Road Trip Part 2: Silence in Music City…

4-5 August 2014

After a fabulous 2 days in Louisville (still remember the dinner at Seviche), a city I shall soon return to, I headed south to Nashville. Originally planned as a detour to visit a friend, but sadly she did not feel well enough to meet up this time. Not to worry, I had a few places to check out in town anyway.

To be honest I am not a fan of Nashville, even though I like country music. It’s like a living theme park, a tourist trap from hell really in so many ways. So for the first day, after arriving, I kept away from the crowd and walked off to find a raved-about barbeque joint called Peg Leg Porker.

Well, it wasn’t the smoothest of walks, going through some of the nastier parts of downtown Nashville. Nevertheless it was entertaining, watching one of the street characters shout abuse at a church door, screaming “that is why I am a fucking atheist!” Had to laugh at that…

Peg Leg Porker is a barbeque joint that has some good stuff, and seems to have a following in Nashville. I ended up just having some drinks and a rack of dry ribs.

dry-rub

Honestly the ribs were not done well. Burnt and dry and the rub had no flavour. I guess only Memphis does dry rub right. But it’s a friendly bar with some good whiskey, so I had a few before dragging myself through the fun neighbourhood again back to my hotel.

I rested for awhile as my dinner booking at the much hyped Nashville location of Husk was not until late. Honestly I thought the Charleston location is a bit overhyped, but had to give this one in Nashville a try.

I was a sweaty mess when I got there, as the walk turned out to be longer — and up a steep hill. The building housing Husk looked like what I thought it should look at, a very souther-style manor-ish house. I agreed to sit at the bar for dinner instead of my reserved table, just to get a better feel for the place. Headed downstairs to the not-too-packed bar and enjoyed a fine evening of drinks and food.

It didn’t start too well, as the bar service was a bit slow and the first dish was a bit off, the fried chicken skins.

chicken skin

Sounded good, but it was all breading and sauce. What’s the point? Imagine ordering a pepper-crusted steak and you get a thin sliver of beef with about 2 inches of pepper. It just defeats the purpose. These did nothing for me and it really got me worried.

But it got better. The service moved, the drinks got better, and my main course — catfish — arrived.

catfish

This was a nice piece of catfish, not as good as in Richmond’s Roosevelt — now that was an excellent bit of catfish. Nevertheless it was enjoyable. But just like the Charleston location, I felt the food didn’t live up to the hype. Not even close.

I stayed around and drank with the staff until they closed, chatting about the local scene and so forth. Was a good evening. I was pretty blotto when I stumbled down the hill back to the hotel…

I woke up with yet another raging hangover…ugh, these gotta stop. My friend was still not feeling well so I had a free day. I decided to force myself for a long walk, and I strolled for about an hour, trying to avoid tourists and deal with the hills on a hot day — and my head was pounding still. I walked to the Tennessee Capitol and wandered the grounds for a bit.

TN_Polk_01

The grave of President James Polk was on the grounds, as well as a few statues and small monuments. But it was a nice high vista to look at the rest of the city. I wandered back and stopped for lunch at a much-hyped fried chicken place. I won’t elaborate as it turned out disastrous with birds so spicy they were inedible. It almost burned a hole in the rubbish bin, and took me 2 hours to get the sensations back in my mouth — despite taking 1 single bite. Ugh…

I headed out to dinner early as I was hungry. My mouth had recovered but my stomach had not, so needed to fill it. Damn that spicy chicken… I decided on something close to my hotel for dinner, Etch. The menu looked interesting, so why not.

I ended up sitting at the counter and had a decent meal. Not spectacular, but pretty good. I begain with a very, very rich serving of pork belly.

1_pork_belly

Even I thought this was a bit on the rich side… Sometimes just too much of a good thing, as it weighed on me pretty quickly. My main course was the lamb.

2_lamb_porterhouse

This was a porterhouse cut (hidden by the pastry in the photo, sorry). It was cooked well but a bit on the bland side. Maybe I expected too much even with local lamb, oh well. What can I say, it was satisfactory.

3_peach_brown_butter_cake

I went for a dessert as they had tokaji on the drinks list, and had a nice peach brown butter cake. This was the highlight of the meal — and you know I don’t say that often about a dessert course. But this was flavourful and portioned just right. Excellent stuff.

I headed back to home base as I was still reeling from the hangover and the horrible spicy chicken, and needing to get up early to drive back north. Avoiding the tourists once again, I slipped into my hotel and zonked out.

Nothing’s changed my impression of Nashville. Didn’t really care for it in the past, don’t really care for it now. Food was so-so, nothing near Louisville’s quality. And worse, it was in Nashville when travel fatigue started to creep in…and I’m not even half-way into the roadtrip…

Peg Leg Porker
903 Gleaves Street

Husk
37 Rutledge Street

Etch
303 Demonbreun Street
Nashville, Tennessee

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Review: Seviche

3 August 2014

I had a good day before in Louisville, but it also meant a hangover from the bowels of hell… Ugh…

I barely functioned most of the day but got some productive time in, thank goodness. But what I was most looking foward to was another great meal down Bardstown Road as last night, this time at Seviche — a tip from my good friend Simon Majumdar. And damn, this was his best tip yet.

I parked a bit away and walked down the busy road and found Seviche. I was happy to take a hi-top near the bar as I was solo, and had a wonderful night. I looked at the menu and I was already happy. Server told me that with my ceviche selection he’ll wait before we order further — a smart idea.

I decided on the 5-ceviche tasting…yeah…wow…

ceviche1

Yeah…like, wow. The wahoo tiradito, the crawfish, lump bluecrab on the main plate, then the line-caught ahi and shrimp. Wow. Each were done sublimely, and the extras were just beautiful. I scooped up every bean and corn alongside the seafood. Little did I think in Kentucky I can have some of the best seafood in the US. Wow.

The wahoo was especially tasty in these large discs, as were the sauced ahi in the first bowl. Damn, I was happy. At this point tho chef wasn’t in his CdC came by and brought me a little extra treat:

octopus

Nice! Sorry the picture’s not very good, but the octopus was one of the best I’ve had in the US. It was flavourful and tasty, without the pastiness or blandness of an over-worked item that I see too often in sushi bars by people afraid of the true texture of the octopus. It has texture, let it rule, sushi chefs!

I enjoyed the tasty octopus immensely and my server asked me if I was still game, and I was. So I chose a special he said the kitchen was especially proud of — the moqueca.

moqueca

This was fantastic, a cornucopia of fruits from the sea, from octopus to various dishes, all bathing in a coconut base. Perhaps it misses the tomato aspect of a more traditional moqueca, but ti was a coconut treat for me! All of the seasoof were cooked perfectly, as was the broth. The macadamia nut rice that came with it was insufficient, we needed more to enjoy the full flavour of this dish! Awesome!

I have to say this was one of the best meals I’ve had this year. For one, the execution for the menu items was utterly fantasic — that’s hard to say for many of the “best” places around the world I’ve been to. It shows the care the kitchen has placed in the food, even when chef is not in town. A rarity, and something that carries in Louisville as experienced last night also at Lilly’s. A talented town for food!

And did I mention how friendly this place was? Like all of Louisville? Wow…

I left the restaurant extremely happy, having had a fantastic meal and been shown that even a smaller city can have talent that can not just craft a great menu, but execute all aspects of it. Kudos to all of the back-of-the-house folks, but also the front. Great service. If anything has added to my just-now falling-in-love with Louisville? Wow…

TOTALLY RECOMMENDED!

Seviche
1538 Bardstown Road
Louisville, Kentucky

Road Trip Part 1: Go West, Old Man…

Ever since I left NYC and re-acquired a car, I’ve been looking to take a longer road trip. Timing never sorted out too well, so I was forced to make it during the warmest and busiest time — early August. Nevertheless, it was something I looked forward to, having long drives and visiting some new places and revisiting some places I’ve not been for ages.

So on the first day, last Friday, I headed on the road for the mountains — up the Appalachians, to be exact. I had planned to get a bit into West Virginia before stopping for the day, as I rather keep my daily driving limit at a sensible level — partly to not lure me into the disease of driving faster and faster as the hours pass. Having been a veteran of cross-country driving before, I know how it can be when you go from New York to California in 3 days…or violate the hell out of speed limits between Virginia and Connecticut…

I chose Charleston as the first day’s stop, as it is basically en route to my planned destinations, and was not a tough drive, only 373 miles (exactly 600km). It was bound to be hilly so didn’t want to push too much. But it was a remarkably smooth trip that took only just over 5 hours — the average speed on these roads were about 80mph, and I was slightly above it especially during the quiet lengths.

I decided early on to stop in Charleston as it is the biggest town en route in that target zone, and I wanted to do my small bit to help the state capital, which went through a horrible period when the local water supply was poisoned by a chemical spill. I wasn’t there to drink the water (the ONLY time I’ve ever brought bottled water with me on a roadtrip), but to help the local economy.

Charleston is a cute town on the banks of the Kanawha River, really small — one of the smallest state capitals. After checking in and dropping my bags, I had a bit of a drive around this town. Cute, and great life around the riverbanks. I had not eaten all day so decided to go to Bridge Road Bistro for an early dinner.

I have read mixed reviews about this place way up in the hill across the river (apparently the “upper class” area of town), but they seem to be the only top place that really focuses on local products and produce — and that’s the point of trips like this. Not just to support the local economy, but to enjoy the best of what the local area has to offer. Why bother eating a steak from Nebraska if you’re in West Virginia for 1 day?

Well, Bridge Road Bistro doesn’t look like any bistro you’d ever see. It looks actually like a Denny’s or an IHOP inside…it took me back a bit… I chilled out, sat down, and looked over the menu and ordered items that focused on local items.

stuffed_peppers

My starter was stuffed local banana peppers. I really wish it focused more on the peppers than the bland sausage and the boring marinara… Oh well. Then the main, local lamb.

lamb

This was much better, the lamb cooked well and flavourful. The sides were a bit of a disaster though. Still, good local lamb. I then went for a dessert, and whoa…

carrot_cake

This carrot cake was bigger than a brick… Let’s say I had to take most of this with me after a bourbon to go. I headed out satisfied, though have to say this was extremely pricey. Wandered back and tried to catch up on some sleep…

The next morning I was up early and took off early for the next leg, alongside a few stops on the way. My final destination was only 277 miles (445km) away, Louisville, but was planning to stop at both Lexington and Frankfort for a few short hikes. It was a quiet Saturday morning with little traffic, so I was running far ahead of schedule. But it was also getting warm…uh oh…

I arrived in Lexington, and made my way to Lexington Cemetery. I have a strange and macabre interest in hiking in historic cemeteries. I left my car at the entrance and hiked around the historic site. It’s easy to navigate as the tomb of legendary politician Henry Clay was an easy reference point.

Clay_tomb_01

I enjoyed hiking the hilly cemetery for the next hour or so, visiting some key gravesites (such as Vice President John Breckinridge). I did find it very interesting that there are far, far fewer flags placed on key historic graves here as I saw in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery, and a very noticeable absence of Confederate flags (again, compared to Richmond).

Soaked in sweat, I jumped back into my car and drove on off and headed further west, with next stop the state capital, Frankfort. I deliberately skipped the top tourist attraction in town, the Buffalo Trace Distillery — that would have ended in disaster for me… Instead I go macabre again and park at the entrance of the large Frankfort Cemetery.

This sprawling and very hilly cemetery was perfect for another good hike, and it gave a wonderful panoramic view of the state capital.

Frankfort_panorama_04

I wandered up and down hills, even needing to climb up sharp hills on all 4s, and explored several historic corners of this still-active cemetery. Many people focus on Daniel Boone‘s grave, but I found others more interesting, from the state military memorial to that of Vice President Richard Johnson. Also found the graves of General Simon Bolivar Buckner (Mexican-American War, Civil War) and his son General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr (WWII) — the last general killed in that war at its dying days on Okinawa. This sadly, ironically comes a day before another US general lost his life in a warzone.

crittenden

Another irony of US history was down a sharp hill where the Crittenden family are buried. The main monument is to Senator John Crittenden, author of the “Crittenden Compromise” as a last-ditch effort to prevent a war between the states. It failed, and the resulting war saw 2 of his sons fight on separate sides; General George Crittenden for the Confederacy, and General Thomas Crittenden for the Union.

It was now getting really hot and I was soaked in sweat again, so made my way down the hills to get back in my air-conditioned car for the last drive. I was still pretty early and was soon at the outskirts of Louisville at a good and early time, so I dropped into my 3rd (!!) cemetery of the day, the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery. Our poor 12th president, served for only a year before dying, was interred 4 times — once temporarily in DC, once in a more modest tomb here (originally was his family cemetery), then finally at the mausoleum pictured, and the final indignity was being exhumed by a coroner 20 years ago for a toxicology test that showed he was NOT poisoned

Zachary_Taylor

And even more sad, perhaps in the vernacular of the 1880s when it was erected by local authorities, the monument adjacent to the mausoleum contains rather odd spelling of locations of Taylor’s battlefield victories…see for yourself, especially the bottom one… “Beuna Vista”???

I headed into downtown Louisville and checked into my hotel. Downtown seems pretty dead and there’s tons of construction, so I just walked and found one of the few bars that are open and had a wonderful afternoon of bourbon and beer and burger. Extremely friendly people in this town, something that’s very noticeable.

I had a bit of a rest later before I headed to dinner at the well-regarded Lilly’s Bistro in the busy Bardstown Road area of town. Very happening area, tons of people out. I liked Lilly’s the minute I went in. Great menu, nice atmosphere, excellent service by more friendly staff. It’s contageous! Strangers buying strangers rounds of drinks, it’s in the air!

heirloom_tomato_salad

I began dinner with an heirloom tomato salad. Good stuff, the dressing was a nice spicy touch that’s a bit different from most tomato salads. I enjoyed this, though maybe a little light consider that I was still working off the bourbons from the very late lunch and the wines here… But I had a solid main coming…

Seven_Deadly-Sins

This was the infamous “Stone Cross Seven Deadly Sins” — a feast of everything good from a pig. There was some fabulous belly, home-made jowl bacon, and a tasty tenderloin. The greens were made from bacon fat, the tiny trotter cake on the far right. And the beans just made it awesome. Wow, this is a pig fest and it was fabulous. One of the best pork dishes I’ve had this year.

I enjoyed the rest of the night here, drinking even more bourbon and having a wee peach ice cream. Fabulous stuff, and it was cheaper than last night in West Virginia. This is excellent execution and craft, a wonderful introduction to Louisville — and it’s growing on me very, very fast!

I cabbed it back to my hotel and ended up drinking at the hotel bar with people buying each other rounds again…there is something in the air here, it just makes everyone super friendly.

The rest of the evening, blissfully, was a blur…

Bridge Road Bistro
915 Bridge Road
Charleston, West Virginia

Lilly’s Bistro
1147 Bardstown Road
Louisville, Kentucky