Friday, August 21, 2009

It's festival time in Middle Tennessee!

Fall has always been my favorite time of year, for many reasons. Tennessee's famous humid summers come to a merciful end (that's the most important reason). There're inevitable pennant races, and the World Series. Pucks start droppin' on the ice. And not a weekend goes by when there's not some kinda food-related festival taking place. Here's what I'm looking forward to ...

[Note: Before anyone gets pissy about how late-August and Labor Day events don't take place in the "fall," just know that said events, to me, are subtle reminders that fall-weather happenings, i.e, leaves falling, frost on punkins, etc., are just around the corner.]

First Annual Music City BBQ Festival (August 28-29) -- It's "first annual," so all I can do at this point is steer you to the Web site. Here 'tis.

Donelson Senior Center Barbeque, Arts & Entertainment Festival (September 4-7) -- The Donelson Senior Center's Labor Day barbeque fest always promises some damn good smoked pork (though their sauce could use some work), lots of crafts (including an incredible selection of used books), and a great silent auction, featuring everything from gift certificates to local restaurants and Titans/Predators signed memorabilia. Click here for more info.

Greek Food Festival at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church (September 11-13) -- Back in '07, I said this: I not only make an annual pilgrimage to the Greek Festival for the food (which includes world-class roast lamb, baked chicken, mousaka, and diples), I go to pick up several packages of Greek macaroni -- which I've never been able to find in any Nashville market -- for for making pastitsio. And that's why I'll be there this year.

Nashville Oktoberfest in Historic Germantown (October 10) -- Since 1998, I've missed one Oktoberfest ... and that's because I was recovering from surgery. I have many great stories about past Oktoberfests, such as:

In 2000, I bought a dozen '98 and and a dozen '99 commemorative glass beer mugs for a buck a piece, a few of which I gave away as quirky gifts, and most of which I still use for beer-drinkin' purposes when entertaining friends. In 2005, a feller with whom I struck up a conversation at the Sulphur Dell booth said he'd give me some old Nashville Vols scorecards if I sent him a self-addressed envelope. I did, and, more importantly, he did.

With that said, lemme tell you what I really like about Oktoberfest: It's the one time a feller can walk on a public street in Nashville and legally drink a BIG glass of beer; the big-ass pans of 'kraut on the several condiment tables contain world-class 'kraut (a cheap 'kraut-lovin' SOB could go to Oktoberfest with a bowl and fork from home and stuff himself silly, for free); and one can tour, for free, two of Nashville's most beautiful old churches, Assumption Catholic Church and Monroe Street United Methodist Church. Make plans to attend.

Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbeque Competition (October 24) -- Practically all of ma famille hails from villages and hamlets not far from the spring from which Mr. Daniel drew water to make his famous whiskey. I've always had a family-pride attachment to the Jack Daniel's BBQ fest; however, the quality of the food served there -- all KINDS of slow-smoked meat (pork shoulders, pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken), smoked corn, bacon-infused vegetables, and homemade ice cream -- is the true reason I keep going back year after year.

Just so you know ...

In 2001, some friends and I were seen eatin' 'que in "downtown" Lynchburg during an episode of Rick Browne's "Doctor of BBQ" program on PBS.

To learn more 'bout the bbq festival that name-checks one Jack Daniel, click here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One dobry pickle soup!

I recently went up to New Britain, Connecticut on b'iness. I didn't know it until I got there, but New Britain is home to more folks of Polish extraction than any other ville in the Nutmeg State.

I dined in two Polish restaurants whilst visitin' New Britain, Connecticut. Reviews are forthcoming. In the meantime, please know this:

For the first time in my life, I consumed pickle soup during my time in CT. I wasn't expecting much prior to eating it; indeed, I envisioned pickle soup as nothing more than sliced pickles in a vinegar "broth." Well ...

The pickle soup I ate was so freakin' good, my "This is so freakin' good!" reaction(s) caused another member of my dining party to order a bowl, and she was equally impressed. (And she knows who she is!)

Last night, I endeavored to recreate the incredible bowl of pickle soup I consumed up in the Land o' Joe Lieberman. I used a recipe from a cookbook -- Polish Cookery: The Universal Cookbook -- I just got on eBay. Here's how I did it (forwarded recipe courtesy of ...

The simplest [pickle soup recipe], from an old cookbook ... Polish Cookery by Marja Ochorowicz-Monatowa (Crown Publishers, 1958), calls for 3-4 dill pickles (depending on size), peeled and thinly sliced, to be cooked in 2 tablespoons butter and 1 cup light meat stock ... until transparent and completely tender (about 30 minutes).

Thoroughly blend 1 tablespoon flour with ¾ cup sour cream; add to pickle mixture, along with 5 more cups of stock. (The recipe does not say anything about heating the soup further, but I would say it should be simmered for a few minutes to combine everything and heat it through. Don't let it boil after adding the sour cream or it will curdle.) Season sparingly-the author advises that salt accentuates the sour taste, but notes that you should add a little pickling liquid or a few drops of lemon juice if the soup is not tart enough. Serves 6 to 7.

Here's a pic o' my pickles simmering in butter and stock ...

Here's a pic of my finished product (seasoned with some parsley flakes) ...

My pickle soup was pretty darn good, but it wasn't knee-bucklingly good like the pickle soup I had up in CT. Next time I make it, I'm going to cut out one cup of stock and add one cup of heavy cream. And I'm going to stand over the soup, ladling pickle juice into it to make sure it maintains a perfect creamy balance. So there.

Oh, just so you know ... more Connecticut "stuff" is coming ... stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Just so you know ...

If'n you'd like a free "fish" meal on your birthday, get you over to Captain D's D's Club Web site and sign up here.

The free meal you'll get is a "platter" of your choice. That's like a $7 value.

Are you still reading or've you signed up ...?!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Well, I'll be ...

The September 2009 Bon Appétit features a recipe for prosciutto-wrapped chicken breasts with eggplant panzanella and raisin-pine nut vinaigrette. Here 'tis.

Back in 2001, maybe 2002, I came up with my own recipe callin' for prosciutto-wrapped chicken; and until I got my BA magazine yesterday, I was laboring under the impression that I'd come up with something original. Well ... at least mine didn't have no foo-foo stuff like raisins or pine nuts in it.

Joltin' Django's Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Breasts


4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1/2-inch thick)
8 slices premium prosciutto
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste


Wrap each chicken breast, side-to-side, with 2 slices of prosciutto (making sure that as little chicken as possible is not covered with prosciutto) and fasten with toothpicks. Set aside.

Heat oil and butter over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add prosciutto-wrapped chicken and cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove.

Lower heat to medium-low. Add shallots and garlic. Stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken breasts, wine, stock, and cream to skillet; stir liquid and ladle over meat.

Cover skillet and allow chicken to cook through, 10-12 minutes. Throw in basil, salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fe, fi, fo, phở (deux)

I'm continuing my quest to see if I can find a bowl of phở that's better than King Market's phở. Next up, Thai Star Restaurant ...

A friend recently told me about a liquor store on East Thompson Lane that has a phenomenal wine selection. His only directions were, "It's in the Kroger strip mall." I went looking for that strip mall today, and I was hoping to find a new wine shop to add to my list o' favorites. What I found instead was an eatin' spot which I've now added to my list o' favorite Asian restaurants.

At first glance, Thai Star looks like the myriad "Chinese" restaurants that seem to be on every corner in Nashville -- all of which serve the same dozen dishes slathered in the same dozen sauces. However, I did a rather quick double-take when I saw the large "PHO Noodle Soup" sign in the window. Thank God no one was tailgating me because I immediately hit the brakes and pulled into a parking spot nearby.

Before I get to the phở, two things bear mentioning. First, Thai Star serves complimentary egg rolls -- fresh-made egg rolls -- with each dine-in order. Second, Thai Star has certain aesthetic qualities which should no doubt appeal to men who gotta eat ... and I'll leave it at that (you can e-mail me if you need further details).

Thai Star features two kinds o' phở: beef (with thin slices of sirloin and beef meatballs) and seafood (with shrimp and scallops). I was in a beefy mood, so I ordered accordingly.

First thing I noticed about Thai Star's phở was the fact that it was loaded with lots of thin slices of beef, which you can see in this pic:

[click pic for a mouthwateringly close-up view]

There were so many slivers of beef in that bowl, I was still finding them after I'd determined that I'd my fill o' phở, thus necessitating my having to ask for a take-home container.

Thai Star's broth had a subtle heat to it, which I, of course, loved. It was loaded with white and green onions, cilantro, noodles and ... celery. I do not recall ever eating phở that had celery in it. Now don't get me wrong, I love celery. I'm just not sure I want it in my phở (it adds an unecessary, er, unneeded, crunch, if you know what I mean).

My only real beef - no pun intended - with Thai Star's phở was the fact that it contained no basil. Not only that, the garnish plate was also basil-free. I asked my server for some fresh basil and, well, let's just say that the look I got ... I might as well've asked for some borscht. I wanted to say, "Phở's supposed to have basil in it, you know!" But I was enjoying that phở too much to make a big deal over a culinary trivial triviality (apologies to B. Fife and Mr. Jimmy).

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 representing King Market's phở, Thai Star gets a solid 8.5. If they ditch the celery and get some basil, they'll be knocking on the King Market's door ... knocking but not entering.

Thai Star Restaurant
63 East Thompson Lane
Nashville, TN 37211

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gimme that pepper ... a green pepper

I love green peppers, thin-sliced on a meaty salad, or as a thick-sliced garnish alongside a rice or pasta dish.

I was unaware that anyone liked green peppers like I do ... until now:

"[T]he vegetable has its defenders, who say that the green pepper family is tasty, diverse and versatile."

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Take note ...

A Man't Gotta Eat has a new e-mail address:

What did the old phone company message say when a number changed? Something like ... please make a note.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You gotta love Stubb's!

I've been a big fan of Stubb's-brand bbq sauce for a long, long time. Until tonight, I'd never tried any Stubb's Moppin' Sauce. Boy howdy, I'm glad I did.

If you know anything about slow-smokin' pork meat, you know that it's a good idea to slather said meat with a moppin' sauce during the cooking process.

Tonight, I put me a pork loin on my grill, over indirect heat, and I basted it every 20 minutes with some Stubb's moppin' sauce.

Stubb's moppin' sauce is not only heavy on vinegar and heavy on pepper (which I really like), it has just enough tomato "stuff" in it to make it cling to meat like a dryer sheet clings to the last sock in a load o' laundry. It gave my pork meat a Southern "zing" that I couldn't have put on it if'n I'd been trying my hand at developing a moppin' sauce for the last two years.

NOTE: What you see in the pic above is a portion of my patented mashed red potatoes with garlic. Stay tuned for the recipe.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Way down yonder in the paw-paw patch ...

According to, a "pawpaw" is an "exotic" Southern fruit that virtually no one knows nothing about ...

Proponents of what could be the next big thing in Southern fruit say equating mainstays of the American lunchbox with their product is like comparing apples to pawpaws.

Unlike apple trees, pawpaw trees can be easily grown without chemical spraying and produce an enormously flavorful fruit. "It's a fantastic fruit," raves Ron Powell, executive director of the Ohio Pawpaw Growers Association, who says the pawpaw beats the apple in every nutritional category but fiber.

The pawpaw -- whose distinctively custardy insides have earned it the nicknames "West Virginia banana," "Kentucky banana" and "Missouri banana" – is an indigenous plant, most likely spread throughout the continent by Native Americans. Its tropical flavor makes the fruit a good fit for jams, breads, pies and wine.

"The beverage industry is interested," says Powell, who successfully lobbied the state of Ohio to honor the pawpaw as its official native fruit. He adds, "It has great potential for ice cream."

But unlike apples, pawpaws remain relatively unknown.

Unknown?! When I was a kid, I not only scooped up dozens and dozens o' pawpaws to be cooked in my Granny's kitchen, I hurled at least as many of 'em at a barn door whilst pretending I was throwing fastballs, Roger Clemens-style.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Re: Kronenbourg 1664

I was in high school when I first journeyed to France. My fellow travellers and I were kept on a pretty tight leash during that trip (I graduated from a private school affiliated with a very conservative Christian denomination, which claims that it's not actually a denomination), and we never really had a good time, if you know what I mean.

Second time I went to France was exactly three years after my first visit to France. I was in college, you see, and I was delighted that I didn't have to answer to a bunch of killjoy chaperones. Furthermore, my French -- pardonnez, mon français) -- had improved so much that I could really enjoy myself ... and I do mean really enjoy myself.

I was barely 20-years-old when I had my first Kronenbourg. I was in a country restaurant in Marseille, and I ordered a beer never thinking that my young-lookin' ass would ever get one. I got that beer (green bottle with "Kronenbourg 1664" right there on the label), and it was the finest-tasting beer I'd ever had.

Fast forward a few years ...

Just like Tom T. Hall, I like beer. It makes me a jolly good fellow. I've sampled many, many beers since my second, and last, trip to France, and I have a set-in-stone list of favorites. Now, it wasn't too long ago when I discovered that my local Publix stocks Kronenbourg beer. I've tried it a few times since and, well, it ain't one of my set-in-stone favorites.

Now, don't get me wrong ... Kronenbourg is a tasty beer. It's better'n Budweiser, and it's better'n Miller, and it's better'n Coors. It is, however, a pretty thin-tasting beer by Sam Smith/Trappist-style ale standards. And maybe that explains why I my perception of it now doesn't quite match what I thought of it when I was in the South of France.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

J'adore les écrevisses

One of my fondest travellin' memories took place back in 1999 in the city of New Orleans ...

It was the night before I was scheduled to leave town, and I was just dying to stuff myself with some good boiled crawfish. I also wanted to find a place in which I could watch Game Three of the American League Championship Series. After strollin' through the French Quarter for an hour lookin' for the perfect spot in which to eat crawfish and cheer for my beloved Red Sox, I settled on the French Market Restaurant & Bar.

The French Market Restaurant & Bar didn't look like much of a place, but it had three things going for it when I sat down to order: $2 draft Abitas, a $15crawfish "buffet"; and a half-dozen patrons clad in Red Sox regalia. "This is it!" ... that's exactly what I said to myself when I decided that the French Market Restaurant was, well, it.

To make a long story short, the Red Sox won the game I was dying to see -- which proved to be the last game the Red Sox won in 1999; I drank enough draft Abitas to get me a "free" French Market Restaurant & Bar pint glass; and I ate so much boiled crawfish my fingers were still stinkin', from all the peelin' and eatin', when I was flying home (with that pint glass resting in my lap, wrapped in several layers of newspaper).

For the longest time, I satiated my crawfish-cravings by purchasing live crawfish at the Nashville Farmer's Market and boiling the hell out of 'em ... or doing the all-you-can-eat-crawfish thing at Florida Seafood Kitchen. Well, you can't get live crawfish at the Farmer's Market no more, and the Florida Seafood Kitchen was forced to close (seems the folks who owned it had a hard time mailing tax checks to the proper authorities).

To make another long story short, I ordered some live crawfish from an outfit in Louisiana and cooked 'em tonight. To wit:

Here's how I did it ...

Joltin' Django's Boiled Crawfish


6 ears yellow corn, snapped in half
15 red potatoes, cut in half
2 lemons, quartered
1 large white onion, quartered
2 8-ounce cans Zatarain's® Creole Seasoning
5 lbs live crawfish


Fill a 14" stock pot with water 'til it's a little more than half-full (plus another pint for good luck). Add corn, potatoes, lemons, onions, and cans o' seasoning and bring to a boil. Simmer for 45 minutes.

Throw in the crawfish and cook 'em 'til they're red, 10-12 minutes.

Have on hand lots o' fresh butter for the potatoes and corn, and put out a big bottle of Tabasco® for seasoning the crawfish.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Free cake!

I don't particularly care for Domino's Pizza, and I don't eat chocolate cake very often. However, I may just take Domino's up on their free-cake-in-August offer 'cause A) my birthday is this month and B) I like gettin' free stuff. Check this out:

Domino's celebrates August birthdays with free dessert. Through August 31, anyone with an August birthday can stop by their local Domino's (on their birthday) to receive one free Chocolate Lava Crunch Cake. Proof of date is required with ID such as driver's license or birth certificate.

Now I don't like to get political here on A Man's Gotta Eat, but I just had to comment on this:

U.S. President Obama celebrates his 48th birthday today and anyone around the D.C. area can grab a free slice of Obama’s birthday cake. ...

If you stop by Domino’s locations in Washington D.C. and say "Happy Birthday" to the president, you will get Domino’s latest addition to it’s dessert line, the Chocolate Lava Crunch Cake, for free!

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that Domino's is giving away a sugary dessert to celebrate Obama's birthday when the same Obama, and his colleagues in Congress, have floated the idea of taxing sugary foods to pay for health care, er, health insurance reform?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Gone but not forgotten

I've been a bit out of pocket of late so I'm just now getting around to perusing the July 9-15 Nashville Scene. In that issue's "Dining Guide," Scene foodie Carrington Fox lists El Inca as a dining option in South Nashville. Problem is ... El Inca's been closed for over a year. Indeed, yours truly delivered the sad news here.

'Bout this time last year, I penned a couple of pieces about my favorite defunct Nashville eateries, the first of which included El Inca Peruvian Restaurant. Now seems as good a time as any to re-post 'em ...

El Inca Peruvian Restaurant

I could write about El Inca all day. In fact, one of the earliest A Man's Gotta Eat posts was a review of El Inca. Here's a portion of what I wrote:

My favorite item on El Inca's menu is lomo saltado: strips of juicy beef, grilled onions, tomatoes and fresh cilantro, served on a bed of rice. (The same dish is also available with chicken -- saltado de pollo.)

As much as I like the food at El Inca, what really makes me keep going back is the "green sauce" they place on each table as a condiment. It consists of olive oil, celery, cilantro, boiled potatoes, and imported Peruvian peppers. Ask nicely and they'll give you a big cup of the stuff to take home ...

Man, I miss that place.

Houston's Restaurant

Houston's is the only restaurant on the face of the earth upon which I ever heaped praise due to the quality of its salads. Houston's salads were filled with homemade dime-sized bacon bits, were covered with homemade dressings (bleu cheese being the best), and featured vegetables that were so fresh that you'd swear they'd been picked that day. I was told, but was never able to verify, that Houston's used produce straight from the Nashville Farmer's Market.

That said, I never went to Houston's just for their salads. No, I went for their grilled steaks and chops, which were every bit as good as the steaks and chops served at Nashville's high-end steakhouses ... and for half the price.

Boo's Hot Chicken

Hot chicken is a delicacy native to Nashville. For the uninitiated, hot chicken is fried chicken - usually a breast quarter or a leg quarter - that gets dusted with a mixture of cayenne pepper and hot paprika as soon as it comes out of the deep fryer. It's served on a couple of slices of white bread, and its topped with a fist-sized pile of dill pickle chips. If you like spicy food, you'll love hot chicken.

Nashville's had a lot of hot chicken joints that have gone as quickly as they came, and deservedly so. Boo's had it a good thing goin': a distinctive pepper mixture ( a unique pepper - the booglea (sp?) - grown only in Louisiana, and an equal amount of hot paprika and sweet paprika), great side items (fried corn and spicy cole slaw, among others), and a rotund proprietor straight out of Cajun central-casting (who was quick with what seemed like an endless repertoire of off-color jokes). Boo's was featured on WNPT's Tennessee Crossroads program 'bout four years ago, and then the place was gone ... replaced with a barber shop.

Boo's always had a steady stream of customers, so I was at a loss as to why the place closed. I still don't know why it closed, but I do know thisdo know this: I miss Boo's!

Elliston Place II

I lived for a short time about a quarter-mile from Elliston Place II -- or The Two, as my friends and I called it -- which was located on Nolensville Road in South Nashville. I never quite understood why the place was called "Elliston Place II," seeing that it was located a good six miles from Elliston Place. (And I was never able to locate Elliston Place I. Perhaps it was in North Nashville!)

The Two turned out some pretty good soul food for lunch and dinner (fried chicken, meatloaf, turkey and dressing, taters, beans, turnip greens, etc.), but it was the all-you-can-eat catfish, served every Friday and Saturday night, that made The Two a go-to place for me. The Two not only served up some of the crispiest catfish in town, they made their own tarter sauce, which was equal parts sweet and tangy and full of chunks of dill pickle.

The Two closed about five years ago. If you know anything about the restaurant scene on Nolensville Road, you can pretty much guess what replaced it.

Café Orient

Café Orient was owned by a chap from Japan who also had (and maybe still does) a pretty popular catering business. The sushi served there was first-rate, but it was the Thai-inspired dishes that I enjoyed most.

One particular dish featured juicy chunks of pork, and long strips of green peppers, jalapeños, onions, and carrots, which'd been simmered in a spicy, garlic-filled sauce. I would take a spoon and ladle the sauce over white rice, and eat the meat/vegetable mixture and rice separately. It was like getting two different dishes in one ... and I always had plenty of leftovers!

Café Orient didn't stay open for very long, a victim perhaps of the fact that it opened right across the street from the well-established - and damn popular - Your Choice Asian restaurant.

Joe's Hot Fish & Soul Food

I discovered Joe's pretty much by accident. I was driving down Nolensville Road one day when I had to turn around to retrieve something I'd left at home. I turned around in Joe's parking lot (Joe's occupied half of a Shell gas station) and came to a dead stop when I saw how many people were standing in line inside the restaurant. Intrigued, I went there for lunch the very next day. And I went back the day after that. To say that I was impressed with Joe's soul food is a profound understatement. Indeed, it quickly made its way to near the very top of my favorite soul food restaurants ... and it was close to my house, which was a plus.

Joe's had a pretty good spread of Southern-style meats and sides, but there were two things served there that kept me coming back for more. First, Joe's had some of the best fried cornbread I'd ever had. A lot of soul food joints have a hard time frying crispy cornbread without having it taste burnt. Not so with Joe's. I never - and I mean never - had a piece of cornbread from Joe's that wasn't cooked to perfection. Second, Joe's was the only restaurant in which I've ever eaten that served fried pork steaks like my Granny Ruby used to make. I probably frequented Joe's two-dozen times, and there were only two times when I went there that I didn't have their pork steaks ('cause they were out of 'em).

Old Heidelberg

When it comes to German food in Nashville, most people think of the Gerst Haus. While I like the Gerst Haus as much as anyone, it ain't exactly what you'd call "authentically German." Oh, sure ... they serve kraut and knockwurst and hasenpfeffer and German fried potatoes (all of which is pretty darn tasty), but they also serve hamburgers and other American-style pub food. Again, authentic it ain't

Up until a couple of years ago, folks in these parts could dine in a German restaurant that was as authentic as some of the "authentic" German joints you find some of America's biggest cities. That restaurant was located right smack in the middle of downtown Nashville, and its name was Old Heidelberg (which was located on Union Street near TPAC). Whereas the Gerst Haus - the new one anyway - has all the ambience of a Steak & Ale or some other such chain restaurant, stepping into Old Heidelberg was like stepping into a quaint little German-owned joint in NYC, D.C., or Chicago. Black and white photos of Germany bedecked the walls; soft German music was always playing; and when you were greeted at the door, the person doing the greeting always had a German accent. Then there was the food ...

When I worked in downtown Nashville, I ate lunch at Old Heidelburg at least once a week. For six bucks you could get a knockwurst or brat, potato salad, kraut, a slice of rye bread and a small bowl of chicken soup. And oh, man, was it good. With each bite you just knew that someone's German grandma was in the back doin' the cookin'.

I would give anything if I could have just one more portion of OH's potato salad. I doubt if I'll ever have potato salad that good ever again.

Belle Meade Cafeteria

Back in my undergrad days, I dated a girl whose parents lived about a mile and a half from the Belle Meade Cafeteria. The very first time she and I went out, I picked her up at her parents' house and we went to Nashville's Cheekwood art gallery. When I asked her where she wanted to eat she said (these are her exact words, which I can remember to this day): "Let's go to the Belle Meade Cafeteria. It's the only restaurant in Nashville that makes fried chicken and mashed potatoes that's as good as your grandmother's."

Well, the Belle Meade Cafeteria's fried chicken wasn't quite as good as my Granny Ruby's fried chicken, but it was pretty damn good. The green beans, mashed taters, fried okra, and turnip greens were also darn tasty. And - and this was one of the things that made the Belle Meade Cafeteria one of my very favorite after-church lunch spots - you could just taste the buttermilk in the BMC's cornbread ... and that is always a good thing (apologies to Martha the Ex-Con).

One of the Belle Meade Cafeteria's quirks was the dozen or so bow tie-wearing gentlemen who would take your tray to your table and then come back later to refill your drink. I can't tell you how many times one of these fine gentlemen not only refilled my drink but brought me extra portions of okra or cornbread without me even asking. And for that they were always well-rewarded. Indeed, I don't think I ever once left the BMC after placing less than a $5 tip on the table.

Most of the gentlemen in question were black, a fact that led one Nashville-based food writer to remark that she not only felt "uncomfortable" going to the BMC, she more or less compared the place to a plantation. I sent her an e-mail in which I reminded her of this: most of the guys who made her so "uncomfortable" had been working at the Belle Meade Cafeteria for years, and some of 'em had been there since the place opened in the '60s. It was hard to imagine that those great guys would've hung around that long if they (a) weren't paid well or (b) had been mistreated or dehumanized in any way.

2nd and Goal

2nd and Goal, which was located smack in the middle of 2nd Avenue between Broadsay and the Metro courthouse, had all the trappings of a typical sports bar: lots of sports-related crap on the walls, lots of high tables with stools, lots of attractive young waitresses, er, servers, and a no-frills menu that featured lots of fried stuff. That said, the folks at 2nd and Goal could serve up one hell of a grilled chicken sandwich A 2nd and Goal chicken breast went something like this:

A stumpy toasted hoagie roll. A juicy grilled chicken breast that spilled over the sides of said roll. Sliced red onions, sliced tomatoes, and green leaf lettuce.

2nd and Goal's chicken sandwiches didn't come with any condiments -- the chicken was so damn juicy and flavorful it didn't need no embellishment. Indeed, you had to request condiments for chicken sandwiches. I'm sure a great deal of snickering went on in the 2nd and Goal kitchen whenever some poor soul requested mustard, mayo, or (GASP!) ketchup for his or her chicken sammich (Only thing I ever put on a 2nd and Goal chicken sammich was a dash or two of Tabasco 'cause, well, I can't eat nothin' unless it has hot sauce on it or in it.)

Speaking of 2nd and Goal, I had two memorable experiences there -- and each time I ate a chicken sammich.

The first was in 1998 at a "draft party" for the Tennessee Oilers. The draft party took place two days after a tornado tore through downtown Nashville; thus, wasn't nobody downtown that day. I not only sat at a table with Nashville radio titans (!) George Plaster and Duncan Stewart, my beer-drinking visage appeared in the local paper the next day (I was literally lifting a mug of beer to my mouth in the pic).

On election night in 2000, my bud Mr. Mordecai and I ate dinner at 2nd and Goal before heading to the Wildhorse Saloon for the Tennessee Republican Party's election shindig. We all know what happened that night -- and what happened over the next 30+ days -- so I ain't gonna do no political rehashing. However, I can't think of that election night without also thinking about the excellent chicken sammich I devoured at 2nd and Goal.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Prenez la salade olive!

Next time you're in New Orleans, be sure to head over to the Central Grocery for a muffuletta sammich. What's a muffuletta? Well ...

These sandwiches can be found all over New Orleans from delis to pool halls and the corner grocery stores. It is an Sicilian sandwich that consists of a round loaf of bread (about 10 inches across) filled with Italian salami, olive salad, cheese, Italian ham, and freshly minced garlic. They key ingredient is the olive salad which gives the sandwich its special flavor and makes it appealing to the eye. A true Muffuletta Sandwich must always be served at room temperature, never toasted; it is considered blasphemy to heat the sandwich.

Now, I've had muffulettas in several restaurants in New Orleans, and none of 'em stacked up (no pun intended) to the Central Grocery's muffulettas. What makes the Central Grocery's sammiches so good? The quality of the bread, for one, and the quality of the olive salad ... which, after all, is what distinguishes a muffuletta from a kinda-fancy sammich.

I get together with some guys to pick bluegrass music on a weekly basis. One of my fellow pickers is from Louisiana, and he and I talked about muffulettas prior to, well, pickin' a week or two back. He told me that I could purchase a "great" Louisiana-made olive spread -- Gambino's Olive Spread -- at the Nashville Farmer's Market, and I did just that today.

For dinner tonight I made me a ciabatta-roll sammich with hot capicola, salami, sharp provolone cheese, and Gambino's incredible olive spread. I was transported to New Orleans for a moment or two whilst eating it. Yes, Gambino's Olive Spread was that good ...!