs forced to wear silly toques man several different stations, offering to turn out expertly a hot omelet with your choice of fillings or carve up as much of whichever hunk of meat lays glistening before them on the cutting board.
On Fourth of July weekend, my Picky Companion and I made the seemingly epic journey from the hotel lobby to the Blue Ridge in typical Sunday morning fashion – slowly, and badly in need of coffee. We had neglected to make reservations – often a mistake on a busy holiday weekend – but were lucky enough to be seated quickly at a table by a window, where we could look down on Asheville haughtily while eating our shrimp cocktail.
All kidding aside, the view was truly fabulous, as the dining room seems to hover over the trees below, offering a view of the lovely golf course (and most of the time, “lovely golf course” seems an oxymoron to me), downtown Asheville and the mountains that loom beyond. On this particular day, a fine rain fell and mist rose from the hills, making the view even more pleasant.
The friendly, matronly hostess who guided us to our seats prodded us to go ahead and dig into the buffet (we may have appeared groggy enough to require extra guidance), but we declined to navigate the rather formidable display of food before coffee was served. In an instant, our server was tableside with a pot of fresh coffee and cream.
Once properly caffeinated, we tackled the task at hand: to try everything the buffet had to offer. First on my agenda was the display of cold items, which inhabited an entire room. A whole salmon, decorated with scales constructed of finely sliced cucumbers, sat over a tray of assorted smoked fish. An array of fresh salad fixings was crowned with a display of carved fruits and vegetables. A tray of very proper and slightly forlorn-looking canapés sat between imported cheeses and a giant crystal bowl of cold blueberry soup. Freshly baked Brie with lingonberries oozed invitingly from a pastry crust. A very fine dessert display took up a whole side of the room, complete with an ice cream bar and a chef making Bananas Foster. The iced seafood display looked quite good, and though we couldn’t locate the promised garlic mussels, we found more than enough to satisfy us on the first round.
We loaded up our plates with a little bit of everything and hauled them back to the table to survey the spoils. We had cold and tasty little shrimp that were cooked just right; perfectly firm marinated asparagus; maki with translucent, jewel-like pieces of tuna rolled inside with a dash of sriracha; very red, ripe tomatoes with fresh mozzarella; and seaweed salad. An array of smoked fish had made its way to our table, all of which was good, though some of the particular species became a subject of debate. It all was just fine and fresh enough, for a buffet, but seasoned to encompass a wide array of palates – which is to say, seasoned very lightly.
At any rate, I could have probably stopped right then and been satisfied – during summer, I’m a big fan of cold breakfast – but duty called.
We moved on to the hot side, which encompassed its own separate room. Here we scored a perfectly executed spinach and mushroom omelet, Texas-style barbecue brisket that fell apart under the weight of my fork, bacon that was blessedly not over cooked, sausage, roasted pork loin, roasted salmon, cheese blintzes, smoked salmon quiche, rib eye with chili-pepper butter … you get the idea – a circus of food.
With some extra salt, it was all quite good. The starches did seem to have suffered from being held in the chafing dishes too long; the pancakes and waffles had gone rubbery, but the tart, warm, fruit compote served alongside was delicious enough to eat on its own. The fried gnocchi had met the same fate. With so many items to choose from, however, a small miss is not a problem; simply push it aside and get something else.
We’d set out to try everything on the menu, and I wish we could have. But to do that would have required either several more stomachs or a few lengthy breaks. We left quite full and satisfied, knowing we wouldn’t need another meal for quite some time. At $40.55 per person, which includes tax and tip, the Blue Bridge’s Sunday brunch wasn’t exactly cheap – but it sure did deliver the goods.
Brunch at the GPI is as much about the experience as it is about the food, if not more so. The variety of offerings is notable, and for a production of this magnitude (it takes a veritable army of 30 employees to put it together on a typical Sunday), everything is pulled off quite well. On top of that, there’s something immensely satisfying about lounging around sky-high, sipping coffee and nibbling on “Assorted French Pastries.” It is, in a word, a spectacle, and one not to be missed for anyone seeking a morning of decadence – with a view.