In addition to being a card-carrying lover of food, drink, travel and fun, I am also an unapolgetic lover of trash cinema. And any opportunity I can take to combine these loves is pretty much the perfect weekend as far as I'm concerned.
For the second year in a row, I got together with some fellow Men of Action and we made our way from THG HQ on the outskirts of Charm City through Virginia and along winding roads carved through forests and mountains to the laid back college town of Asheville, NC – which sits scenically on the edge of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.
Asheville, you see, is home to the annual ActionFest: The Film Festival with a Body Count. Held almost exclusively at The Carolina Theater, the festival has quickly become one of our favorites for a number of reasons.
First off, this is truly a film festival, not some horror, monster or sci-fi con filled with pirated movies, sweaty nerds and the great-granddaughter of some black & white horror actor from the 40s. Second, we see a metric buttload of movies in the span of about 36 hours, chowing down – cinematically speaking – on everything from martial arts and sports comedy to 3D spaghetti westerns and 80s exploitation spoofs. (You can read a full report on the 11 flicks we caught at the festival at the Exploitation Retrospect blog.)
Third, the theater itself features a bar, draft and bottled microbrews (including an exclusive ActionFest Ale!), cheapie cans of PBR pounders, good coffee (for when the nights get long) and upscale theater snacks in case you've got a case of the movie munchies.
As if those weren't enough reasons to make a weekend out of it, we've also found three great eateries – two around Asheville and one along the way – that make the trip a treat for the belly as well as the eyes.
Tupelo Honey Cafe
After an eight-hour drive, Tupelo Honey Cafe has become our go-to stop for a nice, relaxed dinner upon arrival. Frankly, I wasn't expecting much when we first pulled into the restaurant's non-descript shopping center location last year. It's surrounded by tons of chain restaurants and I initially feared this was some Cracker Barrel-esque southern chain I just wasn't aware of. Though they do have two locations and the interior has a polished, professional feel, there's nothing chain about the homey food and local beers served. This year we sampled the Appalachian Egg Rolls featuring pulled pork, BBQ sauce and greens wrapped and then fried as well as the delicious and filling Southern Fried BLT highlighted by a crisp (but not greasy) chicken breast and bacon on an excellent artisanal bun. Just the meal we needed to set the pace for a weekend of flicks, food and fun. (1829 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, NC 28803, 828-505-7676)
In our effort to eat somewhere other than one of the hundreds of national and regional chains that dot Hendersonville Road in Asheville, we ventured out for dinner one evening last year and just kept driving till we saw something we liked. Eventually, we ended up at French Fryz,
a local burger and milkshake joint that has become our home away from home when ActionFest-ing. The burgers and shakes are made to order right in the kitchen that dominates the order window. (The pulled pork, disappointingly, is not made on premises but is local from what I gathered.) And, oh, what shakes. I steered clear last year, knowing that a shake could potentially send me into some sort of coma, but I simply couldn't resist when we pulled up this year and the sign outside was touting the Elviz, a shake made with the King's trademark blend of peanut butter and banana. I ordered a small and set about sucking at the thick, lung-collapsing concoction until I finally gave in and just attacked it with a straw. Burgers this year were a solid hit (Green Chile Cheeseburger) and a slight miss (Blue Burger... yes, there is such a thing as too much blue cheese on a burger). But any disappointment in the Blue Burger was offset by the nacho platter that almost overwhelmed our table. Granted, you have to get the fries at any place called French Fryz (and you won't be disappointed) but take my advice and start off with some nachos for your table. And maybe some new friends you make at a neighboring table! (2190 Hendersonville Rd, Skyland, NC 28776, 828-684-0416)
Smiley's BBQ at Fuel City
The drive home from Asheville to Baltimore is deceptively long. Sure, it's no longer than the drive to Asheville, but flying high on a mix of Wawa coffee, sunny skies and the anticipation of what awaits at ActionFest usually offsets any cramping or bleary-eyed feelings of fatigue. By about the mid-point of our return journey the sun has set and the mood in the car almost reaches a point of comic hysteria as even the lamest jokes and impressions become gut-bustingly funny. But the return home does have one high point we always look forward to: a stop at Fuel City for a sampling of Smiley's BBQ. It may not be the "best dang bbq" you'll ever have but I'll go out on a limb that it's the best food I've ever had from a gas station. (Sorry Wawa.) The only downside of stopping at Smiley's is the realization that we still have a good three or four hours left in the car, which usually stops me in my tracks from really going whole hog (no pun intended). So far I've had the pulled pork (last year), brisket (this year) and fried chicken (both years) and while it won't make me turn my back on the likes of Andy Neslon's or even my own ribs and pulled pork, it's admittedly pretty damn good. I really want to try the ribs and get more than one piece of chicken some year, but I fear I'll need to bring a cooler in order to accomplish that. (2489 Raphine Rd, Raphine, VA 24472, 540-377-2505)
I know that Asheville has more to offer than just these couple restaurants. I'm particularly interested in 12 Bones Smokehouse (but their nearest location is closed on the weekend) and a drive through town on Sunday morning resulted in finding a plethora of brunch spots and divey-looking ethnic joints (which usually means they're great). And the town has a rep as a brewing mecca, but for us to really explore more it may require us busting out of our comfort zone... and maybe bringing along The Beer Snob.
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