Thursday, October 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hermitage Hotel!

Posted By on Thu, Oct 7, 2010 at 6:26 AM

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In the olden days, when somebody turned 100 years old, the big deal was to receive a congratulatory telegram from President Roosevelt. More recently, turning your odometer over the three-digit mark would earn you a creepy wink from Willard Scott. But what do you expect if you are a grand old dame like the Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville?

Well, if you're lucky enough to have a built-in kitchen staff like Chef Tyler Brown and his amazing brigade de cuisine, you obviously throw yourself a big ole party and invite all your favorite friends. And shockingly enough, me.

Chef Tyler is out standing in his field
  • Chef Tyler is out standing in his field.
It was such a big event that Hermitage president and general manager Greg Sligh decided to spread it over two days. The first evening was a reception at the Hermitage's produce farm at Glen Leven Mansion on Franklin Road, a cooperative effort between the Land Trust of Tennessee and the Hermitage. Chef Tyler has created an 1890s period garden that has produced bushel after bushel of organically grown vegetables for the Capitol Grille's kitchen. Despite the heat of this summer, he and his staff planted, nurtured and harvested all that food without the use of any artificial irrigation. Just as that same plot of land once raised produce for the old Maxwell House Hotel when it was still downtown, Glen Leven is again an active working farm — and Nashville diners get to reap the benefits.

The relationship between the hotel and the Land Trust has developed over the past few years. Guests at the hotel are given the opportunity to pay a voluntary $2-per-night contribution that goes to the Land Trust's conservation efforts. The $125,000 raised over two years has provided for the purchase and preservation of over 1250 acres of historic land.

Watching the kitchen and hotel staff grubbing around in their mud boots to tend to the vegetables was truly inspiring, and you could really see the joy that Tyler is getting from creating his dream garden. Like many gardens, it's the little surprises that really make the effort worthwhile. On the day before we toured Glen Leven, Tyler had discovered a specimen of Tennessee's only native citrus plant, a tart lime bush, while bush-hogging down some brush to create more planting area.

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The next day, we all dressed up a little bit and reconvened downtown at the Hermitage Hotel for a celebratory luncheon. Hotel management rubbed elbows with local media, political dignitaries and representatives of the trade groups who continue to recognize the Hermitage as one of the premiere lodging locations. Ex-Governor Winfield Dunn was in attendance to represent the history of Tennessee politics, but rumors that Sen. Douglas Henry had been a guest in the hotel on opening night were quickly put to rest.

The most honored attendees at the luncheon were the frequent guests who received special invitations and recognition. Top honors went to a man who has made 192 individual visits to the Hermitage. Considering the inventory of available condo space downtown, it's obvious the hotel staff knows how to take care of repeat customers, or else they could just buy a place instead.

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Of course if you buy your own kitchen, you don't get to have Chef Tyler cook for you. The diners at the birthday luncheon took full advantage of that as we were presented with a spread of Southern specialties served family style at long tables. Two days of smoker time produced succulent brisket and pork shoulder, platter upon platter of fresh vegetable dishes and a sinful Olive and Sinclair chocolate dessert served in a precious little mason jar.
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I'll have to say that for a birthday party without any inflatable bouncy huts, it was one of my favorites. Even if you weren't lucky enough to get an invite to the soiree, you can still help the Hermitage celebrate. With room specials and rotating menu features in the Capitol Grille, there are plenty of reasons to go wish them a belated birthday. If you ask nicely, they might even make you a drink with their special single-barrel batch of Jack Daniel's, distilled just for the occasion. I'm not sure when 100 became the whiskey anniversary, but I wholeheartedly support with the concept.

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