Going back a few months, Chickstein recommended a place, near Knoxville, TN, called Blackberry Farm, in Walland, TN. Her recs. sounded great, and when we found ourselves in Nashville, TN, to receive a national healthcare award, we could not resist the temptation. We booked a short week of R & R, and could not wait for the fun to begin. I had perused the Web site: http://www.blackberryfarm.com/ and I had done some searches on the South Board, plus a few other sites. Our brochure arrived, and we were hooked. I booked a cabin in a more newly developed area of the farm, one that did not appear on their site, or in their brochure. The staff helped me coordinate the entire stay, including some golf outings and dinner reservations.
Blackberry Farm is a 10,000 acre site, that is adjacent to the Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s about 30 min. from TYS (Knoxville) airport, and offers a ton of activities, plus proximity to Smoky Mountains National Park. One of the pluses was that it included three meals per day and a magnificant wine list.
It had been decades, since we had vacationed in the Smoky Mountains, and I’ve missed the Eastern Mountains ever since, even though we lived for 20 years in the Colorado Rockies. I missed the haze, the seasons, the colors and the wonderful beauty of the area. This was going to be a wonderful vacation, and a return to the past. Back then, my wife worked for four weeks straight, but then had a very long weekend off. I had a ton of vacation, so we did a bunch of mini-honeymoons in the Smokies. Often, we’d drive all night (she worked evenings, so many trips started at Midnight), and end up in a cabin, or resort in the Smokies. Those were wonderful times, though the food was less a concern in those days. Heck, we lived in New Orleans, so we considered ourselves in an epicenter of culinary delights. We were only seeking food to get us by, while we were there. Things have changed, and now many destinations are for destination dining too. Blackberry Farm was going to be one of those.
I poured over their menus, their wine lists and crossed my fingers. We were starting in Nashville (review of Old Hickory Steakhouse done earlier), then driving down to BBF. We arrived in the early afternoon, and had plenty of time to unpack, prior to our 8:00PM dining reservations.
The farm (though that word does not do justice to the place) is a series of buildings scattered about the site. Much of what one encounters is a series of Cape Cod structures, that compromise the office, the Main House, and the accommodations in that area. Elsewhere, there are clusters of “cabins,” that accommodate those staying at BBF. Now, all meals are served in the Main House, which has about six different dining rooms. Things will change, as of about February, when “The Barn” becomes the main fine-dining area, and the Main House is re-done, to be a more casual dining venue.
I had a very rough idea of what to expect, regarding food, as I had done my research. I had their brochure, Chickstein’s recs., the menus via PDF and material from other sites. I was ready to go.
As there is so very much to cover, I’ll attack this in chronological order, as well as I can. The menus and the wines, that we enjoyed will be listed and reviewed as we encountered them, with one difference. As we had three meals per day, I’ll cover the evening meals complete, then the lunch/brunch menus and finally comments on the breakfasts. Bear with me, as this is going to be a very long review, but a labor of love for me. I cannot say enough about BBF and the meals and wine that we had. I’d be back in a second, and will definitely return, as soon as the change-over to The Barn, is complete.
For us, fine-dining is a destination. Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to have dined at many Michelin starred restaurants around the world, and have sampled the fare of many great restaurants in the States. We have enjoyed the best from world-class chefs around the globe, so we are not easily impressed with bells and whistles, unless there is a good reason for them. I was hoping that Walland, TN would impress me – and it certainly did. I am also a wine snob – I admit it. I’ve sampled wine lists that were hard-bound with gilt edges on the pages. I do not mind spending the $’s, so long as the wines work with the foods. One of my passions is food and wine pairings, and I work overtime to sort these out for our many dinners back home. The PDF list for BBF looked like great fun: http://www.blackberryfarm.com/pdf/win... and I was looking forward to sommelier, Andy Chabot’s efforts at pairing the wine with the food. I was a bit disappointed that Chef John Fleer had left BBF in about February. I was unable to get much info on the new chef, but held out hope that all would be great. Chef Peter Glander is now the Executive Chef for The Barn, Chef Josh Feathers is the Corporate Chef and Joseph Lenn is the Chef De Cuisine of Main House. While I would have loved to have tried Chef Fleer’s work, the others did a fabulous job.
Our dining experience started with an 8:00PM reservation, as we did not know how long it would take to get from the meetings in Nashville, to BBF. We arrived in the dining room a bit early, and were seated on the patio, overlooking Smoky Mountains National Park, just after sundown. The temps were great, as gentlemen are required to wear a jacket (ties optional), and the heat wave had just broken. We started with a few glasses of Chardonnay from the bar, a Chalk Hill ‘04 and a Brewer-Clifton Ashley’s ‘03. As I had not investigated the wine policy, I was doing b-t-g, then, but was soon to learn about BBF and their wine policy.
I’ll not go into detail, regarding the prices, as all meals are included, with a few items exacting a premium. All wine is additional, and fairly priced for a resort. In my previous review of Old Hickory Steakhouse, I mentioned the Tennessee “sin tax,” on alcoholic beverages. I assume that they were in effect at BBF, but did not bother to do the math. I was so enamored with the wine list, that I just pretended that the price on the list was what I was paying, like pretending that the £’s on a wine list in London are $’s and just going with what I want. American Express will sort it out next month, and I’ll just pay the bill. BBF is not cheap, but is worth every $ spent, IMHO.
At exactly 8:00PM, we were seated in what I will refer to as the main dining room. There are actually several, and we did some others, though primarily for breakfast. As I understand it, the patrons will be seated in different dining rooms, but we were placed in this one for three of our four meals. We even had the same table for two of these. Maybe they just wanted to “keep an eye on us.” I did not find this to be a problem in any way, and did get to experience a few of the other areas during our stay.
We were greeted by Sommelier, Andy Chabot, when we were seated. Seems that BBF knew that I was a wino, and would require his services. During our stay, we had the services of the other sommeliers, plus the owner, Sam Beall, who enjoys wine, almost as much as I do. [Note: the Beall family is behind Ruby Tuesday’s restaurants]
It should be noted that the menu consists of two pages, that change nightly, with some carry-over, though usually with variations. On the left, is a tasting menu, which can be accompanied by a “sommelier’s pairing” of wines. On the right is the à la carte menu with the selections broken roughly into three courses. One may also mix-and-match between the two, so there are many options. Most evenings, we did everything from the à la carte menu, but there were some exceptions. As stated earlier, the meals are all included in the room fare, except for a premium on a few items. These will be noted with [$] designations. All wines are in addition to the food.
OK, let’s eat!
We started with the Vanilla Poached Pear Salad of Arugula, Endive & Candied Walnuts and Black Mushroom & Confit Tomato Frisee & Mushroom Jowl Vinaigrette. Our first wine was the Domaine Matrot Les Charmes Meursault ‘04 [$ 110]. Uh-oh – corked! All it took was “the look,” and I passed the glass to Sommelier Chabot. One sniff, and he hurried off to retrieve another bottle. Hardly a word needed to be spoken. In moments (surprising as the cellar is not THAT near the dining area) a new bottle was presented and it was perfect. Neal Wavra, Dining Room Manager, headed our food service team, along with John, or primary server.
The Pear Salad was excellent. Our favorite French restaurant in Phoenix, Vincent’s on Camelback: http://www.vincentsoncamelback.com/ does a similar salad, as does my wife. This was as good as either, with the essence of the vanilla coming through nicely. My wife, the tomato-fan, very much enjoyed her salad, as well. The Meursault had adequate acid to work with both. Here is probably a good time to mention that most ingredients used at BBF are from the property, or nearby. It is, after all, a working farm with a full staff just for the agricultural side of the operation. Freshness is prime.
Next course was the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Blackberries, Frisee & Sally Luann Toast [$ 20]. This would become a theme for the week. I asked Sommelier Chabot to pair something in a b-t-g offering, and he chose the Martinelli Winery Jackass Hill Vineyard Muscat Alexandria ‘02 [$ 55/0.375, but b-t-g price ?]. My wife chose the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan Cream & Very Old Balsamic. She still had the Meursault to accompany this dish. The Chardonnay was a little weak with the risotto, considering the cream, and a more stout, buttery Chard (maybe a Montrachet) would have been a better choice here. Still, the Meursault did OK. Both the foie gras and the risotto were excellent, and the Muscat, though a tad more one dimensional, that I would have liked, paired very well.
For our mains, I chose the Black Bass with Three Beans Garden Tomato Broth, and my wife the Roasted Gulf Grouper with Garden Vegetable Garbure & Mustard Greens in Ham Hock Broth. Here, we added the Melville Carrie’s Block Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ‘03 [$ 95]. The Melville was a little closed, at first, but came into its own, by the time that the mains arrived. (I normally order my reds, early on in the meal, and usually have at least one open and poured, by the second course.) It went well with both fish, which were extremely fresh, light and juicy. The mustard greens did not play perfectly with it, but otherwise, it turned out to be a good choice. Considering that we were in the mountains of Tennessee, the two fish dishes were about as good, as one could get dockside!
For dessert, we opted for the cheese course (common for all meals) and asked for the large array, but small portions. We were accommodated perfectly, and I do not think that a mosel went to waste. Much of the cheese served is sheep’s milk, as BBF has a few sheep herds on the property. I do not have a list of all of the cheeses served over the course of our four nights, though each was identified and explained for us. You have to remember that by the time the cheeses were presented, we’d already had several glasses of wine, and I was enjoying the food, and my wife’s company too much to be taking notes – sorry. We still had a bit of all of our wines, and played with each one, with the cheeses.
It was at this point, that the “re-corking” policy was stated. The Melville was re-corked and we took it along with us, when we left, planning on drinking it the next evening, before leaving for the dining room. This is a great policy, and allows a couple to have several very good wines, without having to leave too much behind. Even with our offering our servers a taste, along with the sommelier, there was wine still in the bottle. I also want to note the extensive half-bottle selection at BBF. We often dine as a couple, when traveling, and pairing several wines with our courses is extremely difficult, unless half-bottles, or great b-t-g selections are offered. For this reason, we often do “sommelier’s pairings,” but BBF made it so easy, both with the half-bottles and the re-corking, that we ordered from the wine list on all nights. Blackberry Farm was in a dry county, and only offered BYOB, until about seven years ago. Now, I cannot imagine anyone doing the BYOB thing, unless it was a rare and very special bottle. The stated corkage fee was $ 25.00, which is very fair, considering the Spiegelau Vino Grande stemware and decanting for appropriate wines offered in the dining room.
We had set our dining reservations for 8:00PM on the night of our arrival, and then at 6:00PM, to catch the sunset over Smoky Mountains National Park, for the others. With our excursions during the day, we moved our last dining times to a more leisurely 8:00PM. We arrived for our second night at 6:00PM, with the leftover Melville in hand. We were promptly seated in the main dining room, one table over from where we dined the night before.
Neal greeted us, introduced our service team and Andrew Noye, who was our sommelier for the night. I started with a Wild Mushroom Tart with Mushroom Tempura & Charred Tomato Vinaigrette, and my wife chose the Kona Kampachi Radish Salad with Melon & Olive Oil. Besides the Melville, we went with the Olivier Leflaive 1er Cru Corton Charlemagne ‘98 [$ 185] Oops, the bottle presented was the Chevalier Père et Fils 1er Cru Corton Charlemagne‘01. Maybe it’s that I am from Mississippi, and obviously French is NOT my native language (wife says that being from Mississippi indicates that English is NOT my native language... but that’s a story for another day), but I have to take some responsibility for the little mixup. In moments (see above note on distance from cellar to dinning room), Andrew was back with our Chardonnay. Hey, Chevalier/Leflaive – it happens. It was at this point that idle conversation led to the recommendation of another wine, Greg Brewer’s (winemaker for Melville and Brewer-Clifton, with Steve Clifton) Diatom Clos Pepe Vineyard Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay ‘05 [$ ?], which was also brought to the table.
We opted for the Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Pumpkin, Blis Maple & Foie Gras Emulsion [$ 20] and Pappardelle of Vegetables with Herb Butter Sauce. To accompany the foie gras, Andrew produced a glass of Alban Vineyards Abbott Viognier T.B.A. (in Germany, TBA stands for Trokenbeerenauslese, translated to “dry selected berries” and denotes an extreme state of ripeness for the Riesling grapes. Note that Alban uses the term T.B.A.) ‘00 [$ 115/0.375]. This wine had several additional dimensions, compared to the Martinelli.
Next, we chose Braised Beef Short Ribs with Horseradish Scented Marrow Beans and The Seared Rare Big Eye Tuna with Savory Cornmeal Cake, Sugar Snap Peas & Wild Mushrooms. Since there was a bit of the Melville PN, I went with the Turley Old Vines California Zinfandel ‘03 [$ 125]. It paired well with the succulent short ribs and not too badly with the Aweoweo, though the PN was a bit better a match. Fortunately, BBF places one’s wine bottles on a sideboard in the hallway, otherwise our 4-top (with only two diners) would have been crowded. As it was, we each had about four wine glasses, the Alban and our water glasses to contend with. We were also busy passing around tastes of the Diatom.
Once more, I went with the cheese course with the request for small portions and variety. I was finding out that requests at BBF were always met with, “we can do that,” and that the promise to do so, was always met with great follow through. My wife fell for the Chocolate Ménage a Trios with Cinnamon, Coffee & Raspberries for a real dessert. I added a glass of Taylor-Fladgate 20 Year Tawny, which we shared with the chocolate, plus the last of the Melville PN, plus the Turley Zin. I was glad that we only had to navigate our golf cart about a half mile to our “cabin,” however I did seem to recall that Bill Murray had just been busted for DUI with a golf cart in Ireland... still, we’d made this trip and knew the way and, as we only had to cross one road, that was not on the property, made it home safely. I was glad that the Tennessee Highway Patrol did not have a DUI checkpoint on West Miller’s Cove Lane, where we crossed. Our un-consumed wines were stored for us in the cellar, so we’d have them in the dining room the next night. This seemed a better option, than carting them around with us, especially as we knew we’d be busy the next day, and that we were likely to not drink any back in the cabin.
Day three and back to an 8:00PM seating. I started with Cope’s Corn Soup with Onion & Tomato Salad and my wife chose Smoked North Carolina Trout with Cucumbers, Avocados & Lime-Cucumber Vinaigrette. We still had some of the Diatom and a bit of the Corton Charlemagne Chardonnays, but ordered the Domaine Vincent Girardin Les Enseignéres Villages Puligny-Montrachet ‘02 [$ 130] to augment the others. I got a bottle of Siduri Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ‘00 [$ 95] as our starter red.
Next course was, are you ready? The Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Blackberries, Frisee & Sally Lunn Toast [$ 20] (the kitchen did a few things different, as I’d had the same basic prep the night before and they wanted this to be a bit different. Rather than as a garnish, the blackberries were done as a compote and drizzled over the foie gras, plus a Balsamic reduction), and Chicken Fried Four Story Hill Sweetbreads with Buttermilk Biscuits & Sorghum. Andrew knew the drill and which b-t-g wines I’d had with the foie gras, so he produced a glass Cossart Gordon Bual 10 Year Madeira which went very well with both the foie gras and the sweetbreads.
Our mains consisted of Wild Colombia River Salmon with Wild Grains & Citrus Vinaigrette and Laurel Creek Pork Tenderloin with Okra, Corn & Caramelized Onions, Tomatoes & Garden Potatoes. We paired the Siduri with both of these, plus the leftover Turley. While I loved the salmon, the pork tenderloin was the star of this show.
Again, we finished with a cheese course and finished off all of the remaining wines.
Our last dinner found us in a smaller dining area, between the bar and the “main” dining room, and Sam Beall was our sommelier. Neal introduced our servers with Audry, from the night before as the lead. Since we were leaving after brunch the next day, we decided to go with half-bottles for most of our wine. For starters, we ordered the Olivier Leflaive En Remilly 1er Cru St.-Aubin ‘00 [$ 35]. Oh no, corked again. With only a sniff of the offered glass, Sam was off to get another bottle. This one was excellent, and there was not a second’s hesitation in the replacement of the second corked bottle of the trip.
For our first courses, we ordered Butternut Squash Soup with Pepitas & Pumpkin Pie Spice Foam and Toast & Eggs, Soft Scrambled Blackberry Farm Egg with Golden Brook Trout Roe & Crouton. Both were excellent and the trout roe was extremely fresh and tangy.
We had ordered the Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir ‘04 [$ 50] and it was opening up nicely. Both the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir went well with both dishes.
It was back to my Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Pumpkin, Blis Maple & Foie Gras Emulsion [$ 20] and Porcini Rubbed Big Eye Tuna with Wild Mushroom & Frisee Panzanella. Sam brought a glass of Long Vineyards Estate Botrytis Johannisberg Riesling ‘01 [$ 55/0.375]. This the third dining trip, where I have fallen into the Foie Gras Trap, but I am not going to complain. Since I do not take my annual physical until December, I should have time to clear my system!
Since I had gotten some strong recs. for the Wagyu Beef Ribeye with Carrots, Garden Peas & Eggplant and Truffle Potato Sauce [$ 30], I had to try it. I expected to be blown completely away, but this ribeye was just above the middle-of-the-pack for Wagyu/Kobe, that I’ve had. Still very, very good, but not the #1 slot, that I had anticipated. Wife went with the Roasted Striped Bass with Washday Peas, Butter Beans and Arugula. This was perhaps the best fish dish of the trip and all others were excellent.
We had taken a tour of “The Barn,” the new fine-dining venue at BBF, slated to open in February ‘08. Along with that tour, we got to see the new “display” wine cellar and talk with Neal about the wines at BBF. There are basically two cellars totaling ~ 140,000 bottles (a few less after our trip), with the new cellar at The Barn and the main storage cellar closer to the Main House. As we talked about the wines displayed, I kept seeing cases of Jarvis, a small producer from Napa. Neal explained that the winery had become a favorite with BBF and that they had done several winemaker dinners with them. Since I was unfamiliar with Jarvis, other than having seen the name about, I ordered a half-bottle of the Jarvis Napa Cabernet Sauvignon ‘99 [$ 95], to accompany my steak. Wonderful wine that benefitted from Sam’s decanting and a bit of time in the glass. It’s probably not fair to say that I was a bit disappointed in the ribeye, as it was excellent. It was just that I had seen it on the menu for the previous three nights and had gotten stellar recs. from other diners, all stating that it was the best beef they had ever eaten. This was just too much of a buildup for what turned out to be a wonderful cut of beef, just not the best that I had experienced. Oh well, every dish cannot be the ultimate in its category. For expressive flavors, I think I’d give the nod to the Filet at the Old Hickory Steakhouse [Review: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/451438 ] on this trip. Still a wonderful piece of meat and the Jarvis Cab went beautifully.
We did another cheese course, which was, as usual, excellent. This time, there was not any wine left over, as we had planned.
Lunches at Blackberry Farms:
Because we played golf on a couple of days, we elected to do the BBF “Box Lunch,” which was a good choice.
Smoked North Carolina Trout with Truffled Apple Slaw & Balsamic Mustard Mayonnaise on Pecan Bread. This WAS the highlight of the lunches/brunches – hands down! It was accompanied by Judion Bean Salad with Grilled Red Onions & Chorizo, Roasted Mushroom & Wild Rice Salad with Lemon Scallion Vinaigrette and House Picked Vegetables followed by an Apple Crumble. Both the bean salad and the wild rice salad got mixed reviews. I loved them both, but my wife thought they were a bit too tangy and a touch too salty. Regardless, all was eaten.
Roasted Lamb Leg with Caramelized Apples & Herb Mayonnaise on Piadini Bread. The lamb was very tasty, but the cut could have been leaner. There was a bit of gristle, that made eating this as a sandwich a bit difficult. I would have loved it, had it been served on a plate with a knife and fork. Big points on taste, but graded down a bit on cut. This was accompanied by Toasted Orzo Roasted Green Tomatoes & Basil with Shallot Vinaigrette and White Bean Smoked Celery Salad with Country Ham & Carrot Vinaigrette followed by Deviled Eggs and a Peanut Butter Cookie. Both salads were quite good, but the deviled eggs were the best that we’ve ever had. I wish that I could de-construct them to find out why, but you just have to take my word for it.
We did lunch on the property, so I do not have a menu to refresh my memory. The spread was extensive with BBQ ribs and Brisket, grilled/smoked over a hickory fire, Braised Rabbit and a half-dozen salads. Do not recall the dessert selections, as I was too full of the ribs and brisket to even care. The same for my wife. The wine was Chateau Potelle Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc ‘03. Had we not been driving into Marysville, after lunch, I would have gotten a half-bottle of Zin or Syrah for the BBQ, but chose to just stay with the included wine.
As we were flying out for Phoenix in the afternoon, we got reservations for brunch in the main dining room. The brunch was rather like the breakfasts though on steroids. As an entrée, I had their Pan Fried Pecan Crusted Catfish, which were the best catfish that I have ever had. Being from Mississippi, and living for some time in NOLA, I’ve had a lot of catfish, but this set the bar so very high for all others to follow. My wife had a sautéed Cornmeal Crusted Porkchop. She claims that my catfish was the better, but then remember – it was simply The Best!
I’ll not go into much detail, except to list some of the real highlights. There are roughly five areas of food on the breakfast menus. Everything that we sampled was wonderful. One morning, I asked about salsa for my scrambled “fresh Blackberry Farm” eggs. The server reported that they did not have any, but that the chef would make a batch fresh, just for me. Now, I would have run the salsa through a blender, as I like a more fluid texture, but in moments, I had fresh, handmade salsa! I usually added either the locally smoked/cured Benton “country” ham, or bacon to either my griddle cakes (changed daily – sample: Blueberry Cottage Cheese Griddlecakes with Pecan Butter and Spiced Maple Syrup), or my eggs. My wife had flaky handmade biscuits with every imaginable accompaniment. The orange juice was fresh and hand-squeezed and the coffee was quite good. I think that we managed to have the Stone-ground Grits for every breakfast, and even picked up two bags for shipment to PHX, even though we commonly get Stone-ground Yellow Grits from a mill in MO.
Blackberry Farm was an absolutely wonderful experience. I cannot praise the staff, from the chefs, the sommeliers, the servers and managers to the front desk, concierge office and the housekeeping and valets, too much. I have never encountered better service at any resort or restaurant. The food and wine were extremely good to outstanding, really only exceeded by the service, and maybe the view from the veranda at the Main House. To paraphrase the Michelin Guide, a 3-Star restaurant is one that is worth an extra journey to enjoy. Blackberry Farm is certainly worth the journey. We are planning our next trips there now, and we’ve just finished unpacking.
A special thank you to Chickstein (CH - many boards) for the recommendations. We would have not likely found BBF without you!
1471 W Millers Cove Rd, Walland, TN
2800 Opryland Dr, Nashville, TN 37214