Nothing says Nashville like Minnie Pearl's famous greetin'. Also referred to as "the lady with the price tag on her hat" Minnie Pearl became famous as the country's “Goodwill Ambassador to Nashville”. October 25th, 2012 marked the 100th birthday of this personable country music comedienne.
In the postwar era, country music boomed throughout Tennessee, and Nashville became its undisputed capital city. And now certainly for good reason, given the many attractions and delicious locally sourced menus in restaurants that rival those fancy LA ones. All this combined with country music happily wafting through the air from permanently stationed sound boxes on every corner! Truly a sight to behold, combined with those lovely seasons we're lacking on the West Coast.
I bet you thought that the New York Radio City Rockettes didn't venture far from the Big Apple? Why...they're playing right here at the famous Grand Ole Opry House. Opryland is all dressed up and ready for Christmas adorned with 2 million twinkling lights ta boot! “Ta Boot”, 'cuz well it's Nashville...after all?
Formally known as the Grand Ole Opry House and before that as the Union Gospel Tabernacle waaaaay back in 1891 when The Ryman Auditorium was first constructed by Thomas Ryman. Following his demise, the Grand Ole Opry House was renamed the Ryman Auditorium in his honor and the church pews still remain, hence it's also referred to as the "Mother Church of Country Music." It's now a designated National Historic Landmark since 2001. You would probably recognize The Ryman if you've seen the award winning "Coal Miner's Daughter."
But let's back up the truck so it's not too confusing. Shall we? The original Grand Ole Opry House is home to the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley and of course Dolly Parton. And that's just to name a very few or this page would go for miles! Legend has it that Johnny Cash first met June Carter here backstage and told her he'd marry her, and kept his promise when their paths crossed 12 years later. The Grand Ole Opry House grew so popular that by 1974 it moved to its new home in what is now the Opryland Resort and became known as The Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. Meanwhile, concerts at The Ryman Auditorium are also referred to as "Opry at the Ryman." I'm told to expect to to see the The Grand Ole Opry House all decked out in their Holiday Best in spectacular splendor.
"Nashvillites" sure know how to have fun. (I made up a new word here since "Nashvillians" didn't sound at all friendly). Did I mention the live bands in practically every restaurant at any time of day? Party on Nashville...and the people! Could they BE any friendlier? It was a culture shock for me and anyone I know coming from California where no one speaks to anyone else except by phone text. But here in Nashville, you'd be looked upon as odd if you didn't greet strangers everywhere in kind with a reciprocated friendly smile and a hello. I was pleasantly surprised when buying one of their delicious lattes last Friday (they DO know their espresso) and the barista asked "So how's your weekend shapin' up?" He waited for my answer while I glanced around to see who he was talking to?! And this seems to be common place in Nashville where polite and friendly welcoming mannerisms abound. I can't begin to tell you how many Nashville strangers approached me on different days, when needing to wipe my teary eyes due to allergies, each one asked compassionately "What's wrong?" or "Are you okay?" Even my new found friend I sat next to on the inbound flight from Los Angeles who resides in Nashville insisted she give me a ride to my hotel when we landed at the Nashville airport. Wouldn't take no for an answer even. But the hospitality didn't stop there and was followed by lunch the ensuing week whereby she proudly introduced me to all her office friends and invited me to their weekend BBQ?!
The fantastic restaurants in Nashville are certainly a well guarded secret kept from anyone outside of this welcoming state. I was surprised...no amazed to learn that they serve more than grits and biscuits here in "Honky Tonk" town. But don't get me wrong, the BBQ food is spectacular, but let's talk about locally sourced organic, and sustainable can we? There's horn 'a plenty here in Nashville! Who knew? I sure didn't. One such popular place fitting this description is "The Southern", complete with an oyster bar and real wood fired grill. The menu changes with the seasons to feature local produce whenever possible. And the cocktail list starts with THE best Margarita I've ever had! Can I tell you why? Okay....probably due to all the painstaking care their creative manager/mixologist Keith Simpkins takes with their special oak barrel aged seasonal secret recipe. Be sure and get one before they run out of this transcendent concoction of bliss. Take a gander at their enticingly creative menu online and you'll see from whence I speak.
Not only that but my friend swears The Southern carves up the best steak he's ever had (and he rarely swears). Your unique carnivorous journey begins with an "appointment" with their famed and friendly Executive Chef Matt Farley who escorts you down "prime rib lane". It is in this hallowed kitchen where you'll choose from the best cuts of the day, and decide on the exact amount of ounces of any minimum 21-day aged steak you'd like.
The Southern's owner Tom Morales, is a celebrity in his own right since founding the successful Tomkats, a catering company he created 25 years ago. Tom also gainfully employs his two beautiful daughters in his family owned and operated companies. Of course since Tom treats everyone like family, the restaurant staff feels like one big happy one and I'd be hard pressed to guess which of the friendly, personable staff was directly related! Besides using sustainable fisheries, locally sourced ingredients and even using biodegradable trash bags, (whew!), his family also personally donated their time to assist with Habitat for Humanity two years ago. Tom is also part owner of the world famous Loveless Cafe circa 1951, known for their made-from-scratch southern cooking that boasts “Breakfast all day, every day.” No reservations allowed, but their biscuits, ham and red-eye gravy (What the what?? Go find out.) made it the famous landmark it is today. Did someone say dessert? Decadent Jack Daniel's Chocolate Whiskey Cake, or don't-try-this-at-home Bananas Foster Bread Pudding*? (That's right...one dessert-no comma*).
OMG can I even begin to describe the magnificent opulence of Jeni's Splendid ice cream? Splendor certainly describes it! Not only does The Southern serve this superb concoction of dreamy Jeni's Splendid, but Jeni's (I go there so often we're on a first name basis now) just recently opened their second store right here in Nashville too! Jeni Britton Bauer, also author of The New York Times best-selling “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home”, has been making ice cream professionally for nearly two decades and earned the prestigious James Beard Award as well.
This is one of those times where if you've never seen a sunset it's near impossible to describe it. You'll think you've arrived in ice cream heaven with such distinct flavors created from grass-grazed Ohio cream, local produce, and carefully sourced ingredients including rare, fair-trade vanilla. There's no quiz following this but remember Nashville's Loveless Cafe? Well they're at the heart of the inspiration for one of my favorites; "Loveless Biscuits & Jam" - rich buttermilk ice cream blended with pieces of Loveless Cafe's famous from-scratch biscuits, with swirls of jam made with in-season Georgia peaches, courtesy of the Peach Truck (third generation family farmed peaches). Or there's Yazoo Sue with Rosemary Bar Nuts. This delicious pleasure is constructed with mellow cherry wood-smoked porter (by Nashville's Yazoo Brewing Company, another local favorite) and peanuts, pecans, and almonds dusted with rosemary, brown sugar, and cayenne for a savory finish. Jeni's also features frozen yogurt and sorbet. Their wonderful creations change with the seasons and include special limited-edition flavors as well. It's always so exciting to try new flavors each time I visit and mind you their staff insists on your sampling as many as you like. Their welcoming, smiling staff is equally passionate and informative about each of the many flavors you'll get to taste.
Their flavor list is a mile long so you'll have to go check it out for yourself. But good news my friends, you too can enjoy their “Splendiferous” goodness delivered right to your door anywhere in the U.S. of A., including Hawaii and Alaska where your creamy sensations will arrive in a well-insulated shipping box topped with dry ice. Besides that, it gets colder inside that box than it does in your freezer: -109.3°F. And it's not too late for their "Late Harvest." Among the myriad of choices this one includes four special pints of: caramelized Cinderella Pumpkin made with real pumpkins, brown sugar, warm spices, and grass-grazed cream. A pint of Sweet Potato is created from pulverized roasted sweet potatoes, blended into grass-grazed cream, with Vietnamese cinnamon and made-from-scratch (blow torched) marshmallows. Your gift pack also includes a pint of Whiskey & Pecans (need I say more?) consisting of whiskey-fueled ice cream with flavors of butterscotch, honey, coconut, and vanilla, laden with crunchy, salty, double-toasted pecans. And "lastly but not leastly," their Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries (corn...really? But it works!) is fresh sweet corn from nearby farms, blended with grass-grazed cream and a brambly, made-in-house black raspberry sauce. You may have to wait til summer for this one since the flavors change often to keep it exciting.
So tantalizing are their creations that while writing this article I was forced to stop and indulge with some from my freezer, which I now keep par stocked with their dreamy creams since my magnificent discovery of Jeni's Splendid.
I plan on soon regaling you with another article highlighting the best of Nashville since there's far too much to cover in one article and besides, I can't wait to return to this land of smiling hospitality.
And in the words of Minnie Pearl, “I'm so glad to be here!”