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VOL. 44 | NO. 6 | Friday, February 7, 2020

Bachelorettes on food tour? It only adds to the fun

By Catherine Mayhew

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The electronic confirmation for my Tastes of Nashville Food Tour directed me to meet the guide in front of the fireplace at Union Station Hotel. It also mentioned that for a special tour price of $6 I could order the Abigail at the bar.

Day drinking. This is starting out to be a promising afternoon. I arrive under gray clouds and a blustery wind to the grand lobby, perhaps one of the most impressive in America.

Ellen, a slip of a young lady wearing a battle-tested fanny pack and carrying a bag of umbrellas, cheerily greets me. Just waiting for the others, she says. I wander over to the bar and order my Abigail, which consists of Picker’s Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower, grapefruit, lemon and prosecco (yum, yum!).

I am feeling extremely sophisticated. And happy. Very, very happy.

Ellen says “the others” are a party of eight in Nashville from Florida for a bachelorette weekend. Oh, dear. Oh, no. I imagine them arriving via Pedal Tavern. I understand that Nashville is now the destination for bachelorette parties. I can’t imagine they spent the morning at Cheekwood.

I am immediately remorseful when the girls burst through the doors of the lobby. They are clearly sober. And unrelentingly nice. I am immediately welcomed to the group as an honorary bachelorette, which at my age is a minor miracle. For the next three hours, I am 27 years old again, wrinkle free and a size 6, which I have never ever been in my life. I polish off my Abigail, basking in my newfound youth and beauty.

The afternoon is ready to unfold before us. Five stops at different restaurants for tastings. In the beginning it doesn’t seem like enough food to really bog us down. Just a nibble here and a nosh there.

First up are items from the menu at Carter’s, the hotel’s restaurant – whipped local goat cheese, lavender honey, and cracked black pepper and sea salt on grilled Tuscan bread. Delicious! And smoked Gouda pimento cheese on lavash crackers. The girls and I agree that nobody makes pimento cheese like our grandmothers, but our grandmothers never thought of smoked Gouda. Smoked Gouda wins.

I am also admiring tour guide Ellen’s gentle way of navigating the conversation, inserting a bit of history about every location without seeming like a college professor. She is charming. She points out the 65-foot, barrel-vaulted lobby ceiling with 100-year-old, original luminous stained glass. And the four-sided clock on a tower outside the building so that travelers always could keep track of time.

And the sad story of Abigail, the hotel’s ghost and cocktail namesake, who threw herself in front of a train after learning of her soldier husband’s death. She hangs out in Room 711, by the way, which Ellen says is the most popular room in the hotel.

Ellen is very respectful of photo taking, even being the photographer for the bachelorettes. At every venue. They generously ask me to be in the photos. As I looked at them later, I realize that I look like exactly what I could be. Their grandmother.

Out the door of the Union Station lobby and on to Saint Anejo, in The Gulch. Ellen can walk backward and talk at the same time. This is not a condition of her employment. It’s just natural talent. She points out Cummins Station, which at the time it was built in 1906 was the largest reinforced concrete industrial warehouse in the world.

Saint Anejo offers up its Nashville hot chicken taco with habanero/agave/southwest ranch sauce and slaw. It does not blow the top of anyone’s head off, which is a good thing. Just a gentle introduction into Nashville’s most famous menu item. The bachelorettes have never heard of hot chicken.

At this point, I have to stifle myself. I wrote my doctoral dissertation on hot chicken. That’s a lie. Ellen takes the lead and explains the history of it. I am taking this tour anonymously and I don’t want to tip my hand. When we get to the barbecue joint later that becomes even harder. But I digress.

On the way to Biscuit Love we pass Kittenish, Jessie James Decker’s clothing store. The girls are almost uncontrollably excited. Have you heard of Jessie James Decker, they ask? We’ll take you shopping here. I know Jessie James Decker does some kind of diet commercial but that’s about it. And the idea of shopping with the size six bachelorettes is truly horrifying.

Biscuit Love is just a Nashville treasure, as Ellen explains. We’re treated to bonuts – fried biscuit dough rolled in sugar nested in blueberry compote and topped with a crown of lemon mascarpone. The head bachelorette, aka the bride, gets her own bonut with a lit candle in it. It’s a sweet moment, both literally and figuratively. The bonuts, by the way, were terrific. Bonus points for the lit-up Nashville sign in the restaurant. Major photo op for the bachelorettes.

We next rounded the corner to Peg Leg Porker, one of Nashville’s best barbecue joints. Carey Bringle, the pitmaster, has in a fairly short time cemented himself into the barbecue firmament as a master smoker and nationally known television personality. And he’s nice, which most barbecue people are. I know this because I am one, a master judge and former competition cook.

Ellen does a great job explaining who Carey is and why his smoked meat is so great. I button my lip although I agree with everything she says. A couple of the bachelorettes buy his spice rub to take home as gifts. That makes me happy.

It is at Peg Leg Porkers that all of us realize we are completely full after our pulled pork sliders served up with slaw. A little nibble here and a little nosh there has turned in to a full-on meal. Nobody is complaining although the bachelorettes reevaluate their dinner plans.

Right next door is our last stop, Stock and Barrel. It’s a sweet ending to a sweet afternoon - s’mores shakes all-around with vanilla bean ice cream, crushed graham crackers, and a toasted marshmallow with chocolate drizzle. Burp. We are all officially done.

We are no longer Ellen’s responsibility although she lingers to chat. We all love Ellen. She wrangled eight bachelorettes and a baby boomer with care, good cheer and a winning personality.

Things I learned on this tour.

One, you think you know your hometown and in some respects you do. But I learned a lot from Ellen and also the bachelorettes who showed me Nashville through fresh eyes.

It’s a cliché but clichés are true. Never judge a book by its cover. My Florida girls are all accomplished professionals. Six of the eight are in the medical field. One is an emergency room doctor. They’re all still size six.

I think I knew this but the Tastes of Nashville tour also confirmed to me what an innovative, exciting and delicious restaurant town this has become.

As I walked out of Stock and Barrel, the pumpkin coach disappeared. The coachmen were nowhere to be seen. I was no longer 27 and the wrinkles I’ve earned over a lifetime reappeared. But I was full of so much more than a few delicious bites. And I was still happy.

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