NASHVILLE -- Whenever I come to Nashville, family and friends tell me their favorite places to go and things to eat. My wife told me I had to try this dish she had while here for a conference: redneck lo mein.
"Thanks, honey!" I said.
Translation: No, thanks!
Here's the thing: Whenever I come to Nashville, I have only so many days, which means I have only so many meals, which means I cannot waste one on Jeff Foxworthy's idea of Asian fusion. It has to be a carefully choreographed culinary adventure, and it's hard to beat the classics.
Breakfast must involve biscuits or grits. My colleague Arpon Basu and I came here for the season opener and went to a place called Biscuit Love in a neighborhood called The Gulch. The menu included -- read this with a Homer Simpson voice and drooling noise -- "a sampling of regional ham." I had a biscuit with gravy and a hot chicken thigh. It is still a part of me.
After breakfast, the dilemma is barbecue. Not whether to have barbecue, but what barbecue to have. Do I go to Jack's Bar-B-Que? Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint? Peg Leg Porker BBQ? The next place someone recommends? Do I get pulled pork? Beef brisket? Smoked sausage? Of course, the answer is yes.
But after the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks skated to prepare for Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Tuesday, I had grit instead of grits. I willed my way down Broadway, past Jack's, away from Martin's, until I reached Acme Feed & Seed, a place across from the Cumberland River that describes itself as "an updated take on the classic honkytonk serving eclectic southern fare."
"Do it for her," I thought.
I looked at the menu and mmmarrgh …
Sorry. Drooling again.
Hot chicken sandwich. Pulled pork tacos. Ribs. Beef brisket sandwich. Farm-raised fried catfish.
And, sigh, redneck lo mein.
"Marriage sometimes requires sacrifice," I thought.
I read the description: lo mein noodles (of course), smoked chicken (OK), collard greens (hmm), corn (fine), black-eyed peas (now we're talking), caramelized onions (never had a bad caramelized anything) and andouille soy glaze (had me at "andouille"). You could add shrimp.
"I'll have it with shrimp," I said.
I paid at the counter, grabbed a sweet tea, sat down at a table and waited until a server brought a big bowl. Fat shrimp sat on a bed of all the other ingredients. I had to admit it looked good, smelled good and …
Wow. Tasted good too.
It was savory and sweet and gone in minutes.
There was a lesson here, and it wasn't just that Nashville is more than you think or that you can stay in your comfort zone with redneck lo mein if you ease your belt a notch or two just like you do with barbecue.
Thanks, honey! Love you!
Translation: As usual, you were right!