Last week my husband and I piggy-backed a vacation on a work trip and were able to spend a week in Tennessee. We had a great time! I went camping with friends in central Alabama, wandered around southern middle Tennessee, spent a couple days in Nashville visiting friends, and then decided we missed our kids and drove straight home through Georgia. We missed the local farmers’ market in Pulaski and the timing never lined up for any farm tours, but we did find some great new places.
One afternoon instead of being stuck in the hotel, I struck out on my own in the rental car to do some hiking. After getting thoroughly lost I finally made my way to Lawrenceburg and David Crockett State Park. I could have spent an entire day in Lawrenceburg exploring all the farm stands, mom-and-pop barbeque joints, the bakery run by the local commune, and a full weekend or more at the park. It was just gorgeous, with many hiking trails and a mountain lake. I had just enough time to hike a little over a mile of the Trail of Tears. I would love to go back there with the kids.
The day before we left Pulaski we were finally able to explore the area with a local. He took us to Tenn South Distillery, a tiny place in beautiful Lynnville. Tenn South is making real Tennessee whiskey from locally-grown corn, using a multi-step process that the owner, Blair Butler, described lovingly to us on our back-room tour. The whiskey is their true love but whiskey production takes years, so while the whiskey ages in barrels they are also making short-aged liquors: three flavors of moonshine, unflavored moonshine, vodka, and gin. Everything was great, but the Abernathy gin blew me away. The owner described it as a “citrus-forward” gin, and it had all the citrus on the front with a nice resinous clean finish, with no burning. I enjoy gin and especially gin-based cocktails the most and you’d better believe a bottle of that gin came home with me. I can’t wait to go back on our next visit and try the whiskey.
I’ll admit something to you- I have a huge weakness for hipster cocktails. I wanted a girl’s cocktail night in Nashville and so I asked Stephanie from Buttermilk Trace for a recommendation, and she sent me straight to City House. I went with two friends, and we sat at the bar and proceeded to have a total blast. I wish I had written down the bartender’s name because he was excellent- knowledgeable, skilled, and friendly despite the packed house. His suggestions and samples sold us on cocktails we probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise, and he was spot on every time. He introduced me to a new favorite- Amaro Nonino and seltzer with lime. We only had appetizers and desserts with our drinks, but everything we tried was as good as I expected it to be.
This was a semi-random pick from “what sounds good and is close to I-75 on Urban Spoon?” Hipster restaurants were a bit of a theme on this trip because we also ate at some extremely traditional “down-home-Southern” places too and you can’t help but make comparisons. Traditional southern restaurants- I mean mom-and-pop traditional- are usually good and sometimes great, but seldom exciting. The big-city “New South” restaurants I’ve been to- sourcing local ingredients, re-interpreting Southern cuisine, encouraging regional artisan food production- they’re both good and interesting. Sweet Auburn Barbecue was a perfect example. We arrived starving and rather scruffy (we joked about whether they’d let us in since I didn’t have any visible tattoos and didn’t have my nose ring in, but my husband was wearing a Tenn South Distillery shirt so we decided we were safe) and ordered probably half the menu. And dammit, every single dish was great. Giant chicken wings slathered in sweet Thai chile sauce. Pulled pork with a rich, tangy sauce that was a little spicy and refreshingly not-sweet. Collard greens with caribbean jerk spices. Incredibly rich cheese grits. A lightly cured and pit-roasted beef rib that would’ve made Fred Flintstone happy. Creamy coleslaw made with cabbage and fresh pears. Chili made with big chunks of brisket. I looked several times at the house cocktail menu but nothing caught my eye, so I wandered up to the bar and asked the bartender for a suggestion. I chatted with her about the distillery we’d visited, and she suggested her favorite Kentucky bourbon and then offered me a cocktail I’d never heard of- bourbon and ginger beer. Not only was it delicious, it went perfectly with the meal. Y’all, I almost licked that glass. Our liquor cabinet’s going to get a lot bigger.
And then we came home to this! Our first luffa of 2014!