Monday, July 30, 2012

Southern Hospitality

Between the stresses of work, wedding planning, and my masochistic, emotionally-draining following of the downfall of my alma mater's good name, I needed to get away. I've still been feeling a bit out of sorts lately, so it was time for a change of scenery. This past weekend was exactly what I needed.

Those who know Jill and me are well aware that there are three things that we relentlessly advocate: adopting shelter animals, George Sabatino's food, and JAQK Cellars wine. It was the last of these that sent us to Nashville, Tennessee this weekend. Our good friend David is the road warrior head of sales for JAQK. (While we certainly acknowledge that our friendship with David feeds our JAQK fandom, we became big fans of the wine before we really knew him; and we wouldn't blow smoke up our other friends' asses by insisting they try wine that sucks. Life is too short to drink wine that sucks.) David had a rare few days off between road trips, so he invited us and some other good friends of his to his current home base just outside Nashville for a weekend of decompression. Things being what they have been lately, the weekend trip couldn't have come at a better time.

Without boring you with all of the details of the weekend, I want to publicly recommend checking out the following places if you happen to find yourself in Nashville, as they all helped make for a wonderfully relaxing weekend.

Kayne Prime is a meat-lover's paradise. I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to steakhouses, because in Philly they're all chains and/or in the mold of a converted bank building. (I say this, I confess, having not eaten at Barclay Prime.) Don't get me wrong, I love a well-prepared cut of quality meat as much as the next guy, but I generally want my steak without the overbearing formality I feel in many steakhouses. So for me, Kayne was a home run: great steak and sides in a smart-casual setting. Although the steak is certainly the feature at Kayne, the highlight, must-order item for me was this beauty:

That's two thick-cut pieces of peppered bacon with maple cotton candy. David had described the flavor as being what happens when you're having pancakes with maple syrup and a side of bacon for breakfast, and some of the syrup drips off the pancakes and coats the bacon. That description was spot on—if, you know, you have top-quality bacon and maple syrup in your breakfast. Other menu highlights included the American wagyu New York Strip (as part of the New York Strip "progression" featuring prime, American wagyu, and Australian wagyu); the roasted bone marrow "canoes of beef," the macaroni gratinée (with bacon, of course), and the cream corn brulée. Kayne scored extra points for carrying my two favorite JAQK wines on its very strong wine list: Soldiers of Fortune syrah, and Black Clover merlot.

Whitfield's is a friendly, fairly casual neighborhood restaurant in Belle Meade, about 20 minutes from downtown Nashville. The menu is full of straightforward, familiar dishes that are thoughtfully well-executed. Of course, I almost didn't have room for my actual meal because the complimentary oiled baguette with sun-dried tomato compound butter was just so good; our table of five went through three of them. Highlights also included watermelon salad with arugula, goat cheese, and a balsamic reduction watermelon-lime balsamic dressing; and pan-seared salmon with a sweet chili glaze. One of our dining companions also raved about her pan-seared scallops. And David informs us that their osso bucco, on the fall seasonal menu starting in September or so, is worth a trip on its own.

Finally, Tavern is a hopping bar and restaurant smack in downtown Nashville, just a few blocks from Vanderbilt. We went for brunch, and found that Tavern offered Southern junk "morning after" food in all its artery-clogging glory. Their cheddar biscuits with chorizo gravy (pictured) is the closest rival to Silk City's biscuits and sausage gravy I've found for that type of dish. And the "Benedict Uno," a braised short rib benny with tabasco hollandaise, was a wonderfully satisfying spin on the brunch classic. But Tavern's heart- show-stopper is its "White Trash Hash," an unholy combination of mushy french fries and gooey cheese. It's exactly what you'll need to kill a pesky hangover after a late night at the Nashville honky tonks. (I would like to officially request that The Industry call up the folks at Tavern and get the recipe for this stuff; weary bar and restaurant workers will kill plates upon plates of it on Sunday afternoons.)

Thanks to David, JAQK Cellars, and all of these places for the amazing hospitality this weekend. Now that my batteries are recharged ...

Header photo by Frank Kehren, used under Creative Commons license. Other photos by author.

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