Eating Blackberry Farm!
Well...not eating the whole farm--though at times, it may have seemed that way. Eating at Blackberry Farm...which was something we did quite often. And eating well.
We arrived about 3 pm and got settled, so our first meal was dinner. Dinner is served in The Barn...which is, not surprisingly, a large red barn that has been refinished and repurposed as a casually elegant restaurant. It is only used for dinner. The Barn is located about a mile from the Guest House and the central part of the residential area--though there are cottages within walking distance. So for most of us, when it was time to head for dinner, we called the desk and a helpful staff member pulled up in a Lexus and delivered us to the restaurant entrance. And when we were done, there was a line of cars waiting to return us to our abode.
Dinner at Blackberry Farm is essentially for those who are staying there. We were able to have some guests who were not staying join us one night--which was great fun--but it required considerable advanced planning and coordination (and some sorting out of the bill afteward). I won't go into all the issues, because it just won't happen very often. The restaurant is for people staying at the Farm.
That, of course, means that the dining room has a relaxed vibe because even at capacity it is not crowded. As more than one of us commented, they did a beautiful job repurposing it. The decor might be descibed as country chic. It's simple, with lovely rich wood and stone. Not surprisingly, since it was once a multi-story barn, the ceilings are high--helping both with a sense of spaciousness and with sound absorption. Even at full crowd, it's easy to carry on a conversation. The kitchen is fully visible, glowing under lights somewhat brighter than those in the dining room, but not obtrusive.
There are two options at dinner--a tasting menu or an a la carte menu. The tasting menu consists of seven courses...the a la carte has several choices each for four courses. The first night we went with the a la carte, the second with the tasting menu. Both were excellent. And both included, as many good restaurants do, additional small plates as amuse bouches or gifts from the chef.
Joseph Lenn is executive chef of The Barn. He was the 2013 James Beard Award recipient for best chef in the southeast. And, based on what we tasted, that was well deserved. The thing that always captivates me about great chefs is not the execution. Pretty much all really good chefs cook well and use excellent ingredients. What separates the best is their imagination--their ability to combine flavors in ways that most of us would never consider...and do it in ways that are harmonious and synergistic.
That happened course after course. Just one example: Roasted Carolina Shrimp with Charred Zucchini Purée, Green Garlic and Basil. The combination of flavors and textures was wonderful. On the other hand, one of our favorite courses was deceptively straightforward. Spring Onion Soup. It was puréed carmelized onions, thickened with potato and seasoned with lemon juice, lemon zest and red wine vinegar. Simple--but perhaps because of fabulous fresh farm ingredients, absolutely delicious.
And that's really the food theme of Blackberry Farm. Fabulous, fresh farm ingredients. Many from Blackberry Farm itself. Others from top farms and ranches in the region. Dinner seemed relaxed and casually elegant--as most things did at Blackberry Farm. Jackets required, but not ties. White table cloths, with simple flowers picked on the farm--nothing fussy. When you are done, you simply head for the door and the waiting Lexus. No bills to pay or checks to sign. Remember, dinner is for guests of the Farm and guests' meals are included in the rate (though there was a $55 per person surcharge for the tasting menu which appeared on the bill at checkout). The Barn would certainly make our list of ten best that we've experienced.
But dinner and The Barn are not all there is to food at Blackberry Farm. Breakfast and lunch are served in the Main House, which is adjacent to the Guest House. It's a lovely old house decorated in antiques. It was once the residence of the owners.
Breakfast Saturday morning might be the best I've ever had. And it was simple. Wonderful fresh grapefruit juice. Fabulous eggs, collected on the farm that morning. Hands down the best sausage I've ever tasted--again, made on the farm. Just the right hint of spiciness. And wonderful fresh pastries and toast with jam made on the farm (blackberry, of course!). It's not easy to make something so simple memorable...but with great ingredients and great execution, they succeeded.
Interestingly, I could have chosen the same thing for brunch on Sunday...but did not. I was seduced by the sound of the crayfish hollandaise in the Appalachian Eggs Benedict. And the dish was wonderful. But after two rich dinners and lots of food, it might have been a better choice (at least for me) to stick with simple (and memorable).
Saturday's lunch was a buffet on the veranda of the Main House. It was an old fashioned Tennessee barbecue. Farm-smoked babyback pork ribs and beef short ribs came off the nearby grill as did chicken. Delicious baked beans. And salad after salad. Some featured fresh vegetables from the farm, such as grilled baby asparagus or baby fingerling potatoes. I am normally less than thrilled with buffets. This was an exception. It was about perfect. My only complaint is that I was so full when I finished that I was tempted to nap until dinner!
I didn't of course. Well...I did a bit--but only for part of the afternoon! I didn't want to miss the opportunity to spend time on the beautiful grounds.
For those who would prefer to skip lunch in the Main House and spend the day exploring, Blackberry Farm prepares box lunches that redefine the concept of box lunches. Tasty...made with wonderful, fresh ingredients. Guests consistently rave about them. We thought about taking box lunches with us to go when we checked out on Sunday...but frankly we were too full.
Eating Blackberry Farm. It's wonderful. But come hungry!