After spending the better part of a decade in a culture vastly different than our own, the Reed family returned to the USA. We had just over a week before school was to begin, a few days to re-immerse ourselves in the American lifestyle. What better way to do that than to head for a cabin in Pigeon Forge?
Truth be told, that is not the main reason we went, but Pigeon Forge is what it is. Aside from seeing family and re-adjusting sleep schedules to a once-familiar time zone, I had one primary goal. After subsisting on restaurant fare and airplane trays in the previous week of travel, I was ready for some good old American grub. But despite the volume of places to eat in Pigeon Forge, finding something that isn’t a pancake or can’t be found on any fast food row anywhere else in America is a bigger challenge. I did my usual digging around and found what seemed to be a highly-rated and unique place called Blackberry Farm. It was a little ways down the road but it had promise. Unfortunately, I also discovered that the restaurant was a part of a resort, and a stay at the resort was required for dinner. Man.
So it didn’t work out that time, and I still haven’t found an opportunity to spend a night there, but I’ve kept the idea on the back burner since then, just waiting for my chance. Then at the International Biscuit Festival, my ship came in. Since the beginning of the Festival, Blackberry Farm has been involved in the form of a Biscuit Brunch. The only concern I had was that I knew I would be cruising Biscuit Boulevard for a round of power eating before the brunch began. It was a dilemma, but I knew what I would do. This was my best shot to enjoy a Blackberry Farm meal “off the farm”, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
The meal began with biscuits. Surprise! The menu showed two varieties, but the one I found in front of me was a Benne, Sorghum and Onion Biscuit. It had elements of the same flavors you would get from pouring sorghum molasses on a biscuit – rich, dark sweetness, but in a much more subtle way. The onion wasn’t strong, just enough to send the taste buds over to a savory corner. The benne added a nutty note. But for those who wanted to add a little sweetness, there was farm-made blackberry and blueberry preserves.
The first course had a lot of promise: Citrus Cured Sunburst Trout with pickled vegetables and Georgia olive oil. I love grilled fish with fruit salsa, and I had downed a shot of Georgia olive oil once before, so I was looking forward to the flavors. What I discovered was that the trout had truly been cured – not grilled – in the citrus juice, something like a ceviche’ I suppose. I tried it and it just wasn’t my thing. But there were at least a couple of positives. One, everybody else at the table ate it up like they hadn’t been on Biscuit Boulevard all morning. Plus, it had just a dab of what I have to assume was Sunburst Trout Caviar on top, which I later discovered was on my list of 100 Southern Things to Eat Before You Die. Check.
As one might imagine, Daughter left the trout untried. But the main course was more up her alley – mine, too. Chef Josh Feathers described it as Seared Braised and Pressed Ancient White Park Beef with Potato Foie Gras Puree and Watercress with Dried Cherries. When it arrived, the beef looked like a rectangular cut of steak or roast. When my fork hit it, it slowly fell apart into a pile of tender and tasty bites. A little dip into the rich puree and a stab of watercress and cherry, all on the same fork, was a very special mouthful.
Dessert was a cheese cake made from Blackberry Farm Brebis cheese. Brebis is a sheep’s milk cheese, possibly the first time I have had anything (knowingly) made from sheep’s milk. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I ended up being quite happy to eat mine and most of Daughter’s as well. It was anchored by a cornbread crust (also unique) and topped with fresh South Carolina strawberries. Not too sweet, but plenty sweet enough – an excellent ending to our morning in Knoxville, and another check off the bucket list in a roundabout way.
Before we left the Biscuit Festival we stopped for an ice cream cone. Don’t look at me that way. I know we just had an amazing piece of cheesecake at Brunch. This was an opportunity stop, and besides, ice cream fits no matter how full you are – it just melts and fills in the empty places in your belly. This ice cream was from the Cruze Farm Milk Bar, the same outfit that had provided the buttermilk the night before. I went to the crazy side – buttermilk lime ice cream with cardamom. The cardamom was a bit more edgy than I expected, but the lime had a sweet-tart-creamy combination that was refreshing on this muggy morn.
That was not the end of our day, but it was the end of our time in Knoxville at the Biscuit Festival. I hated to leave, but the biscuits were about gone, I had eaten enough to hold me through Monday, and we had a date with Dolly. Our day would end in Pigeon Forge, the same place my quest for a bite from Blackberry Farm had begun. Daughter had worked out a deal: I could drag her to Knoxville if she could drag me to Dollywood. My arm did not require a very firm twist. Off we went.