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Day tripping: Hitting High Country eats

by Kristi Maier

When life gives you 97 degrees, do you think to yourself, “The Mountains are calling and I must go!”? That happens to me. I just love it in the North Carolina High Country. Close enough to make it a day trip, eat three meals and then return all by bedtime. It’s even better when you go overnight.

When we sold our house to rent while we build the next house, we promised ourselves we’d get out of town a bit more. We’ve enjoyed a couple of weekends up in the Boone and Banner Elk area and we thought it’s only the right thing to do to bring you our favorite spots up in Happy A’ppy. There’s more than a day’s worth here so you have lots of choices. Plus nearly all mentioned are casual enough that you won’t be required to change clothes, unless you really want to.

BALD GUY BREW 585 King Street, Boone

Practically famous in the area for his freshly roasted beans, you’ll see BGB pop up in all kinds of local restaurants. He even has a super cute little coffee shop in Boone, great for a “roader” before you make the winding road back to the hot towns below. Or you can get a cold coffee drink. They also have a great chai, herbal mate teas and their Earl Gray latte is pretty fab. It’s also great iced.

THE PAINTED FISH 2941 Tynecastle Hwy, Banner Elk

One of my favorite places in the mountains because it’s so casual and there’s such a great selection of dishes. From entrees to sandwiches all with local and seasonal ingredients, you could go a few times over a long weekend and enjoy a different experience. Which is what we did for dinner one night and then brunch on Sunday. Be sure to save room for the Crispy Creme Cheesecake with bacon and salted caramel. They say it’s made with Crispy Creme doughnuts and I guess they mean KK doughnuts and I’m not sure why it’s spelled differently except it’s maybe a typo that they haven’t changed—or —I don’t know. At press time I don’t have an answer for that. It’s just yummy so order it. If they have the blueberry basil goat cheese pie you should order that too. Open for dinner and Sunday brunch.

VIDALIA RESTAURANT & WINE BAR 631 W. King Street, Boone

Home of Chef Sam Ratchford, the winner of Competition Dining Winston- Salem. Vidalia has been a staple in downtown Boone since it opened 10 years ago. Look for a terrific ambiance with awesome, homey, upscale food with a Southern twist. From what I can tell the menu and specials change often. Please do try the chicken skins—which have been fried so crispy then drizzled with honey and Texas Pete, dusted with pink peppercorns and a light hand of fresh thyme. All of those components make this appetizer just so satisfying. On a recent visit, I enjoyed the chicken & dumplings with the dumplings being sweet potato gnocchi. And Mr. Foodie got the grilled meatloaf and it was outstanding. Vidalia is open for lunch and also has a very popular brunch.

F. A. R. M. CAFE 617 King Street, Boone

F. A. R. M. Cafe. Means “feed all regardless of means.” Not only is F. A. R. M. worth a stop based on their ethos and mission, the food, served cafeteria style… ranging from soup to salads and entrees is great. Locally sourced as much as possible. No set prices, just suggested donations. There are actually about 40 F. A. R. M. Cafes across the country and we’re told that there are plans for one in Winston-Salem in the next year.

FAMOUS BRICK OVEN PIZZERIA 402 Beech Mountain Pkwy, Beech Mtn.

Take the drive all the way to the top of Beech Mountain and you’ll find the Brick Oven Pizzeria. Decorated part Swiss and part arcade. Lots of local craft beer for the same price as domestics. It’s counter service. Your order your pizza, wait, then go pick it up. The kids can go to the arcade toward the back and badger your for money while it bakes. The pizza is surprisingly great. A flavorful and slightly chewy and pillowy crust with just the right amount of toppings. They do a great job and it’s just the thing after a day on the trails or slopes. Miniature golf is nearby if you’d like to enjoy the view and cool mountain breezes for a bit longer.

GAMEKEEPER 3005 Shulls Mill Road, Boone For a very adult dinner, this is the spot.

The Gamekeeper is the restaurant that might require a change of clothes—you know, not wearing your snow bibs or rafting garb. You can still be somewhat casual however. The Gamekeeper is located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of Blowing Rock. One of the first in the area to feature Appalachian cuisine. What is Appalachian cuisine?

Imagine living off the land in the mountains. You’ll find on the menu elk, venison, trout—just an amazing array of colorful, indigenous ingredients. Like once, there were huckleberries. A great wine selection too. It is a truly unique dining experience.

You just need to try it before you die.

For weekend wanderers, I just want to give a shout out to the Azalea Inn Bed & Breakfast in Banner Elk. We had a not great experience at some condos up the road on Sugar Mountain our first night, and innkeepers, Karen and Frank, had a room for us and do they ever treat you so warm and hospitably. And you get breakfast. And after that, they let you just “BE.”

Foodie Honorable Ment ions:

COYOTE KITCHEN Boone

For Tex-Mex and awesome burrito bowls and salsa and other delights.

OVER YONDER Valle Crucis

In the former 1816 Farmhouse and now owned by the world famous Mast Farm Inn, this restaurant located in the valley is in a historic old house that was refurbished a few years ago. Before or after skiing or snowboarding, hit them up for one of their delicious grit bowls. Another special restaurant in the High Country playing up our Southern heritage. And it’s just so cozy!

BLOWING ROCK BREWING COMPANY

Blowing Rock Because there’s this bison burger with cheese and peppered bacon and tomato jam and it will give you all the feels. And the beer is really good too.

NEW PUBLIC HOUSE Blowing Rock

A constantly changing menu with selections from the river, sea, garden and land. This restaurant used to be Crippen’s and has lived up to the promise after such an iconic establishment closed. If you can score reservations in the inn, you can just park your car for the weekend and walk everywhere you go. You’ll have fun finding places to eat that are not mentioned here. But that’s okay—

Enjoy the adventure on the Rock! !

KRISTI MAIER is a food writer, blogger and cheerleader for all things local who even enjoys cooking in her kitchen, though her kidlets seldom appreciate her efforts.

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