Nashville Y’all

Another update … spent a week in a great airbnb in Music Row Nashville. Great location and free parking. This was our third visit to Nashville and it will not be our last. You can probably look through this blog and find earlier comments and pictures. Why do we keep going back – well, it’s my kind of town. Laid back, relaxed, great food, new things to discover, plenty of beer and all types of music – country and western (and other stuff too).

It’s pretty easy to get around, driving, uber, free bus in certain places and there is plenty to see and do. But don’t get stuck downtown where the honky tonks and people are – get out into the neighbourhoods such as East Nashville and Germantown, and make sure you visit the Vanderbilt area (walking from where we stayed), Music Row which is where all the music is made, and the Gulch which has some great places, including Lucchese boots where Jim was tempted but didn’t want to lay out about $1000 for a pair of boots – but I did get a great shirt with pearl buttons. Caroline, well she bought some more boots.

We hit the honky tonks for one night to catch a guy we have seen before – Joshua Hadley – great show. The honky tonks are great fun, cheap beer and music – and busy. Broadway is a party place where you walk the streets going from bar to bar and when a beer costs about $5 you can’t go wrong.

Also caught some music at Station Inn, which is one of THE places you should visit. It’s old and very original. Great band whose name escapes me but the fill-in guitarist for the night is blind and he was amazing.

We had some great food – three highlights: Hattie B’s hot chicken – how can chicken taste so good; Husk, which is more the fine dining and a top rated restaurant and also very good; and a new BBQ (for us at least) Martin’s and this was damn good BBQ, well worth the half hour or so in the queue.

Jim also had a few bucket lists in Nashville – cut a single at Third Man Records (Jack White’s label) and got on stage (for a photo) at the Ryman.

We also managed to catch up with a few work associates who were in Nashville for the special olympics torch run conference – this meet up also included getting into a free BBQ, drinks and music – great free night.

Nashville has not seen the last of me.

Meet me in St Louis

Easy drive from Chicago to St Louis and pulled up at our boutique hotel in the Delmar Loop area of St Louis (or University City as it is known) the Moonrise Hotel. This really was a great hotel with friendly staff, free parking out the back, a super rooftop bar, and easy walking to lots of restaurants and the park.

It was an easy drive downtown, which we did one day to catch a ride to the top of the St Louis arch. To get to the top you ride in these tiny pods – about 4 minutes ride up and 3 to get down. Reminded me of an alien pod. But the view up the top was really good, even if it was a little overcast. You have to do a bit of stretching to see out the windows as they are not large but there was plenty of viewing space and time as only so many can catch the train (8 pods at a time) every ten minutes. In a while this will be a nice spot as at the moment they are doing a few works – maybe have to catch it again another day.

Also in St Louis Jim was off to a conference with the International Association of Canine Professionals. Very good conference with some great speakers. Very friendly – for people and dogs. No special blogs on this but I will no doubt attend another year. Also picked up some great videos and other equipment – dog training is an expensive business/hobby – and Hank is still a rat-bag so he’ll be made to watch the videos.

We had a great meal at a new restaurant and highly rated Mexican – Nixta. The food here was truly exceptional. Only thing that spoilt the evening the food came out too quick.

Something that really could have spoilt that evening if we did not have an excellent Uber driver were some protests that started after a police officer was acquitted of murdering a black driver after a chase. The roads we needed to travel were blocked but she got onto Facebook and with a bit of local knowledge guided us through the back streets (which we would never have achieved) and to our restaurant door.

The protests continued and even came out to the area where we were staying – didn’t see any problems apart from a a bit of yelling at a service station and graffiti on the footpath – one shop had a few avoid this store because they are racists painted outside – not sure what the problem was there; and there were a few ‘black lives matter – blue lives murder’ chalked onto the footpath. But really, if it wasn’t for that and the very high police presence you probably wouldn’t have known when we were out – but we also didn’t stay out late either.

A good burger and St Louis specialty – toasted ravioli (deep fried ravioli – at Blueberry Hill, which was a great spot with good meals, cold beer, music and even a darts room – can’t go wrong there. Chuck Berry used to play there quite a bit and his statue is across the road. We also had some pretty good BBQ at Salt & Smoke.

St Louis is on Route 66 and if travelling that way you should stop and explore the neighbourhoods. We didn’t get as much exploring done due to Jim at the conference (which is why we were there in the first place and this was about 20 minutes from where we were staying) and the protests. A few people said they were disruptive even to the extent that U2 cancelled a concert because the police and security could not guarantee a presence.

Good stop and more exploring next time and make sure you grab something from Ted Drewe’s frozen custard.

Birmingham, Alabama

Leaving Nashville in the mid-morning for a casual drive south down the highway (one of the very many) to Birmingham, “Sweet Home” Alabama (which is on the big sign when you cross the border so not just something from me). Good fun getting used to opening the correct door but maybe not as much fun as remembering to drive on the right side of the road. This is actually not as hard as one may consider and it only becomes tricky when turning but doesn’t take long to pick up (also the fourth time I’ve driven over here).

BBBBQBBBBQ ribsBirmingham was only two and a bit hours away so we decided to call in for some BBQ on the way – as you do. We made a detour to Decatur and called in for some lunch at Big Bob Gibson’s. Not bad either, although most BBQ is pretty good (except I kind of got a bit crook that day, must have been the coleslaw or potato salad – not the ribs).

The Chief helping out

The Chief helping out

Made Birmingham easily and our room was ready for check-in. Birmingham was a rich source of iron ore and important during the early years of industrialisation and railroads. It later became a bit of a boom city and was coined the ‘Magic City’. More importantly, Birmingham was an important city in gaining attention for civil rights in America and worldwide attention. If you have any interest at all in civil rights, then you should visit Birmingham.

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Backtrack – Keep Portland Weird

Seems like weeks ago when we were in Portland, which was where we started our driving trip, so I thought I better post some snaps and other such ramblings.

Portland was a pretty good place, easy to walk around, bike friendly (not that we went for that), good food, plenty of weirdos (some real weirdos, others on their way to the next G20), skateboards a plenty, a few beggars (some homeless, others very doubtful), trams, full of craft beers, not much hustle and bustle, pretty laid back (make that very laid back), polite, traffic but not like California traffic, food trucks, and best of all – tax free shopping. There are only four States that do not add tax to food, drink, shopping, etc. one of these is Oregon. The prices of the goods do not rise to compensate so it is a bargain place for buying and eating and drinking – woo-hoo!

The Vintage PlazaWe stayed at a nice hotel downtown – the Vintage Plaza, which is another Kimpton Hotel with the hosted wine hour – and because Portland is known as Brewvana there was also beer on tap – woo-hoo! Something some may find strange, nearly all USA hotels are pet friendly so here at the Kimpton they were most welcome with their own drink bowls during wine hour.

This was the one place where Caroline had mapped out several eating locations and we were not disappointed, eating at some really great places and also some snacks at some really great places, such as Voodoo Doughnuts. This place is a Portland legendary doughnut shop where people queue out the front to buy a doughnut – although many buy many and even many more. I liked the fat kid and his Mom in front of us who was going through the revolving glass display cabinet (we are talking multiple doughnuts here, not just your stock-standards) and I’ll have one of those and one of those and one of those and … you know the story. Then came Jim’s turn, but you can only eat so many doughnuts before feeling sickly ill so we went for a small selection – two of the classics the voodoo doughnut and the maple log and bacon. I tell you, maple syrup and bacon are a match made in heaven – maple icing and bacon and doughnut are what they eat in heaven.

maple bacon Voodoo doughnut

 

 

 

 

 

Portland is also known as Bridgetown. There is a river through the city (the Willamette River) – a bit like Melbourne. But at least in Portland they have more than one bridge. The city is also quite old – or it has that appearance – and the bits we were in seemed very safe. Although the old town where the doughnuts were may be a bit dodgy at times because that’s where all the missions for the homeless were. they also have a great garden along the river and running/walking tracks. Here’s a few shots of Portland –

Did I mention that Portland is the home of the food truck? These are just making a good start in Melbourne but in Portland they are everywhere; however, I don’t know if they classify as a truck because many in the downtown  area are permanent fixtures in a parking lot rather than a truck that can drive from place to place. The other interesting thing with the food trucks is that there is no seating, like you might find in Austin, but there is a park or somewhere to sit in the close proximity. So, as well as eating some fine dining we also had to make room for a food truck. I went for the BBQ and Caroline went for something healthy. There is so much variety that you could have something different every day and not have the same thing for a few months. For instance, in the location we went to there are 52 trucks.

I said Portland was bike friendly – they have had number plates (for cars) dedicated to bikes. And there are bike racks and bike lanes, and like many of the cities, bike racks on the front of the buses.

bikes bikes2

 

With the food trucks and fine dining we also went to a great place for breakfast – The Original.  In fact, we went there twice because first time round Jim went for the stock-standard and Caroline had some interesting polenta cakes and honey-maple bacon –

carolines Jims

But what drew us back was not just the good food but Jim saw the Elvis Sighting on the menu and couldn’t resist – french toast, bananas, roasted peanuts and bacon – mmmmm Elvis

And just because I have uploaded them, here are a few more random shots from Portland. More catch-up when I get around to it. Off to San Francisco for the NFL tomorrow (Saturday).

No Longer Highway 101: Day 4

Monday and we are well away from Highway 101, in fact we probably won’t be hitting Highway 101 again so this could be the last time you see that in the title but as I like consistency, I will probably leave it … or I could change it.

Doesn’t really matter, Day 4 of our drive, which is no longer on the coast, started in Redding, travelling down the I5 (a major north/south freeway) then turning off towards Napa Valley before settling in Sonoma for the night.

Being mostly on the freeway this was a pretty unexciting drive and then we hit Napa Valley, which was pretty much under road repair everywhere. Better mention there were no breakfast incidents, no kids touching all the biscuits and coughing over the scrambled eggs or old people cutting into the toaster line.

This part of the I5 was easy driving, passing orchard after orchard after orchard, until we hit olive grove after olive grove then more orchards. We stopped at Napa for lunch at the Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ. A BBQ wine bar that matched wine with the BBQ. The food was okay, I actually enjoyed my shrimp and clam chowder but the ribs were nothing special. Then we went for a bit of a walk. This place was quiet and full of botox blondes – there was a table at the bar that could have come straight from the Real Housewives of Napa, with their husbands who were kind of like construction workers or maybe they were the ones who sold trailers to those who would not fit in Napa, i.e. drink their wine from a cask. Another funny thing here, in a town that is wine Caroline had a lovely red from New Zealand – go figure? (she made up for it over dinner with a Sonoma wine)

We walked around the area known as Riverfront, that was pretty much deserted, many vacant shops and empty restaurants and resembling a Disneyland kind of wonder world. No doubt, it is buzzing at other times than a Monday afternoon. However, the weather was excellent – beautiful sunshine, about 23 with no fog. Had a look at the weather reports and snow is expected in Spokane where the dog conference was – would we hit snow on Day 5 – you will have to keep checking in.

However, we then arrived in Sonoma, which reminded us of a lovely country town in Victoria. The character was so different and we nestled into our very nice B&B with such a cute (?) name – the Cinnamon Bear. We went for a drive around the valley (and not being a wine drinker and being a dedicated driver and there is not much point in buying wine unless you ship it back) we never hit a winery but we did go to the Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma (about half an hour from Sonoma and through multiple four-way Stop signs, which when you get used to them work quite well) just to buy some stuff (I have had this beer in Melbourne and love their dog logo … and their beer is pretty good too).

Excellent pizza at The Red Grape followed by very pretty chocolate cake. And we would definitely return to this area to hit the wineries – just needs more than an overnighter.

Day 5 and we head off to Yosemite – and wait until you hear the stories of that drive. Also, more pictures for this post will come later as up here in Yosemite the internet is like Commodore 64 speed, so check back again.

Along the I5 between Redding & Napa

Along the I5 between Redding & Napa

 

And the Footy Season is Gone

Last weekend and the Hawks came through and won their eleventh AFL premiership, beating the first-timers Fremantle Dockers. Not an overly exciting game but it was football – or actually there was some excitement or maybe some groan moments. Freo just couldn’t kick a goal and the footballer voted as the one that most others want to hit – Haydn Ballantyne – just couldn’t do anything.

I was most disappointed as I had tipped Fremantle and Nick Fyfe for the Norm Smith. If Feo had won, Fyfe might have been a chance to bring home some bacon for me. But alas, the only pork I has that day was some excellent ribs. Pulled out the BGE and tried out a rib rack I scored for my birthday RibRackand it worked a treat. The ribs were excellent, and so were the dogs and so would have been the chillie but Sophia and Dano left that at home – another day, maybe. But something that doesn’t wait for another day was the Mountain Goat I chose from Dan Murphy’s. I went there to pick up a six pack and extras but came back with a six pack, carton, extras and key-ring. They had a tasting night with some specials – and I am a sucker for a special. I went for the IPA, after trying the Hightail Ale, Steam Ale, Summer Ale (bit sweet for me), and a special brew in conjunction with Brooklyn Brewery (fine establishment and great beer – visited there on our first trip to USA) Hopfweizenbock – not a quaffing beer for watching the footy, maybe with a nice meal (not that the ribs and dogs weren’t nice, just you didn’t need a knife and fork).

But the footy is now over – draft and exchange period to look forward to and will Carlton make the finals on their own in 2014 – Go Blues. I can now cheer for the Ravens, but I doubt they will go back-to-back. And we’re off to the States again with tickets booked for the 49ers – should be good, so will the food, beer and sites – if they are open as I hear USA is closing down.

We Got Pulled Pork and Ribs

We usually have a bit of a BBQ for 4th July and have a few friends over – only problem it is always absolutely freezing cold and even though the Egg has some heat it’s not the kind to keep you warm and huddle over. Anyways, a few of our regulars were away so we toned down the invite list and maybe will reschedule our USA night for some other day.

But it was still a good day to pull out the Egg and I sat in the carport watching it warm while strumming away – this is what came to my head as I strummed some slow 12 bar blues:

It’s cold out here … It’s cold out here … And when the barbey’s done … grab yourself a beer … It’s cold out here

Pulled pork and ribs … pulled pork and ribs … and when the barbey’s done … grab yourself some bibs … pulled pork and ribs

Soft buns and slaw … soft buns and slaw … and when the barbey’s done … grab yourself some more … soft buns and slaw

And this is what came out of the Weber and Big Green Egg

 

Beer can chicken

Big Boy BBQ

Now, I bet you thought I had finished up with the slow-cooked American BBQ reviews – well, there can never be enough pork stories. I’d heard of an American style BBQ place starting up in Melbourne and one Sunday afternoon we thought we should venture over there rather than joining the queues at the Ikea checkout.

Big Boy BBQ is on one of the many strips along Glenhuntly Road in Caulfield South and the day we arrived it wasn’t busy so parking across the road was easy – but we were there early and there not long after opening. A few groups started to nestle into the booths and there were a few gazing at the take-out getting quite confused with the difference between an Australian hamburger and an Aussie pulled-pork sandwich.

Before

We went for the Carolina pulled-pork sandwich (for Caroline of course) and I went for the half-rack with a side of potato salad and onion strings. And let’s not forget the bottomless cup of soda.

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Just One More Tiny, Little, Thin Rib

Cousins BBQ

Before

What do you do at Dallas International for a few hours before take-off – eat BBQ of course! Cousins BBQ (another tick from Texas Monthly) has an outlet at the airport so we thought we better get one last filling of ribs in before we get home and I find the energy (and the right rack of ribs) to fire up the Big Green Egg.

Cousins BBQ

After

I went the ribs and chicken and a very nice volcano of mash and gravy. The ribs were moist with a nice smoky flavour but they also tasted “old” – perhaps because they are kept warm in a large oven tray rather than coming straight from the smoker (but there probably is no smoker at the airport). I did enjoy the lightly toasted bread and the slaw was okay, and the chicken was tasty, moist and melt in your mouth. For a ribs rating – maybe a 3.5 out of 5.

There are several eating choices at the airport (which is quite nice, clean and modern) so if BBQ is not your choice then you can have something else. But BBQ is my choice (I now have to try the Australian BBQ joints I heard have started up).