Tag Archives: Food

How I Ate My Way Through the Wilson County Fair

22 Aug

Wilson County, of which I am a citizen, is the home of the largest fair in Tennessee. Hundreds of thousands attend every year to see what the fair has to offer. It has something for everyone, which is too much to write about in one post. In fact, I don’t think I could fit the Wilson County Fair into several posts. It is truly an amazing event that would not be possible without the hundreds of volunteers who make it happen.Wilson County Fair

Over the past two nights, my wife and I went to the fair. On the first night, we watched the Fairest of the Fair pageant, which was sponsored by Beauty Boutique – my wife’s business. On the second night, we took her daughter to the midway. They were two different experiences, but one theme held throughout both nights. Food!

I can’t write about everything we saw at the fair. People. Animals. Rides. Contests. It’s a long list. Therefore, I am going to tell you how I ate my way through the Wilson County Fair. My wife was by my side, but I’ll leave her part out of it. If she wants you to know about her food experiences, then she can guest post at some point.

The first night started innocently enough. I had always heard about the great roasted corn. Hey, corn is healthy. I go up to the booth, and they pull out the biggest ear of corn that I have ever seen. The husks are pulled down to form a handle. Then, they stuck it in this big container of melted butter. It came out greasy, shining and completely delicious. Whoever came up with the idea of butter should go down in history as one of the all time greats.

The corn served as a good appetizer before going to the Rotary booth for a cheeseburger. Honestly, I was supposed to spend a night working in the Rotary booth, but I have missed a bunch of meetings. In other words, I missed the sign up sheet. It seemed like a good idea to make up for that by buying some food. Plus, Rotary has the best cheeseburgers at the fair.

While watching the beauty pageant, I got restless. Friends kept coming by, and I took those opportunities to get up and talk. Eventually, I needed to walk around. That’s when I headed to the general store to get a Coca Cola in one of those old-time bottles. Coke tastes a lot better from a glass bottle. I should mention that the general store sits in Fiddler’s Grove, a village that represents the history of our community. They play Bluegrass on the back porch.General Store

Back at the pageant, my wife said that she wanted to try a Three Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich. It suited me, so I went next door and got a couple. Honestly, it wasn’t the best grilled cheese that I have ever eaten.

After the pageant, it was dessert time. Luckily, Clayborn’s Bakery, a local establishment that has the second greatest donuts in the world, had a booth. In that booth were fried peach pies, one of my favorite desserts. Awesome does not come close to describing it.

Once that was over, I rolled to my car and mentally prepared myself for our impending return to the fair. However, I convinced myself that I was going to take it light. That meant making dinner out of a Walking Taco. This is where they cut a Frito bag in half and filled it with stuff. Fritos. Chili. Cheese. Lettuce. Salsa. Jalapenos. I reckon that’s it.

That one required some walking to work off what I had ingested. This meant checking out the model train display in Fiddler’s Grove. There was also a swing through the rabbit exhibit. Also, we looked at the photographs that had been entered into competition. Oh, I almost forgot the car giveaway.

With that much activity, nourishment was needed and was derived from the Red Velvet Funnel Cake. I am not a big fan of regular Red Velvet Cake, but putting it into a deep fryer improves it tremendously.

There are a lot more food options at the Wilson County Fair, but a fella can only take so much.

Boiled Custard, Dead Hogs and Black-Eyed Peas

3 Aug

Every Friday, a group of us guys has lunch together. Same restaurant. Same table. Usually, the same meals. Through the years, some people have taken to calling us the Mafia. We don’t get anything accomplished, but we think the world would be a better place if people listened to us.

One member of the group of full of old-time ideas about such things as the weather. For example, he says that if you hang a dead snake over a fence rail, then it will rain. It has rained a lot lately, so, today, I asked him if he had been killing snakes. His reply was that he hadn’t seen any snakes. Maybe, they knew it was about to rain, so they stayed out of his way.

Since lunch, I have been thinking about superstitions and traditions such as this. I have heard them all of my life, and they sound like something that you would find in the Farmer’s Almanac. I wonder if people in different parts of the country have different things like this. I mean, is the dead snake idea universal, or is it a southern thing?

There are a lot of southern things that have come down through the generations. Prominent in my family is the idea that you should eat black-eyed peas and hog jowl on New Year’s Day.Black Eyed Peas

If you do this, then you will have good luck for the rest of the year. When I was a kid, I hated the idea of eating black-eyed peas, but my dad insisted that we do it. Surprisingly, I liked the hog jowl. Overall, I suppose it works. As a family, we have had pretty good luck.

Another tradition is making boiled custard at Christmas. When I say boiled custard, I don’t mean egg nog. This is completely different, and it is completely good. I don’t know what’s in it, and I don’t know why people only make it at Christmas. In my mind, anything that good is worthy of year round consumption. Being a strange child, hearing people talk about boiled custard always made me think of George Custer.George Custer

There is another tradition that is dying out, and I want to experience it before it does. In these parts, people have always killed hogs on the day after Thanksgiving. In the old days, my grandfather had a hog-killing on his farm. Obviously, it involves a lot of blood, but it was necessary to have enough meat for the winter. Also, they needed the hog jowl to put in the black-eyed peas for good luck.Hog Killing

Few people still do it, but the family of one of the Mafia members continue the tradition. This year, I’m taking part. The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. I bet the hogs wish they were out shopping.

These are all traditions of the south. Are they also traditions in other places? What’s the old-timey way of doing things in your part of the world?

Those Are Not Cheese Sticks

17 Apr

Several years ago, some friends and I traveled to Chicago to watch our favorite team, the University of Tennessee, play football. They were playing Notre Dame, and it seems that weird things always happen with those two teams get together. This weekend was no different.

Two of my friends, Mayor and Rick, flew up earlier in the day, and I flew up later with Larry. The plan was for us to meet at the hotel. Larry and I landed; made our way to the hotel; and found out that Mayor and Rick had gone out on the town. We decided to go out and grab some food.

The hotel sat a block from Michigan Avenue, so we walked over to see what we could find. We walked pass a steak place, but that wasn’t really what we wanted. Some other places looked interesting but didn’t appeal to us. Finally, Larry looked across the street and saw an Italian restaurant. It looked a little fancy for the way we were dressed, but Italian sounded like a good choice.

The place was definitely fancy, and it was packed. It was hard to walk through the place, but we squeezed our way to the bar. I can’t remember how long we waited, but I remember that we had a long conversation with an older couple from Nebraska. I also remember that the lady was covered in diamonds.

By the time we got to the table, Larry and I were both starving. The waiter, who had an accent that I can’t type in, came over for our drink order. Before he could get away, Larry said that we wanted an appetizer, and the following exchange took place.

“Hey, bring us some of these cheese sticks.”

“Sir, those are not cheese sticks. They are mozzarella slices.”

“I don’t care what they are. Just bring us some.”

It wasn’t long before we got the mozzarella slices.Mozzarella

Then, we ordered our meals. I can’t remember what I got, but I distinctly remember that Larry got lasagna. I also remember that he only ate about half of it. I thought that was weird because I had never seen Larry leave anything on a plate.

“What’s wrong? Is it not any good?”

“It’s ok. I just don’t want anymore.”

That was pretty much it, and we made our way back to the room. By this time, Mayor and Rick had returned. They told us what they had been doing, and we told them about the snobby waiter, but we didn’t talk for long because we needed to get up early to make it to the game. Mayor and Rick slept on beds while Larry and I slept on rollouts. This means that we were packed in there.

At some point, I heard Larry get up and step over my bed. None of us stirred, but we woke up pretty quickly. Larry went to the bathroom, and strange noises started coming out of there. He was moaning and groaning. He was grunting. We didn’t know what was happening, but we knew it must have been bad. It sounded like he was dying. This went on and on and on.

We started to get worried, and Mayor said that somebody needed to check on him. The problem was that none of us wanted to go in there. We didn’t know what we were going to see. All along, Larry kept making sounds that made me think of The Exorcist.Exorcist

At some point, one of us mentioned that we should take him to the hospital.

We were worried. Larry was dying. This was a serious situation. Then, it happened. Through the grunts and the groans Larry yelled, “THE SON OF A BITCH POISONED ME!”

That was the end of the seriousness. Although Larry was still struggling, the rest of us could not stop laughing. At some point, Larry made it out of the bathroom. He survived but his clothes didn’t. I’m not sure what happened to them, but the hotel probably had to call in a hazardous waste crew.

The next day, Larry went to the game, but he was pale as a ghost. Tennessee won on Saturday, but the waiter won on Friday night.

Play It Pretty for Atlanta

16 Apr

This weekend, I did something that I never envisioned doing. I went to market, the industry name for a women’s clothing convention. My fiance, owner of Beauty Boutique, needed to attend because that’s what boutique owners do. I needed to go because, well, I just wanted to. Life is full of experiences, and this would probably be an interesting one.

Shockingly, we got a late start, but, once we hit the road, it was smooth sailing. Actually, there was one rough patch. When we crossed Monteagle Mountain, I serenaded her with the theme from Smokey and the Bandit. She laughed hysterically and wrote about it on Facebook. Did I mention that I hate Facebook?

My sentiments exactly.

My sentiments exactly.

We arrived in Atlanta, and, after some fancy driving on my part, we made it to the hotel. She immediately wanted to head to market to check in and browse before they closed for the day. I had no idea what to expect, but I felt like that I had walked into the cantina on Tatooine at closing time.

The girls all get prettier at closing time.

The girls all get prettier at closing time.

There was some strange-looking creatures hanging around, and they all looked worn out. That’s not totally correct because there were some fair looking creatures there, too. However, they looked just as tired.

We went back to the hotel and started wondering about dinner. We didn’t want to venture too far out, so I looked up the hotel restaurants. That’s when my eyes bugged out. The lower level of our hotel housed Trader Vic’s. I only knew two things about Trader Vic’s. It is a hangout for werewolves who like pina coladas, and I had to go there.

I didn’t see any werewolves. However, I felt like I had walked into a 1950s postcard from Hawaii. I don’t even have the words to explain this surreal experience. Imagine getting swallowed up in a song by The Ventures and being served an umbrella drink. That’s Trader Vic’s.

How can you go wrong with a menu with this cover?

How can you go wrong with a menu with this cover?

The next day, we got up bright and early for market, and it was a completely different experience. The cantina crowd was ready to go and buyers from stores throughout the nation were cramming the aisles between the booths. They had everything that a woman could possibly wear, and there was a thousand varieties of each item. Heck, there were ten stories filled with stuff. As a crowd watcher instead of a buyer, I started to figure out the difference between the serious buyers and the sightseers. I could also pick out the guys who were doing the exact same thing that I was.

However, that was just the appetizer for what I really wanted to see, the runway fashion show. I couldn’t wait to see a bunch of models strut their stuff on the catwalk. I wasn’t disappointed because they looked like I imagined. But, there was a problem. There was a woman in front of me wearing cat ears, and she was blocking my view. I promise that there is nothing worse than sitting behind a woman wearing cat ears at a fashion show.

After the show, we needed to eat. There wasn’t much around, so we ended up at The Hard Rock Cafe. The cheeseburger and 80s videos were great, but there was another form of entertainment. Atlanta’s version of The Amazing Race was going on. Some teams were taking it serious, and other teams were coming into the bar to get drunk. After this much activity, I needed a nap.

I slept most of the afternoon and woke up hungry. I didn’t want Trader Vic’s or a cheeseburger.  I wanted something good. Not knowing anything about Atlanta dining, we searched for Atlanta’s best restaurants and found Rathbun’s. I have written about Nashville’s booming food scene and know that we have some great restaurants. Rathbun’s would fit right in. The duck breast was awesome but not as good as the appetizer. If you ever go to Rathbun’s, then you have to get the Pan Fried Kefalotiri Cheese. It’s the most awesome thing ever.

Yesterday, we packed up to head home but not before going to Lenox Square Mall. I have heard of people going to Atlanta just to shop, and now I know why. It’s a cool mall. Wait, I went to Atlanta just to shop didn’t I? Weird. Anyway, we drove back to Tennessee and crossed Monteagle Mountain once again. This time I just hummed.

Expanding the Palate

10 Apr

In my last post, I mentioned an episode at F. Scott’s, a very nice restaurant in Nashville. This post goes into a little more detail.

For a couple of years, I dated Anna, a professional woman who considered herself an expert of fine cuisine. Now that I think about it, she considered herself a wine expert, as well. She always wanted us to dine at the best restaurants and always said that I should expand my palate. I am always up for a good meal, and my palate was already well expanded. I’ll eat anything that doesn’t involve mushrooms.

Anyway, she was no more of a food and wine expert than I was. In fact, I would classify her as a food snob, and there was nothing better than to watch her stumble over her perceived expertise. However, it was embarrassing at times. She once made the wine guy bring out ten tastings before she found one that paired well with her meal.

Another time, we were at a new restaurant, and Anna kept going on and on about the Charleston influence in dishes. She asked to meet the chef and asked him where he worked in Charleston. He said that he had never been to Charleston. He earned his chef’s hat in Los Angeles.

Speaking of Los Angeles, Anna used to live there and always talked about the wine collection that she left behind. One night, we went to a wine tasting and were seated with some other folks. I learned that the man next to me once owned one of Nashville’s most famous restaurants. During our conversation, he asked what I thought about the wines. I was honest when I said that I didn’t like wine and they all tasted the same to me.

Anna quickly stepped in and said that I was new to wine and had not developed the proper appreciation. Then, he asked her about her favorite. She started a monologue about how she used to live in L.A. and had a wine collection. He interrupted her and said, “I don’t give a damn where you lived. I only want to know which wine you like the best.” Apparently, he liked my answer better.

I write all of that to set up what happened at F. Scott’s.F Scott's

Anna had been wanting to go forever, and we finally got the opportunity. We were seated and the waiter arrived to take care of us. In the process, he described the evening’s special appetizer – sweetbread covered with honey.

Anna jumped right in and said we would order that. It suited me. I had no problem trying it and was sure that she knew what she was ordering. After all, she was a food expert. He brought a sweetbread for each of us, and we dug in. I thought it was good. Sure, it was a little chewy, but that was fine. The look on Anna’s face told me that she didn’t think it was so fine.

“Are you ok?”

“This isn’t what I thought it would be.”

“You mean that you don’t know what it is?”

“No, do you?”

“It’s pancreas or something. I figured you have had it before since you have dined all over the world.”

That’s when the hives began to appear. They started at her neck and spread from there. It was all I could do not to laugh.

“Mine’s good. Do you not like it?”

“I can’t eat this.”

With that, Anna spit out the pancreas into her napkin. That was pretty much the end of her meal. However, I was determined. I ate mine and the rest of hers. Then, I went on to the enjoy the rest of my meal.

It took forever for the hives to go away. On the way home, Anna kept talking about how I knew something about food that she didn’t. She really couldn’t believe it.

“How did you know what that was?”

“I heard Hannibal Lecter talk about eating sweetbreads in one of his movies.”Hannibal Lecter

Anna’s hives came back.

“Why didn’t you tell me what it was?”

“You’ve dined all over the world. I thought you knew. Besides, you need to expand your palate.”

Listeria – Nashville Eats

9 Apr

The latest issue of Nashville Lifestyles lists the 50 best restaurants in Nashville, and it is an impressive grouping. In the past couple of years, the city’s food scene has exploded.

This is the city - the Nashville city.

This is the city – the Nashville city.

People may think that this area is all about Cracker Barrel and collard greens, but some of the nation’s top chefs work their craft around here. I don’t consider myself a foodie, but I like food. That means that I have been to several on the list.

The magazine ranks the Top 10 and offers the next 40 in alphabetical order. For the purposes of this post, I will write a few sentences about my experiences at the Top 10 and give a three word synopsis for the rest.

2. The Catbird Seat – I wrote and entire post about my experience at The Catbird Seat, so I will just go ahead and link it. This is a place that everyone should experience at least once.

4. F. Scott’s Restaurant and Jazz Bar – An ex-girlfriend and I had an interesting experience at F. Scott’s. There was an appetizer that I liked, but she didn’t. It’s a story that needs a post all its own. I promise that it will be coming next.

5. City House – This is a great restaurant with an industrial atmosphere. I have been once and want to go back as soon as I can.

6. Capitol Grille – Located in the historic Hermitage Hotel, this restaurant is a classic dining experience. The food is great, and you are surrounded by history. When the Tennessee legislature approved the 19th Amendment, women got the right to vote. This is where the politicians met to work out that decision.

7. Margot Cafe & Bar – Great food. However, the best part is dessert that is served on dishes that belonged to the owner’s grandmother.

10. Kayne Prime – I am a fan of the M Street experience. Whiskey Kitchen is great. Virago is great. I am even a member of Citizen, the private club in the area. However, Kayne Prime is not my favorite steak place.

And now, the rest of the restaurants.

Eastland Cafe – my favorite one.

Firefly Grille – small but great.

Germantown Cafe – I’ve had better.

Loveless Cafe – overrated country food.

The Mad Platter – books for decor.

Merchants – duck fried tots.

Midtown Cafe – small but good.

The Palm – the steak place.

Park Cafe – just like Eastland.

Prime 108 – company ruined it.

Red Pony – cool little place.

Sunset Grill – Henley’s song better.

Tin Angel – fantastic Angel Wings.

Virago – best sushi place.

Watermark – not so good.

If you are ever in Nashville, then you should check out a few of these places. There are other great restaurants not on the list, so you can’t go wrong. Just stay away from the chains. Like all cities, Nashville has some great locally owned restaurants. As I said, I am not a foodie, but one of my co-workers is. For great reading about food, click on her blog at Nashville Fork. Be warned, it will make you hungry.

A Story About Steak and Vienna Sausages

31 Mar

Tonight, we celebrated my dad’s birthday, and we did it a little differently this time. The usual birthday celebrations of my family involve going to Gondola, a local Italian restaurant, and having homemade hot fudge cake. That’s a good way to celebrate, but it gets a little old at times. Maybe my dad felt the same way because he requested a change.

This time, we went to the Hermitage Steak House.Hermitage Steak House

It sits on the edges of Andrew Jackson’s property and is named after his home, the Hermitage. However, it did not always have this name. It opened as Rachel’s Kitchen, which was an homage to Mrs. Jackson. I don’t remember the Rachel years, but I vividly remember what came next.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to eat at The Peddler all of the time, and I was fascinated by it. They had crackers and butter on the table, which any kid can make a meal out of. They also had this awesome salad bar with the best Thousand Island dressing that has ever been made and sliced up Vienna sausages. I could eat them straight out of the can, so putting them on a salad bar completely made my dining experience.

Those were cool but not as cool as the guy who brought around the meat. When you ordered, this guy with a chef’s hat brought around  a rolling cart with slabs of beef. He would show you the different meats, and you could choose which slab you wanted your steak to be cut from. Once selected, he would start cutting right there at the table.

I can’t count the number of times that I ate at The Peddler. Heck, I even took a few dates there. I took a girl named Lynn to the Governor’s Inaugural Ball when we were in high school. Before going to the ball, we went to The Peddler. Later, I tried to impress a girl named Bethany by taking her there. As it turns out, she left an impression on me. When the waiter asked how she wanted her steak prepared, Bethany replied,

“Raw.”

“Rare?”

“No, raw. Place it on the grill. Flip it. Then, take it off.”

I sat there stunned as Bethany ate a raw steak. I never asked her out again.

Tonight’s experience was better than that one. My entire family was there with my girlfriend and her daughter. We talked and laughed and had a grand time. The Hermitage Steak House is still good, but some things just aren’t the same. There is not butter with the crackers. There are no sliced Vienna sausages on the salad bar. The guy doesn’t bring the meat around anymore.

We did go retro with our choice of birthday cake. It came from Clayborn’s Bakery, a locally owned place in my hometown. It started out with one name then took another one. It was closed but has recently reopened. I know that every town has a place with the best donuts, cookies and cakes in the world, but this one actually has all of those things.

However, that is another story for another day.