My AFC Divisional Round Cook-off: Tennessee vs Baltimore

In the case of this match-up, I think I was more excited about the cooking than I was about the actual game. Maybe Baltimore is not the most sought culinary destination in the US but it is famous for Old Bay spice and the iconic crab cake. It’s also home to Chap’s Pit Beef (the sandwich stop in the parking lot of an LGBTQ strip club) and Sip and Bite (the greek diner with some of the best feta cheese I’ve ever had) which rank number 8 and 13 on my DDD list respectively.

Nashville, on the other hand, is one of the more popular foodie stops which offers a blend of old school southern food outlets and chic eateries. I have had the pleasure of dining at Husk in the Sean Brock days and to this day Arnold’s Country Kitchen and its meat and three remains at the top on my list of all time Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Before getting into the showdown, a few comments about the game:

  1. I was surprised to see that Ryan Tannehill was only 31 so I can’t use my “Lamar Jackson got his ass kicked by his dad” joke…maybe more like his older brother although I often equate QB years to be more like dog vs human. I think it was important for Jackson to taste defeat so he can bounce back in a Patrick Mahomes vs RG III fashion. That said, it should be pointed out that Tannehill only threw for 88 yards with no picks whereas Jackson tossed for 365 but with 2 INTs so it’s hard to say that Ryan was the better QB in the end.
  2. I think the irony is the fact that Baltimore got beat by using the same blueprint that won them Superbowl XLVII…a moderately talented QB and good defense vs a flashy offence lead by a run/pass threat. Similar to this game, Flacco manged to avoid interceptions whereas Kapernick’s balanced offence numbers (including 62 rushing yards himself) was tainted by a pick and a sub 100 QB rating.
  3. Everything said, I can’t get excited about Tennessee. Sure, watching Henry run for almost 200 yards and average 6.5 per carry is somewhat exciting but I can’t help but remember every week of this year’s football pool when I cringed while being forced to choose a winner in any of the painful AFC South interdivisional game.

For the cook-off, I went with the aforementioned crab cake versus Nashville hot chicken. There are hundreds of crab cake concoctions out there but I opted for Andrew Zimmerman’s recipe which is definitely crab forward and uses saltine crackers as its binder. I did take the liberty of throwing in a pinch of Old Bay Seasoning for good measure. They fried up beautifully and really only need a bit of lemon as an accent.

My Tennessee choice was Nashville Hot Chicken, a signature item in many Tennessee eateries including Hattie B’s. Fried chicken is ubiquitous in the US but the uniqueness of this dish is the basting sauce which is a combination of fat, cayenne pepper and sugar. The result is extreme sweet/heat. I used a whole chicken which I cut into 8 pieces instead of quarters allowing for a reasonable frying time of 15 minutes or so. I tempered the heat with a tangy side of slaw, some homemade bread and some lakeside pickles which worked really well.

My Take

Unlike the game, when it came to the cook-off there was no clear winner . I mean choosing between a crab cake and fried chicken is a dubious task especially when the chosen recipes are spot on. Honestly, I think fried chicken holds it own without the Nashville cayenne/sugar topping and I guess I can handle a good crab cake without an aioli although I won’t omit the Old Bay seasoning under any circumstances.

I think Lamar Jackson needs an ass kicking to remind him he’s not quite prime time yet (6 of their games were against Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati after all). Next year we will see whether he takes the path of Pat Mahomes or rides (or kneels) away in the sunset like Colin Kapernik. With Marcos Mariota in his prime, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryan Tannehill ends up following in the footsteps of the likes of other past and present 30 plusers like Joe Flacco/Peyton Manning and Kirk Cousins/Brett Favre by joining a retirement team such as Denver or Minnesota.

Bro, After Getting Me to the Greek in Nashville I had Happy Days at Arnold’s

The plan for day 3 was to hit a few diners, drive-ins and dives in Nashville.  The breakfast plan was Athens family restaurant which was the only DDD open for breakfast. Guy’s visit focused more on the traditional greek entrees but I find breakfast still gives you a good idea of a restaurant as a whole.

Upon arrival, it had all the hallmarks of a tradional greek diner:

1.  Blue and white decor in an otherwise sterile environment.

2.  An aged sign with character including missing letters on the letter board.

2. A moderately pleasant waitress with an accent.

3. A massive menu.

4. A spattering of regulars sucking back copious amounts of coffee while reading the newspaper.

5.  A reminder that Greece is not known for coffee.

 

Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES
Athens was featured on DNERS DRVE NS DIVES

Since we arrived prior to 10am, the choices were limited to breakfast which was a bit of blessing given the huge amount of choice.  The downside was an inability to try any of the traditional dishes that attracted Guy here in the first place.  That said, I believe the ability to execute a terrific breakfast is indicative of the rest of the menu, especially when ordering the Achilles’ (pardon the pun)  heel of many morning joints; eggs Benedict. Perfect poached eggs with tangy and creamy hollandaise atop ample meat is an art. My two daughters had a case of “I lack any sort of ambition prior to high noon”, so they opted for a simple breakfast special. None had a particularly exciting presentation but was reflective of the restaurant’s concept in general.  After all, not everybody garnishes their dishes at home with parsley sprigs or drizzled sauces in shape of the Parthenon.

The Eggs Benedict ($12) was delicious.  Nicely cooked poached eggs sat atop a thick slice of  in-house smoked ham. The Hollandaise sauce was delicate and flavorful.  I ordered it with fruit and was reminded that strawberries are delicious when they don’t have to travel clear across a continent to get to your table. It wasn’t the prettiest plate but was quite easy to devour.

Eggs Benny $12
Eggs Benny $12

My Take

Athens’ is stereotypical greek family restaurant. I can only comment on breakfast but it was a tasty way to start a day in Nashville.  The breakfast specials were a good value (around $6 each).  Predictably, the coffee was bad and food was good.  It lacks any significant vibe but they don’t claim they have one either. It’s a pleasant boring. Hmmmm…sounds like a Russell Brand movie.

Food: 4 Guyz

Service: 3.5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

 

Athens Family Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

Afterwards, I embarked on a walking tour on the two most expensive universities in Tennessee. Vanderbilt tops $40000 per year while Belmont comes in a little under $30000.  Both campuses were beautiful.  They are also very big.  My daughters were less than impressed with the half marathon I brought them on.  The advantage was I was able to work up an appetite to tackle Arnold’s country kitchen, one of the most iconic eateries in Nashville. Promising one of the best “meat and three” meals in Tennessee, Arnold’s offers authentic southern food at decent prices.  Normally I attempt to avoid lunch rushes, but I didn’t want to test my luck against two mercurial teenage girls.  As expected, the place was packed. The diversity of patrons ranged  from young children to business professionals.   As I stood in line I noticed the James Beard medals and numerous celebrity endorsements which lined the walls.  Despite the length of the line, things moved quickly and we had food on our trays within 15 minutes. For me, it was roast beef, creamed corn, mac and cheese and turnip greens.  The girls split fried chicken, green salad, cole slaw and mac and cheese.  For dessert, we had spicy chocolate and strawberry pie respectively. With drinks (ice tea of course), the final tally was less than $30. To this my daughter’s comment was the fact that the entire meal was the same price as the plate of southern vegetables at Husk the night before. I see an economics major in somebody’s future.

What $30 gets you at Arnold's Country Kitchen.
What $30 gets you at Arnold’s Country Kitchen.

Simply put, this place is worth the hype.  Each component of the meal was among the best I’ve had. The roast beef was a perfect medium rare.  The mac and cheese and creamed corn were like a young hollywood starlet: rich but not overly heavy.  The bitterness of the tender  greens were evident but dulled by vibrant seasoning, creating a perfect balance.  The chocolate pie was divine; the bittersweet of the chocolate combined with the subtle heat of the peppers created a trinity of taste sensations more divine that of a French or Louisiana mirepoix. The girls’ fired chicken was equally fantastic.

Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.
Roast Beef, Mac and Cheese, Turnip Greens, Creamed Corn and Hot Pepper Chocolate Pie.

My Take

There is always the fear that restaurants with as much hype as Arnold’s country kitchen will be a let down. From the first bite it was evident that the medals, endorsements and accolades were all well deserved. Tender roast beef, fried chicken that could easily be the envy of Colonel Sanders and his army of Kentuckians, delicious sides and incredible desserts highlight a simple and authentic southern menu.  I understand why they call it soul food…because eats like these hit some kind of sensory receptors on the soul itself.  I honestly pondered getting in line again for another round but after two university campus tours and a rather lengthy walk downtown, the anticipated angst of my two daughters outweighed my desire for a collective meat and six.

Taste: 5/5 Guyz

Service: 4/5 Guyz

Vibe-5/5 Guyz

Total : 14/15 Guyz

 

 

Arnold's Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The afternoon involved driving west down the music highway to Memphis but not before a stop at Bro’s Cajun cuisine on the way out.  It took me a few tries to find it.  Perched up a hill on Charlotte street, the best identifier is a white boat in a parking lot with the name of the restaurant written in red across the side.  After a small jaunt up the hill, I walked into the place.  The interior was a cross between a beach house, a bus station and a butcher shop.  We were quickly greeted by a trio of characters I later identified as the chef, the waitress and some dude who hangs out like Norm Peterson or a similar sitcom character.  We ordered takeout and had a seat at a table while waiting.  Norm started up a conversation which included but was not limited to “Where y’all from?” “Is it cold in Canada? I heard it’s nice up there!” and “Make sure you put a tack on the map board over there.” Shortly after he got scolded by the waitress for not doing anything to help  around the restaurant.  When I mentioned we were on our way to Memphis and asked what’s fun to do there, her response was “Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been to Memphis”.

I order a triad of Cajun mainstays; gumbo, rice and beans and jambalaya.  In all three dishes, the sausage was the dominant player.  Although this created a bit of monotony throughout the meal, in the end the dishes delivered on the promise of bold flavours. Since I haven’t been to Louisiana,  I can’t comment on the authenticity but I imagine given what I know about Cajun cooking it would safe to say it’s a true representation. The prices were fantastic and the portions were huge.

Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya   ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)
Gumbo ($5.25), Jambalaya ($4.95) and Rice and Beans ($4.95)

My Take

For those who can’t make it to Louisiana, I’m confident that Bro’s would be an adequate fill-in for a Cajun craving.  The food is delicious although a little monotonous.  When you enter, you feel like family but maybe too much so as you thrown into a bit of a sitcom situation and can’t help wondering if there’s a camera running somewhere.  I mean, would it really be out of the question?  A Louisiana clan moves north to Tennessee to make it big in Music city by converting people from fried chicken to gumbo.  Maybe they would call it “Bro Goes Country” or “North of 35”.

Food: 4/5 Guyz

Service:3.5/5 Guyz

Vibe: 3.5/5 Guyz

Total: 11/15 Guyz

Bro's Cajun Cuisine on Urbanspoon

So, it was off to Memphis for a little Elvis, blues and more culinary quests, of course.