RT9: Backwoods Tennesee CajunPosted by Rob and Maureen on Sep 4, 2011 in Featured Slider, Restaurants, Road Trip, Travel | 2 comments
We are up early this last day we are to spend in Nashville, so that we can head into the pretty little town of Franklin for breakfast and to explore a little. We are breakfasting today at Merridee’s Breadbasket. It is a very busy place on a Saturday. The atmosphere is warm and homey with blue-checked oilcloth covering the tables, rustic worn oak floors, brick walls and exposed rafters. We manage to snag a just-vacated table and take our spot at the end of a very long line to place orders.
After a long wait of twenty or more minutes our number is called. Both of us are having egg, ham, and cheese biscuits and one of their famous cinnamon rolls to split. The house coffee is fine but has a distinct hazelnut flavour. The orange juice is bottled from concentrate. Our sandwiches are made on an excellent, buttery ham and cheese biscuit which is too crumbly to eat by hand and we have to resort to fork and knife. The thinly sliced ham has been lightly pan fried and has a nice sweet-to-salty ratio. The processed cheese and fluffy egg omelet are delicious.
We savour the soft sweet buttery cinnamon roll that has a nice, loose, icing sugar topping which we prefer over a hard glaze. Overall the atmosphere at Merridee’s is one of hustle and bustle and noise. It’s clearly THE place to be for locals on a Saturday morning, but it is not the spot to enjoy some quiet time with a newspaper. Take your cinnamon bun home and enjoy it in the shade of your front porch. Or hotel.
We spend 45 minutes walking Main Street and enjoying the shops before heading over to The Factory, a 12-building complex that is a converted factory most notable for manufacturing stoves. One shop of note in the plaza is a well appointed antique store with numerous relics from the American Civil War. Oh how I would love a cannonball but my luggage was already over the weight limit on the way in. Instead we purchase some frames which contain small bits of the conflict and personalize it and let you feel the ghosts of a time gone by. A bit of pipe, a hand struck nail, buttons, dice, a harmonica reed, a bullet…
As we are leaving to meet our friends, Josee and Trevor for lunch, we get a surprise phone call from a another friend who I have known since she was just 1 year old. We did not think we would get to visit with her this time, but she caught us just as we were leaving the Factory and tells us she lives just three minutes away. After a short but sweet visit we head into town and have a refreshing lunch at Calypso Cafe, which specializes in Caribbean fare and makes a great salad.
We are a little early and pop into the Dog and Cat Shoppe around the corner. I am in kitty heaven. They have three cats and multitudes of kittens roaming free and sleeping everywhere. I spend 15 minutes with an adorable baby tortie sleeping in my arms while I look for “presents” to bring home two my two kitties. After lunch the boys head on out to shop at Nashville’s Guitar Center and us girls go on a two mile hike on the lovely walking trails in Nashville.
Dinner tonight has been suggested by Trevor and Josee. They tell us it is really a backwoods hole-in-the-wall which serves pretty good cajun food. We are game, especially if it is a hole-in-the-wall. That’s where you will find some of the best cooking.
Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Cafe is an hour and fifteen minute drive from Franklin to Santa Fe, Tennessee (the locals pronounce it “Santa FEE”) mostly on a winding two laner through gorgeous country. Rolling green hills, pretty mansions and beautiful more modest bungalows, horse farms and fence rows and even the occasional beat up trailer add spice and variety to this drive. We hit two detours and are completely lost to the backwoods of Tennessee save for Stella 3000, our GPS. She finally pulls us up at a small, yellow building. The parking lot is full of cars and trucks. It is a surprise because I have no idea where they all came from. There is not the kind of population in the area it would seem, to support a restaurant here. We enter, give a name and go outside and wait to be called. No waiting time is given. Several more people show up and put their names in. Some of them are smarter and have brought coolers of beer knowing they will have to wait in the heat for a table.
We sit outside and enjoy a pleasant, warm Tennessee evening. After about twenty minutes we get called in. Papa Boudreaux’s is small, boasting only seven tables. The entire place inside and out is decorated in yellow and purple, with a side of beads and football memorabillia. A flattie on one wall is showing a game between Oregon and LSU. “Papa” alternately yells with approval and swears his disgust at the TV.
Right beside our table, Ronnie Fruge serenades us on his Gibson, and chats between folk, country and cajun tunes and some of his own. Trevor and Rob are a tough audience being guitarists/singers themselves. Ronnie is a treat and is the genuine article. Papa’s is old school and accepts only cash or cheques. There is no alcohol for sale but you are welcome to bring your own in.
As we peruse the small menu on the chalkboard, people continue to pour in and put their names on the waiting list before heading back outside to wait. Our waitress returns to our table with our drinks and some warm baguette and butter to take our food orders. I ask her what the best thing on the menu is as I am tempted by several things. She tells me it’s the crawfish-shrimp etouffee. I order that and skip apps because I want to have dessert here. Rob orders some boudin balls and pasta with chicken and andouille, Trevor orders fried scallops and garlic shrimp and pasta, Josee gets the shrimp creole.
The apps arrive first. Both the scallops and the boudin come with a chunky, spicy, tomato, onion, pepper relish. The scallops are large and perfectly fried. No greasy residue and great scallop texture. The boudin balls are fried as well, have strong pork flavour and go well with the tomato relish.
The mains arrive shortly and I am not disappointed. My etouffe is homemade, honest, authentic cajun food. The portion is quite large and I’m glad I skipped apps. The dish is chock full of plump Gulf shrimp and tiny crawfish tails. The creamy sauce is delicate yet contains a mild heat, cooled by the rice it is served over.
Rob’s pasta had a light barely there cream sauce that nicely tied together the flavours of the smoky andouille, the chicken and a little cajun heat.
I tried Josee’s creole and it was a classic, rich, smokey tomato sauce with onion and pepper and a good kick of heat, the kind that makes you sweat a bit eating it. Trevor enjoyed his pasta but I never got a taste. It sure looked good!
I’m glad we saved room for dessert. Louisiana chocolate bread pudding. And four spoons. It is a big portion with warm, rich, not overly sweet chocolate bread pudding with a fudgy sauce and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream all ready melting it’s descent into the goo.
Papa Boudreaux’s is an incredible treat in the backwoods of Tennessee and serves Cajun food as good as any you will find in the bayou state.
Here’s a local Tennessee TV bit on the place:
We had a great 3 days in Nashville and in Tennessee. It was a great mix of music, food and friends. The area is captivating and beautiful. Tomorrow finds us moving on to unfamiliar turf as neither of us have been to our remaining road trip destinations before, not counting Rob’s occasional overnight business trips, which are definitely not the way to discover a region and its offerings. Tomorrow the road leads through Kentucky, on to Evansville, Indiana. Goodbye to Nashville.