Blackberry Farm (Walland, TN) – Simulacrum

Blackberry Farm is tucked away on the Tennessee border of the Smoky Mountain range. Its mystique conveys a moneyed southern charm – a place where good ol boys run the south over sips of artisinal whiskey while their wives spend the afternoon on horseback riding. I thought this place would be the equivalent to a remote French Michelin 3*** hotel – stunning grounds, opulent rooms, and world-class cuisine; afterall, the price tag is certainly that ambitious.

What I got was 3*** grounds, a no star hotel room, and 1* food – Keyah Grande this was not. The grounds are manicured, calculated, expansive, and gorgeous. They certainly convey a certain well-off Tennessee lifestyle that (I suspect) few people actually live. The hotel room was tiny and surprisingly noisy; if politicians do indeed stay here, they will want to speak in hushed tones. The food was delicious and safe with its southern influences but strayed a bit when trying to impart a world-class elegance.

The Route

If you decide to go, allot an extra 2.5 hours, and take the scenic route – it is stunning. Take I75 south of 321 to 78, drive east to 360, and then continue east on 43. Once you hit 360, you will see a range of picturesque scenery – cow and horse fields, battered barns, rivers, waterfalls, small hills, and pretty forests. Then you start ascending the mountains where there are multiple vantage points. Some random pics:

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The Tail of the Dragon

I made the reservation for Blackberry Farm to indulge my food obsession without realizing I was embarking on a trip to mecca for my car obsession. After 43, you turn north on 129 and enter The Tail of the Dragon – an extremely curvy (318 in fact) 11 mile stretch of road that has been rated #1 by motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts. You can see packs of motorcycles and cars waiting for clear stretches to test their skills. My uncle stayed near the base a few months ago and he says the engine screams can be heard all night long. It’s known as a mecca on many car enthusiast sites.’

The town/county/whomever must have the same savvy publicist as Gary Danko or Cyrus. It’s a curvy mountain road, of which they are many throughout the US. Here in the Bay Area, we have many roads that are nearly its equal – I suspect nearly any city w/ mountains does. It’s not worth a trip by itself; is it with Blackberry Farm looming at the finish line?

You can read about it here http://www.tailofthedragon.com (note: the web site makes it sound far scarier than it is.)

The Grounds

I didn’t take pictures but you can see a better photographer on their web site. There are guest houses that host several guest rooms, common lounges w/ “complimentary beverages”, a bar w/ an extensive collection of local whiskey, rec room, pool, hiking trails, horseback riding trails, etc etc. If this sounds appealing to you, Blackberry will not disappoint.

You can see plenty of pictures on their web site.

The Room

Ok, they have over 4000 acres. They charge $750/night. Why is my room the size of a NY hotel room?

They boast they play host to elite businessmen and politicians from around the world. Why can I hear my neighbors waking up in the morning (and I don’t mean turning on the faucet!)? You can hear people walking down the hallways, walking around in their rooms, and fumbling around in the bathrooms.

This just isn’t right. Rooms in a place of this caliber and price should be larger and sound-proof.

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Yep, that’s it.

The view was nice – a manicured attempt to capture the beauty of the Smoky Mountains. It is the view Disney would offer were it located in Tennessee.

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The Restaurant

I had no idea the restaurant would be so large. It boasts a very main large dining room and two smaller, darker secondary rooms. My immediate thought was uh-oh – I was expecting some place far more intimate. How could they deliver world-class cuisine to such a large number of people every night? I overheard “how would you like your tuna prepared?”

The Service

The service was awkward. The staff was friendly but they didn’t know how to treat a single diner. The most annoying thing – they would *never* tell me what I was eating – just plop a plate on the table and seemingly run away… fast. They delivered an amuse before I was done reading the wine list. They delivered a dish before I returned from the rest room. They failed the napkin test once. Silly things that just shouldn’t happen.

The Food (Finally)

1. Frog Legs w/ Parsley & Trout Roe

Served cold, the legs were juicy w/ the roe delivering some saltiness. No impact. Good.

2. Turnip Soup w/ Fried Turnip Greens

I have a soft spot for cream-based soups that are delicate and light. The greens managed to float and preserve their crunchiness. Very Good.

3. Zucchini Fritter

The breading was a bit too heavy and the inside was a bit too mushy for my tastes. A lighter frying technique (that might bely its southern influence?) would have lifted it up a notch. Good.

4. Lobster w/ Whey Sorbet, Pickled Tomatoes, & Pickled Tomato Puree

Lobster itself was sweet and cooked right but the pickled tastes overpowered the delicate meat. The sorbet tasted great but its coldness obliterated any lobster taste. I ate the lobster (very good) and whey (very good) by themselves. As a dish – Ok.

5. Triggerfish in Butter/Wine Sauce

Straightforward & well done. I never had triggerfish before (that i recall) – Good.

6. Foie Gras Torchon w/ Blackberry & Powdered Sugar Substance

French-Laundry quality, silky. Excellent.

7. Rabbit

No fireworks – just a wild rabbit cooked well – very gamey. Good.

8. Pasta w/ White Truffles

Truffles were grated tableside – I’m not truffle expert but they seemed cardboard-y. Pasta itself was forgettable. Ok.

9. Cripsed Pork Belly & Braised Pork Cheek w/ Chocolate Sauce

The belly was very nice – charred, very crispy outside, and bursting w/ flavor. The cheek was dull and the chocolate sauce couldn’t save it. Good.

10. Cheese-based Palette Cleanser

No idea what it was – served warm, light w/ some curding, it had a slightly too-sour taste for me. If it were cold, I probably would’ve loved it. Ok.

11. Cheese Plate

Despite having an on-site cheesery, only 1 of the cheeses on the menu was a Blackberry Farm cheese. I didn’t order it (it was a blue cheese) but they included it anyways.

Breakfast

I don’t get up that early so I squandered that part of my expense.

Lunch

They sent me off w/ a to-go box – a very nice gesture. I ate it somewhere between Blackberry and Atlanta at a rest stop. It was pretty good.

13. Kamado Roasted Lamb Leg, Caramelized Apples, & Curry Mint Mayo on Grilled Piadini Bread

A seriously good sandwich – everything worked in harmony here – the sandwich was definitely more than the sum of its parts. The bread had a wicked char and the leg was as good as anything I had for dinner (save the foie gras…) Very Good.

The Rest:

  • Roasted Fingerling Potato Salad w/ Guancial & Rosemary
  • White Bean Smoked Celery Salad w/ Benton’s Bacon & Carrot Vinaigrette
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Sorghum Walnut Cookies

In Summary

Overall, the meal was good but nothing worth traveling for. I liken it to a good Sonoma, Napa, or French countryside meal – solid ingredients and food. If you happened to be in the area, it should do the trick. There are a lot of $100 cabins in the nearby 10-mile area so you can save yourself the ridiculous expense of the room – the tasting menu is only $100. If the activities sound appealing to you, tack on $200-400 per activity, stay at the inn, and be prepared for a $2000+ bill when you leave.

- chuck