I’m a jam guy. I really like good jam. By good jam, I mean the kind where the fruit flavour (and content) is prevalent and it’s not overly gummy with pectin and other thickeners. As well, most commercial jams are just too damn sweet and frankly, it’s unnecessary.
I’ve come across some tremendous jams in our travels, and I always pick up a couple to bring home and have no issue with buying really, really good jams through mail order. As well, there are some lovely boutique jam makers close to home. I thought I’d highlight a couple that have really impressed me.
First up is Michael’s Dolce, a local jam maker who is delivering delicious and unique flavour combinations that you don’t see anywhere else, such as Rhubarb/Black pepper, Pear/Vanilla, or Fig/Blood Orange. You can check their website for where to buy them, but they are available at many of the better food shops in the city as well as in Toronto and now making inroads into Montreal. We’ve bought their jams at Piggy Market and the Ottawa Bagel Shop.
My favorite is Kiwi/Lime: It has an intense citrus punch that’s fresh and tart and softened just a bit by the melony sweetness of the kiwi. Peach/Cardamom is another fave – a fresh farmer’s market staple, mixed with an exotic spice.
On one of our road trips, we found ourselves at the Loveless Cafe on the outskirts of Nashville, TN. It’s a local landmark where it’s famous for making the best biscuits in the USA. Of course this would be a hotly contested claim, but they are highly regarded, and we have to say that their biscuits were unique, fluffy, rich and delicious. They serve them with preserves, like a Mexican restaurant gives you tortilla chips and salsa as you sit down and peruse the menu. They chose to serve us a raspberry jam (which was good, but not mind-altering) and their peach preserves which surprised us with their colour, texture and flavour.
The jam is brown, not the light, peachy colour we’ve come to expect. That’s because Loveless Cafe chooses to caramelize the peaches, which accounts for the rich, darkness and flavour.
These are available by mail order throughout the US and Canada, but from Canada, you’d have to call them to order, as like many US-based business, their on-line ordering systems just doesn’t recognize the existence of other countries. We only had a quarter-jar left from our last order of 4 jars, forcing us to make do for these photos. Now we have to order more. Give them a call, you’ll be happy you did.
We pull out of Nashville at 10:30. It’s still 90 degrees despite pouring buckets last night. Our second stop after gassing up is White Castle at Rob’s insistence. CAUTION, FOODIES: CHAIN RESTAURANT ALERT. I agree to this stop only because Rob says we can eat in the car, a peculiar quirk of mine. We are breaking the rule for a number of reasons.
1. We have never eaten at White Castle.
2. They don’t operate in Canada.
3. It is a part of food history – It’s the very first hamburger chain.
4. Rob says they never would have made a movie called Harold and Kumar go to McDonald’s.
We get a combo that consists of a small order of well made krinkle cut fries which could use some salt, a diet coke and 4 sliders with cheese. The sliders are actually quite tasty. Something about that marriage of pickle, processed cheese and onion. The quality of the meat? Not sure I want to investigate further. It was less a part of the taste than the whole of the bun and the limited dressings. One of the four was dried out significantly. I wasn’t keen on the idea of steamed buns as I don’t care for wet bread, but this was good and soft and went well with the sandwich. These burgers are small; four of them makes a typical order, and you can even buy them in packs of 30. They are cooked on an onion covered flat top with steam holes providing much of the heat. Cheese and pickle are added and then the top bun is placed on the burger and the whole assembly is “slid” onto the bottom bun (hence the name “slider”). It is this cooking technique and their oniony taste which makes them quite unique.
We hit the road as the temp drops to 81 degrees outside the city. It starts to rain lightly, the first time on this trip. We have really had excellent weather. Our drive today takes us out of Tennessee, past fields of corn stubble, rows of maturing corn, mansions and cute, well maintained bungalows typical of the area, neat trailers with mowed lawns. It is Sunday and the South is closed for church.
We enter Kentucky with no formal notice, past Springfield on highway 431 which did not mark the state line. The small towns and back roads of rural Kentucky are picturesque.
American flags wave on dwellings, corn fields and hay bales glow gold, horses and cows dot hills and fenced paddocks, pale, lime-green tobacco plants stand tall and an earlier crop hangs to dry in rustic sheds, and black livestock shelters particular to this area, stand in stunning contrast to the grey skies and rich green hills and farmland. Small towns notify of their particular claim to fame: Home of the Everly Brothers (Central City, KY), and Purple Martin Capital of the World (Lewisburg, KY).
After a time, a large bridge span looms ahead of us. We cross the Ohio river and enter Indiana., where we turn around so we can capture the elusive Welcome to Kentucky sign, turn back around and head into Evansville, Indiana, our stop over for tonight.
Alton Brown came this way on “Feasting on Asphalt” season one. He tried a regional specialty, a fried pig brain sandwich, a favorite here and still sold in a few mom and pop places. Even Alton wasn’t all that keen on it and we think we will pass. Thanks for taking one for the road food team, Alton!
We are tired tonight and think we are just going to order in a pizza and chill. See y’all in St. Louis!
Today, Friday is our first full day in Nashville. We are staying in a hotel downtown and have had to contend with jack hammering below our window until 12:30 am and were awakened by it at 7 am. Luckily the hotel can move us to the other side of the building for our next two nights.
I am determined to find cowboy boots here. I love them and every time I am overwhelmed by the selection and can’t choose, so I go home empty handed. I’m going to start a “cowboy boots go with everything” trend back in Ottawa.
I love country ham. A big bone-in slab of salty goodness. Why cant we get ham like this back home? This is so far removed from the pressed meat we call breakfast ham. Southern country ham is salt-cured instead of smoke-cured. The red-eye gravy, made from pan drippings and a healthy shot of coffee, is not salty and is excellent. I am no judge of red-eye gravy as this is my first experience with it, but I could drink this stuff. Perfect with the ham. My potatoes are fine and the eggs are perfect over medium. The biscuit is light, moist and fluffy and no butter is needed.
Rob’s chicken fried steak is fresh made and hand dipped not frozen. It comes hot, crispy and juicy. His pepper gravy… flour, cream and pepper, is flavourful, thick and has a nice pepper edge.
Our afternoon is spent relaxing…well, me reading and Rob doing laundry. We head into Franklin, Tennessee for an evening of BBQ and good music. Mickey Roo’s, a Texas style BBQ joint is recommended to us and seems like a great option. You can smell the hickory smoke as soon as you leave the car. Mickey’s is decorated in late “junkyard” and has comfy picnic tables covered in western handkerchief printed oil cloth. Mexican horse blankets are provided for boney bums. Big Texas atmosphere and a Texas sized stage are in house. Flatties feature Nascar and NFL.
I grab a cold Yuengling beer so I can think after coming in out of the 104 degree heat. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the US. Good beer, but any beer is good when it is 104 degrees. I swear you cannot get a buzz on in Nashville. It’s so hot the beer just leaks out of your pores. You can’t keep up.
First off we order up some Big Joe’s Diablos, smoked shrimp stuffed into a jalepeno, wrapped in bacon and covered in Monterey Jack. Glad we chose the order of two to share because they are huge. I can see as I’m sure you can, that these have to be fantastic, and they would have been had they been heated up properly. They had obviously been cooked sometime earlier and so were just merely good.
Rob and I both order the baby backs and two sides. I get potato salad and Boot Kick’n beans (hot). Rob gets Bullstrings (fried onion strings) and Lone Star Beans (not hot). The ribs are slow smoked for 8 hours over hickory smoke, so they are more tender than the usual 4-hour ribs. These are really meaty ribs. Hot and sweet BBQ sauce is provided on the side. The sweet still had a nice little mild heat but more vinegar flavour would have been nice. The potato salad is chunky with egg and mustard. It is good, standard fare.
The onion strings are crispy and delicious while they are hot, but because they are so thin they cool fast and are less so. The beans are very good. The Lone Star beans are sweet but not overly so, while the hot beans have a nice heat, larger beans, and good flavour but could have done with a bit of molasses, although a squirt of the mild BBQ sauce fixes them right up.
After dinner we head on over to the Bunganut Pig to watch Ottawa boy and friend Trevor Finlay perform. We sit outside with his fiancee Josee, and enjoy a few beers and a beautiful Nashville evening listening to Trevor and his guitar.
It’s a cool 80 degrees at 8:00 this fine morning as we prepare to leave. Breakfast is to be at a local bagel shop. We head out and in under two minutes manage get pulled over by Tupelo PD. You cannot drive in parking lanes here. Who knew? After a “Be careful of those parking lines, ya’ll have a nice day now!” we are off again. Bagel Shop…closed permanently. Sigh. We are back tracking the way we came into town to regain the Trace so we don’t miss mile marker 269, where there are 13 Confederate gravesites. We are quickly running out of breakfast options. There will be even fewer along the Trace. In desperation we turn to Dodge’s Fried Chicken. Dodge’s is a chain originating in Tupelo, which we have never heard of. They seem to be part of filling stations across several states in the South. It will have to do. We order chicken tenderloin, egg and cheese biscuits, crispitos and fried sweet potato pie to share.
The fried chicken, egg and cheese is on a not half bad southern biscuit, but the entire sandwich is a tad salty for my liking. The crispito is a deep fried burrito rolled thin and open ended, stuffed with industrial queso, possibly chicken and some spicy red sauce. Sounds bad but it was just cheesy and spicy with a crisp flaky envelope. Not terrible. Lastly the hot rectangular sweet potato pie had a creamy filling much like pumpkin pie and a crisp shell with a crunchy layer of cinnamon and sugar. All in all not too bad, but too much fried food for my delicate constitution.
We enter the Natchez Trace heading to Nashville. Our first stop is at mile marker 269. We take a five minute hike on a neat trail through sun dappled forest.We come upon a clearing in the woods and there they are: 13 tiny headstones, each one chiseled with the words: Unknown Confederate Soldier. No one is sure how or why they ended up here. The markers are adorned with plastic flowers, tiny, faded confederate flags and stones from visitors pausing to reflect and note the passing of these, probably very young men, during a conflict so long ago.
Our next stop is Cave Spring. Just off the pull over is a collapsed limestone shelf that created a cave. It is believed to have provided shelter and water to natives along the Trace.
We cross into Alabama, our third state on our monster road trip. The Trace cuts across a small corner of the state. Soon after we come upon the Tennessee River and cross the John Coffee Memorial bridge. It is not clear to us how travelers hundreds and thousands of years ago forded this major waterway. We stop on the other side of the bridge to enjoy the view and snap some photos.
Traveling the Trace is a relaxing and pleasant drive through forests and grasslands dotted with mile markers, clean restrooms, and historical sites. It is fun to soak up the history and the ghosts of travelers who endured the hardships of the early Trace, many of whom died in the process. It does not escape me that I have just sent an email to my decorator 1000 miles away in Canada on my iPhone. Mind boggling to me still.
Back on the Trace we come upon Metal Ford, a gorgeous, peaceful trail a few meters into dappled woodland which reveals a swimming hole with warm, crystal shallow waters and a smooth rock floor. A tiny set of rapids babbles upstream. The air is fresh and sweet and the temperature drops slightly to a bearable degree.
Our next stop will be our last before lunch. Meriweather Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, died and was buried on this spot along the Old Trace. His death remains a mystery but it was messy and possibly self inflicted. In 1848 the government erected a monument to commemorate a life cut short. Curiously, he is buried in the middle of a small pioneer cemetery full of tiny flat markers of which no mention is made.
The memorial spot takes us off the modern Trace and leads us into Hohenwald, a little dusty town. As we follow Stella’s instructions we agree it does not look promising for lunch.
Rob struggled last night to find a place worth visiting for lunch off the Trace. After much research he decided that Big John’s Pit BBQ (listed on the town government’s website as one of a dozen places to eat in town including fast food joints) is our best bet. Worst case we have actually passed a McDonald’s and a Sonic. We pull up at the BBQ and there are a number of pickups in the parking lot. A good sign.
A few people are finishing up lunch as we order off hand written menu boards at the cash. We want to try a few things so we order three sandwiches to share, smoked turkey, pulled pork and smoked pulled ham and cheese, deep fried okra, potato salad and coleslaw. The three sandwiches come wrapped in white paper.
All are on soft, white, well made buns and have fresh tomato slices, leaf lettuce, sliced onion and ridge cut dill pickle. They are piled generously high with meat. The ham sandwich has cheddar cheese and the turkey a little mayo. A sweet BBQ sauce in hot or mild is provided in a squeeze bottle. We apply some to our sandwiches and dig in but we know just by looking: these sandwiches are going to be awesome. And they are.
The meats are hickory smoked and they are pull-apart-melt-in-your-mouth juicy. The ham and turkey are my personal favorites and they are one of the best sandwiches I’ve had anywhere. Sandwiches range in price from $1.75 to $3.50. The fried okra is well made and not greasy, but indistinguishable from fried zucchini. It came without sauce and was great dipped in their house bbq sauce. The small side of potato salad was good, eggy and had a little sweet vinegar taste. The coleslaw was of my personal favorite variety. Vinegar based and finely cut and diced green cabbage.
Why would you go to McDonald’s when you have this kind of food two driveways away? What an awesome discovery, especially when we expected nothing from this lunch except to fill our tummies. Big John’s is so unknown it does not have a web presence and does not appear in any food review sites that we could find. You heard it here first! A real treat.
Back on the road to Nashville where the midday temperatures are a relatively cool 97 degrees (it’s all relative after you have experienced 106 degree weather)…our next stop is Fall Hollow. Here you follow a path a little way into the forest and you come upon a pleasant waterfall with a twenty food drop.
We finish our drive on the Trace on the winding roads through the hills of Tennessee. The road terminates at mile marker 444 and conveniently at the Loveless Cafe. We stock up on their lovely peach preserves and head to the hotel to relax before heading to a friend’s home for dinner. Good to be back in Nashville.
As always we’ll be following our long-standing and religiously observed rules for road trips:
Stop for any photo
Stop for any story
No interstate highways
No chain restaurants
If you’d like a preview of what to expect: here are links from the starting pages of our previous road trips. Each one is the start of a dozen or so posts covering daily updates from the road – the sights, the events, and most of all, the FOOD! These are all from the “Happy Mouth Classic” version of the blog, our previous environment.