Monthly Archives: June 2013

Blackberry Farm Biscuit Brunch

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.

Citrus Cured Sunburst Farms Trout

Citrus Cured Sunburst Farms Trout

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.

Here's the Beef

Here’s the Beef

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.

Brebis Cheesecake

Brebis Cheesecake

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.

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Father’s Week Reflections

It’s Father’s Week. Like birthdays, I am a believer in extending the celebration as long as possible, especially when the celebration is about me (he said, humbly.) I’ve got my reasons.
Father’s Day, this past Sunday, was actually very unique. I could tell others thought it unique as well, at least based on the looks The Wife and I got as we sat alone for brunch at Restaurant Tyler. Without my kids. Without my father. On Father’s Day. Ironically, my father was with my daughter in another state, celebrating with my brother. I am good with that. Daughter called me in the afternoon to deliver her greetings, and when the awkward silences began to ensue, I asked her to hand the phone to Doc. Two birds with one call. Son was gone most of the day to Scout camp, where he is actually earning his own money rather than spending mine, so that was a pretty good father moment, too.
As for my progressive Father’s Day meals, they began on Friday night with a dinner at Julep Restaurant in Jackson – deep fried pimento cheese, fried chicken glazed with honey and rosemary, catfish tacos, Portobello fries. Not a bad start. Saturday morning at the Community Market provided a chocolate chip scone with a mint lemonade to begin the morning, then a sampling from Chef Jay Yates’ demonstration of smoked duck hash followed by cannonball squash pasta. A mango-peach smoothie from the Book Mart Café cooled me down after one of our warmer market mornings. Son was on a weekend break from scout camp that day, so we did an Almost-Father’s-Day supper at CJ’s Pizza and I got to order what I wanted, no guilt. For brunch on Sunday I got Chef Ty’s daily special, the Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict Biscuit and the always creamy cheese grits. Dessert was a lemon cupcake at Granny’s 97th birthday party. With all that good stuff behind me, that means I’m back on the wagon the rest of the week; a beach trip is on the horizon and I fear the black swimsuit on my pale skin might prompt cries of “Free Willy” if I enjoy too many more weekends like this.

Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict from Restaurant Tyler

Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict from Restaurant Tyler

Chef Jay Yates from The Veranda Slinging Duck Hash

Chef Jay Yates from The Veranda Slinging Duck Hash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Another side effect of having a quieter house this week has been time for reflection, and with Father’s Day on the horizon I had some time to ponder how food and father memories have become intertwined over these forty-something years. Daddy brought us to Starkville in late 1967. I left for a little while, but The Parents have been a steady presence here. Most folks know Daddy as a teacher. If you taught at TSAT (The School Across Town) between 1967 and 2001 you probably ran into him; if you were a student and needed math (hello, everybody) in that period there’s a good chance you had him or knew someone who did; and if you were in the junior/senior boy’s Sunday School class at First Baptist in the late seventies/early eighties, he was there, too. I didn’t take my math at TSAT, but by all accounts he was both tough and beloved.
When it came to the kitchen, however, the lessons were few and far between. Mama was the cook in our house, but over the years a few meals acquired his signature, and when it came to those, Mama happily handed over the apron.
My earliest memory of Daddy’s cooking was his now-famous lasagna. I seem to recall that Mama was off on a handbell trip, leaving Daddy to fend for two boys. He found a recipe on the side of the Skinner lasagna box, a recipe that would eventually be praised and requested over a legion of dinner parties, university snow-skiing trips, and church functions. But the genius in this recipe was Daddy’s secret ingredient. He snuck in a layer of pepperoni, and that, my friends, made all the difference. Pepperoni: it does a lasagna good. It’s not just for breakfast anymore; it’s what’s for dinner.
He is also pretty handy on the grill. His current specialty is pork loin; in earlier days it was steak. When I get ready to grill something, I break out the marinades and let the meat soak for a day or so. The spice cabinet gets emptied for the latest rub recipe I’ve come across. I’m pretty sure Daddy used salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. And yes, his steaks kick mine in the butt roast. Ditto for his chicken, something else he’s cooked in mass quantities, using a simple recipe borrowed from Bo Haynes.
When the Crock-Pot made its way to our house, Daddy took it over as well. In one of my first columns I shared the recipe for his Crock-Pot Barbecue. (Check the SDN archives for October/November 2010.) Since those days I have become a bit of a barbecue purist – some might even say snob. I look for smoke and I look for wood and I like the sauce on the side. His meets none of those specs. But it’s still pork, it’s still slow-cooked, and it still makes my mouth water when I think about it. It works.
On the flip side, I appreciate the fact that he will try just about anything I put in front of him. When I made sweet corn cake and corn ice cream for my birthday last year, out of all the family members subjected to it, he was the most polite in declining seconds.
Many who know us both have said, “You sound just like Jerry Reed.” I take that as a compliment. He retired from teaching math a long time ago, but when it comes to fatherhood lessons, I am still a student. And these days – as my own kids can testify – he is a little less tough, but just as beloved.

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Boppin’ Down Biscuit Boulevard

Beale Street. Broadway. Bourbon Street. Bleeker. All famous streets and they all happen to start with a B. Though they are famous for other things, you could probably get something pretty doggone good to eat on each of them. But as far as I’m concerned the place to “B” most recently wasn’t in New York, New Orleans, or Memphis – it was in Knoxville, on Biscuit Boulevard.
I suppose that on the remaining 364 days of the year, it goes by another name. But on this spring Saturday, it was all about the biscuits. Sweet biscuits, savory biscuits, fried biscuits, and biscuits that didn’t even look like biscuits. They were all there, and so were we.
We started out the morning with two Biscuit Boulevard tickets, entitling us to ten different biscuit creations between us. I figured ten biscuits between two people equaled five each – it’s been a long time since calculus, but I’m pretty sure that’s the right math. It would have been, had Daughter eaten her fair share. It ended up being more like eight to two, but we managed.
With a quick walk down the Boulevard to survey the scene, we learned pretty quickly that we’d better get busy – it had just opened and the lines were already getting long. Our first sample was from the Biscuit Love Truck: a ball of deep-fried biscuit dough stuffed with mascarpone and lemon curd, drizzled with blueberry compote. They called it a Bonut. Across the way the Hilton had a sweet potato biscuit with maple-smoked bacon and blackberry-chipotle jam. Mixed reviews from Daughter (the words “sweet potato” were enough to cause a face), but I was loving life already.
Tea at the Gallery gave us a rosemary biscuit with a dollop of strawberry jam embedded in the top – simple, but a nice flavor pairing. While waiting in line for the Southern Living biscuits, we grabbed a blueberry oatmeal scone from Sapphire restaurant, drizzled with icing. More things in life should be drizzled with icing, don’t you think? That kept me from starving while we waited for the two classic creations from the Southern Living booth. One was a strawberry shortcake biscuit, the other I would have called a pig in a blanket, and the pig in this case was notably flavorful. I was particularly interested in this booth because of who I recognized working there. Whitney Chen Wright, one of our favorite finalists on The Next Food Network Star a couple of seasons ago, is now the Deputy Food Director for Southern Living, and she was back there cranking out the shortcake. Sometimes I’m shy, but I chose not to be this day, and introduced myself. Daughter was not sure at first if she should support my endeavor, but in the end was impressed, since Whitney turned out to be super friendly. She even offered us an extra biscuit. It’s nice to know the Deputy.

Whitney Chen Wright and Goofy NFNS Fan

Whitney Chen Wright and Goofy NFNS Fan

Now it was time to tackle the big lines. R.T. Lodge had a deep-fried biscuit stuffed with braised short rib and pickled onion. I figured this one would be all mine because of the onion, but I offered a bit to Daughter anyway. She did pick off the pink rings, but tore into the short rib meat with abandon. She thought it was brisket (her second carnivorous love, after chicken nuggets), and said, “I could eat a whole plate of that.” This one ended up winning the Critic’s Choice award, and it got our votes, too.
Tupelo Honey is a restaurant I was familiar with; the original is in our beloved Asheville, North Carolina. We had to walk a block down a side street (Gravy Lane? Not really…) to get to the end of the line for their Green-Eyed Monster Pimento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit. I loved this one. The biscuit was rich with cheese – just crumbly enough to have a great texture, without falling apart. I would have been thrilled with a couple of these even without the Green-Eyed Monster, which turned out to be a battered and fried jalapeno pepper. The pepper was a bit spicy for me, but the concept and flavor combination was excellent. They notched a Runner-Up nod in the People’s Choice Awards.

Tupelo Honey's Green-Eyed Monster on Pimento-Cheese Biscuit

Tupelo Honey’s Green-Eyed Monster on Pimento-Cheese Biscuit

Another long line was for a biscuit with a really long name: the Plaid Apron’s Buttermilk Biscuit with Candied Benton’s Bacon, Clabbered Cream, and a Honey/Balsamic Reduction. The bacon was baked into the biscuit, studded with bits throughout. The cream was in the center, running out into the street (it caught me by surprise) on the first bite. For me, that’s where they should have stopped. The balsamic reduction was a bit too out there, even for me. Next time I’ll ask for it sans reduction, and I’ll also be prepared for the cream that comes clabbering out.
First place in the People’s Choice went to the only biscuit I saw that came with gravy. But this was not your grandmother’s cream gravy, unless your grandmother had a little Cajun in her. Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant (another family favorite on trips to Pigeon Forge) won the prize with a big half-biscuit covered in andouille sausage and shrimp in a cream gravy base.
Somehow or another we missed a few prize-winning biscuits. (Not sure how that happened. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it.) I kept seeing people with a cheesy-looking concoction, but never saw the booth from which it came. I think it was the other Runner-Up, Flourhead’s Sweetwater Valley Smoked Cheddar and Onion Biscuit. Best Biscuit Booth went to the Rel Maples Institute of Culinary Arts at Walters State Community College, who had a Bananas Foster Biscuit. The picture I saw weeks later looked amazing. I think these two might have been off the “beaten” boulevard somehow. The others we missed due to good judgment: ten biscuits were about all we could handle before going to the Blackberry Farm Biscuit Brunch. Five hundred pounds, here I come.

Daughter and Future Me (sans moderation)

Daughter and Future Me
(sans moderation)

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Biscuit Bash – SDN column 5 June 2013

I was standing in line – for a meal, I’m sure – at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. That’s where I met John. Both newbies to the SFA, we introduced ourselves, asking the stock question of the weekend: What is your connection to food? At the time, I was just three weeks into my developing story of “Pharmacist by day, freelance food writer by day off”. John had a day job, too – downtown Knoxville, Tennessee real estate developer. But his food connection was much cooler. John was the Biscuit Boss.
At that point in 2010, the International Biscuit Festival was barely a year old. As I understood the story, a group of folks in Knoxville got together to brainstorm ideas for a spring festival that would bring a crowd to the downtown area. The legacy of the White Lily Flour Company (founded in Knoxville in the late 1800’s) made a biscuit-focused festival a natural choice. It only took one more year for the Biscuit Festival to earn the number one spot on livability.com’s Top Ten Food Festival list. I arrived two years later. Finally.
Daughter and I hit Knoxville about an hour before the first event of our weekend. Prior to the Biscuit Festival proper was a two-day Southern Food Writers Conference which culminated Friday night with the Biscuit Bash. The Bash featured bites and drinks inspired by the conference authors and speakers, as well as a showing of the Joe York documentary, “Pride and Joy”. Having reviewed the menu beforehand, I was a little afraid I might have to take Daughter to Wendy’s afterward – some of the dishes were going to be a little fancified for her taste – but she surprised me.
I thought it would be a good idea to walk to the venue, so our first order of business was to get something to drink. Cat Kinsman of CNN’s Eatocracy was the inspiration for two of the drinks available, a Bourbon Slush and Tomato Lemonade. I’m a big fan of “infused” lemonades – not so big a fan of straight tomato juice. I’m sure it was very healthy. But when I went back for a refill, I chose a blackberry lemonade instead. Much more my style.
The first offering being passed around was a product of Pillsbury, a major sponsor of the weekend – a deep-fried biscuit ball (on a stick, of course) dipped in a vanilla glaze and covered with sprinkles. Very festive, and a big hit with Daughter, the queen of the donut hole. Maybe I had brought the right person to the party after all.
As soon as we got the okay to start perusing the tables I went for the Shrimp and Grits from Regina Carboneau, the Chef de Cuisine on the American Queen riverboat. One bite of cheesy grits, one shrimp. They were just teasing me. Daughter spotted another of the few biscuits available at the party, a Cream Cheese Biscuit with Benton’s Country Ham, which turned out to be her favorite, and saved me from a post-Bash fast food run. I was doubly happy because if I had said, “Here, try this piece of country ham” she would have made a face – but she dove in assuming it was bacon and kept going back for more. Whatever works. And thanks to Cynthia Graubart, a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, for making that happen.
The real bacon was on the table, wrapped around a piece of watermelon that seemed to be pickled or candied or something. Even bacon couldn’t convince daughter to try this one, but I snatched several, created in the name of Julia Reed (no relation), an author and editor at Garden and Gun. Chef Hugh Acheson went back to the basics of southern pickle plates with his pimento cheese and celery sticks. Not long after we got there I spotted Sheri Castle, author of “The New Southern Garden Cookbook”. I met Sheri a couple of years ago at a Symposium and was eager to try the interpretation of her recipe for Peach Cobbler with Cheddar Biscuits and Blackberry Buttermilk Sherbet. This ended up being another bite that I went back more than once to “try”.
One of the most unique bites of the night was a smoked trout salad atop a corn cake studded with sweet peas, via Chef Holly Hambright. Another wild one was Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Scottadito with Berry Gastrique. I had to look that one up. In the Italian dictionary it means “burning fingers” – in the mouth it is a fancy lamb chop. Cheese wiz Liz Thorpe suggested a trio of cheeses that I’m sure were immensely pleasing to people who love funky cheeses.
On the trip up we heard a podcast that mentioned Francis Lam, a Clarkson Potter editor and Top Chef Masters judge. I thought that was quite ironic because I knew he was one of the conference speakers and would likely be at the dinner. The bite with his name on it was Collards and Fish Sauce, aka Greens with Extra Umami. I didn’t go for seconds, but I think it might have been pretty good hot.
Then there was the buttermilk division. In the Pride and Joy movie, Earl Cruze of Cruze Farm touted the benefits of drinking his buttermilk every day, and I got the chance to try it in two different ways. Cruze Farm Girls were roaming the venue with jugs of buttermilk and cups. I took a slug; Daughter took a sip and made a face. Or maybe she just made a face. Later it showed up again in Matt Gallaher’s Cruze Farm Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry-Rhubarb Conserves and Riverplains Farm Egg Meringue. A mouthful to say, and a series of yummy mouthfuls to eat.
We had planned to walk back to the hotel after the film, hoping to walk off a few calories before hitting Biscuit Boulevard the next morning, but it was pouring rain. Thank goodness the Biscuit Boss had a bus.

Biscuit Pop

It’s A Biscuit…Really

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