In the picturesque North Carolina mountains sits a town from the pages of a story book: Banner Elk. Every business boasts cottage windows and rustic wood; industrial buildings are pleasantly absent from view. A mountain backdrop, and the friendly presence of locals, draw visitors from far and wide. Only five hours from Atlanta, it may become your favorite mountain escape.
Where to Dine
Banner Elk has the farm-to-table thing going on; dishes are trendy, but still hold to their roots. Dunn’s Deli is a simple diner offering hearty breakfast bowls with French toast, sausage, eggs and cheese. The Perry House on the hill above the deli also belongs to the Dunn’s, and breakfast is included in the stay.
Bayou Smokehouse’s Salad Evangeline represents Louisiana Cajun culture, while offering more contemporary ingredients like field greens, fried green tomatoes, smoked crackers, crawfish and shrimp accented with rémoulade. It’s modern, farm fresh and Cajun at its best.
Nicole Palazzo displays generations of culinary mastery at Chef’s Table, recently merging from sushi to an upscale farm-to-table menu. North Carolina trout with caper lemon butter and locally sourced root veggies for a refreshing beet salad with field greens, shaved onions, fried goat cheese and toasted pine nuts are great depictions of culinarily rich Banner Elk.Palazzo can be found cooking up Italian favorites during the day, at Sorrento’s Bistro. The family recipe crab cake with lobster cream sauce and veggies is mostly delicious chunks of crab, with the slightest bit of crunch and seasoning on the outer edges.
Stonewalls has been a staple in the community for years, but just revamped its classic menu. Prime rib is still the melt-in-your-mouth house special, and some of the best, most tender scallops you’ll ever taste are sometimes featured, with a berry-based sauce.
Banner Elk Cafe offers a versatile two-menu spread from wraps, salads and seafood, to amazing sides like the pasta salad. With its vast selection, families with picky eaters can find refuge here.
Booze with Views
Beech Mountain Resort’s Skybar is a short chair lift ride away, at 5506′ elevation. Craft beer can be enjoyed from the bar, which is inside a yurt with glass walls for a panoramic view of the Appalachian Mountains.
Mark Ralston began brewing beer in his Japan dormitory years ago, when his wallet was lighter. While he admits closet brewing didn’t create the ideal beer, he has completely mastered the craft at Flat Top Mountain Brewery. Come enjoy a Speckled Trout English Ale at the rustic bar while peering through a window at the brewing process.
With views of vineyards and rolling mountains, you can enjoy the unique cucumber, watermelon, jalapeño sangria before melting into the blueberry pie notes of sweet ice wine at Banner Elk Winery. Banner Elk Red wine is paired with local Trosley Farm chocolate for a harmonious contrast of earthy and sweet.
Fun Things to Do
Banner Elk’s strong arts allure has added a sense of timelessness; with the newest addition of professional theater group, Ensemble Stage at the Historical Banner Elk School, visitors can see a live spectacle. The groundwork for theater was laid by Lees-McRae, a college with a strong influence among the community. Lees-McRae Summer Theater puts on exciting musicals, like Legally Blonde, through the warmer months.
Apple Hill Farm opened to the public in 2006 and remains a Banner Elk favorite. It’s situated well off the beaten path, but worth the journey to see an array of animals such as donkeys, horses, chickens, and yes, adorable alpacas. Their store offers socks, yarn and other fun stuff woven from Apple Hill alpaca wool. “People just fall in love with alpacas,” says Lee Rankin, owner. Rankin works to make the experience educational while providing a deep connection to animals.
Banner Elk is built around nature, and the family can learn about native animals through the Dan and Dianne May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Each year, more than 1,500 animals such as birds, snakes, bobcats, and turtles are admitted for treatment, with the goal of eventually returning them to the wild. On occasion, an animal cannot readapt and will be given an ambassador position, in which they are a part of educational demonstrations. A Red-Tailed Hawk and several owls are among current ambassadors.
The third weekend in October is the 40th annual Woolly Worm Festival welcoming people from all over the Southeast. Or, head up Thanksgiving weeken to choose and cut your own Christmas tree. The first weekend in December is “A Small Town Christmas” with a parade, holiday-themed activities and a holiday themed play. Truly a happy holiday.