You know how you’ll go by the same restaurant every so often and it seems really intriguing and you think, “We really should eat there some day.”? After the twenty-third time or so that my husband and I were in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and walked by the Maple Street Grill, downtown on the square, we finally decided to go in and, you know, eat. Turns out that Maple Street is a popular local gathering spot for lunch and dinner as well as drinks and tapas at night in the upstairs bar, Maple Street Uncorked. And no wonder. The interior space has that urban-cool feel of downtown renewal without being pretentious about it — it’s cozy, comfortable and Southern elegant all at the same time. The lunch menu was enticing — a grilled portabella sandwich, pan-seared tuna, fish taco and turkey and apple sandwich all sounded yummy. (Not to mention the Fried Hershey Bar. Since I’ve been banned from deep-frying sugary objects at home since our leftover Valentine’s candy debacle, I have to take advantage of anytime I can snag a warm & melty fried delight.) Dinner featured steak, chicken and pasta entrees, while the Uncorked menu included tapas choices such as a hummus flight and a cheese board along with I-really-want-to-try-that drinks — Cucumber Rain, made of Rain Organic Cucumber Lime Vodka with sweet-and-sour mix and ginger ale, seemed especially to be calling my name. Extra points to Maple Street, too, for online ordering and a smart-phone app. We’ll be back.
As so often happens, once you open your heart and fall madly in love, the object of your desire is cruelly yanked away and you’re left only with the crumbs of passion and teasing reminders of happier times. Not that I’m comparing the loss of Mellow Mushroom‘s seasonal Homegrown Harvest Pie & Drunken Fun Guys & other yummy menu items to an intense but doomed love affair … oh, wait … that’s exactly what it is. Mellow Mushroom craftily got us hooked on this absolutely delicious pizza, made with nutmeg-seasoned roasted butternut squash nutmeg on an olive oil and garlic base & topped with parmesan and Montamore cheeses and a swirl of Arugula pesto. And then there were the Drunken Fun Guys — little pillows of pizza dough served with three beer-infused sauces: a spicy cheese dip with Abita Turbodog brown ale, a stout and honey glaze and a Rouge Dead Guy ale spicy mustard. And there there were the Magic Mushroom Soup and Holy Shiitake Pie — also gone but never forgotten. I only mention these now-unattainable treasures because 1) I’m fascinated with how Mellow Mushroom has merged a successful capitalistic business plan with its counter-culture too-cool-to-care laid-back attitude, 2) maybe you’ll be inspired to try to recreate these taste treats at home and 3) maybe the next round of limited-time offerings will be just as good. Fingers crossed.
Whenever we go to Chattanooga, Tenn., it’s difficult to leave the eclectic exuberance of Northshore food (doughnuts, hot dogs, beer, coffee, wine, biscuits, pancakes, cupcakes) for the more uptown feel of downtown eateries. But recently Younger Daughter recommended 212 Market Restaurant, which is at … 212 Market St., near the Tennessee River. And she was correct. From the strangely comforting 1980s-style decor to the exemplary service and fresh-tasting food — much of it from local farmers and ranchers — 212 Market is a winner. We ordered as we like to do — mainly from the salad, sides and appetizer sections of a menu — and ended up with yummy vegetables and well-dressed salads that blended contrasting tastes and textures together deliciously. Warm homemade bread and glasses of reisling were the perfect touches. And of course we have to check out the dessert menu, too. After all, woman cannot live on lettuce and carrots — albeit satisfying and tasty lettuce and carrots — alone. And who can resist a dessert sampler of creme brulee, cheesecake and chocolate truffle cake? I think we all know the answer to that. 212 Market also is known for its wine selection and offers a solar deck out back where dogs and bicycles are welcome. You’ve gotta love a place where dogs, bikes, wine and creme brulee mingle comfortably.
Both my husband and Older Daughter are REM fans and were saddened to hear that the Athens, Ga., band was officially calling it quits. Husband JP has been a fan from practically REM’s very beginning, although of course Older Daughter wasn’t even born when future band members Michael Stipe and Peter Buck met in an Athens record store. (Historical note: “Record store” is an ancient term for the place in the olden days where teenagers would hang out and buy records, which were these sort of flat vinyl rounds that music came on back then. See also: “Antiques.”) So that tells you something about REM’s appeal and longevity. Coincidentally, Older Daughter and Son-in-Law recently spent a long weekend in REM’s hometown as a treat for themselves before Baby Boy No. 2 arrives in mid-November. And why did they choose Athens, Ga.? “For the food, obviously,” Older Daughter said when I asked the same question. That’s my girl! While Athens long has been known as a hip music town and of course the University of Georgia is there — with its football team’s new eye-catching all-red uniforms — it also has a growing reputation as a food destination. Luckily, it did not disappoint the baby-mooners. And although they didn’t see any sign of REM folks that weekend, several of the eateries they tried did claim REM connections. Here’s their list, in case you want to indulge in some REM
stalking research yourself (P.S. Older Daughter is a vegetarian who’s allergic to glycerin, Son-In-Law needs to eat lightly due to gall-bladder issues and they both tend toward gluten-free, sometimes ):
- Big City Bread Cafe — a bakery and cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Highlights were the hummus, the roasted vegetable and tofu saute and the bakery’s cookies.
- Grit — a vegetarian paradise that also serves burgers. Offers great salads and sandwiches as well as Italian, Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
- Ike and Jane Normaltown Cafe and Bakery — a bakery/cafe known for its yummy doughnuts. Need we say more?
- Jittery Joe’s Coffee — a local roaster and wholesaler with several retail spots around town. I can smell it from here.
- Last Resort Grill — named after a 1960s Athens music club, the Last Resort was the most upscale spot on the kids’ food tour. Plenty of good entrees with a vegetarian dish right smack on the menu, which always is a good sign.
Picking the right spot for lunch is important. It can set the tone for the rest of your day, so you want to make sure you get it right. For example, if you’re in Huntsville, Alabama, and you want someplace quiet and sleek and soothing in a grownup sort of way, then go to Sun Cafe on Old Monrovia Road. This gem of a restaurant offers Asian dishes and an innovative sushi bar along with attentive service that is so good you’ll be in & out within your alloted lunch time without ever once feeling rushed — or abandoned. The food is flavorful and fresh, and you’ll return to your desk feeling reinvigorated. Unless, of course, you’re there at the same time as we were: a trio of grandmother, 7-months-pregnant Older Daughter and incumbent grandson 3-year-old Capt. Adorable. Older Daughter and I, for the most part, behaved ourselves. and the Captain did not misbehave, exactly. He just, in his usual “I-love-everybody-and-I’m-quite-sure-everybody-loves-me-too” 3-year-old way, talked to everybody he could see when standing up in our booth. And then, when socializing got too much and he needed a break, he flopped down on the cushion to take a quick nap before popping back up to continue his conversations. Luckily, everybody there
smiled patiently and thought to themselves, “I would never allow MY children to behave like that out in public,” seemed equally as delighted to share their lunch hour with the Captain, so it all turned out okay. And I have to apologize for the lack of photos here. I’ve got a new camera — a Nikon P90S or something — that I’m still figuring out how to use. My centuries-old Kodak EasyShare was a clunker in comparison, and I’m unlearning all the quirky bad habits I had to develop to work around the Kodak’s limitations. It’s as if my new camera can actually read my thoughts and KNOW what I want to do before I actually do it. This means I have to think nice thoughts such as “Oh, the light is lovely there so I need to press the shutter NOW” instead of “Why won’t this #$%^& shutter press when I want it to?” It’s a challenge.
One of my new favorite places is Yellow Deli in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For one thing, it’s just fun to say. Go ahead — try it right now: “Yellow Deli.” See? You can’t say it without smiling. And you can’t eat there without smiling, either. This is the place to, literally, feed your inner hippie. I mean, I’m all for any restaurant that lists “sprouts” as an add-on to your sandwich, offers homemade granola for breakfast and would rather pour you a cup of mate instead of coffee. (The very thought of “mate” instead of coffee horrifies me, but, you know, I celebrate diversity.) Think Bob Dylan meets Sgt. Pepper and then Alice Waters invites everybody over for tea with her friend Arlo Guthrie. Or maybe that’s just my own personal fantasy. But there’s definitely a 1960s-70s vibe here, and there’s a reason for that. A Chattanooga couple founded the Yellow Deli in 1973 as “a place where people from all walks of life could come and touch a living demonstration of God’s love in those who served them.” (http://yellowdeli.com/) Things got a little rocky at times — read both the “History” portion of the website and the Wikipedia entry for varying accounts — but there’s no denying that the Yellow Deli in Chattanooga serves fresh and delicious food along with a warm and casually funky atmosphere. Both my 76-year-old parents, my 20-something-year-old daughters and my three-year-old grandson Capt. Adorable loved it — and there aren’t many places where we all feel at home. The inside is meticulously clean — an admirable feat considering all the rustic wood and handmade touches — the outside is gorgeously landscaped and the whole place is like getting a hug from your best friend. If your best friend could make a Hibiscus Fruit Cooler with sweet-potato pound cake. And don’t look for “Men” and “Women” signage when it comes to the restrooms. I think the Yellow Del’s all-inclusive sign pretty well sums it up.
Oh my goodness! Husband and I recently had a wonderful meal at Five Senses restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee quick overnight trip, and after a late and satisfying lunch on the way at Miss Annie’s Rustic Park Restaurant and Beer Garden in St. Joseph, Tennessee, it was later in the evening before we started thinking about eating again. (Oh, who am I kidding? When we’re on the road, I always think about eating.) The ‘Boro has some great choices, and since we still mourn the loss of downtown pizza place “Tomato, Tomato,” we picked its upscale sibling Five Senses. Or, rather, JP picked it and I agreed. It was either Five Senses or Red Robin, and while I always enjoy working my way down a tower of fried onion rings, we made the correct decision here. We went with small plates instead of entrees and so started with three appetizers: fried oysters, Readyville Mill grits and a crabcake, all flavorful and with lovely sauces and little salads. Then Husband JP had a wedge salad, which he was delighted to see came in deconstructed form so he could play with his food, and I had a salad with fresh local lettuce. And then, dessert. Oh my oh my. Usually creme brulee is my go-to, but JP talked me out of it with a suggestion to try something new. Thank you, dear sweetie, because this trio of sorbets — pomegranate, mango and pink grapefruit on crispy lace cookies “glued” to the plate with homemade whipped cream — was absolutely divine. Every bite was cool, creamy, tart or sweet. And, honestly, to tell the truth, as much as I adore creme brulee and would eat it every day except that it’s like 10,000 calories per bite, the best part is the contrast of the crunchy sugar top with the smooth richness underneath. When that’s gone, it’s still good but bordering possibly on sameness. However, every bite of this sorbet — every single bite — was an adventure. As it always is when I go out with my husband.
I love it when folks who love good food and good wine give parties, ’cause we all know we’re in for a treat. Now, don’t get me wrong. “Party” to me pretty much means a bag of Ruffles and a container of french onion dip. After all, what else do you need? But if somebody’s going to all the trouble of planning something special, then I’m thrilled to get an invite. Such as my friend Sarah’s 60th birthday party, which was at a local wine shop with food from a great local restaurant. Sarah is a former caterer and a fantastic cook and knows her wines, so all guests were looking forward to a memorable evening — which we got, and then some. The food, from Sweet Magnolia Cafe, featured a Cajun flair with deconstructed muffalettas and the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. Ever. The fruit and chocolate cupcakes were extra yummy, and the Wine Seller folks had appropriate wines ready for everything you could eat. It was the perfect party, made even better by the fact that my fear of knocking over a wine-bottle display proved groundless. It even inspired me to dream big — maybe for the next party at our house, I’ll add a bag of Cheetos. Baby steps, you know. Baby steps.
Thanks to husband John Pitts, I now have a new favorite coffee house — Fido, in Nashville’s hip Hillsboro Village. A couple of weeks ago I spent several days lurking around a Music City hospital while my dad recovered from cardiac arrest and got a defibrillator. Did you know that hospital coffee is very very bad? (Although everything else about this hospital was very very good, including the care and skill my dad received.) Anyway, please never even try drinking hospital coffee. Do. Not. Even. Try. Learn from my mistake. So after hearing me complain for days and days, husband JP took great pity on me and squired me around town one day for some refreshing non-hospital air and some Real Coffee. He said we’d been in Fido before with friends, and I do sort of vaguely remember that. But now I’ll never forget this fun and funky cafe that’s part of the ever-growing local Bonjo Java coffee company. Bonjo Java roasts and wholesales its own beans and owns some of the town’s most popular cafes/coffeehouses/restaurants, of which Fido is one. It’s open all day every day and has a full menu, which we need to go back and check out because all I had was a restorative and perfect espresso macchiato. But when you’re dealing with perfection, one is good enough.
After my dad had his cardiac arrest on Friday, he was considerate enough to be sent to a hospital near Nashville‘s West End. Which means that whenever my mom and brother and I get tired of hospital food, we’ve got some of Nashville’s finest merely steps away. Such as Rotier’s Restaurant, the 65-year-old eatery equally as famous for its meat-and-three plates as its cheeseburgers on french bread. And Michaelangelo’s Pizza, a popular spot with pizza that tastes garden fresh that’s only about 10 years old but looks and feels much older — in a good way. But the hospital food court has some great options, too — the pulled pork barbecue on cornbread pancakes today was excellent. Sauce a little on the sweet side, but there you go. And, of course, the fact that we’re talking about food instead of … well … funerals makes everything taste all the better.