When you think of the state of North Carolina, there are generally a few cities and areas that come to mind. There is of course the Research Triangle, an industrial and tech hotspot ringed by Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Smack in the center of the state is the Piedmont Triad, consisting of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point. And of course the Charlotte area and surrounding suburbs.
But aside from all the man-made areas, NC also offers two of our most loved natural features: ocean, and mountains.
The coast, with over 300 miles of barrier islands and beautiful beaches, offers tons of vacation options and watersports galore. From the charming Knott’s Island to Ocean Isle Beach just minutes north of Myrtle, there is plenty of beach to explore and enjoy. Of the mountainous side of the state, where the state line tracks the Appalachian Mountains, the most well-known area is Asheville.
The crown of the NC cities along the Blue Ridge mountain range, Asheville and its surrounding towns have an unmistakable mountain town charm. Life has a slower pace, in a place where they believe “Life isn’t just about the climb. There’s also the view.”
Highways soon give way to steep, craggy, and winding roads, which eventually turn into gravel and dirt. Only the most adventurous or well-vehicularly-equipped travelers should attempt the back roads in weather or after dark. But the climb is worth the view. Thick lush trees surround you on each side, with more shades of green than you can count in a Crayola box.
On the way to Asheville, there is a small town called Black Mountain right on Highway 9. We happened to be on Highway 9, actively on the lookout for dinner. It was late and getting dark, and we were at a cabin not too far away. However, in these remote mountainous areas, food options are rather limited. When you can drive for over 20 miles and see no sign of civilization beyond some fences and an occasional driveway, you know you’re pretty remote.
So imagine our surprise and delight when we saw the sign for the Straightaway Cafe!
We did not know that had we continued on Route 9 for a few more miles we would have hit downtown, but we weren’t looking for chains like Taco Bell, Denny’s, or Subway. We wanted somewhere local and cute and dive-y. And that is exactly what we got!
For this review, let me remind you of the BE Review rules.
Food locations will be evaluated based on:
- Taste: 1 (wet toast) – 10 (your taste buds have died and gone to heaven)
- Atmosphere: 1 (gas station bathroom) – 10 (best you’ve ever experienced)
- Value: 1 (not worth it) – 10 (super duper deal)
All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.
After turning in at the sign, the first impression is admittedly not a great one. We both looked at the dilapidated, boarded up structures and were like “lord I hope that’s not where we eat!”. I don’t know why they wouldn’t demo these buildings after buying the land and putting up the nicer newer restaurant, but rest assured, this is not where the food is prepared!
Parking is ample, and all along a dirt & gravel road/lot. We got there around sunset, and there was a good-sized crowd.
The weather in May is quite mild, so the outdoor seating was prime real estate. Luckily we had several things going for us: there weren’t many people there, local or not, because it was a Sunday. We got there right around 7pm, the kitchen closes at 9pm. And there wasn’t live music until after dark, when several more tables full of people began showing up.
I totally loved this glass, and also really enjoyed drinking a beer from my old home state (Colorado’s Coors) out of a mug offering such a lovely tribute to my new home state.
Now, about the food…
Slammin Salmon Sandwich $12
I was a little leery about trying seafood in a mountain town, figuring it must certainly be frozen, but for some reason I was craving salmon. And a salmon sandwich for $12 was something I couldn’t pass up. Boy, am I glad I didn’t!
They were very generous with the fish, there had to have been at least 6 ounces of salmon on the bun! And it was cooked perfectly for me, just slightly charred on the outside with a sticky sweet sauce. It was flaky and tender and awesome. I didn’t love the tartar sauce, but then I don’t like most creamy dressing like sauces. The tomato and lettuce and onion added a nice touch though.
Fried Buffalo Chicken Wrap $10
Hubs got the Buffalo Chicken Wrap, as boys will do. At least they included some spinach in there, to make you feel like you ate some vegetables! The chicken definitely tasted like frozen store-bought chicken tenders, but man, can we talk about how awesome this buffalo sauce was?! It was awesome. I don’t know if it came from a bottle or not, and I don’t care, it was good.
Speaking of good, the fries were also pretty fantastic. They were the thick cut kind, where they are nice and soft and chewy on the inside. We both inhaled them, and then were sad when they were all gone. They were just slightly not salty enough for me, which means most normal humans would enjoy them or find them slightly too salty 🙂
Right after our food was delivered, a local guitarist hopped on stage for a set. The lights came on, the amp was turned up, and we all sat back to enjoy dinner and a show. He played some covers of classic rock and country songs, as well as a few originals. The music overall was not too loud to drown out normal conversation, and added to the laid back atmosphere.
Unfortunately we didn’t realize there was a whole giant field behind the stage as well! I took a walk after the first set, to use the bathroom and check out the inside of the place. There is a large field just behind the stage, where there were people sitting at picnic benches, tossing frisbees, kids on swings, and what seemed to be a volleyball court!
The inside was darkened for ‘mood lighting’ I assume, and there are two large rooms with an adjoining door and a bar in each one. The bartenders were chatting, as the inside was considerably emptier, and they all smiled and waved. They pointed out the restroom door before I could even ask where it was. The walls were covered in typical bar memorabilia of license plates, neon signs, jerseys, etc. Everything appeared clean and well maintained.
The waitress was adorable, and clearly a local girl paying her way through school or some such. She was very friendly and sweet, and gave us recommendations of things we could do in the area. Hiking seem to be a very popular attraction! Go figure.
We also started up a conversation with a few tables around us. One was a table of 3 older women who were all living in the area, one of them originally from Asheville. They all wore tie-dye clothing and seemed like a blast to hang out with. Another young couple near us was doing a cross-country road trip, and this was their 13th state in 2 months! They were planning to go to some organic farm in Utah to work for a few weeks next. It was quite the story.
Overall, I’d give the Straightaway Cafe:
- Taste: 8 – not a very extensive or creative menu, but all the food tasted quite fresh and was way better than going to bed hungry!
- Atmosphere: 9 – the view alone was worthwhile, and I’d be happy to sit there all day and night. The music was a bonus.
- Value: 7 – obviously, you need to already be in the area, otherwise this is a bit of a road trip for diner food. Most items were typically priced of restaurant fare, $8-13, and was more reasonable than comparable places we later dined at in Asheville proper.
All opinions are those of the Budget Epicurean.