Posts Tagged With: International Biscuit Festival

Daddy-Daughter-Dolly Road Trip

I had a plan. It was a loosely formed plan, but a plan nonetheless. Once Daughter and I had consumed all that the International Biscuit Festival had to offer, I figured we could find something else fun to do between here and there. We had driven all that way (meaning, I had driven all that way) after all, so why not? It didn’t take long for a plan to firm up in Daughter’s mind. She’d been bugging me to go to Six Flags Over Georgia since spring break (it opened a week after our trip to Atlanta), and thought that would be a good place to stop by on the way home. (In her defense, she is generally a map-less passenger, content for us to tell her “how much farther”.)

I am most definitely an amusement park kind of guy. I like the opportunity to eat unique theme park foods, and I like wild and wooly roller coasters. I don’t necessarily recommend them in that order, but that’s just me. So when Daughter laid out her plan, I was game in principle; I just knew Six Flags wouldn’t work. But since I had a little better handle on the geography and timetable, I suggested Dollywood. Despite numerous Spring Break trips to Pigeon Forge, we always seemed to get there a week before it opened. (Are you noticing a pattern here? Could we work on that, Starkville Public Schools?) After a little Googling to determine coaster quality we decided it was worth a shot.

We pulled onto Dollywood Boulevard just after three o’clock on Saturday afternoon – perfect timing because an entrance after that time allowed us to get in free the next day. For the better part of five hours, we rode the coasters without eating a thing. Not normal. Then again, it wasn’t exactly normal that we spent most of the morning inhaling biscuits. But by the time we got back to Pigeon Forge that night, we had both worked up a pretty good appetite. I thought it would be fun to find a pancake place; a good carb-loading seemed to be in order for the next day’s dashes from queue to queue. None on our end of the parkway were open. (Whoever is working on spring break scheduling, could you look into that, too?) With breakfast for dinner now on the brain, I sought refuge elsewhere. Krispy Kreme was already on our radar, but I was saving that for dessert. Cracker Barrel was next door and a sure bet for Daughter, so we headed for the porch.

I could not believe the breakfast special I found on the Barrel menu. I forget what they named it, but when I was growing up we called it an Egg-in-a-Hole. As a kid this was a breakfast standard and as a parent I cook it for my own. There’s a recipe for it in my NASCAR cookbook, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a restaurant. I ordered it and the waiter asked me how I’d like my eggs. I think I said, “Really?” out loud. As an expert egg-in-a-hole maker, I only knew one method. You take a piece of loaf bread, tear out a hole in the center, butter it up on both sides, throw it in a skillet, and crack an egg in the hole. Cook till the egg is done on both sides and you’re done. He said I could get my egg any old way, including scrambled. I was flabbergasted. Scrambled eggs-in-the-hole? I don’t think so. (Figure out an omelet-in-a-hole and we can talk.) We agreed on over medium and he left me alone to shake my head. By the way, it was terrific, and I don’t say that often about the Barrel. Daughter ordered the Old Timer’s breakfast plate, which I thought was a bit bold for someone who usually eats like a bird, but she did some pretty heavy damage – I was impressed. And as for Krispy Kreme, the line was out the door and it was after ten – we decided to wait till morning.

With hot donuts to maintain our energy for another morning of intense coaster chasing, and only a few hours to chase, we waited until the absolute last minute and grabbed some food to go. Our first stop was for a loaf of cinnamon bread. I watched – practically drooling – as the baker cut slits in the top of the dough, submerged it in a pool of melted butter, and rolled it in a bowl of cinnamon and sugar. Do I really need to say how good that was? Perhaps there should have been a warning: “This bread not for everyday use.” But we don’t go to Dollywood every day, do we. To balance my sugared-butter levels, I stopped at Granny Ogle’s Ham n’Beans for a pulled ham sandwich to go. The waitress asked if I wanted an extra pack of chips or the usual beans and cornbread that came with it. Duh. Tiny bag of Lay’s? Or beans and a small pone of cornbread? You know what I got. Yes, I got a mess in the car. Not far down the highway we discovered that the beans had tipped over and all that bean juice I was hoping would soak into my cornbread was instead running around the bottom of the (thankfully) plastic bag. You live. You learn.

Dinner wasn’t really necessary, but I needed a Frappuccino around Birmingham since Daughter refused to take a turn driving. (She’s twelve – in hindsight, she made the right choice.) And since I could smell smoke across the street from Starbucks, I introduced her to the glories of a Golden Rule barbecue sandwich (chopped) and a cup of the sweetest tea on the planet. By that time, messy foods were no big deal.

Burgers to start the weekend, biscuits in the middle, and barbecue at the end. Daddy-Daughter-Dolly weekend was – yes, I’m going to say it – a Barrel of fun.

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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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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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