Josh Bailey and Steven Steidle want you to eat Asheville.
Eating Asheville is a food-savvy walking tour of downtown Asheville, created by Bailey and Steidle, both currently employed at Zambra. The two boast a combined 38 years of food-service-industry experience, having done everything from slogging it in the dish pit to managing multimillion dollar restaurants.
Even local eaters with a substantial working knowledge of Asheville’s culinary world are likely to feel like giddy tourists in their own town, given the right mindset — and there’s nothing like a liberal amount of day drinking for an attitude adjustment. "If you don't like cheese and wine, this likely isn't the tour for you," says Bailey. "But," adds Steidle, "We can make it family-friendly, too."
"Each tour's a little bit different," Steidle says. "We throw in a little interesting history, some funny jokes here and there as well." History and food seem to go together naturally for Steidle, whose mother is an anthropologist and historian. During the tour, he’ll halt the group to point out details that are easy to miss for those of us who might sometimes take the scenery of downtown Asheville for granted when rushing from point A to point B. And it’s extra easy to feel more comfortable gawking after drinking a glass or two of wine.
A typical tour starts with a toast at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar in the Grove Arcade. From there, Eating Asheville visits various other local haunts.
On our particular trip, we sampled shrimp and chardonnay in the lower dining room of Restaurant Solace, then visited the top level of the restaurant, where owner Bryan Kimmet passed around local ginger-crisp apples from his small produce stand. Then, we tromped over to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where we sampled brown-butter chocolate and strawberry-balsamic truffles. At Zambra, we tried pork spring rolls and summer sangria. At The Gourmet Chip Company, freshly made, still-hot chips were topped with dark chocolate or spritzed with truffle oil. We headed across the street to the new-ish Vinsite, where Les Doss, who owns the unique wine store with Kathy Taylor, offered tastes from several of his bottles while we nibbled on imported prosciutto and local cheeses.
In the future, says Bailey, the tour will incorporate more restaurants, including Cucina 24. "We try to keep it varied so that we don't have two similar restaurants," he says. But wherever the culinary tour stops, he says, it offers an insider's view of each establishment. "That's a huge factor of our tour, being from this side of the business. We want this to benefit the places that we go to; we want to talk about them, explain the menu and show what they have to offer," says Bailey. "We really want people to experience these places from the inside out and have a great time."
Eating Asheville is a two and a half hour walking tour that runs several days a week from 2 until 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $47 per person, all inclusive. For more information about Eating Asheville, visit eatingasheville.com.