Thursday, October 30, 2014

Packs Tavern

My family visited Asheville from Pensacola, FL. We mostly came up for the apple picking in Hendersonville and to see the autumn leaves changing. This was our second trip like this, and we will certainly be coming back to visit again next year.

I've never felt so at home in a place like I do in Asheville. Everyone that we met, be it walking down the street, perusing local artists' wares, or sitting in a restaurant, wore friendly smiles and had some bit of nice conversation with us. Our dog, Lucy, was even welcome into many of these establishments that we visited, and all the restaurants were quick with a bowl and some water for her.

After packing our first day full of activities like apple picking, gem mining, and driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway to see waterfalls (and go down Sliding Rock), we weren't completely sure what we wanted to do with our second day.

Strayboots is a website that offers walking tours of various cities. The cool thing about it is that you get to use your phone for all the stops. So you get a clue, you figure out the answer, then if you're right you learn a few short facts. There isn't anyone walking with you though, giving you the luxury of stopping and relaxing or grabbing a bite to eat wherever you see fit.

We never would have ventured past Pack's Tavern, let alone went inside (they've got a horrible rating), if it weren't for Strayboots. They've got a super cool old car outside that has an old whiskey barrel in the bed, and that was the first thing we noticed. We thought this would be a good place to grab a drink from that, but we also needed to figure out what illegal activity went on here in the past (for the phone tour) so in we went.

I guess I should say we went around; with Lucy by our side, we found a place out on their patio to eat. We were lucky that it was really warm that day cause there was a definite chill to the breeze, but it was mostly warm & sunny.

We sat down and our server came out to greet us. She was really nice and knowledgeable about the menu, but didn't know the answer to our riddle. After recommending a couple drinks, she left to let us decide, returning a few moments later with water & a bowl for Lu-Dog. I'm so impressed by how dog friendly everyplace in Asheville is, which I know I'm saying a lot, but I really want to stress it; even all the (dozens of) other people walking dogs are uber friendly.

We started with a slew of drinks. My son got a root beer float & sucked most of it down within a couple seconds of it being in front of him. Being from North Florida, were very familiar with Abita and he's a big fan of their root beer, found on draft here at Pack's - the best way to indulge.

This neon yellow number right here is made with Tang, like the orange drink for astronauts. I had some reservations about trying it, but it turned out to be really good. My favorite of all the drinks.

Pack's Tavern on UrbanspoonWe also ordered a glass of Noble's Hard Apple Cider, made locally in Asheville. They make the Village Tart with cherries, and it's fantastic. Not very sweet, but very apple-y! There aren't artificial colors or flavors, and the cider is gluten free, all of which is cool. This was the ideal drink for the time of year and the weather, I thought. It wasn't really sweet like the frozen Tang drink, but it was very satisfying and went with the food we chose better.

The final drink we tried was their Mint Julep. Neither my husband nor I are big whiskey/Bourbon fans, let alone aficionados. As I'm so fond of saying, we live in Florida for a reason, and that's to be closer to the islands. The Julep at Pack's is strong and the mint flavor is bright. It wasn't excessively liquory tasting, but you got all the flavors of the whiskey.

The drinks came out after a few minutes and we were relaxing, looking over the courtyard where a group was doing yoga, some children were playing, and a couple were walking their gaggle of wiener dogs. We weren't very hungry when we sat down, but as we worked on all these drinks, our appetites were whetted.
Still wanting to enjoy the mountain trout before we went home, we decided to share an entree between us all. The Nantahala River runs through Western North Carolina and it's tributaries provide some of the best trout fishing in the country. Pack's has a Parmesan crusted trout from these waters, which they top with caper-butter sauce. They serve it with sauteed mixed veggies and herbed jasmine rice. It was delicious. The trout was perfectly done, either baked or broiled to tender, flaky, juicy perfection. The veggies were also really good, cooked enough to have caramelized a bit and well seasoned.

We also enjoyed a side of sweet potato fries while we were sitting outside. I love sweet potato fries, and they arrived steaming hot and crispy. They were very good, but standard and could have used a pinch of salt or a dusting of cinnamon sugar to make them a bit more special.

After we finished eating, the manager came out and said hello, asking how we liked everything. He said the server had mentioned that we were doing a scavenger hunt and that we had a question about the building's history.

Turns out that Pack's is a pretty interesting place. The building has existed for decades, redesigned various times throughout it's history.

In the 1920's, the building (which is situated across the street from the fire & police stations) was used as a lumber distributor. But it was also something more.

You see, Asheville has a long history as a haven for the financially elite. It also has a network of tunnels built underground, some say by the Illuminati for their secret meetings, held under the obilisk in the center of town.

Regardless how the tunnels got there, this lumber distributor has a doorway in the basement (which goes way deeper than I expected it to) that opens to a tiny vestibule. There's a door behind the first door. The second door opens to a pantry-type room which is lined with shelves. The back wall is fake, the lower portion comes away to reveal a dark, dank tunnel beyond.

In the 20's, our guide and the restaurant's manager explains, this door was used to smuggle liquor from the fire station, right under the police, into the lumber distributor. They were one of the largest distributors of illegal liquor in western NC during prohibition. Chances are that the police were also in on the criminal activity going on beneath their feet, but they couldn't be outright involved. When raids occurred, all the doors were sealed up. So a cop would go to the basement and order the outer door opened, to which the owner would oblige. There was then, of course, the inner door. This was locked from the other side, so chances were that the coppers would just leave... nothing to see here. But they could ram the door open, in which case they would find an empty storage room.

You may be thinking that someone had to be in there to have locked the door from that side, right? That person would have had to empty the pantry into the tunnel and board himself in during the raid. I can't imagine that would be a fun job.

On top of a really good meal with delicious drinks and a considerate server (she stayed outside with Lucy while we went exploring the basement), we got a super cool adventure. I'm very glad that we happened upon Pack's and that we gave it a chance. Overall, it was a really good experience.
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