May 22, 2013

Dinner at Blackberry Farm

Last week I had my first (and perhaps only) dining experience at Blackberry Farm. Dinner there was part of the Southern Food Writing Conference, which I attended in Knoxville.

Some folks actually admitted to signing up for the conference just for this dinner opportunity...since you can't just go eat there unless you are an overnight or event guest. 

I feel lucky to have been able to go...the whole thing was very memorable and I appreciate the opportunity. Now, on to the food! 

When our group arrived at the barn for dinner, each of us was shown to our respective seats. My table mates included two lovely ladies from Cincinnati and a gent from Alabama.

I love the Blackberry Farm china and was disappointed when it was taken away, never to be seen again for the duration of the meal. Our first course was an asparagus salad with Cruze Farm buttermilk, hazelnuts, Muscadine Vinaigrette, and salad greens. I found it delicious and wished the portion had been about 5 times as big. Sorry...I like a big salad.

 Next came shrimp and grits. This was more like a chowder than any grits I've ever had but it was tasty. According to the menu it also had preserved tomatoes and a pickled pepper emulsion...hmm.

This next course was a big hit with everyone. A "Hearth fried egg" with watercress, garlic confit, chili oil and "chicken cracklins."  I guess this is when I should remind y'all that I'm vegan. I pretty much knew that a dinner at Blackberry Farm would not be very vegan friendly so I had already resigned myself to the fact that I might have to stray from my eating plan.

I ate the egg. It was so good. So very good. Part of why I ate it is because I knew I wouldn't eat the meat courses (see below) so I didn't want to be hungry for the duration of the 3+ hour meal.

Oh yeah. This is where I want to mention that when I was growing up, we always enjoyed the tasty bits of fried chicken skin left in the bottom of the box from Mrs. Winners. Who knew that they were an actual delicacy...chicken cracklins (shaking my head).

This next course was where things got dicey. Pork ribs atop baked peanuts with grilled cabbage. It looked and smelled wonderful, but while I'll bend my vegan ways for an egg...I won't eat pork. This is also when my gentleman table mate realized his luck at being seated next to me. I carefully slid the pork rib over to his plate and enjoyed the peanuts very much. Who'd have thunk to cook peanuts in barbecue sauce?

Main course consisted of peas, lamb loin, carrots, lamb neck and mint pesto. The peas (all seven of them) were delicious as were the carrots. I can't speak to the taste of the meats but everyone around me seemed to enjoy it.

Next came the cheese course. I'm a big fan of cheese and since going vegan, have missed eating it very much. I ate this course, but the irony is I didn't realize it was cheese until after. I got confused about the courses and thought this was dessert. When I took a bite of what I thought was white chocolate, you can imagine my surprise to taste something like cheese with a very un-cheese-like consistency.

The menu described it as a Marcona almond sorbet and Verjus granita. Still not quite sure about that one.

 Final course...dessert. Cruze Farm chocolate milk panna cotta, dark chocolate sorbet and a maraschino cherry. Yum!

I have to say the experience was memorable, but the food was only a small part of that. I think the thing I enjoyed most was what an event the meal rarely do I ever take the time to sit and enjoy a meal for hours and hours. Unless I'm with a friend and my schedule is wide open, it always feels like I'm rushing through to get to the next thing. If I took anything away from Blackberry Farm it was to spend more time enjoying the experience of eating. 

And because my mom is going to ask: No, I didn't steal the napkin. I put it halfway in my purse but thought better of it.

All through the experience, I kept thinking about my family, particularly my grandparents. They came from the country and lived and worked on land that is just as lush and fruitful as Blackberry Farm. I would love to know what they might have thought about a meal served in a barn at an Inn in East Tennessee where a night's stay is $1000.