Monday, March 28, 2011

Loveless Café and Vingenzo

Coming back from Nashville, Tennessee, I brought home many lovely images of spring. I placed some in my last post. I also brought back something, not as lovely – a bad cold. Since this cold makes my head heavy and hazy I am not attempting to write something too imaginative or smart. I am staying with “comfort.” Food is usually associated with comfort – hence this post. This will just be a report about the two restaurants where I was invited to eat my birthday lunches – at the Loveless Café, one week early in Nashville and at Vingenzo’s on my birthday last Saturday in Woodstock, Georgia.

In a way I would have rather been back in Hawai'i where my birthday, 26 March, is a national holiday. It turns out that Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana’ole was born on this day, in 1871. In Hawai’i it is a state holiday so government offices, schools and some businesses are closed. There are parades, festivals and other events celebrating the birth of Prince Kuhio.

Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole born on March 26, 1871. Courtesy Hawaii State Archives

I found other more worthy individuals than me who were born on 26 March, such as Robert Frost in 1874, Tennessee Williams in 1911, Pierre Boulez in 1925, and Richard Dawkins in 1941. But for the celebration on my day, food was in honor. After we left the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville (see my post here ) my daughter and son-in-law took us to a well-known Nashville eatery to celebrate my day, one week early –at the Loveless Café.

Postcard copyright Anderson Design Group

In 1951 Lon and Annie Loveless purchased the property. They served chicken on picnic tables by the side of US Highway 100. As more and more travelers stopped by they remodeled the early 1900’s home into a dining room and kitchen and added country cured ham on the menu. Lon managed the motel and Annie the cooking – everything was home-made, the hams curved, smoked and carved on the premises, the home-baked biscuits and slow cooked preserves.

The Loveless Café was sold but the secret recipe for the biscuits was given to the new owners. Carol Fay Ellison, who began to work for the café as a dishwasher while in high school, made her career there – she was known as “the Biscuit Lady.” She safeguarded the restaurant’s biscuit recipe and went even on TV shows demonstrating Southern cooking. I took a picture outside of a sign advertising her biscuits (she passed away in April 2010.)

The Loveless Café became a Nashville landmark drawing locals, tourists, country stars, actors and many others. The motel closed in 1985 and was remodeled into a country store and little shops. We arrived at the café with an appetite after our walks in the Cheekwood gardens. We had to wait for a table so we checked the shops.

Click on collage to enlarge then click on each photo to biggify

A couple of gift shops had colorful wall paintings and interesting pottery.

Then we went back into the restaurant and waited a few more minutes for our table. The walls of the front room are covered with pictures of country music stars and other celebrities.

We sat at our table and a waitress took our orders then came back quickly with a tray of hot biscuits and home-made preserves. We ate them as we read the story of the café printed on the place-mats. I ordered the country ham dinner with sides of greens, fried okra and fried green tomatoes – it came with eggs and red eye gravy. My husband ordered the barbecue plate with coleslaw and the potato casserole – with iced tea of course. We finished with blackberry cobbler but could only eat half of the food, which was excellent. We liked the preserves so much that after dinner we went back to the shop and bought some to take back to Georgia.

The Loveless Café is located near the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway. This parkway is a 444-miles picturesque road which commemorates an ancient trail going from Natchez, Mississippi, through Alabama and ending in central Tennessee. The Choctaw, Chickasaw and other American Indians used this Trace. It was also heavily used from 1785 to 1820 by the “kaintuck” boatmen when they returned on foot to Nashville after having floated their wares on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez and New Orleans. We drove to the double-arched bridge that spans Birdsong Hollow. It received the Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 1995. It rises 155 feet above the valley. We stopped to admire it (and for me to take some pictures.)

We returned to Georgia the next day, admiring the lovely spring blossoms as we drove away.

Last Saturday, March 26, it was raining here. We drove to an Italian restaurant in Woodstock, Georgia, a little town north of us. We had never eaten there but I had read glowing reports on Vingenzo’s “real” style Italian pizzas and pastas. The restaurant is located near the railroad tracks of Woodstock’s historic district on one side and a little park with a gazebo on the other side.

As an appetizer we ordered the “Grandioso Tasting” which is a platter of three homemade mozzarellas: Latte, Burrata and Bufala. It came with roasted tomatoes and peppers, Cerignola olives, Pantelleria capers and oven roasted Taggiasche black olive. On the side we had a glass of Zonin Montepulciano wine and warm pizza dough bread drizzled with olive oil and fresh grated parmesan cheese. The Latte mozzarella was firm, the Burrata was a mozzarella cylinder around a buttery semisolid core and the buffalo mozzarella was juicy and just right. Tasty!

We studied the menu and placed our orders. I then went close to the “forno” the wood-burning oven in the open kitchen area and talked with Enrico who mans the oven. We spoke in Italian – he is from Napoli. He turned the pizza in the oven so fast that my photo was blurry.

I like my pizzas Italian style, that is thin and crusty. I ordered the Regina pizza which comes with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh ricotta, Fior di Latte Mozzarella, house made sausage, wild mushrooms and basil. It was perfect – a thin crust, pliant but crisp with circles of cheese melted across the surface. The sausage was flavorful and the mushrooms and fresh basil gave it that extra special touch. Genuine Italian and fantastic! My husband had the Pasta Al Forno which is baked with house-made fennel sausage, latte fresco mozzarella, cherry tomato sauce and fresh ricotta. He decided on the rigatoni for the pasta and was pleased with the robust but light flavor of his dish.

When “dolce” time came, my husband decided on the Torta Caprese which is a flourless chocolate almond cake and I had the Torta di Ricotta which is ricotta cheesecake with Marsala soaked raisins and chocolate chips. Heavenly!

This certainly was a lovely birthday lunch. We left the little town knowing that we would be back. I noticed the tavern’s name, close to the railroad which is called “Right Wing” and further down the street another house had a sign saying “Bug off” – hum……

Click on collage to see better

Back at home I had time to look at the three pretty birthday cards I received

and the two books my husband gave me – “Unfamiliar Fishes” by Sarah Vowell – it is an history of Hawai’i told with a wicked sense of humour and “Waikiki – a History of Forgetting and Remembering” by Gay Chan and Andrea Feeser – filled with beautiful images of days past.

But this was 26 March and today is my nephew’s birthday. With all this going on I did not send him a card yet. Still thinking of comfort food I shall mail him the card below. Unfortunately I can only show virtual comfort food here, Greg, but Aunt Ruth, your mother the baker extraordinaire will surely have a scrumptious cake for you. Happy Birthday!

This was supposed to be a very short post… much for that. I still cannot finish without saying that this is my blog anniversary. I started this blog in Long Beach, with my daughter’s help, on my birthday in 2009 - two years already. The time has gone so quickly - I have learned a lot from reading my friends’ blogs and also made so many dear friends.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Exploring Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville

We went to Nashville to visit our daughter for several days. While there we decided to explore the Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. Christopher T. Cheeks and his wife moved to Nashville in 1880. Their cousin, Joel Cheek, developed a superior blend of coffee which was popular in the best hotel of Nashville, called the Maxwell House Hotel. This hotel had been built by Colonel John Overton and named for his wife Harriett Maxwell. The Cheek family was an investor in the coffee. In 1928, Postum (now called General Foods) purchased the Maxwell House coffee brand for more than $40 million. The Cheeks‘ investment had given them good return and they purchased 100 acres in West Nashville for a country estate. The estate, completed in 1932, included a 30,000 square foot Georgian-style mansion and extensive formal gardens which became Cheekwood. Cheekwood opened to the public in 1960. Cheekwood Gardens is a community leader in conservation and reclamation. They removed invasive exotic species and replaced them with many native plant colonies.

Map of Cheekwood gardens from my brochure

In Nashville they call the estate “the house that coffee built.” The 55-acre garden (220,000 m2) has great horticultural diversity. There are 10 specialty display gardens. The mansion can be visited too but we did not. This will be for a future visit. When we arrived and parked in Parking Lot B, in the center of the map above, we saw a great number of people with dogs. This was the “Cover Dog Search” sponsored by the Nashville Lifestyles magazine. The winning entry will be featured on the cover of the May issue of the magazine.

There was a long line of dog owners with their pets. So many dogs! tiny to huge, all different breeds and colors.

Click on collage then click on each picture to enlarge

When they reached the top of the line a photographer would take the picture of the dog, with its number. The magazine readers can vote online for their favorite dog (you can look at the dogs here– my favorite is no. 175.)

We left the crowd and walked toward the reflecting pool.

From there we could hear many frogs croaking. We walked down to this frog pond to see if we could watch the frogs.

My! I have never seen so many frogs – swimming, croaking and courting.

One frog jumped near my husband and he caught it for a little while so our grandsons could look at it closer – they were fascinated.

Then the little boys ran up a meadow to look at the lions which we could barely see on top of the hill.

The lions were looking toward the mansion – keeping an eye on it I guess.

The meadow was covered with tiny wild flowers; daffodils and narcissi could be seen here and there.

I called my grandsons to tell them that I had seen a rabbit – so they came running – but what a rabbit…

Actually this is a sculpture called “Crawling Lady Hare” by Doug Hollis. The brochure says “We may expect art to show what is real – but who is to say our visions and dreams are not?” This artwork is part of the Carell Woodland Sculpture Trail. But we were walking toward the Japanese Garden, so I’ll follow this trail another day.

The Japanese Garden was peaceful and lovely – such a soothing place. I could have stayed there a long time.

It was a very warm afternoon – 85 degrees (29 -1/2 C) but not humid. Everywhere I looked was another photograph begging to be taken – and I did – now it is hard to decide which ones I should show here. Ahead were many beautiful magnolias. By the way, the magnolia has about 210 species and it was named after French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715.) Pierre was born in Montpellier, a city in the south of France. His father was a pharmacist and his mother came from a family of physicians. Pierre enrolled at the old University of Montpellier (founded in 1289) where a botanic garden had been established in 1593 by King Henry IV of France. Magnol invented the concept of plant “families.” He wrote several treatises allowing rapid plant identification. Up to then it was believed that all species had arrived on earth by “divine creation.”

Our grandsons had run ahead toward the colorful pansy beds. I took their picture, then, a little girl stood in front of me and asked if I would take her photo, too. I was pleased to oblige. Her name was Katy – see her below.

These pansies were very small but so pretty. There were other flowers and flowering bushes too.

A couple of sphinxes were at the end of the pansies walkway.

Ahead were more varieties of magnolias. Some of their names were: Jon Jon, Ann May, Western Lily, Saucer, Elizabeth.

Some had great fragrances.

There were some inviting stairs, going… where? No, my knees would not make it back.

The grandsons had found a fountain and were studying its contents.

Further on there was an herb garden.

Upon entering the Visitor Center we were greeted by large indoor plants and a lovely sculpture of 3 children.

There was an Orchid Show in the adjoining hall and it was a lovely display.

In summer they also have “Live at Cheekwood Gardens.” Last July Joan Baez gave a concert there.

Joan Baez playing at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens on 29 July 2010

There was so much more to see at Cheekwood Gardens and Museum of Art – I’d love to visit the mansion and look at the many paintings, drawings and sculptures in the museum. That will be for another time. The gardens were amazing though, and I did not see them all.

Postcard copyright Anderson Design Group

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