Saturday, May 21, 2016

Music City Memories Part 1: The Southern and Robert's Western World

It is a sweet time when you can get away with some of your best girls for a little get away. Recently, I got to do just that when my friends, Merri and Julie, and I made plans to meet Lu in Nashville. Since our Sherri lost her battle with multiple myeloma and Lu moved to Tuscaloosa, Three Friends and a Fork has been a lonely place and I am excited any time I can manage to get together with my friends.

Merri booked us a room with Air BnB, which none of us had ever used before, but the price was about one-third that of hotels in the area. Our room turned out to be a three level town house belonging to a couple in downtown Nashville. We were super impressed with the location. None of us would have ever stayed in the place by ourselves, because we were actually staying in the home the couple lives in, not a separate rental apartment. But, for the three of us staying together, we were perfectly comfortable sharing the upper level of this Nashville home. If you are thinking about renting space in an Airbnb, you need to ask about the accessibility of the space you are planning to rent. We had to climb stairs to the top floor, carrying our suitcases and belongings. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for anyone with health or mobility issues.

I learned a few things about Nashville during this trip. First. Uber will be your best friend in Nashville. Truly, it is the only way to get around town. We would put in our request on the Uber app and it would tell us exactly where our driver was and how soon transportation would arrive, which was usually in minutes. I had no idea Uber was so spectacular. So, #1, get the app. Use Uber.

Next, Nashville has a ton of great restaurants and they stay booked. I'm not kidding when I say 2 1/2 hour waits were the norm. For some really iconic restaurants, like Husk, you can forget getting in unless you have reservations, preferably weeks, if not months, in advance. Seriously, we tried to get reservations to Husk the week before we left home and could not get in. #2 Make dinner reservations well in advance of your trip, if there are places you really don't want to miss.


There are always lots of things going on in Nashville and many of them are free. If there is a show or event you really want to see make reservations before you leave home, but don't forget to check out the other things Nashville has to offer. For instance, we had a blast listening to great honky tonk music in a place called Robert's Western World. There is no charge to get in, but the band does pass around a bucket for tips. Speaking of the band, they were wonderful. They entertained us with real country favorites by Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Bob Wills, among others. If you want something to eat or drink, that will cost you, but the entertainment is free.

This little guy was watching over all the festivities at Centennial Park.

We were also thrilled when we found out the Tennessee Arts and Crafts Fair would be going on at Centennial Park the days we were in town. Tons of vendors set up shop and sell their handmade goods in the shade of the trees at Centennial Park. Admission is free and so is looking, but don't be surprised if you decide to buy something while you are there. #3 Book your shows and other paid events before you leave home, but don't forget to check out all the free things going on in the Music City.

Finally, back to that Airbnb. I never thought I would recommend this, because the idea of staying in a stranger's home kind of creeps me out, but hotels in downtown Nashville can be quite pricey. If you are traveling with a group and you would feel comfortable staying in a private residence, at least give Airbnb a look. The place we stayed in was clean, we barely saw the couple who lived there, and the location was the best we could have asked for. Best of all, we saved a ton of money. #4 Check out Airbnb.

Those are my tips. Here is our trip! We arrived on Thursday night, which just happened to be Cinco de Mayo. We stupidly thought we might check out the Mexican restaurant, Saint Anejo, in the Gulch. Not only did Cinco have the place packed, it just so happened that Kid Rock was there. It was almost impossible to drive down the street in front of the restaurant. Giving up on Saint Anejo, we finally wrangled a table, with the OpenTable app, at The Southern and we were not disappointed. I knew right away that The Southern was a sister restaurant to Saffire in Franklin when I saw a Devil of an Egg on the menu. A previous trip to Franklin with the family had introduced me to those yummy smoked deviled eggs.

It's a Devil of an Egg!

But on this night, we skipped the eggs and went straight to the main course. Lu got gumbo with the mahogany roux just like she loves it. She also had another favorite of hers, New Orleans BBQ shrimp. Merri chose a Caesar salad, which we all agreed was the best Caesar we had ever tasted. It had romaine, shaved country ham, herbed goat cheese, croutons, buttermilk Caesar dressing and a blackstrap drizzle. Delicious! Merri and I both had blue cheese biscuits with beef tenderloin and a horseradish demi glacé. Poor Julie, who had a previous commitment, finally made it to Nashville just as we were finishing our meal. 


BBQ Shrimp

Beef tenderloin on blue cheese biscuits

Since it was a beautiful night, we ate outside and watched the carriages ride by our table. 

When Julie finally arrived, we moseyed on over to Robert's Western World for some authentic Nashville honky tonk! We really loved that we were carded before we were allowed to enter the bar! No wonder everybody in Robert's is in such a good mood and feeling young! 

Julie was starving so she grabbed a burger and fries while we were there. She really liked that burger, too! But, of course, the music and the people watching were best parts of Robert's. 

Cowboy boots line the walls at Robert's Western World

 We literally fell into our beds when we finally made it back to our room. Exhausted, but thoroughly pumped for the next day. More later!

Three Friends and a Fork give both The Southern and Robert's Western World 
3 Boot Scootin' Yums UP!


Monday, April 25, 2016

Step Into History at Homestead Manor Restaurant



About 25 minutes south of Nashville, in the little community of Thompson Station, is the most unlikely of restaurants. Sitting on fifty acres and surrounded by pastures, trees and rolling green hills, is a stately old plantation house and, now a restaurant, called Homestead Manor. Construction on the home began in 1799 and was completed in 1819. Most of the materials used in the building of the house came from the property. Hand hewn wood floors, plaster walls and 12 foot ceilings, 9 fireplaces and wide porches all harken back to the early part of the 19th century.  
Every room in the house is dedicated to a different chapter in the home's history and the history of the surrounding community. One room tells the story of young Alice, with a portrait of her on the wall as well as a flag embroidered with the words of Colonel S.G. Earle of the 3rd Arkansas Calvary, "Boys, a woman has your flag!" A cannonball from the battle is also on display in this room.


If walls could talk, this house would have lots to tell. On March 5, 1863, seventeen year old Alice Thompson, daughter of Elijah Thompson, for whom Thompson Station is named, and other women from the area, hid in the cellar of the home as the Confederate army marched across the property toward Union lines. As the ladies watched the Battle of Thompson Station unfold from a tiny window, they noticed that the standard bearer for the regiment had been hit. Young Alice, ran outside and grabbed the flag and held it aloft to urge her troops on. At the end of the five hour battle, the home became a hospital for the wounded soldiers and Alice and the other women tended the injured and dying. Blood stained wood floors on the upper level of the house are a visual reminder of the horrors of war. 

Another room, dedicated to the importance music has played in this part of Tennessee, showcases musical instruments. Guitars signed by famous musicians line the walls and a chandelier made of old piano keys found on the property casts a disco-like glow over the room. 

The technological room highlights changes in technology as seen by the different machines, tools and implements that were used on the property at one time or another. All of the items showcased in this room were found somewhere on the estate.

A flag with 34 stars is displayed in the blue and gray room, dedicated to the history of the Civil War. The flag became the official flag of the United States on July 4, 1861, after Kansas was granted statehood. The only president to serve under this flag was Abraham Lincoln.

Many artifacts have been found on the property over the years. They are lovingly displayed throughout the home, including the grand entrance hall.  Also of interest are the squares of stained glass over the front door. They repeat in a strict AB color pattern until the last square. The last square is the same color as the preceding square. Our hostess told us this was a code for the Underground Railroad, to let escaping slaves know this was a safe place to hide. I could not confirm this in my research, but if true, it makes the home and its occupants even more interesting.    


Outside, the grounds of Homestead Manor are meticulously cared for and watched over by a pretty little garden angel. The garden on the front lawn makes a beautiful view from the upstairs porch. But Homestead Manor is more than just pretty. It is a working farm. Ten acres of the property are dedicated to sustainably support the restaurant with a garden and orchard. Yes, we did mention that Homestead Manor is now a fine dining restaurant, which is why we ended up at this hidden jewel. The home is now owned by the same family who owns several restaurants in and around Nashville, including Puckett's Grocery and Puckett's Boathouse. We told you about Puckett's Boathouse when we visited our niece, Kelly, in Franklin.

Our tour of the home actually came at the end of our meal. For dinner, we were seated in the bar area at the back of the house, where we could look across through the windows and see the cooks pulling pizzas from the large brick wood fired oven.

Our server brought our menus, a cosmo for me and a basket of homemade bread with herb butter for us to munch on while we made our selections. That herb butter was so good!

I made my selections from the appetizer menu with soup, house salad and a tray of pimento cheese and hoe cakes. Everything I had was delicious. I especially liked the rich, brothy beef soup with mushrooms and the creamy pimento cheese. If I had one critique to make it would be that I prefer my hoecakes thinner and crispier, but that is a personal preference. The salad was lovely with thin slices of rosy beets, radishes, tomatoes, carrots and crispy greens. I could have sipped the champagne vinaigrette with a straw, it was so good. Yum!

Scott chose the grilled hangar steak. It came with smashed fingerling potatoes, fried garlic chips, baby greens topped with a mustard vinaigrette and bearnaise sauce. We both liked the dish, although I think I liked it even better than he did. The meat had a lot of char on it, which I love. He prefers a bit less.

We were way too stuffed for dessert, but I did check out the sweet offerings for your information. They had lemon ricotta cheesecake with blueberries, black forest cake with brandy soaked cherries, strawberry shortcake and house made gelato. Everything sounded delicious!


One other thing. While we were touring the cellar, our hostess and guide told us the room is now used for private dining. They have set up a chef's table, where guests can dine in privacy and the entire dinner is designed around your preferences and requests. The candles are lit and the mood is set for a one of a kind dining experience. I so want to go back and reserve the chef's table!

Homestead Manor is also hosts  events, both public and private. While we were there, the staff was busy getting ready for a wedding reception complete with a white buggy for the newly weds. Tables were being set up in a nearby barn. And we noticed a couple of spring events open to the public on the event board.

If you would like to visit Homestead Manor, the address is 4683 Columbia Pike in Thompson Station, TN, just south of Franklin. The restaurant is closed on Monday. Hours vary slightly each day, opening a bit earlier on Saturday and Sunday and staying open a bit later on Friday and Saturday. They are open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. For more information about Homestead Manor ,check out their website.

Three Friends and a Fork give Homestead Manor 3 historic Yums UP!  
The next time you are in the Nashville area, visit Homestead Manor, and be sure to ask for a tour of the home!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Rosemary Thumbprint Cookies with Tomato Jam

It began with a flat of tomatoes from Costco. There were about 15 medium sized tomatoes in the box. They looked good, but they tasted like, well, nothing. I couldn't eat them and I couldn't make myself throw them out. Then, in a moment of, maybe not brilliance, but a flash of above average, I decided to make some tomato jam. We love tomato jam with field peas and it had been a while since I had made the sweet condiment. 


I started by plunging the tomatoes into a boiling water bath for a few minutes to loosen the skins. The whole process is made easier if you core the tomatoes and make a shallow X on the bottom of each one with a knife before putting them in the hot water.

Once the tomatoes were peeled, I placed them in a saucepan with 2 cups sugar, 1/2 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper. Then I cooked them on medium heat until the tomatoes were broken down, thick and jammy. It takes a while. Just stir frequently to make sure they don't burn and to help them break up. Remove from the heat and add the juice from 1/2 a lemon. Then pour the jam into clean canning jars. I ended up with a quart of jam plus a half pint. Place the jars in the refrigerator after they cool.

I remembered seeing an Epicurious recipe for some rosemary shortbread cookies filled with tomato jam. I have tons of rosemary growing in my garden and I happen to be a big fan of shortbread, so I decided to adapt the cookies from sandwich to thumbprint. I feel that sandwich cookies can be too much and I just prefer a thumbprint cookie. So, I took the Epicurous shortbread recipe, made thumbprint cookies and filled them with my tomato jam. 

To make the shortbread, begin by chopping fresh rosemary very finely. You are going to need a heaping tablespoon of chopped rosemary. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a stand mixer, blend 1 cup of room temperature butter with 1/2 cup sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add two large egg yolks and the chopped rosemary and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup plain yellow cornmeal, 2 cups all purpose flour and 1/2 t. salt. Add to butter mixture and mix until the dough holds together. Remove from bowl and shape into two 6" logs. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour. When dough is well chilled, remove from refrigerator and slice into quarter inch sized discs. Place on cookie sheet about one inch apart. Make a dent in each disc with your thumb and fill with small amount of tomato jam. Bake about 12-15 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. Then try to eat just one! My husband decided these were a great breakfast cookie with a slice of crispy bacon. I think they are good any time of day. 

Get a printable copy of these recipes HERE.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Beignet Café...How Sweet It Is!

So, you are craving some sweet, powdered sugar beignet goodness from New Orleans, but you don't happen to be in New Orleans, what do you do? Make your own? Well, you could, but if you are near Huntsville, AL, you could head to Beignet Cafe on Winchester Road. From Scottsboro, take a right on Sheilds Road (at the intersection with McDonalds and Arby's), and then another right on Winchester. Beignet Cafe is in Winchester Plaza on the Homer Nance side of the building.

Do not use Google to find out Beignet Café's hours, at least for another couple of weeks. Google has it wrong and the owners were told it would be at least two weeks before the mistake is corrected. Go figure! We went over on Friday and Google said the restaurant was closed. I thought Friday was a peculiar day to be closed, so I kept looking. Their Facebook page told a different story. It said they were open, so I called to find out. Lo and behold, they were open and had just been made aware of Google's shenanigans. Anyway, we got directions and headed on over. I snapped a picture of the hours posted on their door, so you wouldn't have the problems we had.

Open only since October 2015, the café is small, maybe a dozen tables. 


We were greeted, seated, given menus and had our drink orders taken within a matter of seconds. Our server was cute and friendly. When she brought out our drinks, she told us she was practicing making hearts in the foam of the café au lait. I just love initiative! 

We nibbled on a basket of beignets while we studied the menu. 

Breakfast and lunch items were both available. Oddly enough, though I am usually the lunch eater and Scott gravitates toward breakfast, we switched!

He ordered the cranberry pecan chicken salad sandwich and loaded potato salad. It was as good as it sounds. The chicken salad was piled high on a split loaf of french bread. It was a big sandwich. We loved it and the potato salad, too.


I couldn't resist the dirty grits with chicken and andouille sausage. And just to make sure I got enough carbs, I had a side of potato salad. Hey, don't judge! It was goooood! The grits were warm and spicy, but not too spicy. The potato salad was creamy and cool.

We will definitely be back to Beignet Café, especially now that we know their hours. Next time I want to try their shrimp po'boy...or their shrimp and grits...or the French toast! Oh, well! I think we will be back often! Maybe we will see you there!

                              Three Friends and a Fork give Beignet Café a big welcome and                                3 Sweet Yums UP!