Valentine’s Day dining in Asheville on a shoestring

FROM THE HEART: Melt Your Heart food truck, voted Best Food Truck in the 2019 Xpress Best of WNC polls, will celebrate Valentine's Day by offering any two beers from Wedge Brewing Co. with any two sandwiches for $24. Xpress file photo

It happened again. On Feb. 1, your rent and car payments were due. Two days later, it was time to pay the cable, phone, water and electric bills. On Feb. 5, your landscaper wanted his money, then your dog got sick — boom, your vet has $300 dollars of your money. The perfect storm.

Now it’s the week of Valentine’s Day, and you’re down to what little savings you have. Whether you’re in a new relationship or you’ve been married 20 years, your partner probably expects (and deserves) something special for the occasion. “It’s really about expectation,” says local psychologist Meredith Larrabee. If the person you love is expecting something, “then you better come through.”

But when it comes to planning that Valentine’s Day dinner, does price matter? Or is it the proverbial thought that counts? “It entirely depends on the person,” Larrabee says. “It depends on how that person feels loved.”

So, in other words, if your significant other needs a diamond ring as an expression of how much you care, y0u may have to get comfy in the doghouse for a bit. But if she or he is more interested in the gesture, you have room to get creative.

Amber Willsey and Vicki Preston are partners in life as well as co-owners of North Fork Kitchen in Black Mountain. The pair’s first Valentine’s Day as owners of their previous business, Dark City Deli, was, “a bust,” says Willsey. “Maybe people didn’t want to come to a deli to have a romantic dinner.”

But she also guesses that it could have been that they just didn’t market it correctly. As Larrabe points out, for some people it’s the gesture that counts, so lunch at a nice deli could be as romantic as you make it. Add a bottle of wine — your favorite varietal — and two great deli sandwiches to make it a cute indoor or outdoor picnic. You can put a blanket on the floor, play some amorous music and come off looking pretty good.

As for Willsey and Preston, they also like to keep their celebration simple. “[We] make dinner at home together, play cards, all the typical things two people do that enjoy spending time with one another,” says Willsey. “Our theme has always been to appreciate one another in everyday life, so Feb. 14 doesn’t really change that.”

North Fork Kitchen will have a Valentine’s Day special, but at press time, it was yet to be decided. Contact the restaurant for further details. (

For some, nothing says romance like a steak dinner. But a meal with wine at a nice steakhouse could run you over $200. Instead, embrace Willsey’s sentiment, take about a quarter of that $200 and head over to The Chop Shop, a whole-animal butcher shop on Chestnut Street. The Chop Shop dry-ages steaks for 21 days, giving the enzymes in the meat time to break down the muscle tissue, making for a more tender, flavorful steak.

For special-occasion steaks for two, The Chop Shop’s Rob Jones recommends getting porterhouse or chateaubriand, a sort of double, center-cut filet mignon. “The cuts I see most on Valentine’s Day are the tenderloins, strips and ribeyes,” he says, noting that the fat content gets higher in that order.  “It all depends on how much marbling someone wants.” He adds that for pork lovers, the shop does a double-boned crown roast that would make for an impressive Valentine’s Day meal.

For a simple but elegant homemade dinner that should run you about $60 including wine, Jones suggests pairing two 8-ounce filets seared to medium-rare on the grill or in a pan on the stove with a couple of baked potatoes and some steamed asparagus or cauliflower.

If you decide to go with cauliflower, he recommends a quick blanch before frying it.  “It looks real pretty on the plate,” he says. Whatever way you go, you’ll most likely come off looking like a hero. (

One discount date idea that requires zero time in the kitchen involves beer and a food truck. Everybody in Asheville has a favorite truck, but one mobile business that happens to have a valentine-themed name — Melt Your Heart — will have a special deal for Valentine’s Day. Melt Your Heart owners Stephanie and Steven Paulson actually have two trucks, both specializing in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. On Friday, Feb. 14, the truck that is permanently parked in front of Wedge Brewing Co. at 5 Foundy St. will offer any two beers from inside the brewery paired with any two sandwiches from the truck for an affordable $24.

If you have a little more in the budget and want to do something focused on breakfast rather than dinner, Chestnut Street Inn owners Emilie Kapp and Arturo Leal have a Valentine’s Day offer that doubles as a mini-staycation. For about $135, couples can get a night at the inn, which Kapp characterizes as “bed-and-breakfast reimagined,” with a complimentary bottle of local cider or berry Champagne and breakfast.

Kapp and Leal’s breakfast menu, which earned praise in Food & Wine magazine in 2017, includes inventive options such as breakfast enchiladas, 21-layer banana stack crepe cake and cheddar soufflé. The special runs Feb. 7-21. (

Also around the same price range is an opportunity in Hendersonville for dinner with a side of local history. On Saturday, Feb. 15, Historic Johnson Farm will offer a tour of the farm plus a two-course dinner for two for $100. The dinner will represent the type of meal that might have been served to guests by Sally Johnson, who operated the farm as a boardinghouse with her two sons between 1913 and 1958. For details and to make reservations, contact manager Mandy Gibson at 828-891-6585 or visit


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