I am closing out 2017 with a memorable food, drink and travel experience in Hendersonville, North Carolina that I will share in two separate blog posts. My goal for 2018 is to develop this series and highlight other wonderful towns in North Carolina and beyond that have great culinary scenes, but that do not have the same notoriety or fame than that of larger cities.
Hendersonville, not to be confused with Henderson, is approximately a four-hour drive or 258 miles from Morrisville, NC. The city is sometimes referred as “Hendo” or the “City of Four Seasons” and is located at the center of Henderson County, in the southern mountains of western North Carolina. As of 2016, it is estimated the city had slightly less than 14,000 residents, a number which I can only assume has grown exponentially after talking to some residents. The cities quiet charm, growing culinary and brewery scene has attracted young couples with children, retirees and individuals who like the feel of Asheville, but don’t necessarily want to live in that city, which is a short 22 miles from “Hendo”.
I vacationed one weekend about two years ago in Asheville , however, I had not visited Hendersonville, so I was excited to visit western North Carolina again. My agenda in the “City of Four Seasons” included a careful selection of Since I moved to NC, I had not made a trip longer than 2 hours on my own. I wasn’t nervous about the drive, but I was worried that I would get exhausted. I am an early riser, so I left Morrisville at 7:30 am, with my coffee in hand, a playlist of Reggaeton, Country, Pop, Latin-Pop and R&B music and my JBL portable speakers. I have an older car with not the best sound system, so these speakers are excellent for road trips. The drive was seamless and pleasant and given that it was a Thursday morning, there was no traffic. I arrived in Hendersonville at 11:30 am ready to start my day.
Since I was in the neighborhood, I strolled down 7th avenue to admire the rustic architecture and visit the Vintage & Thrift Shoppe. I only spent 15 minutes in the shop, since I had an upcoming appointment, but one could easily spend hours looking at the vintage dinnerware, clothing and jewelry. The most memorable items I saw at the shop included refurbished antique jewelry boxes at very reasonable prices. If you are a fan of thrift stores, plan to spend several hours at this shop. A little birdie mentioned to me that Vintage & Thrift Shoppe will be expanding soon, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and stop by Underground Baking Co. and Independent Bean Roasters to refuel.
After my visit to Vintage & Thrift Shoppe, I drove to Main Street in downtown Hendersonville, which is approximately one block wide and about 7 blocks long. The charming downtown is home to a potpourri of bakeries, restaurants, antique store and other boutiques. I have a personal collection of antique jewelry, so I was excited to visit the antique stores and admire their collections. Warning, you can spend more than a couple of hours, possibly days exploring this small but lively downtown. After strolling down Main Street, I stopped by McFarlan Bakery,. All baked goods are made from scratch and the business has been operating since the 1930’s. The challenging part of my visit to McFarlan Bakery was narrowing down which pastries to buy. Since I have never had a Black & White cookie, I thought this was the perfect chance to indulge in McFarlan’s version. The cookie had a cake-like texture and was covered in thick chocolate icing and white buttercream. I had a major sugar rush afterwards, but it was totally worth it.
A couple blocks away from McFarlan Bakery was my next stop, Sanctuary Brewing Company, located off Main Street on 147 First Avenue East. The brewery and tap-room is unlike any brewery that I have visited in that it provides a refuge for 12 animals, three acres south of the taproom in historic Flat Rock. There is also a Kindness Wall that hangs outside of the taproom with coats and jackets where anyone can take what they need and also bring items that might be useful to someone in need. Sanctuary Brewing Company is dedicated to making small batch, high quality local brews. During my visit, I sampled the first release of this year’s Weekend Joe, one of Sanctuary Brewing’s Dark Beers. It has rich coffee notes with a creamy finish. I also discovered that I am an IPA fan after sampling their Hop Pig & Grapefruit Hop Pig IPA’s. Their seasonal Cranberry Wheat is also a must try – perfect for this chilly weather. After sampling these refreshing brews, it was time for me to check into my hotel and prepare for my dinner at Never Blue.
I checked into the Cascades Mountain Resort at 4:30 PM. I had enough time to take a quick cat nap and freshen up before my 6 pm dinner reservation at Never Blue. The Cascades Mountain Resort is a short 10 Minute drive to historic Hendersonville and 25 Minute drive to downtown Asheville. It has indoor waterfalls, an indoor water slide, a pool area and one of the largest hot tubs I have seen at a resort. Other amenities include the Old Orchard Tavern Restaurant, Gift Shop and Cafe. There is also nearby access to waterfalls, hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. I will also be sharing more about this charming resort in Part II of 24 Hours in Hendersonville, North Carolina, however, here is a sneak peek of the gorgeous indoor water slide.
Never Blue is approximately a 15 minute drive from Cascades Mountain Resort. Downtown Hendersonville on a Thursday night is very lively. The crowds were out and parking was challenging to find, but not difficult. Fortunately, I did find parking nearby Never Blue. I met fellow foodie Nichole Livengood for dinner and we chose to sit at the bar. My personal experience with dining is that you can have a meal or you can have an experience. If you plan on visiting Never Blue, plan to have an experience and relish on cocktails, appetizers, dinner and dessert. When I go to a new restaurant, I love asking anyone from the bartender, waitress or hostess for recommendations. I have no food or diet restrictions when dining out and I have an adventurous palate, so I relied on Chef Jesse & Nichole to guide me in selecting dishes from the menu.
We started off the evening with vegetables from the tapas menu. The Beets on Never Blue’s Tapas Menu are phenomenal. Chef Roque prepares malbec-brown sugar roasted red beets and chardonnay-ginger pickled golden beets with a goat cheese mousse, Marcona almonds and a balsamic gastrique. I started the evening with this dish alongside the Prince Edward Island mussels with house-made green curry, coconut milk and Texas toast. Did you know there are several ways you can eat mussels? I typically use a fork, but Nichole schooled me on a casual & more practical method for pulling the meat from a mussel. You break the first shell in half and use it as a spoon to pry the meat, a practice that is commonplace in France.
The flavors of the Chili Garlic Shrimp remind me of a Mexican shrimp cocktail. This hot dish is made with petit, sustainably fished, gulf shrimp, spicy-sweet house-made chili garlic sauce, scallions, cilantro and lime. The Grits & Greens, another favorite, is a hearty dish of granna podano-parmesean cream sauce, smoked gouda-sour cream grits topped with blackened local veggies and fried okra. Never Blue also has an adventurous taco menu that includes a Chapulines Taco with roasted CRICKETS, corn & heirloom tomato salsa and queso fresco. I have had Chapulines as an appetizer in Mexico City, so I was extremely excited to try this delicacy. I love Chef Roque’s integration of Latin, Caribbean and Southern cuisine (just to name a few) while using locally sourced ingredients. Every bite is guaranteed to transport your taste buds on a culinary adventure.
Never Blue also has a wonderful cocktail and dessert menu, and to not complete your dining experience without indulging in both, would be a disservice to your dining experience. The Mexican Mafia was my libation of choice. It has Gold Tequila, Cactus Juice Liqueur, Muddled Jalapeño, House-made Limemade shaken and is topped with a scoop of Calamansi (Tangerine-Lime) Sorbet and jalapeño salted-rim. It is Spicy, Sweet, Salty & Deliciously-Good. My personal theory is that a restaurant’s cocktails can make or break your experience and are also a window to your dining experience. So far, my theory and related experience hold true. This cocktail is carefully curated, provides depth, flavor and complemented my evening. Truly wonderful.
Although I sampled a number of small plates at Never Blue, I was not going to leave without sampling desserts by Pastry Chef, Hannah Eaton. I have a growing affection for creme brûlée so I naturally had to sample Never Blue’s Classic Creme Brûlée. When you order this dessert, you will be asked if you are Mermaid or a Unicorn. Your answer will dictate the Mermaid or Unicorn fudge that will accompany the creme brûlée. Never Blue’s visually stunning Creme Brûlée is a classic french vanilla bean custard with a brûléed sugar top served with fresh berries. We could not just order one dessert, so we also tried the DIY S’mores. The chocolates, marshmallows and cookies are all made in-house. Rather that serve with graham crackers, Never Blue S’mores are served with salted peanut butter cookies. Once you taste these DIY S’mores, they will be unlike any other’s you have tried before. Graham crackers on traditional s’mores will not satiate your taste buds anymore. The salted peanut butter cookies, marshmallows and chocolate are sweet magic together.
Chef Roque is a culinary force. She is a classically trained pastry chef that moved between chef and pastry chef throughout her career. She was named the 2016 North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association Chef of the Year at the North Carolina Chef Showdown in Raleigh, NC in August 2016. She has also participated in Terra Vita Food and Drink Festival, Euphoria Greenville, Highlands Food and Wine, and is headed to Charleston Wine and Food in February. If you have the opportunity to meet Chef Jesse Roque, you will be pulled in by her positive energy, beautiful spirit and culinary brilliance.
My short experience in Hendersonville made me fall in love with this city. I cannot wait to visit again. Part II of 24 Hours in Hendersonville will include my visit to The Poe House, HenDough Chicken & Donuts and my stay at The Cascades Mountain Resort. Be sure to subscribe to the blog for notification of Part II of 24 Hours in Hendersonville, North Carolina.