Monday, June 15, 2009

Tennessee Top Ten

My wife and I dropped the kids off at summer camp in Arkansas and then spent a week eating our way through Tennessee (summer camp for adults). Here are the top ten culinary highlights from the journey.

10.) BBQ Memphis— Actually, I had planned on eating bbq in Memphis, but we arrived too late and everything was closed. However, the night before in Hot Springs, AR, we ate at a restaurant named McClard’s. The restaurant has been there for decades and the bbq is OK., but what really blew us away was a tamale dish. It is called Tamale Spread and it looks just like a big cheesy-brown blob on a plate. I wasn’t too excited about it, and ordered it for the kids. The adults laid it to waste. It had tamales, chopped beef, beans, bbq sauce, corn chips, cheese, and onions. Surprisingly tasty.

9.) Hot Water Cornbread—Watermark, Nashville— We took our friend Julia to dinner at Watermark in the Gulch neighborhood. The Hot Water Cornbread was actually a component of a BBQ Shrimp dish at this white-tablecloth restaurant. It was so good I asked for seconds on just the cornbread component, even though there was a breadbasket on the table.

8.) Lunch Salad— Blackberry Farm— The salad was served with Allan Benton’s bacon and a Chopped Egg Vinaigrette. The best salad I’ve eaten in two years.

7.) Tri-Tip Steak— The City House, Nashville. Our friend Julia took us to The City House where I ate one of the more flavorful tri-tips in recent memory.

6.) Grits SoufflĂ©—Watermark, Nashville— Joe Shaw, the restaurant’s executive chef, studied under Frank Stitt in Birmingham. It shows. This dish was amazing.

5.) Onion Soup— Blackberry Farm— Adam Cooke is the new Executive Chef at Blackberry. John Fleer put them on the map, but when he and Blackberry parted ways, the chef from Danny Meyer’s restaurant at the Museum of Modern art in Manhattan, The Modern, took the reins. While his food was first rate, I never thought it “fit” the Blackberry mold. Cooke’s does. For this simple onion soup, he used fresh, sweet onions from the gardens on the grounds, cooked them down, and thickened the soup with bread— simple, subtle, beautiful.

4.) Sweet Potato Pancakes— The Pancake Pantry, Nashville— whenever I’m in Nashville I eat breakfast at The Pancake Pantry. This marked the first time I had eaten their Sweet Potato Pancakes served with cinnamon butter and syrup. Along with our friend, Bobby, we tore them up.

3.) Mexican Popsicles— Las Paletas, Nashville— Five years ago, two sisters opened a business which serves homemade popsicles and that’s all. The flavors are exotic, original, and each popsicle is made daily from fresh ingredients. I know this because while I was ordering, one of the sisters was unloading flats of strawberries, cases of limes, bananas, and all manner of berries to be used in the next day’s offerings. There wasn’t even a sign outside of the business and the place was slammed. I am glad there’s not a Las Paletas anywhere near my house. I’d weigh twice what I do now.

2.) Sourdough Yeast Rolls— Barbara’s Home Cooking, Franklin, TN— 
Barbara grew up just a few miles down the road from me in New Augusta, MS. I’m not sure where her Sourdough Yeast Roll recipe comes from, but no one in this part of the country has ever made anything that comes close. Again, I’m glad this food item isn’t available anywhere near my hometown.

1.) Heirloom Sharlyn Melon and Champagne Terrine with Benton’s Ham— Blackberry Farm— I had never heard of a Sharlyn melon. It’s a cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew. Cooke drew inspiration from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon and compressed the melon in a v
acuum-sealed bag before serving it alongside champagne-mint gelee and a small, rolled-up sliver of Allan Benton’s 16-month aged domestic prosciutto. This marked the first time in my fine-dining eating career that I have ever ordered seconds on an amuse bouche.

Honorable Mention Gi Gi’s Cupcakes Nashville, Strawberry Shortcake at Barbara’s Home Cooking Franklin, TN, and everything that we ate during our stay at Blackberry Farm that wasn’t listed here— especially those items served during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Foie Gras with Toasted Brioche, Fig Relish and reduced Port Wine Glaze

1 lb. Foie Gras cut into 2 ounce slices
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
8 Slice Fresh Brioche, crusts removed and cut in half on a diagonal
1 recipe Fig Relish
1 Recipe Port Wine Glaze

Preheat oven to 450

Arrange the brioche on a baking sheet.
Season the foie gras with the salt and black pepper. Heat a large skillet over high heat and arrange the foie gras in the skillet so they do not touch. Cook 45 seconds. Carefully turn each piece over and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Place the brioche in the oven to toast.
To serve, place one piece of the brioche toast on each serving plate, top with one piece of the cooked foie gras. Top each piece of foie gras with 2 tsp of the fig relish. Rest another piece of toast atop of the foie gras. Drizzle the plate with the port wine glaze and serve immediately.

Yield: 8 servings.

Fig Relish

1 Tbl butter
2 Tbl minced shallots
1 1/2 cups whole fig preserves, small dice
2 Tbl brown sugar
2 Tbl sherry vinegar
2 Tbl minced celery
2 Tbl small diced red peppers
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leave, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over low heat in a small sauce pot. Cook the shallots for 3 minutes. Add in the diced figs and brown sugar, and cook 5-6 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking and burning. Add in the sherry vinegar, celery and red bell peppers and lower the heat. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add thyme, salt and black pepper and remove from heat. Best if made a day or two in advance. When ready to use, warm it slowly in a small sauté pan over a low heat.

1 1/2 cups

Port Wine Glaze

1 cup chicken stock
1 Tbl brown sugar
1 cup port wine
2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Place all ingredients in a small sauce pot. Simmer and reduce until mixture forms a thick syrup.
Yield: One quarter cup


CrazyBrideCrazyWife said...

Speaking of food - I made your Zydeco Chicken for dinner last night. My husband told me it was the best thing I had ever cooked for him. Thanks!

Hub Food Blogger said...

Great way to spend a week!