Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our favorite restaurants and a romantic country inn in Highlands, North Carolina

More often than not, we plan our trips around food and my birthday trip was no exception. Our favorite place for lunch in Highlands, NC is Wild Thyme Gourmet. When the weather permits, we enjoy dining outside on the patio.

However, their indoor sun room is cozy when the weather cools off. The Wild Thyme Gourmet is open year-around and offers lunch and dinner, a handy tip to know because many restaurants in the area close during the winter.

One of the reasons we like Wild Thyme is because their chef creates fabulous soups. Meakin chose the fresh tomato basil and I never pass up sampling black bean soup.

For our main course, we normally order their grilled wild salmon BLT sandwich with apple wood smoked bacon and herb mayonnaise, but this time we saw something new on the menu - a Panko fried shrimp sandwich accompanied by a slightly chilled and well seasoned wild rice salad. I would have never thought to put fried shrimp on a sandwich, but it was delicious and the shrimp remained crispy and moist. I love Panko shrimp and when I make it at home, instead of deep frying it, I shallow fry it in a little canola oil and it turns out perfectly every time.

For dinner we made reservations at Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro, which conveniently is right down Main Street from the Highlands Inn, where we’re spending the night. Wolfgang’s has been a fixture in Highlands for seventeen years.

Chef Wolfgang, as you probably guessed from his name, is German, so you might expect that Weiner Schnitzel and a Bavarian sampler of Bratwurst, Knockwurst, Kessler and a Schnitzel with red cabbage, sauerkraut and potato salad would be on his menu.  However you’ll be surprised to learn that he was also a former executive chef for the Brennan Family of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. So as they say in Louisiana, laissez les bon temps roulez - let the good times roll.

The last time we dined at Wolfgang’s was in the winter and Hungarian goulash soup was on the menu. Meakin asked our waitress to please tell the chef that his soup was delicious and just as good as the Hungarian goulash soup he’d enjoyed in a restaurant in Austria at the Zugspitze. When she returned to the table, he asked, “What did the chef say?” He had a great big smile she said. Apparently Chef Wolfgang was pleased with Meakin’s sense of humor and little tease about Bavaria.

My birthday is a special day for us. If you’re a regular reader you might remember that Meakin proposed to me on my birthday years ago at the romantic Mecom Fountains in Houston. We toasted the occasion with a glass of one of our favorite chardonnays, a buttery Sonoma Cutrer, in the wine bistro and reminisced about all of the fun times we’ve had. It’s most definitely been a good life. Wolfgang’s wine list is excellent and every year since 1999 the restaurant has been awarded the prestigious Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.

Because it was a special occasion we asked to be seated in a cozy corner of the main dining room. I was particularly impressed by their attention to detail. The waitress brought napkins and water glasses to the table right away, which you expect. But wait………my napkin was black. When Meakin asked why I got a black napkin and he got a white one, the waitress said, “The lady is wearing black and a white napkin might leave lint.” Furthermore I was also impressed when I picked up my water glass and found that the foot of the glass was fitted into the doily (not sitting on the doily, but in a slot in the doily), allowing it to protect your clothing from the annoying drips common to water glasses after they’ve sat on the table a few minutes.

I never pass up a chance to enjoy Creole cuisine and tonight was no exception. From Chef Wolfgang’s Signature Specialties menu I chose the Veal Medallions Wolfgang with a cabernet sauce topped with sautéed crawfish and béarnaise sauce. When I took my first bite, I was immediately transported to Louisiana and the French Quarter.

The veal was melt in your mouth tender, as I expected in a quality restaurant such as this, and the béarnaise was creamy and rich, with just a touch of tarragon as a background note. In my opinion, the quality of sauces a chef turns out of his kitchen tells you much about his training. A good sauce spells a good chef, one that has been classically trained in fine cooking. Chef Wolfgang didn’t let me down with his béarnaise sauce or his tender, properly cooked veal.

At home (when our waistlines can stand it), I make both homemade béarnaise and hollandaise sauce. Even if you are a beginner, they’re quick and easy to make if you use my blender method. There’s no excuse to buy the packaged stuff, so email me (samhoffer (at) gmail (dot) com) if you want my easy, foolproof recipe for béarnaise or hollandaise sauce.

Meakin took the more traditional route and ordered a well aged and marbled 12 ounce New York strip, cooked rare the way he likes it, and topped with béarnaise. For a starter he let me have a taste his shrimp and lobster bisque, which was some of the best bisque I’ve ever had. Chef Wolfgang came by our table and visited for a few minutes, which is also a sign of a top quality restaurant.

I know by now you must be saying to yourself, “Where are the pictures of the food?” Well, in all honesty, we’re a little shy about taking photos in restaurants. It’s like ringing cells phones and misbehaved kids. We don’t want anything to spoil the pleasure of dining.  Maybe someday we’ll get braver. We did manage to sneak a few food photos from Wild Thyme, but that was a much more casual setting.

On our departure Wolfgang’s gave me a small box of beautiful handmade chocolates for my birthday from Kilwin’s, whose store has been on Main Street for as long as I can remember.

We spent the night at the Highlands Inn, built in 1880 and is on the National Historic Register.

Lobby of Highlands Inn filled with beautiful antiques

Meakin chose one of their historic rooms, number twenty-two to be exact. He was told by the innkeeper that “everyone loves room twenty-two,” so who could resist?

It was filled with authentic antiques and lived up to its reputation as a very romantic room. Before dinner we relaxed on the balcony with our feet up, watching life go by on Main Street below.

These lovely flowers from Meakin were waiting for me in our room when we arrived.  As a surprise, he had asked the Inn to arrange for a local florist to send over this gorgeous bouquet. I had no idea how fragrant lilies were.

The next morning we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast downstairs in the Inn’s Kelsey Restaurant. The dining room has a comfy, at home feeling with mismatched, old arrow back chairs around the tables and more lovely antiques scattered about.

The breakfast was a typical hardy southern one, but today they were featuring rustic homemade biscuits (nothing out of the can here) with a rich cream gravy, French toast with pralines, and one of my favorites – Potatoes O’Brian. After all the rich food I indulged in last night, I filled my plate with fresh fruit, but I couldn’t resist just a tiny taste of the potatoes – delicious, with just the right amount of red bell peppers and onions.

This was a fabulous romantic trip that lived up to its expectations. The only downside is now that we’re home, we’ll have to go on a diet.


  1. What a fantastic celebration, and what a guy your husband is! Highlands Inn looks like such a lovely spot - I can understand why everyone loves room 22. I must say, I find that balcony quite fetching, too! Here's to a wonderful year ahead!

  2. Oh, wow! What a wonderful weekend get away. How nice of Meakin to take you there for your birthday celebration. Lovely and romantic!

  3. Food is absolutely the best thing to plan a trip around, isn't it? ;) Looks like this was a spectacular trip! The fresh tomato soup sounds like it's to die for.

  4. Wow - what a trip. Great area, great room, great food, great romance - what could possibly be better.

  5. Oh my, oh my!! I'd like to be invited to your next birthday shindig!! Thank you for this wonderful post.

  6. You two know how to celebrate. I am trying to remember if I ever met a chef1 I take photos in some restaurants - never if I feel it is intrusive. But the dishes sounded fablulous. Bisque, steak, salmon... I think you just sold out Room 122 for the year!

  7. What a birthday celebration! And what great-sounding food! May you have many more birthdays and many more trips to Highlands!

  8. Oh my goodness, that is my idea of the perfect birthday celebration!

  9. Sam, it sounds like you had the most wonderful birthday! The restaurants, food, inn and all of the special touches your husband provided were just perfect!

    I am hoping you are able to come to the blogger brunch! We have 7 confirmed so far....Penny from Lake Lure is one of the 7.

  10. First...Happy Birthday!! What a great post, I enjoyed it all, and I now what to Visit the Highlands Inn and Wild Thyme Gourmet!! It will be about a 5 1/2 hour drive, but I really want to visit soon. Thanks for all the great informtaion. What a great husband you have to make it all so special for you!

  11. Thanks for sharing a little more about such a beautiful part of the country, the Inn and surrounding restaurants look like a fantastic and relaxing weekend getaway;-)

  12. My, my, my, what a spectacular birthday celebration you had all around! From service to setting to that lovely, thoughtful husband of yours.

    P.S. I'm with you on both planning vacations around food and refraining from trying to photograph the food in many restaurants. I feel awkward and potentially intrusive to other diners, especially in high-end restaurants (which also tend to have low lighting, something my camera doesn't handle well). With certain venues, and certain dining companions, I may try to take a few shots. But there's no sense in distracting oneself from the experience of a great restaurant meal or great dining companions just for the sake of a few blog pics. Especially when a blogger such as yourself can describe the food and ambience in such compelling detail.

  13. Such wonderful restaurants, fabulous meals here perfect for the birthday celebration!

  14. I'm new to your blog and enjoying it very much! You're from Warren? I'm from Crossett, but now hubs and I are in Hot Springs most of the time. We did live in Atlanta for awhile back in the early 90's, but we never made it to Highlands. Wish we had...it looks most enjoyable. Thanks for sharing...oh, and Happy Belated to You!

  15. How lovely and romantic. We were married on my birthday, so we always celebrate in a special way also.

  16. Your husband, Meakin, sounds like a wonderful man who surely knows how to treat you like a princess! Sounds like your birthday weekend is always a special one since it was the day he proposed.

    I was really impressed with the attention to detail at Wolfgang's restaurant. Sounds like they are really thoughtful and considerate to their customers.

  17. Happy Birthday! What a beautiful and well thought out b'day celebration. The Highland hotel looks like just the place I would like to stay. Your restaurant meals look amazing too.

  18. Oh my, Sam, you have the most glamourous birhtday ever! Gosh, that place is super gorgeous. The room is so cozy. Wish I was there too. Btw, I have a little something for you. Please feel free to hop over to collect it. Thanks alot & enjoy your day
    Blessings, kristy

  19. Happy Belated Birthday, Sam! This is really a nice post, thanks so much for sharing your favorite place for lunch and also dinner. The Highlands Inn looks awesome place to stay, love the decor of the historic rooms.

  20. I enjoyed this post so much, I felt like I was there with you all! Happy Birthday and Anniversary. How romantic.

  21. Happy Birthday to you! Everything looks fabulous. I have to go to Highlands.

  22. Sam,

    What a wonderful celebration. Great food. Awesome photography as well.

    Wild salmon BLT does sound amazing.

  23. Oh Sam...what an absolutely fabulous way to plan and extend your young birthday celebration ;o)

    I was in North Carolina over 20 years ago...who knows if I'd make it back to ultimately enjoy this perfect day of yours? Great post.

    Have a fabulous week,

  24. Fabulous post! Love the name of that restaurant. Your photos are a real tribute. Everyting looks so tasty good; thank you for sharing.

  25. That is the kind of weekend that we like to plan also. Meakin outdid himself with the flowers. What a guy! I really enjoyed your post.

  26. Sam, thank you so much for your visit today! What a treat to meet you and look forward to meeting you in person in October. I am so excited about this brunch at Penny's! By the way, I also just started a cooking blog at http://cocinadiary.blogspot.com. I used to write about food in my other blog but it was taking over! :) Angie

  27. That's truly romantic Sam!Your are blessed to have such a wonderful life partner!
    Foods are delicious I love that fresh tomato basil soup and the prawn sandwich..... scrumptious!

  28. Hi Sam, thank you for coming by. We live 30 minutes from Highlands in Franklin, NC. Thank you for your kind comment.

    I love your restaurant reviews today. I have eaten in the Inn in Highlands. In fact I once posted a photo of it last March.

    Meeting you will be wonderful. I am really looking forward to Oct.16th.
    Hugs, Jeanne

  29. Happy belated birthday Sam! Your celebration weekend sounds perfect. The Highlands Inn looks so romantic, and the flowers Meakin had sent are so beautiful. Your special lunch at Wild Thyme and dinner at Wolfgangs' Restaurant look and sound exquisite!

    We recently visited the Sonoma and Napa Wine Valleys in California as part of our vacation, and are now enamored with both appelations.

  30. Sam,
    Thank you for the warm welcome back! It's good to BE back! I've missed it and everyone. Meakin sounds so romantic. I thought the flowers in your room were lovely.

  31. You are Meakin are so good together, I can't tell who spoils who more!

    I've been to Highlands but have never made a weekend of it. Sounds like I need to rectify that soon!

  32. Thanks for visiting. I am also looking forward to meeting you at the brunch at Penney's. I always enjoy meeting new friends. I'm thrilled that she posted our blog addresses, so we can "meet" each other online before the brunch. Love & blessings from NC!

  33. What a fabulous birthday trip, Sam! From that lovely historic inn to the marvelous restaurants!
    I so enjoyed seeing the photos of Wolfgang's restaurant. It's charming.
    The fresh tomato basil soup is tempting me too!

  34. Happy belated birthday, Sam,
    and happy anniversary to both of you!

    What a wonderful trip, full of great sights and good food!

    I remember fondly breaded shrimp po' boys at Louisiana Express restaurant in Bethesda, Md - delicious.

  35. Sam,
    What a fabulous place and happy belated birthday. I loved this posting. What a great way to celebrate this special day.

  36. Hello, I'm here from "My Little Space" the blog. What a beautiful blog you have. I feel as if I've traveled to these places having read your entrees. Lovely.



  37. I enjoyed you regaling about such a lovely birthday adventure. Ooh La La!

  38. Oh Sam, how beatuiful. We have to get out of the sandhills and up into the mountains one of these days. Glad you had such a wonderful birthday.
    Happy Belated Birthday.

  39. I'm new to your blog and I'm really enjoying it!
    Thanks for sharing!

  40. Sounds so romantic... You and Meakin seem to have a very rare kind of relationship.
    Robyn x

  41. I just never pass up food period, lol, be especially soup! Beautiful place...if it was not for Spain, I would have to say it was time hubby took me to a real getaway, not the camp grounds we just visited, lol, in spite of the asparagus omelet's and other good food I made.

  42. Wolfgang's Restaurant & Wine Bistro looks amazing. It quite an accomplishment to receive an award from Wine Spectator Magazine for so many consecutive years. Happy belated birthday Sam! This is a wonderful way to celebrate.


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