Winding roads, high cliffs, and some of the most spectacular views of granite domes, situated high on a mountain plateau, Highlands is a truly unique destination and the culinary scene is great! Highlands is the second highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi River at 4,118 feet and is one of the few temperate rain forests in North America. The mountain plateau is very similar to Scottish glades and bogs. Here you can find unique mosses, lichens (Lichen capital of the world), and gemstones in and around slow and meandering graveled streams.
Susi Gott Seguret, Director of the Seasonal School of Culinary Arts, and I came to Highlands to be part of a funding campaign called the Collective Spirits Wine and Food Festival. We made our way to The Bascom in time to participate in the “Meet and Greet,” with hundreds of supporters and 20-some wineries from the west coast. These owners/winemakers generously poured and described their wines, wineries, and terroir. These are traditional “small barrel” wineries, featuring wines that rarely make it to the east coast.
The Bascom Art Center is a six-building, six-acre campus whose entrance is a handsome covered bridge called the Will Henry Stevens Bridge. This entrance defines the campus, rich with restored wooden barns offering studios and galleries. The Bascom provides audiences of all ages with stimulating, diverse exhibitions, studio art instruction, and cultural experiences.
After the “Meet and Greet,” we hurried to the wine dinner at Wolfgang's Restaurant and Wine Bistro in downtown Highlands. There we met the “bad boys” of Napa and Sonoma: Andy Wilcox of Lambert Bridge Winery and Steve Reynolds of Reynolds Family Winery. These bad boys started us on our culinary journey with bodacious ice-cold tequila they brought specially for this occasion. Quickly, we moved on to wines from their Vineyards: Viognier, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and even more. If you have not had the experience of “small yield wineries,” please do!
Whenever you are in Highlands, plan to dine at Wolfgang’s and, if possible, take the opportunity to meet Chef Wolfgang Green. Just to make you drool, I have listed some of the courses he prepared:
Salmon Mousse on Cucumber, Puff Pastry Wrapped Andouille Sausage
Bruschetta, with a 2009 Dry Creek Valley Viognier and a 2008 Pinot Noir
Pancetta Wrapped Seared Diver Scallop, with Basil Cream, Local Micro Greens and Roasted Fennel, with a 2007 Reynolds Family Chardonnay from Napa Valley
Coq Au Zin, Whole Wheat Pasta, Crusty Parmesan Garlic Bread, with a 2008 Lambert Bridge Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley
Dijon Dusted Venison Tenderloin, Porcini Mushroom Bread Pudding, Herbed Haricots Vert, Roasted Shallot Potato Puree, with a 2006 Reynolds Family Persistence from Napa Valley
For dessert, Bittersweet Bavarian Chocolate Mousse with Seasonal Fresh Berries and a
2005 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma County
Exhausted, we stayed that night at the Chandler Inn, a pleasant five-minute walk from downtown Highlands. Surrounded by trees and nature, the Inn features many gabled rooms and barn-inspired buildings grouped around several bricked courtyards. There were porches with swings, rocking chairs, hanging baskets, and plenty of bird feeders to create a rustic and relaxing ambiance.
Our host prepared a stunning breakfast for us the next morning. Coffee was ready early and as I sat on the patio, I met fellow lodgers from Atlanta and Charlotte. We excitedly discussed this unique mountain community and the relatively few changes it had experienced in the many years each of us had visited this area.
Before returning to Asheville, we decided to take some time and visit several Inns. Our first stop was the Main Street Inn. Wait until you see the 1946 Jukebox in the front foyer and the collection of massive and old cutting blocks lining the entrance to the dining room. We spent a relaxing time in the rocking chairs on the veranda, indulging in the slowness of the day. We leisurely meandered across the street to the Old Edwards Inn, a delightful place with an extraordinary menu and wine list. They have a farm located just outside of town, where much of their foods is sourced. I highly recommend that you stop here and check them out!
It was getting to be afternoon, so we decided to explore the many establishments downtown, where we immediately came upon a well-stocked wine and beer store. It was here that we talked for quite a while to a local Meader from Franklin, who discoursed at length on the many virtues of honey and which makes the best Meade. After wandering into a great clothing shop, a toy store, coffee and craft stores, we settled back into our car for the roller coaster-like ride down the mountain to Rosman, headwaters of the French Broad River, and Brevard (home of the White Squirrel Festival – a great story for another day), and back to Asheville and points north and west.
It is more than just a day trip, or a road not yet explored. Sapphire Valley, Cashiers, Lake Toxaway, and Highlands are along the famous “Highway 64, Murphy to Manteo” route, a possible indicator of adventure and tasty rewards for taking a road less traveled!