Arriving late to Hendersonville on a Saturday night, the limited options of open storefronts left us with one mission: find the perfect eatery and bar. After some online research, supplemented by searching around the downtown corridors, we stumbled upon West Wood Fired Grill, an apparent town favorite. The restaurant describes themselves as an establishment that “create(s) handcrafted food with a Mediterranean aesthetic, and feature whole-wheat thin crust pizzas, organic pastas, rustic salads and soups, desserts and breads” (West First Wood Fired Pizza). When we walked in, we were immediately transfixed by the scent of smoky pizzas, fresh vegetables, and a warm aesthetic. The dining room and bar area were bustling with business, so with a wait-time of 45 minutes, we decided to take a few minutes to explore the town and its surrounding shops.
After walking outside into the brisk cold of Foothills October, we stumbled into the nearest bar we could find to escape the weather. Little did we know that this would be one of our favorite spots along Highway 64. The Poe House sits around the corner from West First Wood Fired Pizza, with an inconspicuous basement entrance framed with crows and purple lights. The entrance opens into a warm, inviting room equipped with an acoustic guitar player, racks of wine hung clumsily on the wall, and a dim ambiance created by candlelight. The Poe House was a rustic alternative to the usual bar we had become accustomed to college towns. The bar describes themselves as “coming off somewhere between English Pub and trendy wine bar. The Poe House is a legendary hangout for locals and visitors alike. A cozy place to enjoy live music, a craft beer from our ever-changing draft list or a flight of hand selected wines.”
The drink menu incites a debate between ordering a classic IPA or going for something a bit more local to Hendersonville and the surrounding area. Surprisingly, the bartender recommended the best drink to be the “cookie dough beer.” This beer was brewed specially in North Carolina and had a cookie dough aftertaste due to a manipulated brewing process–inspired by the flavors of Ben & Jerry’s. While we enjoyed our drinks, taking photos and recording notes of the experience, another patron of the Poe House approached us to ask what we were doing. We explained to him the Highway 64 project, capturing culture along North Carolina’s most historically rich highway. He said in return, “What a fun class that must be; you all should cherish not being stuck in a classroom.” After enjoying our beers, a small appetizer of Apple Brie Crostini, and some good conversation with both Henderson locals and visitors alike, our buzzer for West First signified that it was time to move upstairs.
After being seated at West First, we ordered a caprese plate and three different craft pizzas–including unique toppings such as honey and goat cheese–to share. The restaurant was dimmed; everyone feeling as if they belonged to a similar jovial fellowship. “An imposing glass mosaic tiled oven stands like an altar at the center of a dynamic open kitchen where cooks rhythmically perform the culinary rites and pizzas are tossed, pastas are sautéed, and homemade desserts are carefully plated,” says the restaurant’s website. We learned that all of the grains for pasta and pizza are handmade in the early morning and served up until dinner time. The produce and cheeses are outsourced as locally as possible, giving business to the booming farms of local Hendersonville.
The rest of the night was filled with warm exchanges, delicious Italian food, and reflections upon our trip thus far. Getting a legitimate taste of downtown Hendersonville only encouraged us to take a deeper look at what the small, yet bustling town has to offer.