Just got back from a week's business trip. The summer trade show for the music product industry was in Nashville (the last year there), and I did an out and back to Asheville to visit the office and factory for Moog Music, one of the major pioneers in the synthesizer field.
My best industry bud treated me to a lunch at Jack's BBQ. As a Texas boy I can't rave about the brisket even though it is good, but the pork and sausage are both exemplary...and I love the wide range of sauces avaialable...even a white sauce that went great on my potato salad. As usual there was a line out the door the entire time we were there, and as usual there is a reason...Jack's is arguably the best BBQ joint within 100 miles of town.
First dinner I tried the Blackstone brewpub. Saw it after dropping off a buddy at the Hampton Inn the night before. Was dining alone that night, so in I went. Not particularly thrilling. After several tries I finally found a beer that was truly drinkable, the Red Springs Ale. Considerably hoppier than their Maris Otter Pale Ale which is supposed to be a specialty. I'm a Pale Aler first and foremost and I was not impressed. They had a cask conditioned porter that was pretty good, but that's not my cuppa suds.
My meal was totally soso. Sounded wonderful on the menu...Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Maple Chipotle BBQ Sauce on Gouda Grits. The bartendress commended my choice, and it looked really nice on the plate with a bunch of asparagus spears fanning out from the grits underneath the slices of tenderloin.
The pork was pretty bland...didn't even finish all the medallions. The BBQ sauce was pretty tasty, but the pork was so "blah" I don't think habaneros would've spiced it up.
The gouda grits tasted pretty darned good at first bite, but as I went on I discerned less and less smoky cheesy and more cloying sweetness, why I do not know.
The asparagus would have been fine had they trimmed the stalks properly...one bite containing a few end pieces amongst a couple of small spear tips and I had nice fibery chewathon. Fortunately I had found the Red Springs by then so I had something to wash it down with.
Next night was my birthday dinner, spent with 2 dear industry friends. I chose the Wild Boar as the online menu looked superb. I found the room to be lovely, and the service was absolutely among the best I have experienced anywhere. Everybody was on top of everything. A truly professional team working as the proverbial well-oiled machine. We started off with a nice Bollinger champagne by the glass, moving on to a dirty martini for me while my buds enjoyed their usuals. Everything so far was truly impressive.
I wish the food had been as well. They started us with a little salmon pinwheel amuse that looked lovely, but was kinda plain tasting. I'm guessing my friends enjoyed their salad and lobster bisque, but I didn't hear any comments one way or the other. They brought by some breads and rolls with intriguing combinations (we all went for the beet bread, among others), but these too were all show and no go.
My appy choice was the Softshell Crab and Sweet Corn Flan with Bacon and Cilantro. Sounded awesome...was merely OK. The crab was great...a big fellah, and very nicely prepared. But it was the Corn Flan that drew me to the dish, and that was a big letdown. It was cooked so it had the firmer texture of a corn omelet, not the dense but creamy kinda flan thing I expected. The bacon was evident, but added just a touch of textural contrast and smokiness...not enough to make a difference. And there was no metallic tone from the supposed cilantro...certainly would have added a nice dimension. Overall the dish left me with a bland feeling.
My buddies both orderd the halibut, and it looked gorgeous. This dish did elicit the kind of response when one tastes a truly well conceived and executed dish. I chose the Red Snapper with Chiogga Beets, Heirloom Tomatoes and Golden Marsala Reduction, and I wish I could say the same.
I found the fish to be overcooked and a bit on the salty side. What bites I did have I had to wash down with sparkling water. Could not even finish it. The melange of accompanying vegetables was just a convoluted mess. The slices of beet were excellent, as to be expected. But the tomatoes and marsala thing just presented textures and strong flavors that didn't belong with anything else in the dish.
In retrospect I should have sent it back for something else, but as is typical for me, I didn't want to cause a fuss, especially when I was treating (or so I thought). Based on the other entrée on the table and the rest of the menu (and a lovely looking shellfish degustation menu), I'm hoping it's a case of just getting the wrong thing for me. The little cookies, beautifully organized on the plate for us, with coffee (and an eau de vie) was a nice touch, and was actually the tastiest stuff I put in my mouth all night. All in all, big tab (about $330 with tip), and I left feeling more than a touch of disappointment.
After dinner the guys wanted some beers. I knew Blackstone was not the place, but I had heard about Flying Saucer from a Nashville-based buddy, and that is THE place in town for beer nuts. Something like 200 beers on tap, very fun and groovy vibe. While they didn't have my favorite, Fat Tire, I did enjoy the tasty, hoppy yet smooth Sawtooth Ale.
They offer beer flights grouped by type or country and just take the whole beer thing to the max. Live music on the weekends (maybe more?), in a room that is fairly well closed off from the beer hall. My favorite t-shirt for sale: "Kiss my girlfriend while I drink your beer". Looks like they have food available, but I have no clue whether it is any good. That will have to wait until my next trip.
From the almost sublime to the ridiculous... I caught the next day's lunch at Bar-B-Cutie (Donelson Pike location) before heading out of town for Asheville. Decent pulled pork, (not creamed as listed on the menu) corn, good slaw, barely OK corncake. In all the years I worked in Nasvhille I had never eaten at a Bar-B-Cutie, so it was something I made a point of trying when I saw this location. Decent for the kind of place that it is. And the price on the lunch special was right...$4.55 for a healthy portion of BBQ and the 2 sides.
Headed east and had already planned to stop at Scrugg's BBQ in Knoxville. I don't know where I found out about this place, thought it was on Roadfood, but it isn't listed on their site...maybe somebody here? Beuller? Anyone?
Regardless, Scrugg's pretty much lived up to expectations. Dumpy convenience store in a not-as-nice part of town. But they serve up a pretty damned good pork sandwich...I chose the hot sauce which definitely had some zing to it, and it came with the bun having been griddled a bit so it was warm and a bit crusty, a nice touch. Decent sides...good chunky homemade potato salad (bell pepper haters like me beware), and pretty sure they were canned beans doctored up a bit, but they were still mighty tasty.
Next day the president of Moog Music took me to Tupelo Honey's in downtown Asheville for what would be the best meal of my trip. The place was packed, but we were seated after only a couple of minutes...cool place, with a really nice menu. I thoroughly enjoyed my Blackened Catfish with Green Tomato Salsa on Goat Cheese Grits, sided with a Baby Green Bean Salad. After perusing the vegetable list (both prolific and innovative), the Black Eyed Pea and Andouille Ragout won out over the Shiitake Sweet Potato Hash. Could have easily devoured both, but didn't want to appear too much the chazzer in front of a brand new supplier.
The grits were sublime...what I wished the ones at Blackstone had been. Perfectly creamy with a nice brightness thanks to the cheese. Catfish was a decent sized filet, very nicely blackened and spiced, with a very chunky salsa of green tomato, red onion and cucumber. The green bean salad was nice and garlicky, the beans a lovely deep green and prepared just a tad over al dente...perfect for a young vegetable. And the black eyed peas were wonderful...3 generous chunks of andouille, some carrot, celery and a perfect touch of filé. Great place...I'll look forward to returning just so I can partake of the Shiitake Sweet Potato stuff.
I'd seen a Sonny's location on Kingston Pike on my through Knoxville the night before, so I had Q on my mind as I was driving back from Asheville. As I was leaving around rush hour, the folks at Moog routed me through the backroads, to hook up with I-40 again in Newport, TN. After an absolutely gorgeous drive through some serious hillbilly country, I wound up back in Knoxville, with my room for the night on the far side of town. Took an exit too early for the Sonny's, but saw Buddy's BBQ, and having had enough Sonny's the 5 years I traveled in the Southeast, it was time for something new.
Total fast food kinda place, but pretty darned good...overall a notch or two above Bar-B-Cutie for a similar establishment, though some might say that is not saying much. I had the pork dinner and enjoyed it. Another healthy serving with a decent amount of the darker bits. The sauces were better, sides about equal (I did slaw, tater salad and beans...all on the upper end of commercially supplied foodstuffs). What gives Buddy the edge is their hush puppies. There were 4 with the dinner and I coulda done at least another four. Nicely seasoned, with a generous studded with bits and shreds of green onion. I let 'em soak up a bit of sauce and they disappeared in no time.
The next day I hit the road to get back to the Nashville airport to fly home to Salt Lake City. With the time zone change I wound up having an early lunch at the Steak n Shake in Cookeville, TN. Haven't been to one in years and have always enjoyed them. Saw their Pepperjack Melt on the online menu and had mine without lettuce or jalapeño's, with extra caramelized onions. YUM. Made sure to ask for hot fries and got 'em...love them skinny little critters...when fresh from the fryer they rival some of the pommes frites at some very expensive places. My platter was rounded out by a bowl of chili...just the right temperature, and I do like their spicing...akin to Texas chili in the cumin department, but with beans.
All in all a good trip. Nashville is a great town, especially when you are involved in the biz...still seeking that truly great place to eat. But I did find places that I will look forward to return visits... Flying Saucer and Tupelo Honey's have made it to my must do list.