Thursday, May 31, 2012

This Week's Dining Column: Fort Campbell's DFAC

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 3:53 PM

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In this week's Scene, restaurant critic Carrington Fox takes a worthy road trip an hour northwest of town to Fort Campbell, where she visits a fascinating mess hall on the post.

Its official designation is The Oasis Inn, 5th SFG(A) Dining Facility, BLDG 2991 at Fort Campbell — better-known as the DFAC.

The facility feeds the elite cadre of soldiers known as the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). As Fox points out, their missions are cloaked in secrecy, but their dining habits speak volumes:

One thing is clear, simply from looking at this disproportionately good-looking group of muscle-bound athletes with enviable cheekbones and lunch trays of apples and steamed broccoli: Elite troops don't feed their bodies a bunch of crap. So, if you're Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Windes, the DFAC manager tasked with feeding the 5th SFG(A) when they're not deployed, you better figure out what they do like to eat.

As it turns out, people who treat their bodies like precision weapons don't want to take in a lot of fried foods. They can tear through a salad bar like Grant marching through Richmond. And if the offerings at the fountain-drink line are any indication, they really like Gatorade. Accordingly, the DFAC delivers a remarkably healthy repertoire in what is possibly the most spanking-clean environment I have ever visited.

Check out Fox's full story, and if you're really curious, you can visit the mess hall yourself. The Oasis serves breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday. The DFAC is open to the public, but guests must obtain a pass to get on the post.

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Tax Dispute Padlocks Murfreesboro's Century-Old City Cafe

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 1:13 PM

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Murfreesboro’s greasy-spoon staple and oldest restaurant, City Cafe, was shut down last week due to Internal Revenue Service nonpayment. Owner Scott Perkins contends that the $180,000 the IRS expects the company to pay is an "astronomical" demand that does not reflect what the company owes.

Perkins said he hopes to work a deal to reopen on Monday. In the meantime, the venerable cafe's closure is a painful blow to Murfreesboro's restaurant scene.

City Cafe opened more than 100 years ago, and on any given morning, the meat-and-three at 113 E. Main St. near the Rutherford County Courthouse is a hotbed of local politicians, business owners and students ready to get their day started with a conversation and a cup of coffee.

Aside from the popular breakfast options, the cafe served the best turkey and dressing this side of your grandma’s house — not to mention fresh-grown fried okra, to-die-for blackberry cobbler and a chocolate pie that just might make the IRS forget the cafe ever owed any money.

OK, they probably won’t forget, but maybe it's worth a shot.

“We never received a detailed statement of what or why it was owed,” Perkins told the Tennessean. “What they are claiming that we make in sales is astronomical.”

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Some Secrets to Securing a Spot at The Catbird Seat

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 10:39 AM

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The Catbird Seat has been garnering a whole lot of buzz lately, and deservedly so. Chefs Erik Anderson and Josh Habiger continue to be recognized as some of the best and brightest young chefs in the country and the 32 seats in the restaurant remain filled. But it's not impossible to get a reservation; you just have to know how.

The reservation system at The Catbird Seat is designed to be as fair as possible to anyone who wants to book a seat at the table. Spots are opened up for exactly 30 days out every night at midnight, so you might want to have a cup of coffee with dinner to stay up late for your best chance. Contrary to rumors that I've heard, the restaurant isn't booked two months in advance, because they don't even take reservations that far out.

The restaurant does accept names for a waiting list in case there are cancellations, but in most cases they prefer to allow those spots to be filled through their regular online system. So don't be afraid to check occasionally for a date less than a month out in case a spot opens up. They also publicize openings from time to time on their Twitter account or that of their parent company, Strategic Hospitality. If you do want to be placed on the wait list for a specific date, you are invited to drop them an email at anna@thecatbirdseatrestaurant.com. Don't worry, Anna told me it was fine to give out that email, so don't think that I know the key to the velvet rope.

All that being said, The Catbird Seat is gonna be a tough table to get for the next few weeks. The chefs have been invited to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., and also to cook at the acclaimed Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn. Because of these events, The Catbird Seat will be closed from June 14-16 and June 21-23. To make up for these closings, The Catbird Seat will be open all Tuesdays in June, unlike most weeks. After all that traveling, the staff is taking a much-deserved vacation the week of July 4, but the schedule should get back to normal (which is to say crazy) after that.

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Florence and the Machines: The Great Food Truck Race Headed to Nashville This Weekend

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 9:31 AM

The Food Network show The Great Food Truck Race will be filming in Nashville through the weekend, for an installment of its third season. Each episode of the show generally has two parts: the local challenge and the Speed Bump, which is a rule unique to the week’s competition intended to test the trucks’ flexibility and creativity. Last season, the trucks stopped in Memphis, where the local challenge involved butchering and preparing a whole pig (judged by Jim Neely, patriarch of the famous barbecue family). And for a pleasant twist — to no one but the judge, The Chubby Vegetarian and a handful of other veg*ns — the Speed Bump required that trucks sell only vegetarian fare, which was quite an exceptional obstacle in Memphis, lemme tell ya.

The episode’s challenges are closely guarded by the show’s producers, but I’d guess there’s going to be hot chicken and/or Benton’s bacon involved. Also not yet determined is exactly where the food trucks will set up to sell, as it is part of the competition for each truck to find the best location. Local food trucks will be set up at Brew at the Zoo Friday night, the Tour de Fat and Musicians Corner in Centennial Park on Saturday, and at the Wanderland Urban Food Park in Elmington Park on both Saturday and Sunday, but I don’t know if drive-ups are welcome at any of those events. The best way to keep up is to follow the hashtags #greatfoodtruckrace and #GFTR on Twitter. But beware, there are spoilers for the upcoming season, including which remaining four trucks will be in town this weekend.

If you have any competing food truck sightings — and certainly any Tyler Florence sightings, ahem — please let us know. And what do you think the Nashville challenge and Speed Bump will involve?

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Gobble Some Red-Hot Cock: 30 Days of Hot Chicken Start June 4

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 7:59 AM

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In just a few years, East Nashville's annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival has grown from a neighborhood poultry party to an event that draws thousands every July 4 to East Park. What's not to love (except maybe those blazing July temperatures)? The great atomic bird is our unique civic delicacy, capable of curing colds, boredom, the blues, chills, and any desire you've ever had to settle for KFC. And now, instead of just one day celebrating the flaming fowl, we're getting 30.

Starting June 4, the festival is joining with more than 30 restaurants representing Nashville Originals to present Hot Chicken Days: 30 Ways to Feel the Burn, an event spotlighting hot chicken in all its forms. Every day brings a new variation on the fiery specialty at a different locale, giving some of Nashville's hottest chefs a chance to put their spin. If you're one of those people who carries a tub of Clorox wipes into Prince's, you can nibble a devil-red drumstick at a white-tablecloth joint with pinky daintily extended.

Let this graph from the Hot Chicken Festival website crow its siren song:

To tempt the palate, some of the dishes offered will include: Quail Wings with Habanero Kaffir Dust, Cruze Farms Buttermilk Ranch, White Bread Pudding, Pickled Radishes at ChaCha; Bacon Wrapped Hot Chicken stuffed with Cappicola at Wild Iris; Gorgonzola Crusted Thai Chili Chicken Wing, Krystaled Red Potatoes, Cornichon Chow Chow, Crispy Celery Leaves at Holland House. Cabana will be serving up Jalapeno-Marinated Hot Chicken with Bacon Waffles and Pickled Green Tomatoes. Tayst will add Hot Pickled Chicken: Fried Pickled Chicken Chips served with Celery and American Dressing to their menu. Copper Kettle will serve Sweet and Spicy Southern Fried Chicken and Sweet and Spicy Southern Fried Chicken Salad. Finally, patrons will even be able to participate during casual lunches at places like Noshville which is offering a Spicy Chicken Melt, Spicy Chicken Salad Sandwich and a Spicy Chicken Avocado, Bacon Club Sandwich on their menu for the month.

Full release below.

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On Camp(ing): Figuring Out My Festival Food Sitch

Posted By on Thu, May 31, 2012 at 5:38 AM

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Hey Bitesters! How you doin'? It's been a while — like 11 months or so — but I have escaped from the cage under Scene music editor Patrick Rodgers' desk and I'm ready to unleash my peculiar brand of strange on the unsuspecting foodies of our fair city. For those who don't know me, I'm mostly a music critic, but like just about anyone who's served time in the music industry I've logged plenty of man-hours cooking for cash. I'm also of Irish/French-Canadian descent so I like to boil spare animal parts for extraneously long periods of time. Actually, I'm not so into cooking if it doesn't involve extraneously long periods of time. I love to cook with fire. I'm also freakishly paranoid about fire safety. I once auditioned for Next Food Network Star and made it surprisingly far considering the fact that my "specialty dish" was basically a glass of whiskey. So ya, I'm your new Bites guy.

My first order of business as your new Bites-bro is getting you to help me figure the menu for Fort Scene at Bonnaroo. I'm stumped. Last year I brought 30-odd pounds of pork products, the year before we did beef heart, the year before that was The Great Duck Disaster. This year? I got nothin' and the clock is tickin'. I'm thinking maybe Cuban food in honor of the rather rad selection of Cuban and Cuban influenced music on the lineup — Pedrito Martinez Group! Afrocubism! — but I'm up for just about anything besides burgers and dogs. Not that I have a problem with burgers and dogs but where's the challenge in that? If you're going to cook in adverse conditions, why wimp out and get all dad-in-the-backyard with the menu, amiright?

So here's the challenge: I need to cook three meals for 10-15 people, I've got a 14-inch Weber, a small table for prep and limited cooler space. I don't mind preparing stuff ahead of time, but I've also got a small book's worth of music writing to turn in between now and when I embark for the magical fantasy-world of Coffee County. Also, cleaning up is sort of a pain in the ass, thanks to the whole no-running-water thing. Oh, and whether or not we have refrigeration is still up in the air. (I think.) Basically, it's a logistical nightmare and that's why it's so much fun! No seriously, it's fun. I swear to god. Stop looking at me like that. Now you understand why I need your help, right? So leave your suggestions, tips and mocking jibes in the comments. And if you don't help out Team Scene might just get all Miami Zombie down in Manchester and you wouldn't want that would you?

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Whiskey Wednesday: FEW, a Fresh Spirit from the Windy City

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 8:31 AM

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Spirits from nontraditional distilling states like Wisconsin, New York, Minnesota and Illinois are all the rage right now. But it makes sense when you consider that that's where all the grain comes from in the first place. Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirits in New York and Death's Door Gin from Death's Door Spirits in Wisconsin are fairly common on the top shelves of some of Nashville's finer cocktail bars.

A new Midwesterner has just entered the market with FEW Spirits out of Evanston, Ill. If you know anything about Evanston, you might recognize a little bit of irony in that development, since the suburb just north of Chicago is known as the headquarters of The Woman's Christian Temperance Union. When I went to summer school at Northwestern University in Evanston in the '80s, we used to have to take a suitcase on the "Skokie Flyer" and get off at every stop until we could find a place that would sell us beer. Then we'd load up our luggage and schlep it back to campus. My, how things have changed.

FEW Spirits has previously only been available in Illinois, Washington and Oregon, so we're fortunate that Boonedocks Distribution has brought them on locally. Their next target markets are in Canada, so we might be the only new folks to learn about FEW for awhile.

FEW distills two kinds of gin and three varieties of whiskey in very small batches. I'm talking like 5-gallon barrel batches, so you can imagine what that does to their production costs. They estimate that the cost of the cooperage alone represents about $5 in the cost of each bottle. But the result of this expenditure is that they can impart so much more character and color into their spirits in a short period than the larger producers.

They're also not afraid of high-proof levels at FEW.Their "Standard Issue Gin" is bottled at 114 proof and will peel the paint off the roof of your mouth if you try to drink it straight. Instead, this is a nice starter for a proper Gin & Tonic. With six botanicals added to what is essentially their white whiskey as a base spirit, the aromas are more subtle than in more commercial gins like Bombay Sapphire.

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First Bite: Taps Restaurant in Hillsboro Village

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 7:16 AM

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A couple of weeks ago, I told you about Taps, the new evolution of the old Taps and Tapas restaurant on Belcourt Avenue in Hillsboro Village. With the promise of a new stuffed-burger joint in my neighborhood, I hurried down to check out the reboot. (Because y'know, man cannot live by Brown's Diner alone.)

The interior of the restaurant hasn't undergone many changes, but the menu sure has. The outside patio should prove to be an excellent place to enjoy a cold beer and to pass some time in the Village, and the jukebox certainly was lively during my visit.

The beer list features 20 brews on draft and in bottles. While Taps doesn't match a place like, say, Flying Saucer for craft-beer selection, it has a nice variety that should satisfy most tastes. A limited selection of cocktails focusing on sangrias and martinis is also available to enjoy with your burger.

The burger menu was actually shorter than I expected with only six selections, but the "build your own" option includes lots of veggie, meat and cheese toppings. The Sunday Brunch burger is stuffed with onions, Benton's bacon and smoked gouda and comes topped with the now-ubiquitous over-easy free-range egg. I didn't get a chance to try that one, but it is on my future brunch radar.

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Riffs and Corsair Team Up to Pop Up

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2012 at 5:40 AM

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Earlier in the spring (remember when it wasn't 95 degrees?), the culinary geniuses behind Riffs Fine Street Food parked their truck for an evening and set up a pop-up restaurant for an evening at Notable Blends near Greer Stadium. From all accounts, it was a fantastic meal. I even heard some folks opine that it surpassed The Catbird Seat for a hundred-dollar meal, though I can't speak to that directly.

Well, those crazy kids are at it again, and this time they're teaming up with the mad mixologists at Corsair Artisan Distillery. The dinner will be this Saturday night, June 2, and they've let the cat out of the bag that the venue will be at the Corsair facility at 1200 Clinton St. in the Marathon Motor Works complex.

There will be two seatings, at 6 and 8:30, although the first seating has almost sold out already. Diners can expect a full seated dinner with accompanying cocktails for every dish. Then cost of the dinner is $100 per person, but unlike the first pop-up event, the price includes tax and gratuity. So you can consider this to be about a 30 percent discount over the March event. Nonalcoholic options will also be available if you're not a tippler.

The food and drinks should be fantastic, and Corsair is a great place to visit for a party. If you're interested act fast. Email chefs@riffstruck.com or call (615) 249-8560 to reserve a spot at the table. You'll need to give them a credit card number to hold your space, but then you'll be all set for a great night out.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Retro Sno Truck Hits the Road With New Orleans-Style Snowballs

Posted By on Tue, May 29, 2012 at 7:37 AM

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One of my favorite food books that I've read lately is Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, a beautifully written memoir written by Sara Roahen. The book is so well-crafted that it alternatively inspires me to try to be a better writer or to give up completely. In her book, Roahen shares how the culinary scene of the Big Easy was so important to her integration into the community after moving to her first Southern city from her native Wisconsin. She describes her discoveries of the wonders of the city's cuisine through specific food types like po' boys, gumbo, crawfish, turducken and Sazeracs.

The chapter on New Orleans snowballs concentrates on Hansen's Sno-Bliz, an institution in the city since 1939. Founder Ernest Hansen actually invented the Sno-Bliz machine out of wood in 1933 to shave fluffy ice to make treats for his son. Very different from your ordinary icy snow cone, a true snowball shaved-ice treat is softer on the tongue and more able to accept the unique cream and cane sugar-based syrups.

Since the loss of Fleur De Lis Flavors back in January, there has been a notable hole in Nashville's frozen treat market. Well, fear not Bitesters, because a new food truck called Retro Sno has hit the road in a converted portable oil-change truck to fill the void.

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