Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jack of the Wood

Usually when I am in Asheville, in the mountains of western North Carolina, the trees are dormant, the leaves have fallen and winter has the city and the forests around it, in it's grip. The tough part about having relatives living here is they expect you to visit at Christmas, when the weather sucks. "Oh," they say blithely," this snow and freezing weather is really unusual." But because they have said that every winter I have been here the excuse tends to look rather lame and one concludes winters in Asheville are for the tough. Summers, now that's a different thing altogether.The city is set on a series of hills, rather like Rome, and the streets dip and lurch violently up and down between brick buildings that soar over the countryside like skyscrapers, simply because they are perched on pointed pieces of land. The views up the narrow alleys between the buildings show off green humps of mountains that surround the city. There's a lot going on in this vibrant university town and my relatives love to be humans doing so we tend to be in a flurry of activity every time we come. Thus it was, when Jeffrey suggested trying Green Man Ales I suggested a visit to my nephew Jacob our first night. His eyes lit up, whether at the prospect of beer or an evening away from his two rambunctious infants I know not but we got going before the family calendar of events had a chance to sweep us up into the usually bee hive of planned activities. Thank you Jeffrey, it was a splendid idea.Mountain people in Asheville tend to be hip, the women in flimsy hippie dresses and the men with beards and suspenders. They even wear shorts in the summer but as a heatwave has been upon the Southeast this year we could all use a pair of shorts this year. It was around 85 degrees at dusk in this mountain town. Cheyenne guarded the car in the post office parking lot, where, unlike Key West, you do not get towed after hours. Very nice.The place was packed but the noise level was more of a hum than a yelling contest. People were soberly enjoying the beers and it was an entirely civilized place to sit at a rough hewn wooden table and drink as a social activity not as who can get drunkest contest. Also unlike Key West.While I was downloading these pictures four year old Aidan peered over my shoulder ("Look- don't touch!" was my frantic admonition. I am not good with children) "That's my Daddy!" he shouted gleefully Indeed there is Jacob enjoying beer and an evening away from the family, which is a treat because he is a good family man. Jacob's only ambition has been to raise a family in Asheville, his home town and he is doing so successfully so what you are looking at here is a happy man. Look long and hard, they aren't easy to come by.The myth of the Jack of the Woods or Green Mis hard to pin down as it grew out of an oral tradition in the England of the Dark Ages and seems to refer to a woodland deity depicted as you see above. It is some sort of pagan myth of rebirth and renewal and that sort of thing. But the good news is it is also used in England as a name for pubs, herewith adapted in Asheville, which prides itself on being a hub of the grow local eat local movement trying to sweep the more hip parts of America. So we listened to local music, a jam session in the far corner of the pub, while drinking local beer.India Pale Ale, a strong beer for strong men and at 9 dollars a pitcher not hard to like.The music was not intrusive, the atmosphere was inviting. We sat and drank and talked for what seemed like hours, probably because it was. "I need something to eat," Jacob said. I said we would order food he had never before tried because Jacob prefers the safe and familiar.I ordered a Scotch Egg and an side of parsnip fries. The fries were overdone and our waitress looked at them sniffed and said we deserved better. She went back to the kitchen and told them not to overcook them and brought us a second batch. This is a good place to come and hang out I think.Jacob wasn't sure about the fibrous sweet parsnips but he liked the Scotch Egg, a boiled egg encased in sausage meat, rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried. Typical English food of the 1960s made delicious by modern adaptation. Seen here served cut in half with a swirl of mustard on each half and some unexpected greens in the middle. The parsnips are the undistinguished dark mass to the right, the overcooked serving.
Eventually we got up, but Jacob wasn't finished so we set off in search of dessert. Along the way Bib accosted us. I had seen him earlier talking to woman on the sidewalk so i asked him how he did it, talked to babes like that. He looked nonplussed and launched into his joke telling which culminated in a request for money for food "I don't drink!" he assured us earnestly. Fool, I wanted to tell him, the beer at the pub is delicious. My wife found a five dollar bill for him. Just like Key West where the panhandlers unfortunately aren't so creative. Here's a fad we should bring to Key West, a nice quiet place to sit and eat and drink chocolate, beer and wine.The French Broad chocolate Lounge is one of Jacob's favorite places. "The pot de creme" he kept moaning in delirium as we stood at the back of a long line of chocoholics waiting our turn. The tiny truffles in myriad flavors are made on the premises and cost $2 a piece. A cup of thick hot chocolate to drink costs $3.25.Gimme chocolate! They begged, the addicts.Want chocolate? Buffalo Bill will be happy to know that bacon chocolate bars are for sale in dark and milk chocolate versions. At $8 each they had better be good. I went for the milk chocolate model. We had the pot de creme, finally, (it was good), chocolate creme brulee and a ghastly hot pepper brownie which burned my mouth intensely and completely such that I need more chocolate. It was serious. I had my fill.And still they were in line waiting patiently for more.
A hell of an evening, I'd say.We paid for our indulgence the next morning. Ever shared a soggy breakfast with a four year old?I have, now. An experience not to be missed. Where's my beer?