I've been rereading some of my trip reports, and I found myself really noticing that my trip reports are strongly dependent on my state at the time. It's as if my trip reports are a picture taken through a window, and they show my own reflection as much as they show what's past the window. This was something of a worrisome thought for this trip, because we definitely started the weekend off badly.
To begin with, we were both sick; I'd gotten a cold in the week before, and Lori's had a low-grade sickness since Thanksgiving that had gotten bad enough that she wasn't sure whether she'd be able to go to Nashville at all.
But then matters got worse once we got to the airport. We got to the airport with plenty of time, even enough time to get barbecue on the way. But although we were at our gate with plenty of time, our plane was not. Our itinerary was to fly from Pittsburgh at 6:24, arrive in Newark at 8:05, and depart Newark at 8:39. But at 6:24, there was no plane at the gate. The plane didn't arrive until 6:37, and no gate crew arrived until 6:45; we were extremely doubtful about our ability to make the connection. We tried to get the gate clerk to put us on a 7:05 flight through Charlotte that could connect to Nashville, but the gate clerk pondered the situation until after 7:05, at which point it became irrelevant. We didn't want to spend the night in Newark, but it seemed pretty clear that our only chance of getting to Nashville without buying a whole new ticket was to go to Newark and hope that our connecting flight was delayed as well.
We managed to make the connection through a combination of luck and mercy. At 8:55, the wheels hit the tarmac in Newark and we were told that we could use our cell phones. I checked the flight to Nashville: it was delayed until 9:10, and the departing gate was A27A, right next to our arriving gate A28. So we had a chance... but we still had to get to the gate, and we had to retrieve the bags we'd had to gate-check. So Lori dashed to the gate as soon as the door was opened to implore them to wait for us, while I retrieved our bags. As I grabbed our bags, someone called down the jetway, "Who's going to Nashville?" I called out a response and hustled out, and a gate clerk met me with my boarding pass; I was the last one to board the plane. We barely made our connection - but that's a lot better than almost making it.
But our travel troubles weren't over. We got the rental car without trouble and got to the Best Western at 12:15am. The desk clerk took our name and our reservation number and frowned. He then told us that our card had been declined when they had tried to run it, they had tried to call us once but received no answer (probably because we were in the air), and they had no more rooms available. We do understand why the card was declined; we'd had to change card numbers after our card was used for some unauthorized purchases. But that doesn't change the essential point: it was after midnight and we did not have a hotel room after all.
We did have an internet connection through our iPads, but travel sites won't let you book a hotel room for the evening of February 17 once it's after the midnight beginning February 18. But we handled this better than we did when we'd encountered this problem in LA: we found a likely-looking hotel online, then telephoned the hotel to ask whether they had rooms available. They did. I started driving while Lori finished making the reservation. By 1am, we were lodged in the Hilton Garden Inn, at a price lower than the Best Western's.
Even though everything had worked out, I was feeling very grouchy about the snafus. I concluded that waking up in time to drive an hour and meet people for breakfast at 7:30 would make me too grouchy to enjoy anything, and even a 9:30 stop was chancy. I posted an apology and we went to bed, hoping that my grouchiness wouldn't sour the whole trip.
Saturday, February 18
We got off to a late start with no hopes of intercepting folks at Knockum Hill. That gave us hope of making a stop on our own at Pancake Pantry, where'd we'd had a splendid breakfast in 2004. The line was very long, so Lori went shopping while I waited in line.
After she'd exhausted the possibilities of the nearby shops, I followed ChiTownDiner's recommendation for Provence, the French Bakery across the street. We split the slice of apricot-pecan ring (good, but a touch dry) and saved the handmade chocolate-covered marshmallow for later.
Lori was phoning somebody when I noticed someone enter the line carrying a rose and I heard something about "free". I walked down to investigate that and saw that I A Village Of Flowers had buckets of roses and tulips with a sign saying "free flowers!" I brought Lori back a rose, which really delighted her even though it was slightly bedraggled. It was a particular surprise, because I wouldn't have bought her flowers when we had no way to keep them for any length of time.
We finally managed to enter the Pancake Pantry, and got to skip several larger groups because we were a couple.
One of the particular reasons that I like the Pancake Pantry is that I feel I know something special about enjoying it as a Roadfooder that isn't obvious from the menu or the Roadfood.com reviews. Here's my secret: they do half orders. (Generous half orders that are about 70% of what I want from a pancake order, but half the price of normal orders.) So we each ordered two half orders.
My pecan pancakes (served with pecan maple syrup) were splendid, with a lovely rich, nutty flavor.
The Santa Fe Cornmeal Pancakes (including cheddar, bacon, and green chiles) were not so wonderful. I felt that despite the nice savory ingredients, the whole was somehow less than the sum of its parts.
Lori's peach pancakes were a big winner with lots of peach compote and whipped cream.
She was even more pleased with her sugar and spice pancakes, which were nicely cinnamon-flavored and served with cinnamon cream.
We also shared some rugged country ham, because I get country ham whenever I can.
We had to make a detour to an Apple store in a super-crowded mall to correct for bad packing on my part. This ate up an unfortunate amount of our Nashville time—but this was the only time we encountered traffic jams in Nashville. We managed to make phone contact with Mayor Al and buffetbuster, but neither of them were out and about, so we were still on our own until evening.
One of my major goals for our Nashville visit was to sample the Nashville specialty of hot chicken (a dish which legend claims was created as an act of revenge). Lori was apprehensive, because she can't handle food of any noticeable heat. I convinced her that a trip like this was the perfect time to try it out, because even if there was nothing for her to eat, she was at no risk of starving between the Pancake Pantry and the Loveless Cafe. So we went to Prince's Hot Chicken.
We saw a long line in Prince's and thought that it was a wait to order. We were wrong; ordering was unimpeded, but there was a long wait for our chicken. We were number 74, but they were calling out numbers in the mid-thirties—I thought for a moment that they were taking orders from two different pads. In the late fifties, a table opened up for us. Since there were four chairs at the table, we invited another couple to sit with us. That ended up being a great choice; we had a great conversation with Jamie and Toon. They have both sampled other hot chicken places such as Bolton's and 400 Degrees, and felt certain that Prince's was the best—this was clearly a biased sample, but it was still nice to hear. We asked what they recommended we see in Nashville, and we were tickled by their answer: "honky-tonks and hot chicken, that's about it."
Number 74 was finally called, and we received a bag of chicken. (The major choice to make was the level of heat: mild, medium, hot, or extra hot. I like heat, but it's possible to exceed my heat tolerance, so I decided to play it safe with medium heat.) Merely opening up the package got red-orange cayenne-flecked grease on my fingertips.
The heat was intense, even at the medium level. I had to start very carefully, because it was very hot in temperature as well as spice—but even so, I was weeping from the heat in short order, and was trying to be very careful to keep from wiping my eyes. It was a very rugged flavor; I sometimes try to describe food in terms of music, and it might have been fitting geographically for hot chicken to have a country twang—but this was a flavor full of snarling guitars and growling bass. I liked it a lot, but I think I made the right decision by not getting hot or extra hot.
We found that by nibbling at the driest corner of the piece of white bread farthest from the chicken, Lori could get a taste of the flavor without quite getting overwhelmed by the heat.
From there, we went down to our first gathering with other people of the weekend at the Loveless Cafe. The Loveless Cafe is one of the famous Roadfood joints, but the one time we had visited before, I had felt that it was a little too conscious of its fame. But I didn't feel that at all on this visit, perhaps because I was enjoying our group's conversation too much.
The Loveless takes great pride in their biscuits, and they certainly are good, but just a tad denser than my own biscuit ideal.
With a group that large, a large family-style dinner was an excellent choice. For some reason, my photos came out really poorly, but the food was much better than the pictures. I think that my favorites were the greens, the country ham, and the hash brown casserole.
Buffetbuster receiving the prize he shared with wanderingjew for the best trip reports of 2011. (I'd have gotten pictures of Dale, too, but he was at the other end of the long table.)
CajunKing ordered a selection of desserts to share with the crowd: from top to bottom, blackberry cobbler, banana pudding, chocolate pie, and not in this picture, key lime pie. My favorite was the excellent banana pudding. I am a big fan of cobbler, even moreso than pie, but I am enormously picky about cobbler, and I wanted this color to have a thicker filling.
Pogophiles shared with me another new gastronomic experience: he had a mason jar of moonshine in his trunk. I'm not very familiar with liquor; I don't feel that I would be able to reliably distinguish it from vodka. There was a touch of a slightly brash note in the aftertaste—or perhaps I'm looking for things so strongly that I'm seeing things that aren't really there.
Sunday, February 19
Sunday morning's weather began with precipitation that precisely straddled the line between snow and rain. I took Lori to church and packed us up with the slapdash approach justified by knowing that we had no need to keep any clothes clean.
Our first stop was Ellendale's for a brunch buffet. The group was much less raucous than they had been at the Loveless the previous night, but a fair bit of that was that we got a room all to ourselves. The food was good, but it's hard to get good photos from a buffet. The most distinctive item was a macaroni salad that turned out to be very spicy.
From there, we joined the crew sampling restaurant after restaurant, because I would have felt that I was missing something if we didn't do some of that on this trip. Our first destination: Sands Soul Food. Sands Soul Food was once named Silver Sands (according to the evidence of http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Overview/4578/silver-sands , which includes pictures that convince me). I don't know whether there was a change in management and ownership to match the change in name.
It is still a short cafeteria line:
We ordered the smothered pork chop, fried cabbage, mac and cheese, and the hot water cornbread. Of these, I think the clear winner was the fried cabbage; nothing else was good enough to finish when I was trying to conserve appetite.
Next stop: Cupcake Collection, in a neighborhood that showed signs of having been up and down the socioeconomic ladder.
Six of us shared six cupcakes, and we hardly finished any of them. From back to front: sweet potato (tasted a lot like carrot cake), caramel, red velvet, wedding cake, strawberry, and marble. I liked the strawberry a lot, because it had a very clear strawberry flavor. Lori's favorite was the wedding cake.
Ron's BBQ and Fish was chosen as our last stop because of it's proximity to the airport. The couplet on their sign deserves special attention:
"The food that brings your feet on high…
and make your mouth say my, my, my!"
My smoked chicken was dry and unpleasant, but the green beans were spectacular, with rich, silky, soulful flavor. This served as evidence that that I wasn't finding only the tastes that I was expecting to find, because I really don't believe that I was expecting to find one of the best foods of the trip as a side item at the last stop we made.
In the Memphis airport, we stopped for barbecue at John Neely's Interstate Barbecue. I liked the barbecue spaghetti, but the ribs disappointed me; they were soft and flavorless under the sauce, as if they had been boiled. I would avoid them in the future.