Even after 100 years of mountain solitude, Balsam Mountain Inn, opened in 1908, remains as tranquil as it is painted white. According to one guest when I visited last fall, the leaves beginning their magic show on the hills, "I just sort of fell in love with the rocking chairs on the porch." Couldn’t agree more. An added, and often overlooked, bonus to the driveway-wide porch? The restaurant there is fit for a Carolina king.
I only ate on one evening, but the kitchen smelled so divine, I ordered two entrees. I’m serious. I was not ashamed; I was starving. (Well, I am sort of ashamed.)
As the sun set on my patio table, aromas floated around me. Apple-honey barbecue slow-cooked over open fire; local trout seared in a pan with white wine; and white cheese macaroni baked in the oven. None of this I saw, but, with my stomach grumbling, I imagined the whole deal like a kid on Christmas Eve.
Eating alone is something we should talk about. Often, when the subject of my job comes up in conversation, this topic arises. Is it weird? Do you get lonesome? Do people look at you across the room with eyes that say, Poor guy? These are the questions. My answer. Yes. Yes. No. Weird? Yes it is weird. Lonesome? Sure, especially when people are loving life and friendship and the day’s news two steps away. The looks? I try not to make eye contact. But back to the weird. Don’t let anyone say otherwise. Eating in a restaurant, whether it is a place jamming jazz music and full of well-dressed folk, or it’s a candlelit bistro perfect for a quiet supper — the place is not meant to be shared with an imaginary friend. These are social venues. I know a guy who eats alone a lot. He owns a bar in my town, a real divey joint, late night hang for late night people. And he eats out before the 11 PM shift starts. Brings whatever thick paperback has hit attention and enjoys a steak or whatever. But, you never catch him without reading material. The book is his diversion from the weird thing that is eating alone. My advice: Eat at the bar. It changes EVERYTHING. Eating alone at the bar is cool. I do it more than 78% of the time. You might even be sitting next to me.
Back to the Balsam. They don’t have a bar. So I sat outside on a stone patio enjoying the fading outline of the firs atop the mountains that rose over that ways. It was a gorgeous scene. Worth a picture. Except I was alone. So, I figured what the hoo — I am ordering the pecan-crusted trout and the filet. Yep. Why not. And you know what? It felt better than a single meal alone. Two meals alone is fishy, mysterious, and like a slight-of-hand. The waitress was so weirded-out that I bought both entrees, I think she forgot that I was sitting all alone.
Balsam Mountain Inn
Rates begin at $145 per night.
P.S. The guy I quoted from the porch was one of Nixon’s Secret Service guys. Stood outside the Oval for several years. Told me some pretty wild stories about the former Chief.