I was excited that my write-up this month for Capital at Play took me even further into the mountains of Western North Carolina, to Blowing Rock, a small town known as “The Crown of the Blue Ridge.” I had never been to Blowing Rock, about two hours northeast of Asheville, and the drive was simply breathtaking, so I knew I was going to be in for a treat.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he town may be quite small, but it is bursting with character, and I was lucky enough to be heading to The Best Cellar restaurant at The Inn at Ragged Gardens. Upon entering the Inn it felt like I was transported back into a English country pub with its dark paneling on the walls and comfy arm chairs. I instantly felt at home.
One of the most charming aspects of The Best Cellar are the different pockets sprinkled throughout the restaurant, each with their own atmosphere to suit your mood. It was cold outside the night I dined there, so I chose a cozy spot in the Wood Room next to a fire. The combination of the roaring fireplace with the hearty comforting delicious food was perfection. But if the Wood Room doesn’t strike your fancy, you might want to try the Wine Cellar Cave, which is intimate and secluded, the Garden room, which looks out into the garden, or the gorgeous Wine Cellar itself, which happens to be the perfect setting for a private dinner party, wedding, or rehearsal dinner.
I was blown away by the service at the Best Cellar. Not only was our waitress sweet and friendly, but also her attention to detail and knowledge of the menu was key in helping me choose which dishes to try, as everything on the menu looked superb, making it a tough decision. Per her recommendation, I had the pleasure of starting with the Fried Oyster Spinach Salad, which was served with an exquisite hot bacon dressing. It was a great way to start the meal. For an entrée I had the North Carolina Mountain Trout topped with jumbo shrimp and a creole sauce bursting with flavor, the recipe for which has been gladly given to the readers of Capital at Play. Josh Emerline, the head chef, can be thanked for the heart warming dishes that come out of the kitchen. He was trained by the former Best Cellar Chef and has been working in the kitchens here for 13 years.
The cuisine at The Best Cellar can be described as upscale mountain casual, but that description hardly does it justice. It really is so much more. The combination of the warming, welcoming atmosphere complemented by the comforting delicious food makes for a perfect place to dine in the picturesque town of Blowing Rock.
But even though it may look like something out of a fairytale, The Best Cellar has had its fair share of difficulties getting to where it is today. Both The Inn and the restaurant are owned by Rob Dyer and Lisa Stripling, but the location of The Best Cellar has only been at The Inn at Ragged Gardens since 2006. Its previous location was a charming turn of the century building which Rob told me was oozing with eclectic character, but tragically, it burnt to the ground. After realizing that they would never be able to recreate the ambiance of that building, they decided to move The Best Cellar to The Inn. Having never been to the previous location I can’t compare the old to the new; however, with a fresh pair of eyes I can comment on the beautiful setting in which The Best Cellar now sits.
I cannot wait to return, especially during the summer when they have music on the lawn on Friday nights, which has been known to attract crowds of up to 500 people. But for now, here we are still in the midst of winter, and I can’t think of a better place to spend a snowy evening than huddled around a warm fireplace at a cozy inn eating some of the most delicious comfort food this area has to offer.
The Best Cellar is open for dinner seven days a week May through November, and Thursday through Monday during the winter season.
click here for the recipe for Best Cellar’s Trout with Creole Sauce