Nashville and Kentucky, November 2013: YUM!!
After a two-year hiatus the Owen kids finally made it back to Nashville, a month later than we used to do it … and it was so pretty and the weather so much more Fall-like that we might make that change permanent.
After four hours sitting in front of the Toddlers From Hell, and nothing to eat but peanuts and crackers (though our simpatico attendant comped us each two Bloody Marys!) we were ready for peace, quiet and some food, so our hostess/old friend Mrs. G guided us over to Green Hills and introduced us to Table 3, right by the cinema entrance. There was peace, quiet, cocktails for the women and a lovely white wine for me, followed by the best turkey sandwich I've ever had. Not cheap but reasonable at about $15 (including great fries), this was on an excellent thick-sliced grilled white bread, with plenty of thinly-sliced non-lunchmeat turkey, avocado, tomato and lettuce, and it made me very happy. Mrs. G was delighted with her mussels and fries, as was the vegetarian Mrs. O with her beet and goat-cheese salad, this one much better than the usual "something-for-veggies" cliché. Dinner for me was later with my own family at Dalt's, about which I'll just say it hasn't changed much, and then out to Sperry's where the women were having drinks, stunningly good Sidecars that turned out to be about half the price of my mediocre wine. Who knew Sperry's cocktails would be their big bargain?
On Friday we headed up to our "Tribal" gathering at Wig Wam Village in Cave City, stopping for lunch as we usually do at the Town House Café in Franklin, KY. Last time we were there it had been closed and then re-opened; this time apparently the same thing had happened again, and there'd been a major cleaning and refurbishing of both premises and menu. Still your basic meat'n'three, but the vegetables were fresher and better than we remembered, including the best fried okra I can remember tasting, and in generous portions, too. We wrapped it up with a fresh home-made banana pudding that was NOT yellow glop with vanilla wafers, but fresh, tangy banana in big chunks with just enough vanilla pudding and a cobbler-like crust chopped into it. On 31E, just before the courthouse square.
There's really no Chow-worthy stuff to mention in the Cave City/Horse Cave area, so I won't bother except to say if you're stuck there it's all chains except for the buffet at the Water Mill, and that's actually better and cheaper than the Cracker Barrel alternative.
Back in Nashville, it's gotten a lot better and it showed. Monday lunch was with my son and brother at Arnold's, long regarded by many as the best meat'n'three in the area, and now owned and operated by Arnold's son Khalil. I'd wanted to get the justly-famous fried chicken, but got sidetracked by kielbasa and kraut, one of my favorite dishes. Mrs. O found enough vegetables, plus a pie advertised as chocolate with spicy chiles. I'm afraid I was disappointed with my choice - the sausage was nice and smoky, but loose and flabby, and the kraut had been too heavily sweetened for my taste, with no tanginess at all. However, son Ben gallantly offered me first bite of his massive chicken thigh, and I took a big and quite delicious one. The newfangled pie was also a delight, deeply chocolatey and rich, with the heat showing up right behind the richness. Arnold's is at 605 8th Ave. South - open 10:30-2:45 Monday-Friday.
We took our hosts to dinner that night at Husk, yet another of the growing number of places doing farm-to-table out of their own garden. A very warm and comfortable place with friendly hostess and waiters, good solid wine list and an interesting menu. I managed to argue myself out of the roasted chicken with little dumplings, which I regret, because although my soup-can-sized portion of pork with cabbage was nice enough it was too much an echo of lunch. It was also what the other two omnivores ordered as well. Mrs. O had the only veggie-friendly entrée, called A Plate of Southern Vegetables, and a nice big plate it was, too. I also have to recommend my appetizer, five little devilled eggs, each garnished with a sprinkling of smoked trout roe. If you and they are both present, get them! 37 Rutledge Street.
Next day's lunch was surprising in many ways, starting with why we even went into an obvious chain diner with our old foodie friend Jerry in the first place. This was J. Christopher's, a fairly attractive room if just too big, but the sound track was good and not loud, the staff genuinely friendly, and someone back there knew how to poach eggs just right. We all got those with grits and toasted muffins, Jerry adding bacon, and everything was quite good including the coffee. This is on 21st just south of Hillsboro Village, about a block before Blair.
That night was our last, and we wanted to stay close to home, so we decided to look into Arnold Myint's little empire across from Belmont U. We had gotten a so-so meal at his Cha Cha on our last visit, but there'd been some good buzz and he'd gotten some new sidekicks in. Cha Cha is now called BLVD (I'm assuming pronounced Boulevard), and the staff uniform is no longer white shirts, black pants and weskits, but jeans or khakis and flannel shirts. The look may be casual, but the menu and food have both tightened up beautifully. As our host was driving I decided to try a martini, since my last one there had been about half water. This was not as close to frozen as I like, either, but quite satisfactory, and the wine that followed was a nice clean pinot noir. As for food, Mrs. O and I both stayed with the appetizers menu; she asked for the cheese and charcuterie plate to be all cheese, and had exactly that with plenty of bread, while I thought the escargot and the mac'n'cheese would make a nice combo. It did, too, and there was plenty of both, with a good-sized gratin dish of great macaroni and a big pile of shelled snails - I think I counted 15 of them, at a price I'm used to paying for a dozen or less.
This was not only our best-fed Nashville trip, it was some of the consistently best food we've had in some time. Nashville is not as cheap a place to eat as we've gotten used to in SoCal, but the price gap between good everyday food and white-tablecloth dining is I think smaller, and with the land's bounty being put to such good use by so many talented cooks it's coming closer to being a genuine destination.