Gulf gumbo: the good, the bad and the inexplicable

Seafood gumbo at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores. Best gumbo in L.A. (Lower Alabama), if you ask me. The menu says it is made from roux that is stirred “until your arm falls off!”

Just as I think that everyone’s favorite beach is the one they most visited as a child, I feel the same way about gumbo. Gumbo, by its very nature, is something that every cook prepares differently. And you like the one you grew up with.

My mother’s side of the family is from Louisiana and my grandmother, Nanny, was a fabulous cook. My brother and I grew up eating and loving her gumbo.

Nanny’s gumbo was almost always shrimp gumbo. She didn’t put sausage in it. She might throw in some crab meat, if she found some that looked good. Her gumbo was made with a medium to dark roux, but not too dark. And it was relatively thin. A little bit of viscosity was achieved at the end of cooking when she sprinkled in a generous amount of filé powder — ground sassafras leaves. Continue reading

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Gorging on the Gulf: 4 days, 9 restaurants

The chargrilled oysters at Acme have a secret blend of butter and spices. (I’d kill for that recipe!)

After Hurricane Harvey and before Hurricane Irma, Alan and I headed for the Gulf Coast. The eating in the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama area, our favorite beach, just keeps getting better and better. We made a point to visit some of our favorite places and also try eateries we had not before visited. We went to everything from dives to white tablecloth restaurants. Come along!

Acme Oyster House

As always, upon our arrival, we headed straight to Acme Oyster House in Gulf Shores. Yummy, once again. We actually ate there three times during our four days! When we like something, we REALLY like it!

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Even puppy can’t steal the show from this cook

Kim Trent, the executive director of Knox Heritage, attended this event with her new puppy, Charlie Chaplin. “I named him that because he’s a little tramp,” she laughed.

Here’s a little tip for deciding which of Knox Heritage’s many great Summer Suppers you want to attend each year. Of course, it’s good to look for an interesting setting. And the date has to fit your calendar.

But another key thing to look for is this name among the host committee: Melissa Charles! I’m telling you that lady can cook! If you see her name on the host committee, the food is going to be amazing.

Alan and I selected the most recent Summer Supper we attended based on that fact — and because our friends Julia and Gary Bentley and Mickey Mallonee also were on the host committee. The location was the 1927  “eclectic Tudor” style home of Linda Phillips and Ken McFarland in Fountain City, winner of one of Knox Heritage’s Fantastic Fifteen Awards due to its painstaking expansion.

The homeowners, who were intent on increasing the size of their tiny kitchen and adding a carport/workshop, really wanted to match the style and appearance of their existing house and preserve its rooflines. The project took 13,500 matching bricks and concrete roof tiles salvaged from three different homes! But what a beautiful outcome they accomplished.

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Quarry setting serves up Spanish ‘Summer Supper’

Chef Matt Gallaher preparing salmon escabeche with cucumber gazpacho, sturgeon caviar and crema. We had a Spanish-y theme going this evening.

A spectacular garden landscape on a beautiful evening. Convivial friends and acquaintances. And a wide range of delectable seafood dishes prepared by one of Knoxville’s most talented and in-demand chefs. That about sums up the Knox Heritage Summer Supper held last weekend at the lakeside home of Lane Hays.

Even at $250 per person, this Summer Supper was one of the first to sell out. Originally limited to 24 guests, the number was eventually raised to allow a few folks on the waiting list (like me) also to be included.

The fact that Hays’ garden is built in an old quarry makes it visually exciting and dramatic. Huge boulders and unexpected cliffs, curves, waterfalls and streams make it an adventure to explore.

Matt Gallaher, chef owner of Emilia, the popular new Italian spot on Market Square, and Knox Mason, the popular (and tiny) Southern food bistro on Gay Street, went with a Mediterranean theme for the food and his sommelier, Connor Coffey, selected wine pairings from countries on the Iberian Peninsula.

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Knox Heritage opens can of beans (even for dessert)!

Melinda and Jim Ethier do a little shopping in the gift shop. Jim, the chairman emeritus of Bush Brothers, is the grandson of the founder, A.J. Bush.

When Alan and I signed up to go to Knox Heritage’s Summer Supper at the Bush Brothers canning plant in Chestnut Hill last weekend, we expected that we’d have beans as part of our dinner. But I never dreamed they would be featured in the dessert! Yep. And we’re here to tell you that pinto bean pie is delicious! (More on that later.)

Bush Brothers traces its history to 1904 when founder A.J. Bush partnered with the Stokely family to open a tomato cannery in Chestnut Hill. The business proved so successful that in 1908, Bush bought out the Stokelys and established his own independent business with the help of his two oldest sons, giving birth to Bush Brothers & Company. All the while, the family continued to operate a general store that Bush had opened in 1897 near the plant.

“My grandfather’s first love was always that store,” confided Jim Ethier, the company’s chairman emeritus, when he addressed the Knox Heritage group on Saturday. “He loved interacting with people.”

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Delectable dinner at the Hazens’ — circa the 1920s

Food historian Patrick Hollis discussed the history of grocers, restaurateurs, diners, ingredients, dishes and practices of the Roaring 20s in Knoxville.

There are several challenges incumbent upon those who try to recreate a meal from times long gone. First of all, the original ingredients might not be available. Secondly, trends and tastes have changed. Thirdly, you never really know exactly what the recipes were because they were written so imprecisely long ago.

Nevertheless, the folks who run Knoxville’s historic Mabry-Hazen House on Dandridge Avenue gave it the old college try last weekend when they invited guests to “dinner at the Hazens’ ” as it would have been served in an affluent Knoxville home in the 1920s. Nine of us guests attended and had a fabulous time — even if we did fudge a little on the details by making a run to buy wine during the middle of the dinner. (Knoxville, like the rest of America, was in the throes of Prohibition in the 1920s. Although illegal liquor often was served before and after dinner, there would not have been wine served with dinner, we were told.)

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Urban League gives kids shoes — and confidence

Jamyah Rhodes loved the pretty new shoes she received.

The weather Saturday was perfect for the Knoxville Area Urban League’s 15th annual Shoes for School event which attracted thousands to Caswell Park in East Knoxville. During this year’s gathering, 1,200 children received new pairs of shoes and as many as 3,000 picked up supplies they needed to start school this week.

“The small gesture of a new pair of shoes has a big impact because that child can now start off the school year with so much more confidence,” said Phyllis Y. Nichols, president and CEO of the Knoxville Area Urban League. “This event means that happens more than 1,200 times to more than 1,200 children in one day. This truly is one of the most joyful and exciting days of the year for the Knoxville Area Urban League staff and volunteers.”

In addition to the Urban League, about 50 other organizations were involved as partners. Some, such as Helen Ross McNabb Center and the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, helped by pre-selecting the children to receive the shoes. Others, including Comcast, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Scripps Networks Interactive and Vulcan Materials Company, set up booths to give away school supplies, operate games and inflatables, and pass out drinks and treats.

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Heat can’t beat Knoxvillians set on a feast!

Genius idea! With the heat index above 100, the hosts of this outdoor dinner passed out frozen washcloths several times during the evening. Alyssa Maddox, left, and Julianna Tullos put them to good use!

It was a scorcher! But the charm of the evening more than made up for it. (And the fans helped!)

The occasion was an Italian feast in the lovely historic home of Jim and Pam Given in Fountain City. It was one of Knox Heritage’s Summer Suppers. The food, prepared by the hosts using many ingredients grown in the Givens’ ample backyard gardens, was out of this world.

Just a word about the Summer Suppers. They are a wonderful way to experience different neighborhoods in East Tennessee and get to know other preservation-minded folks in a fun, casual environment. Four of the remaining Suppers have some tickets left. We would urge you to grab them, if you can.

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John Winemiller puts it in reverse!

John Winemiller, left, and R.J. Hinde get ready to welcome guests as the party gets started with cocktails.

As an attorney, John Winemiller, naturally, has a way with words. But even he outdid himself with this one. He called his birthday party the other night “my reverse quinceanera!”

A quinceanera, you see, is the big celebration that Latin American girls have when they turn 15. John was turning 51! Whatever he wanted to call it, we wouldn’t have missed it.

John lives in a beautifully restored Craftsman-style house in the Island Home neighborhood of South Knoxville. It features a wonderful front porch spanning nearly the length of the house. That’s where caterer Holly Hambright provided a delicious sit-down dinner of John’s favorite foods for about 20 of his closest friends. Although the heat index topped 100, the ceiling fans made the evening comfortable. And the camaraderie was as warm as the evening.

Come along and see the reverse quinceanera. And pass the idea along if you know anyone turning 51. John’s hoping to start a trend.

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Historic preservation with a Polish twist (and pierogies!)

Tom Traylor offers Polish vodka between courses at the Knox Heritage dinner at the Ashes’ home.

Pierogies, borscht, cabbage. Ah, the food of Poland.

And vodka, of course. Potato vodka.

Forty folks shelled out $170 each for these delicacies last week, along with a chance to dine at the Sequoyah Hills home of former Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe and his wife, Joan.

The evening was lovely. The Ashes have increased their already extensive international art collection and have recently added an art gallery and swimming pool to the historic property, a storybook cottage on Kingston Pike designed by Barber and McMurry in 1921.

The evening was one of Knox Heritage’s Summer Suppers, which benefit the preservation organization.

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