Category Archives: USA: East of the Mississippi

Travel: DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards in Baxter, TN

All the best people were born in July.

I can say that, since both Jimmie and I are July babies. We also happen to have a dozen or so friends who were also born in July. It’s a good month for a birthday.

A few weeks ago, a couple of our July-birthday friends invited us to take a wine tour for a joint birthday celebration. Turns out there’s a wine trail not too far from us (two, actually), so we loaded up the car and headed west to DelMonaco Winery and Vineyards in Baxter, TN.

We had a great day with friends new and old!

For those not familiar with the area, Baxter is one exit past Cookeville on the way to Nashville. Remember Cookeville from my Crawdaddy’s post? Anyway, I’m not sure there’s much in Baxter, though apparently there is a really good restaurant that we didn’t get to. Next time. (For those interested, DelMonaco is part of the Upper Cumberland Wine Trail.)

DelMonaco Winery & Vineyards

DelMonaco is one of the few wineries in Tennessee that grows their own grapes. In addition to the wine, they’ve also got an incredible event space. It’s genius, really, since as our tour guide told us, they make just as much money from their events as they do from their wine. If you live in Middle or East Tennessee and need a wedding venue, definitely check them out.

We paid $15 each for the tour and tasting, which got us a 45 minute tour and samples of all 14 wines. Yes, that’s a lot of wine. Most of DelMonaco’s wines are sweet wines, typical for the area. I learned that for the most part, the grapes we’re familiar with (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc.) don’t survive in the U.S. Only the West Coast and a few places in New England have any real luck with them. Bad soil, pests, fungi, and inhospitable climates cause problems everywhere else.

But, that just means American winemakers have had to get creative. Some wineries purchase those more elusive grapes. Others grow America-friendly grapes like Muscadine and Concord. Still others make wines out of fruits, such as strawberries, blackberries, and peaches.

Needless to say, this wine drinker learned a lot on the tour.

The Tour

First of all, it was hot as blazes. Our tour guide took us through the venue first, showing us their different event spaces. I loved the Grand Bella, the main room. It’s got these gorgeous glass doors all around. You’ll have to take my word for it, since I failed to turn around and take a picture.

The Grand Bella at DelMonaco Winery

The outdoor areas are very nice too, and have killer views of the vineyard.

I absolutely adore this picture of us in front of the vineyards.

Next we walked down to the vineyard, where we learned a little more about the history of the place and some of the fun events they host. There’s a wine train – the train tracks run right by the winery – that brings people in from Nashville. You ride a train (drink wine), tour the winery (drink wine), and have a party (drink wine). It sounds like it might be one of the best things ever.

Concord Grapes at the DelMonaco Winery

We didn’t wander the vineyard (we were all melting), but we did snap lots of photos.

Another good one!

And some of us might have tried the grapes.

I’m thinking about framing this one and hanging it in my kitchen. That’d work, right?

Concord grapes are divine, friends.

Where the magic happens!

After the grapes, we went into the blessedly cool air-conditioned wine-making room (I can’t remember the proper term, sorry). There we got to hear about how they make the wine, how they bottle the wine, how they label the wine, and how they store the wine. All I remember was that it’s very similar to making beer, and that they do only about 4,000 cases of wine a year. I should have taken better notes, but I’ll just go back for the wine train and update you then.

On a side note – I was very disappointed to know that they don’t actually crush grapes in a giant vat with their bare feet. I’ve wanted to do that ever since watching the (albeit terrible) movie, A Walk in the Clouds. Anyone with me??

The Tasting

We actually did the tasting before the tour, since we were waiting on another couple to meet us there. Fourteen wines is a lot, and since you taste from dry to sweet, it quickly becomes A LOT.

DelMonaco Winery Wine Tasting List….side A.

Jimmie and I are dry-wine drinkers, so for the most part, we had a hard time with the wines. We could appreciate the flavors, and there were a few that we would have been able to drink a glass of if we’d needed to. There were a couple that I’d have added carbonation to, and a handful that I simply could not finish my taster of. But, we also liked some – the Chardonnay was quite good, and I typically don’t like Chardonnay. It’s got apricot and fig flavors, and oddly enough, you can actually taste the fig. The Merlot and Noiret were also good, though slightly too fruity.

Don’t let our experience put you off though – our sweet-wine loving friends bought like 8 bottles. They loved the wines.

I took like 8 pictures before I’d let anyone drink it. I’m that person.

After our tasting, we bought a bottle of Chardonnay and took it to the patio for a picnic lunch of cheeses, fruits, veggies, and meats. It was a wonderful meal, despite the heat, and the wine paired perfectly with the food.

Our glorious picnic

It was a fun-filled (HOT) day, and despite not loving all the sweet wines, wine is wine, so we left happy. It’s nice to know we have such a beautiful, relaxing place here in Tennessee, and I can see myself going back with a group of girlfriends to spend some lazy Saturday.

I believe you can order DelMonaco’s wines from their website, or if you’re local, it’s a quick day trip. And if anyone does that train, I want to tag along.

Travel: Crawdaddy’s Restaurant in Cookeville, TN

Last week, I shared our lunch date at Sammy B’s in Lebanon, TN, on our way home from Nashville. The type A personalities will be annoyed to know that we also had lunch on the way to Nashville – but I wrote the posts out of order, so you’re just now seeing it. *Grin*

The drive from Knoxville to Nashville doesn’t have a whole lot of large towns with food choices that aren’t chain restaurants, but so far, we’ve managed. On the drive out, we stopped in Cookeville with the intention of eating at The Cooke House. We’d tried to make it there on a previous trip, but the restaurant was closed for a private event. Wouldn’t you know – it was closed this trip too.

Cookeville is roughly halfway between Knoxville and Nashville, and it’s probably the biggest city you’ll pass on the drive. It’s home to Tennessee Technological University, and has an adorable downtown area. Since the Cooke House was closed, we turned to Crawdaddy’s.

Crawdaddy’s West Side Grill

Crawdaddy’s is a Creole-American restaurant in Downtown Cookeville. It’s housed in a 100-year-old building with a spacious patio.

Crawdaddy's Entrance Cookeville

Entrance to Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

Crawdaddy's Patio Cookeville

Patio at Crawdaddy’s in Cookeville, TN

In the 1930s and 40s, that patio was home to the Fox Cafe. A fire destroyed the building in the 1960s, and the space stayed vacant until Crawdaddy’s incorporated it into their restaurant.

History Crawdaddy's

History of Crawdaddy’s Patio

Crawdaddy’s prides themselves on being a friendly, welcoming establishment. Our service was adequate, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it exceptional. Staff were courteous, and our food was delivered quickly.

The Food

I wanted everything with goat cheese, but eventually settled on the Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries. Jimmie had the Citrus Glazed Salmon, which came with mashed potatoes and fried green beans.

Mango Mahi Wrap with seasoned fries at Crawdaddy’s

The wrap was stuffed full of grilled mahi mahi. So much so, in fact, that I couldn’t finish it. The mango added a nice flavor. The wrap was your standard wrap, though it ended up getting a little soggy. I’m not sure how that could be avoided unless they grilled it. The fries were good, and reminded me of Arby’s curly fries.

I forgot to get a picture of Jimmie’s salmon. The portion was a little on the small size – 4 ounces, which is great for lunch. Not sure if it’d be enough for dinner. The citrus glaze was reminiscent of an Asian marinade, but the goat cheese threw it off a little. Here’s where I have to admit that goat cheese does not, in fact, go with everything. His mashed potatoes were cold, and the fried green beans were actually roasted. Despite all this, he enjoyed it quite immensely.

Tree at Crawdaddy’s

My favorite thing about Crawdaddy’s was the atmosphere. I loved the patio’s New Orleans vibe. The downside was the number of flies relentlessly attacking our food, but I suppose that happens when you dine al fresco.

I’d like to go back and try more of the menu, but there are a couple other Cookeville restaurants I might try first. But, if you’re a fan of Creole or Cajun food, definitely add Crawdaddy’s to the list of restaurants to consider when making the drive between Knoxville and Nashville!

Travel: Sammy B’s Restaurant in Lebanon, TN

We recently spent the night in Nashville as part of a quick trip to see a concert. The next morning we woke up a little early, but neither of us felt like exploring the city. (We missed our pups!) Rather than waiting around until restaurants in the Nashville area started serving lunch, we decided to hit the road. When we saw the sign for the Lebanon outlet mall, we figured it’d be a good place to stop and grab some lunch. And some shopping, obviously.

Lebanon is about half an hour East of Nashville. I’ve been there once, and that was to pick up the shark puppy last year. I’m pretty sure we ate McDonald’s for dinner that time.

Turns out there are actually quite a few non-chain restaurants in Lebanon. Jimmie wasn’t feeling Mexican or sandwiches, so we ended up at Sammy B’s.

Sammy B’s

SammyB's

Sammy B’s is a casual upscale American restaurant located right next to City Hall in the Castle Heights area of Lebanon. It’s in the former home of the Castle Heights Military Academy’s President. The place has both a patio and an atrium, as well as plenty of room for private events. The food is classic with a twist, and everything is homemade. They even cut their own meat.

sammyb'sentrance

The attention to customer service and detail shows in both the service and the food. While we had a dedicated server, each staff member came by to check on us as they walked by. If they saw we needed a drink refilled, they refilled it. When a server brewed a fresh pot of coffee for another table, she topped mine off. The staff were courteous and friendly, and though it may sound cliche, the place oozed Southern hospitality.

The Food

Both of us had a hard time choosing because the menu is enormous. Our server recommended the Fish and Chips, Lobster Roll, and the Rajin’ Cajun sandwich. I had my eye on the Reuben, and when she said she’d already put in two orders for it that morning, I knew it had to be good. Jimmie chose the Trifecta and Chips, which was fish, shrimp, and chicken (and fries). I chose sweet potato fries for my side; he wanted to sub out the coleslaw on his platter, but that wasn’t an option.

SammyB'sReuben

I’m a sucker for a good Reuben, and this one didn’t disappoint. My biggest complaint with Reubens is usually that there’s too much dressing and not enough sauerkraut. Sammy B’s has the perfect ratio, and their sauerkraut is nice and tangy with a hint of sweetness. The marbled rye was toasted perfectly, the cheese melted just enough, and the corned beef (thankfully) wasn’t too salty. The only thing they could have done differently was slice the corned beef a little thinner. I had to do a lot of chewing, but then again, it just meant I ate more slowly. Not a bad thing.

SammyB'sTrifecta

The Trifecta had the fattest fried shrimp I’ve ever seen, and the strangest looking chicken tenders. Both tasted delicious, with slightly peppered breading. The fish was a little on the thin side, resulting in more batter than fillet, but was still packed with flavor. I stole Jimmie’s coleslaw, and appreciated the subtlety of the dressing – again, not too overpowering, with just the right amount of tang. Clearly, the chef knows how to balance flavors.

After lunch I snapped a couple photos of the Castle Heights Military Academy (now City Hall) because look at that gorgeous building.

Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, TN

Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, TN

Next time you’re in the Lebanon or Nashville areas, make sure to stop at Sammy B’s!

Travel: Walk the Moon at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works

I’m kind of in love with Nashville.

HOW DID I NOT KNOW THERE WAS SUCH A COOL PLACE 2 HOURS FROM ME??

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been living under a rock for most of my life. No doubt, this is not news to some of you.

Sigh.

A couple weekends ago we ventured out to Nashville to see Walk the Moon play (yes, different from Walk Off the Earth, but also very very good – I know, confusing) at Marathon Music Works’ Blocktoberfest Block Party. I had a free Marriott night so we snagged a hotel room and made a date weekend out of it.

We had a blast. We ate, we drank, we walked, we shopped, and we talked. We saw live music. We toured breweries. We slept in. It was glorious.

Out hotel was the Fairfield Inn and Suites – Downtown/The Gulch. It was brand new – it opened the Tuesday before we arrived. I thought I got a picture of the outside, but apparently I did not, so here’s Marriott’s photo. It pretty much looks like this.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Nashville Downtown/The Gulch (from Marriott)

Our room was fine – a little small, but since we were only there one night it was more than adequate.

Fairfield Nashville Gulch

The bathroom was pretty good sized, and I loved the shower (can you see it in the mirror?).

Fairfield Nashville Gulch 2

Fairfield Nashville Gulch 3Service was excellent throughout our entire stay. I have to highly commend the breakfast ladies….there was a “bacon thief” who literally took the entire dish of bacon as soon as the ladies brought it out. Crazy person. So the nice ladies brought me my own bacon. And checked on me during breakfast. (This was quite impressive, since I’m not known for being a morning person.)

What made this hotel even more exciting was that when I looked out the window, staring back at me was the Yazoo Brewery. Uh…….

Blocktoberfest was scheduled to start at 3:00pm. There were 7 bands playing…. Tristen, *repeat repeat, Scars on 45, Vinyl Thief, Boom Forest, Self, and finally, Walk the Moon.

Lightning 100's Marathon Village Blocktoberfest Fall Block PartySo when we got to Nashville that afternoon, we were early enough that we could have gone over to Marathon Music Works for the opener. But there was the brewery. We made the call to wait for Walk the Moon. That left us plenty of time to explore, have dinner, and relax a little before the show (I even took a nap).

We ended up touring Yazoo and Jackalope, both local Nashville breweries. Afterwards, we walked to dinner at The Pub, which is a British gastropub chain restaurant. I’ll admit that I was not entirely sober (ok, not even close) by this point, but OH MAN IT WAS DELICIOUS. Jimmie had fish and chips, and I had Shepherd’s Pie. I ate the entire thing and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty. They had a really awesome beer selection – which we skipped since we’d just toured 2 breweries – that I can’t wait to go back and try. All sorts of beers I’ve never heard of. English beers, Scottish beers, Irish beers…yum.

Here is where I should probably apologize for my photos. This is what happens when “not entirely sober” Casey gets hold of things.

The Pub Nashville

The Pub Nashville interior

You can’t really tell, but all the waiters wore kilts. I kept looking for Jamie Fraser. Never found him.

Shepherd's Pie at the Pub NashvilleMarathon Music Works is this little courtyard in between all these old brick buildings. They had projections on the brick that reminded me of that scene in Batman with the spotlight. If it hadn’t been gravel, or if the ground had been sloped, or if the stage had been higher….it’d have been better. I spent most of the show not being able to see a thing. (To their credit, though, the sound was really good.)

Marathon Music Works BlocktoberfestJimmie actually turned me on to Walk the Moon. We’d be driving somewhere, and a song would come on, and without fail I’d ask who it was. It was always Walk the Moon. It kind of got to be a running joke that the only way I knew who the band was was the fact that I had no clue who it was. Does that make sense? If I had to ask, it was automatically Walk the Moon. (Eventually I learned all their songs, but it took a while.)

They were awesome. So much energy, so much fun, and I was simply amazed by how GOOD they were. I keep wondering if the singer has been professionally trained. His voice was just so on pitch, and so clear…for a while I thought he was lip singing because he was so good, but then he sang something differently than the album track. If you ever get the chance to see them, take it. (In the meantime, listen to their music!!!)

I tried to take video, I tried to take photos, but I’m too short, and I couldn’t see a thing when I was holding my phone above my head, so they’re all blurry and full of heads. You’ll have to settle for a video instead. This is Iscariot – which might be the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard.

With that, I’ll leave you to listen in peace….

 

Travel: Greenville, South Carolina

This summer has been full of travel, which makes me incredibly happy. Sure, it’s tiring, but it’s also exciting. I love new places. If I had my way, we’d jet off to exotic locations at the drop of a hat.

Sadly, while we now have passports, we don’t quite have the funds to be true jetsetters. (If anyone would like to change that for us, my contact information is in the “Get in Touch” tab above…..) So, we took our big Mexico trip, and then managed to squeeze in a couple smaller, local (i.e., driveable) trips.

Jimmie’s best friend lives in South Carolina, and while we’ve been to see him a few times, we haven’t always gotten out to enjoy the area. That changed this summer! We packed up the car, including Lucy, and drove the 4 hours for a quick SC weekend.

We started out on Lake Greenwood. Greenwood is a small town about an hour from Greeneville, and its main claim to fame (so far as I know) is the lake. With good reason…

Lake Greenwood, SCThat picture’s not edited, folks. No filter, either. Just straight up blue. And the water…so clear. So unlike the lakes here in Tennessee, that look more like you’re swimming in sewage. Shudder.

So we prowled around the lake for a while, and eventually came to a railroad trestle. We drove under it, and found the entrance to Hidden Lake – which is really just another part of the same lake, but it’s kind of an adventure getting there. Worth checking out, definitely.

Hidden Lake TrestleFind the trestle, then take a right after you go under it. You’ll see this:

Entrance to Hidden LakeKeep going through the channel (you’ll have to be at the really slow speed – I forget what it’s called) and you’ll eventually see Hidden Lake.

Hidden Lake, Lake Greenwood, SCOne thing we discovered on this adventure is that Lucy does not like boats. She hid under the steering wheel the entire time. Guess huskies and water don’t mix….(sadly, I don’t have a picture of this). The day was gorgeous, and it was really nice to just relax on the water.

After a few fun games of Hoopla and an incredibly boring game of Scrabble, we called it a night. I spent more time playing with my letters than I did actually playing the game. Words with Friends has ruined me.

ScrabbleThe next day we hit Greenville to check out Total Wine and a street festival. Total Wine is this amazing liquor and wine store that has everything you could ever want at crazy good prices. We don’t have them here, and it breaks my heart. Needless to say, we stocked up.

I couldn’t tell you the name of the street festival. There were a few tables with things for sale, but nothing we were really interested in. There was beer, though. We had some, then headed over to Falls Park to check out the Liberty Bridge. It’s a suspension bridge, and only slightly nausea-inducing.

Falls Park - Greenville, SC

Liberty Bridge - Falls Park - Greenville, SCDinner was at Smoke on the Water, whose tagline is “a saucy southern tavern.” I highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend it if you’re in the Greenville area.  I had the prime rib, and OMG yum. Yum yum yum. I was too busy stuffing my face to take a picture….I’m so sorry. Just go there and eat it.

While we were walking around, we also came across the Peace Center, the performing arts hall. They’ve got The Book of Mormon coming in November and Wicked in February, so I think we’ll be making another few trips to Greenville in the near future.

Where else should we go for a quick weekend getaway? Any suggestions?