Good news: If you want to experience authentic Singapore cooking, you don’t have to go all the way to Singapore.
You only have to take a short jaunt to Sewanee, Tennessee, where Knoxville native Richard Emory (Fulton High Class of ’66) and his wife, Irene, recently opened a very unique restaurant called Crossroads Cafe. Irene, you see, is from Singapore. After living literally all over the globe to accommodate Richard’s career as an architect, the couple decided to move from their most recent home in Sri Lanka to Sewanee so their 14-year-old son, Crawford, could attend St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School and take, among other things, Mandarin Chinese.
Torrential rains caused Alan and me to have to cancel our plans to attend the cafe’s grand opening a few weeks ago. But this Memorial Day weekend, we decided to check it out. Our friends Susan and Arthur Seymour joined us, as Arthur is a graduate of the University of the South in Sewanee and wanted to check out the new eatery, too.
Here’s the verdict: the food was simply amazing. None of us had ever tasted anything quite like it. Although our friend Richard was out of the country this past weekend, Irene was a fabulous host. She even joined us for part of our exploration of Sewanee.
If you decide to visit the Crossroads Cafe — and we highly recommend that you do — we think the best plan is to do as we did. Let Irene select some dishes and put them on the table family style so everyone can taste a wide variety of offerings. Also note that the restaurant does not serve wine or mixed drinks, only beer. But you are welcome to bring your own beverages, if you would like. Although, much to my surprise, we found Tsingtau beer to be a wonderful accompaniment to the spicy dishes. And, as much of a wine lover as I am, I don’t think wine would have been as well-matched.
Since 1899, a laundry of some sort has been operated on this site. The University of the South originally operated a laundry for its students, seminary, military academy and area residents. The original stone building burned in 1951 and, almost immediately, plans were made to construct a new fireproof building. University employees made the concrete blocks on site. Using a giant ramp that was specially built to curl around the entire building, workers rolled wheelbarrows of concrete up to pour the roof, thus making a concrete building on six sides. The new laundry opened in 1952. Until a few years ago, through various owners and iterations — including a coin laundry — the building operated as a clothes cleaning facility.
In 2010, Keri Moser purchased the building and opened a fine dining establishment, Ivy Wild, on the north end. Last year the Emorys leased space in the south end for Crossroads Cafe. Richard designed the interior space for the restaurant.
The restaurant generally is closed on Monday and Tuesday. On Mondays, Irene goes to Nashville to buy supplies. On Tuesday, she does paperwork.
After our sumptuous lunch, we grabbed Irene and headed to check out a very visible Sewanee icon — the library of Sir John Templeton, a controversial figure from Franklin County, where Sewanee is situated.
Templeton was a billionaire who pioneered the use of global diversification mutual funds. In 1999, “Money” magazine called him “arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century.” In 1964, he renounced his U.S. citizenship and moved to the Bahamas, saving himself, it is said, about $100 million in taxes. (He said the U.S. tax system was unfair.) After that, he maintained dual citizenship in the Bahamas and Great Britain and was knighted in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth II.
In addition to this library, he also established a foundation, whose purpose is to encourage exploration of “the big questions” — primarily those centered around science and religion. The foundation throws off about $70 million per year in research grants and other project funding. (Click here if you’d like to read about some of the controversies.)
What mattered to all of us last Sunday afternoon, however, was not the nature of Mr. Templeton’s political motives, but getting inside that library to check out the view from the back! To our surprise, we met some nice folks who were working near the entrance and they invited us onto the back porch, which was our ultimate goal. Come to find out, there are no books in the library. In fact, it is being used as an apartment building and has 10 units for rent. A lady who has been living there for 10 years told us, “It’s like a dorm for adults! Come by anytime at 5 o’clock, and someone will put a glass of wine in your hand and invite you onto the porch!” (Two apartments are coming open there immediately, she said. Note: no children or pets allowed.)
I found it odd that the dogwood trees on the property were still in full bloom this past weekend. Someone suggested that perhaps they were a different kind of dogwood than the ones here in Knoxville — and their blossoms did look pointy while ours are rounded. But they are dogwoods, aren’t they?
After that fun stop, we dropped Irene off back at the restaurant and headed to The University of the South to walk off some of those calories. The University of the South, commonly referred to as Sewanee, was founded in 1857 and is owned by the 28 southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Its School of Theology is one of the seminaries of the church. A quiet peacefulness permeates the atmosphere during a stroll. (Of course, the students are not on campus at the moment.)
Click here if you’d like to know more about the bells and hear them chime.
Once again, as we strolled the campus, I was struck by the fact that peonies still were in full bloom there. They have long since faded here in Knoxville. I am not a garden expert, but I’m guessing it’s due to the difference in altitude?
So there, you have it. Don’t you think a little trip to Sewanee is in order?