Sunday, March 16, 2014

Leaving Gluten Free Flat Lands for Higher Ground ~ North Carolina's High Country & the Blue Ridge Part I

We moved out of my familiar home town on Lake Norman to the mountains of NC almost 3 years ago. It had always been my desire to live in this incredibly beautiful place since I was a child. We would take family trips here every year, exploring some place deep in the Appalachians. For a time, my then, hippie parents, brought us here to attend Bluegrass festivals and ride trail bikes up fire trails that wind up the rocky mountain sides and then camp under the stars.

The New River curling between NC and VA

Later in my teens and twenties, my mother would always rent a cabin on some secluded property in the summer to escape the heat, and the family would all relax, read, play cards, ride horses, just enjoy nature. Only a couple of hours drive up the interstate and we would be thrust into slow motion and able to appreciate the pace for a few days.

We moved into a quaint little mountain cottage that sits just a few miles from the New River. You may not remember Bill Clinton and Al Gore naming the New River a national treasure, but they did. It is most famous for its draw to people who want to canoe, kayak or lazily float along on inner tubes. Full of biological diversity it is common to see wild turkey roaming in the pasture across from my house, a beaver jumping into a clear mountain creek running by the road, and some deer grazing on the tender grass at sunset. You might even get lucky and see a black bear like I did last spring, but that’s another mountain story I’ll save for a later date…back to the subject…

New River Falls

Namely, was I thinking about what a challenge it might be to step out of the safety net of the big city and raise my daughter gluten free? Although we all love our mountain home, rural living has a price tag named convenience. There are no quick jaunts to a store for some gluten free bread unless you think an hour drive is quick. There are no franchises like Outback, P.F. Chang’s, gracing strip malls around the corner.

Wild Woody’s is a Campground/Record Store/Ice Cream Store/and Local hangout. The owner told us she has been hit by lightning twice. Make note to not stand by her during a thunderstorm.

I know you are thinking, were you crazy? You chose to make it tougher on yourselves? Well, in a word, yes. Thirty-five mountain miles take a whole lot more time to travel than on flat land, so we have learned to cook more, eat out less, and plan ahead when shopping. But there are always times we get a bit adventurous and try to find options while out and about travelling around the mountains to hike in a national park, play Bluegrass at a festival, or just get out and explore.

My daughter playing mandolin at Fries Virginia Bluegrass festival

Laurel Springs NC 

Home of the New River, this unincorporated community lies in the most rural county in the state of NC – Only 20 people per sq. mile inhabit the beautiful pastoral community right off Blue Ridge Parkway right below the Virginia state line. There aren’t many restaurants here unless they are country cooking diners or BBQ. But where you look hard enough, you can find people who care because they are used to helping one another up here in the woods.

Motley’s BBQ

The only restaurant close to the New River State Park that really takes extreme care with GF. You’ll miss this tiny little house looking restaurant sitting on a knoll if you even blink your eyes though. It is as casual as casual gets with BBQ served up on Styrofoam plates. But that only adds to the Diner feel of a down home place.

Just like most BBQ, it is naturally gluten free, unless their sauce or contamination happen. We have never had an issue yet at Motley’s and eat there regularly. We simply stated no wheat and to be careful, and they are. Once you eat there a couple times, this family owned business will know who you are by face. And extremely affordable! pulled pork plates starting at $6.95!

Sparta NC

The Family Fun Center attached to River Rock Grill, Sparta NC

River Rock Grill
You might drive up by GPS and think it has taken you to the wrong place again unless you see the sign for River Rock Grill. Why? Because unless you know it is behind the Bowling Alley called The Family Fun Center, you might be confused.

It is the only restaurant in Sparta that will care enough to prepare what you want if possible. They specialize in burgers made with Grass Fed Beef from the local farmers. Bring your own GF bun and they will be sure your burger patty and fixings are safe. 

West Jefferson, NC

Tucked between sloping mountains in the heart of Ashe County, known for Christmas trees, pretty views, and rural life. Ashe County Cheese factory is here and gives a great tour. Christmas In July is a festival that is worth a trip to visit as well.

Hillbilly Grill ambiance with moose head, barn walls, and locals eating/The paper bag memorials

Hillbilly Grill

Didn't your mama ever tell you to start your day off with a good breakfast? This unlikely little restaurant is not only excellent on service, but character for miles! Be sure to note that you are supposed to draw a keepsake on your paper bag that wrapped your silverware so they can display it on the walls made from a local barn’s wood. Note: Be sure to ask them to cook home fries and bacon on grill rather than fried.

Orange Glazed Sesame Chicken, Osaka, West Jefferson NC

Osaka - (no web site)1400 Mount Jefferson Rd , West Jefferson, NC 28694

What a surprise to find a gluten free menu in a small town with 2 stoplights! A Japanese/Chinese mixture of items on the menu and tucked away between a Cato’s Fashion and Fed Ex in a strip mall. Their food was good and my daughter was delighted they had GF Egg Drop Soup and GF Fried Rice!

Boondock’s Brewing Tap Room & Restaurant – Fast casual restaurant in the quaint Christmas tree town at the foot of Mt Jefferson. Like all fast casual that makes it in rural areas here, the fare is predictable at first glance to the menu. No restaurants seem to be in Ashe County without serving either home cooking or pub fare. Chicken wings, burgers, and fried mozzarella are staples. But if you look at the entrees, you might find some surprising dishes.

There's also a little coffee shop tucked on the back street that sells some gluten free muffins made by a sweet lady I know. The name of it is West Jefferson Coffee House

Main Street better known as King St., Boone, NC

Boone NC

Three days a week, I drive around winding mountain roads into Boone, NC to work at a hair salon. Boone is like a smaller version of Asheville, NC. If you don’t know what Asheville is like, well, lots of very artsy, hipster kids with beards, long hair, and the occasional dreadlocks, lots of piercings, tattoos, and generally a progressive West Coast type mentality rather than the average conservative mountain towns. Appalachian State University is the main inhabitant making the town very diversified. When I want to treat my kid to some good gluten free food, we sometimes ride into Boone and visit some of their best options.

In the morning, you can go to Boone Bagelry and get gluten free omelets, home fried potatoes and gluten free bagels. Feel like eating in your pajamas? Have them deliver it!

On Left: Greek Omelet with black olives, tomato, onion, and feta cheese On Right: Omelet with Spinach, onion, goat cheese and mushrooms - Both with home fries and GF everything bagels from Boone Bagelry

Or, you can feast on some great vegan gluten free breakfast , lunch, & dinner options from Hob Knob Café. You can’t miss the building, it is designed like a barn. Their mission to serve local and organic on top of it all makes their restaurant have that granola-crunchy feel that I love about Boone. They access their own farm and local farms for supplies.

Vegan & Gluten Free Hob Knob

F.A.R.M. Café is located on King Street, the Main Street of Boone. They get my favorite vote because they are one of a hand full of restaurants nationally that put their money back into the community. F.A.R.M. stands for “Feed All Regardless of Means”

F.A.R.M. Cafe is a non-profit, pay-what-you-can community kitchen that builds a healthy and inclusive community. They provide high quality and delicious meals produced from local sources when available, served in a restaurant where everybody eats, regardless of means. With a 90% volunteer staff, anyone can work an hour in the cafe in exchange for a meal. In addition to their volunteers, they have "pay-it-forward" patrons who pay more than the suggested donation for their meal, which helps cover the cost of those who cannot pay at all.

Fish Tacos at F.A.R.M. Café

They state they are “proud to be a part of the One World Everybody Eats Movement. This movement includes more than 30 community cafes around the country and persists through the efforts of numerous individuals, businesses, and communities.

How could anyone be surprised that they would care to offer options every day that are gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc.? You walk into the historic old soda shop turned into their diner and a board greets you with the day’s selections.
Below is a sample of their menu:

Five Spice Carrot Soup (Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegan)
Moroccan Spiced Chicken
Basmati Rice with Lentils (Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegan)
Roasted Potatoes and Mixed Vegetables (Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegan)
Mixed Green Salad (Vegan, Gluten Free, Dairy Free)
Chef’s Select Dessert

Taco Deluxe with Tilapia Coyote Kitchen

Coyote Kitchen – Self-described as Southwest Caribbean Soul Food, this tiny little place has some great options for gluten and allergy free, or they can accommodate special requests. Their soup of the day was a Creamy tomato soup, and GF?!? With a grilled cheese?!? Oh, yes please!


Filet at Joy Bistro

Joy Bistro

Now this menu alone makes my mouth water! Organic, gourmet, seasonal, and farm to table?! I have died and gone to foodie heaven wrapped in Steampunk ambiance. Fine Dining options that are definitely worthy of a date night or special occasion

Come Back Shack – Nutella Shake!?! Do I even care what else is on the menu?

Cobo Filet Brunch plate

Cobo Sushi Bar – Any sushi place that has nothing but Caucasian sushi chefs behind the bar makes it seem strange. No racial undertones here, but it feels like a college hang out pretending to be a sushi bar. My coworkers love it, but I wasn’t as impressed. Their GF selection is really slim which is disappointing and hard to understand when they should have more options in sushi, which is SO easy to make gluten free!

Casa Rustica

Casa Rustica Italian American is their claim and their menu is filled with tantalizing options that are either gluten free already or can be done so easily. The atmosphere is rustic in feel with beadboard walls stained dark and a cozy fireplace to warm you on a chilly evening. Granted, this is on the higher end price wise. But, gluten free pasta is available for all dishes – That’s Amore!

The food truly is amazing ~ Casa Rustica

Burger & Homemade Chips at Pepper’s

Pepper's Family style restaurant in a shopping center doesn’t sound all that stellar right? Well, what if I told you that all their burger meat is local grass fed? And what if I said they have Gluten free buns and bread for their sandwiches/burgers? Their fries are gluten free, and their Reuben is the BOMB! I have your interest piqued and your taste buds quivering now, I am sure.

Char – The first thing you may notice as you step up the stairs into what looks like the back of a main street store, is a sticker on the door that says Gluten Free certified. I was really glad to see that little sticker staring back at me in the glass door, but it did not clarify which program they used to train. Either way, they were very knowledgeable and at ease serving me.

The food is a tad overpriced, but was decent. I decided on the Black and Bleu $12 Romaine & spinach topped with blackened flat iron steak rare, red onions, granny smith apples & candied pecans. It was grilled perfectly rare, so my craving was sated.

That concludes Part 1 of our adventure. Stay tuned because I have plenty more High Country to explore like Blowing Rock and the ski slope areas. Until then, take care and y'all come back now, ya hear! ~ Nikki