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It’s My Birthday. I'll Eat if I Want To.

48 Hours of Gluttony in Music City.

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It all started when Matt asked me what I wanted for my birthday.

I puzzled. I planned. I pondered.

I came up with…..nothing.

There was absolutely nothing I wanted that I didn’t already have.

Is that not AWESOME?

That alone should have been a remarkable birthday gift, and right then I should have taken any money that might be used on my birthday to buy a goat for a village in Africa, but I am far too selfish for that, so I thought, “Why not DO something instead of GET something?”

And what do I like to do more than anything?

Eat.

Birthdays are the one day a year that you can throw all your inhibitions away and eat yourself into a happy (birthday) food coma. Everyone knows that calories don’t count on your birthday (or holidays, vacations, Saturdays, after midnight, and following any emotional trauma).

I should also point out that eating is also a fantastic distraction from the aging process.

So Matt agreed to load up and head to my eating destination of choice.

I chose Nashville.

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We tend to forget about Nashville. It’s so close, but we never really think of it as a “destination.” To us, it’s just that big city in the middle of the state.

However, it has recently experienced a surge in popularity thanks to the new show Nashville, the inexplicable popularity of country music, and a brief stint as Taylor Swift’s home a choice before she decided NYC was infinitely cooler.

I’m pretty sure its popularity is not attributable to the fact that Billy Ray Cyrus lives there.

While we weren’t paying attention, Nashville became Nowville.

Or, in my case, Noshville.

Nashville’s restaurant scene has exploded in the past few years. A slew of new restaurants have popped up and I wanted to try as many of them as possible.

It seemed like a good time to head down the road for a visit to our mid-state cousin. Home of the Grand Ole Opry. Birthplace of Country Music. Honky Tonk Capital of the World. And baker of more biscuits than you can shake a stick at.

Day 1: Pass the biscuits.

We arrived in time for breakfast at my insistence (and despite Matt’s futile efforts to sleep late). There is no sleeping late when there are biscuits to be eaten.

We drove straight through what I think of as Nashville’s neon corridor of misery, that stretch of Broadway that is littered with neon boot signs and places promising line dancing and country karaoke. It’s like Las Vegas and Dollywood rolled up into one hot, flashy country-fried mess.

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If you are looking for a blog post filled with Robert’s Western World, The Bluebird Café, Printers Alley, and the Ryman….you should probably move on.

I was looking for an experience that was a bit less common. I wanted to take the road less traveled.

Unfortunately, the road less traveled appeared to have been taken over by hipsters.

Forget Nowville or Noshville. When we weren’t looking, Nashville had turned into Hipsterville.

For those of you that aren’t sure you know what a hipster is: 1) you’re lucky, and 2) I’ll give you a hint. You know that new coffee shop that just opened up in your town? The one with the glass contraptions that look like something from a chemist lab and that have the menus hand printed on the back of a recycled brown lunch bag? That 19-year-old faux junkie with the handlebar mustache and the mustard yellow fedora who is choreographing your coffee experience for 8 minutes with his pour-over method using sustainable, fair trade aged Sumatran roast….that’s a hipster.

And if you take a picture of your double upside down cacao cortado with soy, you might be one too.

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I have no shame in admitting it. We are moderately uncool middle aged people. The entire hipster movement is simply baffling to us. I don’t understand the sudden popularity of Victorian-era facial hair, unicycles, and men wearing skinny jeans, rolled up, with boots that look like something my great-grandfather likely wore to milk his cow.

However, hipsters take their food seriously. So, there is something to be gained by a moderately uncool middle aged person if he/she is brave enough to enter the hipster domain.

I had planned our eating carefully, and it included a vast number of hipster joints. Make no mistake, hipster joints make GOOD FOOD. You just have to get past the …..hipsterness of it all.

The first thing you have to do is look past the dim and ineffective vintage light bulbs and rough-hewn unfinished wood that is likely covering every surface to appreciate the wonder that is the menu. Don’t let yourself be immediately discouraged by the barrage of hipster-speak that assaults you from the menu. Dig past all of the locally foraged, ethically sourced, artisanal, salvaged, sustainable, stone-pounded, bicycle delivered weirdness and what you’ll find is really good food.

Move past the bone marrow, sweetbreads, and scrapple. Focus on key words: beef. potatoes. jam.

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Biscuit Love Brunch was a great place for Matt and I to start.

Like any good hipster restaurant, Biscuit Love started as a simple food truck. They recently moved from serving up hot handfuls of butter and flour on Nashville’s city streets to a bona fide brick and mortar restaurant. They only serve brunch, are only open until 3:00, and you can pretty much get anything on a biscuit.

When we walked in, there was a line. Apparently this was an “order at the counter, get a number, have a seat,” kind of place. We waited about 15 minutes.

I am BAFFLED by the number of people that can wait in line for 15 minutes, STARING AT A MENU, and are not prepared to order when they reach the counter.

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I did not have that problem when it was my turn at all. It was 9:00 a.m. and I was ravenous.

Bronuts and an East Nasty,”I blurted out so forcefully it made Matt jump.

Hey man, I was hungry.

I was then presented with a credit card slip to sign and leave a tip. REALLY?

I waited in line 15 minutes to order my own food and get my own beverage and you now want me to tip someone to bring my plate to me? Before they bring it to me?

Apparently, I do not understand the new counter service trend. If you’re making me serve myself, what are you asking for a tip for?

I prefer to wait and see if the person bringing my plate comes out dressed as a clown and makes me a balloon giraffe to go with my biscuit. THEN they will get a tip.

After a very short wait, my plate of bronuts arrived.

These biscuit-doughnut hybrids were made of fried biscuit dough, coated in crunchy sugar, filled with lemon marscapone, and sitting on top of fresh blueberry compote.

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That should have been enough, but then the East Nasty showed up: a crispy fried chicken thigh with smoked cheddar sitting on a flaky biscuit smothered in sausage gravy.

Nasty indeed.

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After breakfast, I wanted a really good cup of coffee. If there is one thing hipsters know how to do well, it’s make coffee.

Unfortunately, Biscuit Love had only moderately prepared us for the full-on hipster establishment experience.

Barista Parlour was the whole enchilada (an organic, locally sourced spaghetti squash, cotija, and lime infused yam enchilada, of course).

We found what we believed to be the Barista Parlour, a non-descript building with a cement block exterior. The doors were all locked, so we walked until we found a concrete courtyard surrounded by high concrete walls. I was starting to wonder if this was a coffee shop or an elementary school in Mexico City. We eventually found the right door and stepped inside.

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Residing in an old car stereo shop complete with roll up garage doors, this place was so hipster that it made me instantly want to put on one of my granny’s old dresses and a vintage cardigan. I suddenly wished I hadn't washed my hair and had grabbed a slouchie beanie on the way out. It was like walking into an Instagram photo. I saw a barista in a toboggan and a leather apron, despite the fact that it was 95 degrees outside. There were small children wearing unnecessary scarves and the all of the chocolate bars had at least 65% cacao.

In lieu of the customary hipster chalkboard menu, the only menu I could see was a small elaborately custom-made affair attached to a wooden board affixed permanently to the area just below the register. As I waited in line, I realized this would give me about .86 seconds to consider my order, while the uber cool barista stood in silent judgment. I had to order before the crowd behind me started angrily waving their beanies and vintage copies of The Catcher in the Rye at me.

Apparently, I was supposed to know what was on the menu before I arrived. I was already failing my hipster exam.

My level of discomfort on a scale of 1 to 10 was about a 4.

Matt’s was a 27. He immediately decided he didn’t want anything and ran to the safety of the bathroom.

I distracted myself by perusing the colorful shelves filled with fanciful appurtenances (I feel like this overelaborate description is necessary to reflect the true atmosphere of the Barista Parlour). There were colorful French macarons, artisan chocolates, gluten-free cookies, and hand-made pop-tarts. There were vintage motorbikes and a wall shelf filled with vinyl record albums.

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When it was time to place my order, I was blessedly quick, simply choosing the first thing I could read without my glasses.

I took my number to my table (apparently a phenomenon here in Nashville….there did not appear to be any restaurant at which one did not receive a whimsical number on a stick to affix in some manner to one’s table). As I tried to decide which industrial upcycled table to sit at, I passed the condiment table. No doubt in a place like this, where coffee making was considered art, adding sugar to your cappuccino would be like putting ketchup on your langoustine at Le Bernardin.

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My coffee could come out tasting like cardboard and turpentine and I wouldn’t dare risk the disapproving stares of the other patrons to get a scoop of Splenda. I wasn’t going to be making that walk of shame. Besides, they probably only had Sugar in the Raw or honey anyway.

After about 15 minutes of careful brewery magic, the barista in the toboggan brought me my Caramel Whiskey Latte.

No wonder the condiment table looked dusty. Who needs it? The coffee was AMAZING.

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Apparently, all you need is a leather apron to make an astonishing cup of coffee.

It was time to leave the hipster-cool of the City. We’d had all we could take for a while. We needed to go somewhere that didn’t require tattoos or facial hair to fit in.
We easily found our conspicuous oversized Land Rover parked in a sea of tiny electric cars and bicycles and made our escape.

Our first stop was at Love Circle, a grassy hill with a panoramic view of the city skyline. Technically the hill belongs to Metro Water Services and technically it’s considered trespassing on the water reservoir that exists up there and technically it’s illegal to park …..but we had been emboldened by our middle aged foray into the youthful hipster world, so we went for it.

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Next up was a drive through Nashville’s prestigious Belle Meade neighborhood. We were planning to make a stop at the Belle Meade Plantation, but after driving past mansion after mansion, we felt poor and dejected and decided the only thing that would make us feel better was pie.

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We stopped at the famed Loveless Motel and Café to see what they had to offer. They have been serving the best biscuits in Nashville since 1951, and it is said that the recipe remains unchanged today.

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Unfortunately, I was full up on biscuits. Not just full up, EAST NASTY full up.

We couldn’t decide on one pie, so we got a pie sampler, because when you are too full to eat one piece of pie, you should just go ahead and get three. The sampler included banana pudding (okay, not technically a pie, but who cares), chess pie, and coconut pie.

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Pie is always good, but next time, I want the biscuits.

We then took a beautiful drive on a section of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which extends 444 miles from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. I could only imagine what it must look like in the fall.

Note to self: Come back in the fall. Drive parkway. Eat biscuits.

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We hopped off the parkway at quaint Leiper’s Fork, a scenic village surrounded by farmland just southwest of Nashville. It’s a place filled with farmers, artists, and musicians. Home to the famous Puckett’s Grocery Store, where live bluegrass mingles with meatloaf and collard greens, the village was filled with quaint shops and galleries.

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And this old Jeep Willys which I must have or die.

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Shopping made us hungry, so we headed back to the City for a late lunch.

Having had enough hipster fun that morning, we decided to go as un-hipster as possible: Arnold’s.

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If Arnold’s writes something on a paper bag, it’s because that’s what was nearby. Arnold’s is not cool. Arnold’s is not hip. And Arnold’s doesn’t care.
Arnold’s has been serving up “meat and 3” lunches out of a colorful cinder block building for over 30 years. Nothing is fancy, food is served cafeteria style, and tables are communal – you simply squeeze in where you can find space.

We arrived late, at 2:20. They stop serving at 2:45, so imagine our surprise when the line still stretched out the door. No matter, we had nothing but time.

When we got inside, we had plenty of time to review the menu on the wall. Everything looked like it was cooked in pork fat or fried in lard. It was like heaven.

The good thing about the line at Arnold’s is that it gives neurotic orderers ample time to consider every possible combination of the meat + three before actually having to settle on just one.

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Should I get meatloaf with creamed corn, fried okra, and green beans? What about catfish with mashed potatoes, tomato pie, and collard greens? Oh wait, maybe roast beef with white beans, fried apples, and candied yams????? What about the cole slaw??? DEAR GOD, WHERE WOULD I FIT IN THE COLE SLAW?????? Is there a meat + 4?

While I was suffering a mild panic attack at being limited to only 3 side items, we came to the food line.

Desserts came first. These people have their priorities in order. I immediately forgot all about side items.

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We did not plan to get dessert since we had eaten bronuts, biscuits, and 3 pieces of pie that morning….but they had the pies right at eye level. They were staring at us. “Pick me, pick me,” each one chanted, like a homeless puppy at the kill shelter. We just had to take one home.

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With a choice between roast beef, meatloaf, chicken n’dumplings, fried catfish, or fried shrimp…it was a tough call. I almost ordered the chicken n’ dumplings, but then I spotted the whole roast beef, rare and juicy, as they were hand carving it to order.

“Roast beef, fried green tomatoes, macaroni & cheese, and greens, please,” I said with no hesitation.

Matt went for the meatloaf, corn pudding, green beans, and mashed potatoes swimming in rich gravy.

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We. Ate. Every. Bite.

Shameful.

Delicious.

It was late in the afternoon and we really needed a post-binge nap, so we made our way to 12 South, an eclectic (and yes, hipster) neighborhood just outside of downtown. Not that long ago, this was just considered a rough part of town. Now, it’s one of the hottest neighborhoods in Nashville where you can buy a vintage guitar, drink a craft cocktail, eat a gourmet popsicle, and try on a pair of hand-stitched jeans all in one 10 block stretch only 2 miles from downtown.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of hotels. Beyond that, I make every effort to seek out the most unique accommodations I can find. I’m not satisfied with the ordinary. I want extraordinary.

The 12th Avenue South Urban Oasis was my idea of perfect. It was Matt’s idea of a fancied up garage, but that was because he didn’t get it.

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Nestled quietly and privately behind the dazzling Savant vintage store on 12 South, this place was literally an “oasis.” Once we entered the gate, it was quiet and peaceful. It was hard to image the hustle and bustle of 12 South was so close.

The garage had been lovingly restored and decorated by the owner of Savant with her own fabulous antiques and unique finds. It was bright and airy. I felt like I had stepped into a magazine shoot.

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And no, it was not entirely lost on me that I was sleeping in the Barista's Parlour's less evil twin.

I loved everything about it.

Well. Almost Everything.

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We enjoyed the cool retreat of the Urban Oasis during the 95+ degree afternoon. Line dried white linens covered the windows to block the sun and the big, blue vintage Westinghouse floor fan created a perfect naptime breeze that went nicely with the ice cold a/c.

When the temps started to drop and we felt like we could eat again, we headed to East Nashville to explore some off the beaten path places for dinner.

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“Off the beaten path” is not Matt’s favorite. It’s really his least favorite. He likes safe, conventional, right-in-the-middle-of-the-damn-path types of places, but it was my birthday, so he chose to be a good sport.

East Nashville is a mixed bag. Not too long ago, it was considered a down-on-its-luck undesirable part of town. However, thanks to urban sprawl and a mix of creative and artistic types, it enjoys a trendy, progressive vibe and continues its upward movement.

Thrillist recently named it one of the coolest neighborhoods in America.

Sounded like a good place to eat.

As we crossed the river and entered East Nashville, I saw a fixed gear bicycle shop, a sign for handmade paletas, and an artisanal chocolate shop with several guys outside with scraggly beards.

There had to be good food nearby.

The hardest thing to decide was WHERE to eat. East Nashville is literally riddled with awesome new places to eat and drink. The place is silly with them.
I had a mental list. We’d see how many we could get to.

We started at Mas Tacos. Another place that started as a food truck, Mas Tacos was supposed to have killer Mexican food.

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We found it easily enough, housed in an old deli building with a faded Winnebago parked beside it. Between the sketchy looking exterior and the freakish line, Matt was already giving me the death stare.

“It’s my birthday,” I said.

I wasn’t sure how many more times that line was going to work.

The line moved fast and in minutes we were inside. The décor in the cinderblock and linoleum building was eclectic and cool. We found ourselves in a dimly lit, rustic room with mismatched chairs huddled around small tables, cacti scattered about, quirky artwork, old-school oscillating fans (no air conditioning), and an old jukebox playing free songs.

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The menu overwhelmed us. There were simply too many amazing choices. The taco choices ranged from fried avocado to cast iron chicken to quinoa sweet potato. There were Cuban beans and grilled corn, sweet plantains and pozole verde.

We ended up with pork tacos, sweet plantains, tortilla soup, and elote (grilled corn with crumbly cotija cheese and lime juice).

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It was all good, but the show stopper was the tortilla soup. Laced with lime, chili, and cilantro, it was chunk full of white meat chicken, fresh tomatoes, grilled corn, peppers, tender avocado slices, and puffy delicious strips of deep fried tortilla.

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Okay, apparently I really liked the corn too.

As I was eating it, I heard someone singing “I’ll make love to you” by Boyz II Men. Thinking it was the free jukebox, I realized it was me.

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Mas Tacos is BYOB, but why would you want to when you can get one of their house made agua frescas? We couldn’t choose between watermelon-lime and pineapple-cilantro, so we got one of each.

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Pretty sure we could eat a second meal if we gave it a little time, we walked over to the Holland House Bar and Refuge for some drinks.

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Facial hair and full sleeve tattoos were obviously a bartender requirement, we noticed as we were seated at the enormous 4-posted bar. The mixologist wore suspenders and held a bottle with an eye dropper. The crowd was chic and vintage. We were definitely in the right place for a craft cocktail.

I ordered the Shennong’s Delight, a light and refreshing (but powerfully strong) blend of Tito’s vodka, lemongrass, orange curacao, ginger, lemon, and champagne. Matt had the Sailing to Byzantium made of El Dorado 5 year rum, crème de cassis, vanilla, lime, and black walnut bitters.

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We only planned to have one drink, but they were so good, we decided to have another. We had spotted a bottle of Leblon cachaça behind the bar. The only good thing that had come out of our trip to Brazil (besides the fact that we made it home with all internal organs intact and found that Matt only had the flu and had not contracted some terminal disease) was our love of a real caipirinha. I say “real” because almost NO ONE in the U.S. can make one properly. Something about the simple ingredients “limes, sugar, cachaça” perplexes them and they insist on adding all manner of other things. We decided to give the suspendered, tattooed, mustached bartender a shot.

He nailed it.

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I felt confident that we could eat again before throwing in the greasy white napkin, so we headed out to find the holy grail of hot chicken, Prince’s Hot Chicken in East Nashville.

If you have heard about the hot chicken phenomenon, it started in Nashville. If you haven't, then you are missing out. There’s a lot of hot chicken in Nashville these days, but it all started with Thornton Prince.

Legend has it that Mr. Prince was quite a philanderer. He came home one morning after a night of womanizing demanding his breakfast and his lady decided she’d had enough. She made him breakfast all right. She made him a breakfast he would never forget, putting every manner of hot spice she could find in the kitchen cupboards into his fried chicken. She wanted him to HURT.

When he took the first bite, she smiled in smug satisfaction, waiting for the cry of pain. Instead, he LIKED IT.

He liked it so well, he made her make it for all of his friends. And so, Prince’s Hot Chicken was born.

Today, Thornton’s great niece owns and operates Prince’s Hot Chicken where you can indulge your craving for skillet-fried, cayenne-swabbed birds piled on white bread with pickles.

Prince’s was not exactly located in the “up and coming” part of East Nashville. It was in the “down and out” part.

We found Prince’s in a defunct strip mall, sandwiched between a wig store and a nail salon. The interior was a sea of green linoleum and vinyl table cloths.

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It was clear that no one in the throng of people hanging around outside or waiting inside was a “visitor.” You could tell these people were here every day, waiting for their deliciously greasy bag of to-go chicken on their way home from work.

We stood out like a pair of hot pink suits at an Amish funeral.

Matt gave me his best “Please, don’t make me” look, but I made him go inside anyway.

Matt’s internal comfort meter was starting to tip to the “I’m about to run” point. I pushed him up to the counter.

As we ordered, two 20-something guys in matching J Crew outfits came in. They looked like they had just hopped off their yacht. I looked at Matt. “You can relax,” I said. “You are no longer the most conspicuous person in here.”

The chicken comes on top of white bread and is served with a pile of pickles. You can get mild (hot), medium (really hot), hot (scorching), xhot (blistering), xxxhot (you will die). Prince’s Hot Chicken is not to be confused with buffalo style chicken. The pepper is violent. It’s nuclear.

The chicken is fried in a cast iron skillet and is then doused with an unholy combination of cayenne and lard. The liquefied fat and pepper oozes into all of the nooks and crannies in the crunchy chicken, dripping onto slices of gooey white bread underneath. I am sure the bread is to keep the nuclear mess from seeping off the plate and into the eyes of any small children that may be standing nearby, lest they be blinded for life.

Legend has it that ordering the XXX will require medical intervention.

We ordered ½ a chicken in the medium. It came with instructions for CPR.

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The fire started slowly, at my lips. Then it spread down my throat and eventually consumed my entire digestive tract. I had read that I should be careful not to touch my eyes, should have plenty of napkins (for the sweat), and that I should use the slice of white bread that comes tucked under the chicken to counteract the heat. I quickly shoved a slice of white bread into my mouth, followed by a gulp of sweet tea.

Dear sweet Lord, but it was GOOD.

When we were finished, that ½ chicken looked like roadkill that had been picked clean by every buzzard in a 20 mile radius.

The verdict: Hot chicken rocks.

Too full for any more food, we decided to wrap up the night at a new bar in 12 South. This way, we could walk home if we had too many drinks, or if we started convulsing from the hot chicken.

I forgot to wash my hands and spent the entire drive back to 12 South concentrating on not scratching my eye so that I didn't blind myself.

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Embers Ski Lodge was modeled after every apres-ski bar I had ever been to back in my skiing days. There was a faux fireplace, a wall sized mural of a snowy mountain, snowflake lights, and rough-hewn logs decorating the walls. The menu had all of the kitsch of an old ski movie, with vintage ski photos, “black diamond appetizers,” and “bunny hill desserts.”

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Even the drinks were themed.

I ordered the Ski School, which was described on the menu as “vodka, vanilla, passion fruit, butterscotch, sparkling.” Imagine my delight when what came out was a foamy delicious, butterscotch tasting cocktail in an old school champagne glass with an adorable little sidecar of Prosecco.

“You sip the sweet cocktail, and then follow it with the dry bubbles.”

It was genius.

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We had packed a lot into one day and were we were TIRED.

It was time to head to bed. I went to sleep trying not to think about this…..

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Day 2: Help! I’ve Eaten….and I Can’t Get Up!

As soon as my eyes opened, I checked the squirrel. He hadn’t moved. Good.

I was still full from the day before, but that didn’t stop me from dragging Matt out of bed to go in search of breakfast. We had eating to do.

There were so many great places to grab breakfast, but we decided to stick close so that we could see a little bit of 12 South.

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I didn’t realize there were so many cool shops. Like Imogene & Willie. Set up in a refurbished filling station named after the owner’s grandparents, this place is apparently famous for their hand-made, high end jeans.

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Or White’s Mercantile. Modeled after an old general store, this upscale shop had everything from baby soft bath robes to vintage cocktail stirrers.

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This neighborhood was a feast for the eyes, but I needed a feast for my belly.

We stopped at Edley’s BBQ. A BBQ joint that serves breakfast? Why, yes. Yes indeed.

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With a never ending need for biscuits to be filled, I ordered the Tuck’s biscuit: a fluffy, homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with savory brisket, and over easy egg, pimento cheese, and red and white sauce.

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Matt had been so envious of my East Nasty the day before that he ordered his own nasty biscuit, Edley’s Nashville Nasty, topped with fried chicken breast and drowning in sausage gravy.

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BBQ and eggs might be my new favorite dish.

We strolled the neighborhood before I decided it was time for COFFEE.

To its credit, 12 South has its own excellent coffee shop, so we had no need to return to the uber hipster Barista Parlour which was one part Instagram portrait studio and one part disheveled beard and ironic mustache gallery.

The Frothy Monkey was just a really good coffee shop.

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Obviously.

These lines were getting ridiculous. So far, we had waited in line for EVERY MEAL. It was time to start going to some places that took reservations!
The coffee was worth the wait. My cappuccino was excellent and Matt was able to order a hot chocolate without fear that the barista would judge his non-coffee choice. No need to flee to the bathroom this time.

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We spent the rest of the morning shopping our way through the 12 South neighborhood.

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They even had a quaint little farmer’s market set up. I bypassed the South Carolina peaches and went straight for the Georgia peach truck. You can’t tell a Georgia girl that they don’t grow the best peaches.

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We grabbed a post-breakfast, pre-lunch ice cream at Jeni’s. Simply amazing ice-cream, this is literally the one thing we have to eat every time we are in Nashville.

It's more likely that the 16-year old workers simply placed the containers wherever was closest so that they could return to discussing whether or not to go to the Minions movie, but I liked to think the ice-cream gods put the brown butter almond brittle right next to the darkest chocolate just for me.

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Next up, I had a surprise for Matt.

When we were in Las Vegas once upon a time, Matt went to have an old fashioned shave. He loved it.

I had read about a place downtown where you could get a straight razor shave, so I had made him an appointment.

I knew by the time I saw the door sign, I had made him an appointment at an ultra-hipster salon.

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By the time I saw the inordinate volume of taxidermy, string lights, antlers, and mason jars – I knew.

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When they offered me free wine in a jelly glass while I waited, I didn’t care.

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Matt truly enjoyed his shave, even if he did have a stuffed fox staring at him while he got it.

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I was all jazzed up on cheap hipster wine, so it was time to eat something. We headed to Germantown to try the new Butchertown Hall, a new place claiming to specialize in smoked meats and sausages using primitive wood-fired cooking techniques.

The name conjured up images of meat and fire. Imagine my surprise when a sleek, tall white building rose in front of me. The interior was clean and artsy, full of caged rocks and barren branches in vases. It felt more like an Anthropolgie store than a meat house.

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The smell, however, was all meat. I was immediately struck by the smoky delicious aroma.

We arrived at an off time, almost 2:00. Thankfully, there weren’t many patrons, because Butchertown Hall does not take reservations and if I had walked Matt up to one more food line, I believe I would have had a mutiny on my hands.

We were seated immediately and set about the task of ordering cocktails. I couldn’t resist the winter-spiced grapefruit mimosa. Matt went with the oak roasted bloody mary.

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The smell of the place had woken our inner caveman, so we ordered accordingly.

MEAT. CORN. POTATOES. BREAD.

Was a more manly meal ever conceived? I literally felt my testosterone level rise as we ordered.

We ordered the oak smoked pork carnitas and the house made chorizo sausage. Both were served with house pickles, thin sliced onions, thick flour tortillas. We also ordered the potato salad and grilled street corn.

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It gave me the meat sweats.

I needed another beverage to slow the heart palpitations, so I got tried the Paloma, a tangy combination of tequila blanco, Pimms, lime, grapefruit, and black cardamom.

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Obviously, that lunch required another nap.

We woke up refreshed and ready to hit the streets in search of more food.

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I felt like Matt deserved one meal that didn’t involve lines, table numbers, mason jars, lack of air conditioning, or general fear for one’s safety, so I had made reservations at Josephine.

Josephine was less than a block from where we were staying on 12 South, so we were able to leave the car at home and enjoy a walk on a beautiful summer night.

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When we walked in, Josephine greeted us with soft lights, white linens, and gleaming glassware. There wasn’t a chalkboard, piece of butcher paper, or recycled, hand-cut, distressed piece of salvaged furniture in the place.

It was elegant without being pretentious. It was filled with middle aged adults in normal adult clothing. There was no unnecessary facial hair. It was just what we needed.

We started off with the pretzel bread and housemade mustard. That was followed by the tomato gazpacho with lump crab and lime for Matt and the arugula salad with fresh peaches and goat cheese topped with mint, honey, and lavender for me.

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For dinner, I opted for the housemade fettucine with tomato, lobster and basil. Matt had the scallops with grilled romaine.

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We received a wonderful little surprise with our check – a delightful little box of ginger cookies with the recipe attached.

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We were tempted by dessert, but this trip was about variety, so we felt compelled to indulge our dessert whim elsewhere.

We made the short walk down to Urban Grub where Matt found a chocolate peanut butter bar and I fell in love with the vanilla bean doughnuts with bacon toffee cream cheese ice cream (say that 3 times really fast), caramel, and chocolate covered bacon.

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Those doughnuts were like warm, soft little pillows of sugar.

They almost made me forget about sleeping in the same room as that squirrel.

Almost.

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Day 3: It's Not Over When I'm Full...It's Over When I Hate Myself.

It wasn't over yet. I didn't want to go home thinking, "I should have eaten that."

We kissed the Urban Oasis goodbye and headed out for our last meals.

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Yes, I said "meals," do you have a problem with double breakfast? Because if you do, you should just stop reading now and go get your smug self some carrot sticks.

To complete the Nashville trifecta of perfect coffee, I followed the Barista Parlour and Frothy Monkey with coffee from Crema, not from the original location, but from the mind-blowing awesomeness that is Pinewood Social.

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Pinewood Social was like nothing I have ever experienced. From the outside, it was a simple brick warehouse. Inside, it was a virtual playground of food and drinks, presented in every bizarre venue possible. First, there was the "Living Room." Plush sofas and overside chairs, vintage tables and throw rugs, as well as a tech table suitable for even the most particular Mac user filled the space, offering up endless nooks and crannies to cozy up in.

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Then there was the bar and restaurant, vintage bowling alley, and a pool deck complete with lounge chairs, cabanas, and an old air stream serving up pool drinks and tacos. When I was there, I didn't think about how absurd it was, I only thought about how incredible the food was.

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My Crema Cubano was perfect, complete with the requisite coffee art. We also snacked on an avocado omelet with crispy fried fingerling potatoes. I say "snacked on" because this wasn't actually breakfast.

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For our grand finale, we headed to Sunday Brunch at Husk. Pulling up to the elegant historic Italianate home, I felt like it was 1880 and we were arriving for Sunday supper. White gloves and a parasol would not have been entirely inappropriate.

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Husk didn't disappoint. We went out in grand style with White Lily biscuits with black pepper and sausage gravy; french toast with peaches, peanut butter, maple and chantilly cream; and chicken fried steak with gravy and a farm egg served with sausage and potato hash.

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As with all good things, it had to come to an end eventually.

I'm not sorry I went and ate half of Nashville. Sometimes, a gluttonous weekend is good for the soul. It's a reminder in our gluten-free, non-dairy, low fat lives that life is rich and is meant to be enjoyed.

Unfortunately, at my age, that enjoyment comes with a price. I am spending the entire month of August on the Whole30 no dairy, no soy, no grains, no sugars, no legumes, no alcohol diet to undue all the damage I have done with this summers sinful vacation eating.

Don't feel too sorry for me. I'll be back off the wagon for a 2 week jaunt to Abaco next month.

Until then, eat well, my friends. Eat well.

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Posted by vicki_h 19:04 Archived in USA Tagged food south tennessee eating nashville josephine husk 12_south mas_tacos hot_chicken leiper's_fork Comments (4)

Brazil: Part I

Paraty, The Town That Time Forgot.

We landed at the Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport in Rio de Janeiro at 5:45 a.m. We’d been awake since the previous morning and knew we had to stay awake until that night to avoid jet lag brought about by the overnight travel coupled with the time change. We had all day to make the 3 ½ hour drive to Paraty, so we weren’t in any hurry.

We had a reservation for an economy car with a GPS (God bless the GPS...) at Budget. The Budget office didn’t open until 6:30 a.m., so we settled on a bench and waited. And waited. And waited.

FINALLY, a young woman arrived who spoke about as much English as we did Portuguese. Somehow, we managed to understand each other. We particularly understood when she said, “No GPS.”

NO GPS?????? This was not a good start. But what were we going to do? We had no choice. We took the car without the GPS.

We were her first customers of the day. Her ONLY customers. Our car was on site at the airport. Yet...it took her 30 minutes to process our reservation. After that painfully long time, a little man motioned for us to follow him to our car. He proceeded to take us out into the ground transportation area where he led us to a sidewalk lined with taxis. He held up his finger and said, “Wait.” Then he walked off.

Thirty minutes later, we dragged our luggage back inside the terminal and returned to the Budget counter, where there were still no other customers. We explained that he had left us on the sidewalk a half hour earlier and vanished.

I don’t know Portuguese but I am pretty sure what she said to him on that walkie talkie could not be repeated in church. Or to your mother.

She led us out to our car herself and within minutes, we were inside our Fiat.

When the word “ECONOMY” is actually adhered to the back of your rental vehicle in raised metallic letters, you know you have not been upgraded.

It had been almost 2 hours since we landed and we were finally on our way out of the airport, tired and very, very irritable, with no GPS and nothing more than a handful of Google maps I had printed as a back-up.

Yes, we were driving.

This would be the single worst mistake we made in planning our trip to Brazil, other than choosing to go to Brazil in the first place. While it was a significant improvement over trying to use public transportation, the difficulty of the road system, the lack of signage and our inability to read what few signs there were, the danger posed by actually being stupid enough to drive a car through Rio de Janeiro, our lack of maps or GPS, and the incredibly ridiculous traffic jams made driving a bad, bad idea.

Bad idea.

We were immediately thrust out of the airport into a maze of highways, bumper to bumper traffic, blaring horns, and signs that did not match my Google map. Street signs were flying past me with names like “Ln. Vermelha/Av. Pres. João Goulart” or “Estr. das Canárias.” I was totally confused, trying to match any street name on my map to any street sign I saw. I felt like I’d been shot out of a canon with a bag over my head and my butt on fire.

Holy hell.

To say that driving in Rio is difficult is a gross understatement. Lanes are a mere suggestion. A three lane road is more likely to have about 6 lanes of traffic with everyone sort of carving out their own little space. Don’t forget about the scooters and motorbikes that simply fly up in between said lanes. Then you have the guys that walk up and down the street selling food to the people stuck in the traffic. Add to that about a million buses, poor signage, and no on/off access roads.

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After a few minutes, I saw a sign with a road name I recognized and an arrow pointing to it’s access from my map, Avenue Brazil.

“Just keep following that,” I told Matt. “That’s the highway that will take us to Paraty.”

This worked just fine until we actually got to the access and had a choice of left or right.

“Which way?” Matt asked, sweat beading up on his brow. I had no freaking idea.

Given a 50-50 choice, Matt and I will make the wrong choice 99.9999% of the time. This time was no exception.

One of the first things we learned about the “highways” in Brazil, is that, unlike US interstates that have an exit approximately every mile or so, you might drive for 30 miles before finding an exit or appropriate turnaround in Brazil. We drove 45 minutes in bumper to bumper traffic with poverty stricken favelas (slums) surrounding us before there was an opportunity to turn around. We then had to drive the 45 minutes back to our starting point.

It had now been 3 ½ hours since we landed and we were still at the freaking airport.

Nerves shot, we just kept driving. What else could we do?

The stand still traffic lasted for about an hour. During that hour, we inched our way through the absolute worst part of Rio de Janeiro. Favelas are the slums of Rio. Like many third world cities, Rio has a very large population of poverty stricken people. Much of the population lives in favelas, or communities of squatter housing. Shacks are built one on top of the other along the steep hillsides that surround the city. Favelas are typically controlled by drug lords and are known for their high crime rates.

During the first hour of the drive, there were literally favelas stretching up every hillside, covering every imaginable space, for miles, and miles, and miles. They went as far as my eyes could see.

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It was not a feel-good introduction to Brazil.

About the time I was asking myself for the twenty-seventh time WHY we had decide vacationing in Brazil was a good idea, the landscape abruptly changed. The traffic all but vanished and the dejected favelas gave way to rolling hills.

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Then the rolling hills gave way to towering mountains that stretched down the coast as far as we could see. They were lush and green, with jagged peaks reaching to the heavens. A bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds stretched overhead and the highway coasted along the sea. We first caught glimpses of blue and emerald waters lined with verdant mountains at turns in the road, but eventually, the landscape opened up into vast stretches of deep blue sea fringed with white sand beaches and dotted with bright green islands.

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It was an entirely different world from the one we had been in just an hour before. It was beautiful.

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We had reached the Costa Verde, or Emerald Coast. There was virtually no traffic and the views astounded us for the next 2 hours. It was almost enough to make us forget the hellish morning.

It was about noon when we saw the sign for “Paraty.” Hot damn and hallelujah, we had made it.

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Pronounced “Para-chee,” Paraty is a town that time forgot. Situated about 125 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is a tourist destination, but it retains a character that is the very essence of Brazil. There was no major road from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty for almost one hundred years, causing Paraty to essentially be forgotten by the world.

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Just like Sleeping Beauty with her fairy tale kiss, Paraty awoke from it’s sleep in 1975 with the completion of a road from Rio de Janeiro, but it remained untouched by most modern trappings. The historic town center was preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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You won’t see any cars on the streets of Paraty, but you might have to wait for a donkey-cart jam. The town is lined with stony streets, cobbled together hundreds of years ago by slaves, and are better suited for Havianas than heels. The old town is filled with cafes and restaurants and quaint shops. You can buy a colorful woven basket on the street or can buy a cold beer at any number of colorful bars.

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It was the perfect place to undo the damage that Rio had done.

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It was going on one o’clock by the time we found a place for lunch. As we stepped into the Margarida Café, I felt my brow unfurrow, felt my shoulders relax, and felt my breathing slow down.

The restaurant was an eclectic mix of bohemian art, mismatched tables and chairs, and tropical plants. Tall windows surrounded the restaurant and let the bright sunlight filter in. A grand piano was set up in one corner and someone was playing softly.

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I ordered my first caipirinha. The caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, made with local cachaca (sugar cane rum), sugar, and limes. Extremely potent and undeniably delicious, I was an instant fan. I made it my personal goal to sample as many caipirinhas as possible on this trip.

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One Caipirinha down. Ninety-seven to go.

We learned on this trip that there seem to be several staple foods that appeared on virtually every menu in Brazil: pizza, pasta, grilled meats, seafood. The latter two almost always came with several side dishes and were ordered for 2 people.

For our first meal, too hungry and exhausted to make a bad meal choice, we went for the familiar. I opted for a dish of pasta with a rich tomato sauce and steak. Matt had a chicken that was marinated in a tangerine sauce.

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With the soft piano music, the sunlight gently filtering in through the windows, the delicious food, and the strong caipirinhas, Margarida was a much needed oasis of salvation after a difficult start.

We took some time to walk around the old part of town. It is hard to describe just how beautiful it was. The stone streets made walking a challenge, especially after a caipirinha, but they were gorgeous. Block after block of white buildings with colorful wooden doors and shutters, in bright blue or bright yellow, greeted us with every turn. Wooden carts filled with goods were pulled by donkeys and restaurateurs were setting colorful tables outside their kitchens in anticipation of the evening’s guests.

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It was hot and we were tired, so we made our way over to Vivenda Paraty, a pousada that was just outside of the old town. Unlike a traditional hotel, a “pousada” is a smaller, more personal place to stay. Pousadas are typically B&Bs, small inns, or boutique hotels. Opting to stay in pousadas rather than large hotels was one of the few things I did RIGHT when planning this trip.

I had selected pousadas that were highly rated and I ensured that each one had owners that either had English as a first language or spoke fluent English.

Pousada Vivenda Paraty is rated #1 in Paraty on Tripadvisor and let me tell you, it is well deserved. The owner is a delightful English gentleman that came to Brazil 26 years ago as a teacher, fell in love with it, and never left. He has a beautiful house and behind his pool and tropical gardens, he has 2 very private free standing cottages.

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John welcomed us with a hug like old friends and led us to our cottage. The gardens were filled with orchids and tropical plants. The pool glistened, a cool and inviting blue. Our cottage welcomed us with a private veranda and a swaying hammock. Inside, the cottage had a kitchenette, sitting area, and a king bedroom with a large bath. It was all done in cool and crisp shades of white.

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We did our very best to relax but not sleep, but the cool white sheets and delicious air conditioning made that a very hard promise to keep.

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We asked John for his recommendation on dinner and his first recommendation was Margarida Café, so we asked him what his second recommendation would be. He highly recommended Punta Di Vino, a small restaurant specializing in Neapolitan style pizzas.

We headed toward old town to do some strolling, have some pizza, and sample some more caipirinhas.

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The town was as beautiful at night as it had been that afternoon. The soft glow of light spilled from the brightly shuttered windows and café tables littered the streets, filled with flickering candlelight.

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People wound up and down the streets as music poured out of most restaurants. Couples laughed at small tables with flickering candlelight to the sound of soft samba music. THIS was the Brazil I had envisioned and hoped for.

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We found Punta Di Vino and chose to sit inside since it felt like it was about to rain. We were seated at a romantic little table in the corner and ordered a half carafe of wine.

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The restaurant was warm and inviting. The wood stove used to cook the wood fired pizzas filled the air with a warm smell and the wine made everything feel mellow as a soft drizzle began to fall outside. The open window let in the fresh smell of rain and we could hear music playing from the lively bar next door.

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We ordered a pizza with some type of Italian salami on it. The pizza was thin and crispy and the salami was incredibly rich and tangy.

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The rain had stopped by the time we finished eating and we decided to walk over to find the source of the music we heard playing. “Brasil” was a small restaurant/bar just down the street. Tables were scattered all over the cobblestone front and more were packed inside the cozy interior. A live band was playing.

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We hesitated in front just long enough for the waiter to grab our hands and coax us inside. He looked around, and seeing absolutely NO empty tables, held up his finger and ran off. Worried that this would be a repeat of the airport Budget guy….we were relieved when he immediately returned with a small table that he placed in a corner and pulled up two chairs.

How could we not get something now? We ordered 2 caipirinhas and a bowl of marinated olives.

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When the band stopped playing, we paid up and headed over to Café Margarida for a final caipirinha of the night.

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We figured out on that very first day that we were never able to drink more than 2 caipirinhas. A third would have been out of the question. They were that strong. When I got home, I looked up the recipe and figured out why. There is nothing in that glass but alcohol, sugar, and a crushed up lime. How many shots is that?

Exactly.

(Major travel exhaustion + two caipirinhas) x Vivenda’s super soft bed = One hell of a good night’s sleep.

I awoke to the sound of exotic birds whose songs I didn’t recognize. Soft white orchids waved in the morning breeze.

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I tiptoed out to the verandah as Matt slept and found that the breakfast fairy had come in the night and set our table beautifully, in anticipation of our first full day in Brazil.

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I stretched out in the breezy white hammock and read until Matt finally stumbled sleepily out into the early morning sunshine.

As we sat blissfully in soft chairs, two ladies carried over a tray laden with more food than we could eat.

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Underneath a soft white netting were plates of tropical fruit, meats and cheeses, pastries and breads. We had their housemade yogurt and granola, fresh squeezed juice, and strong, hot coffee. They even asked if we wanted eggs cooked to order. With all this, who needed eggs?

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I like the way Brazilians do breakfast.

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It was a hazy morning, so we decided to wander over to town for a while before deciding what to do with our day.

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My favorite part of town were the colorful wooden boats lining the harbor. There must have been a hundred of them. Each boat was painted in outrageous color and boasted and upper deck laden with pillows and cushions. Most had some sort of bar filled with exotic fruits and cocktails, and in front of each boat was a colorfully dressed Brazilian man trying to convince you to spend the day on his boat.

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We were tempted, but the sky was clouding over and it didn’t look like much of a day to be stuck on the sea in a boat.

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Instead, we chose to drive about 30 minutes down the coast to Trindade, a small village with beautiful beaches backed by towering mountains. To get there, we had to drive along the highway a short distance and then take a harrowing drive along a narrow, steep, twisting, turning road down to the village.

Our first stop was at Praia do Cepilho, a large beach littered with huge boulders. There was a little bar on the top of a hill overlooking the beach.

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We decided to drive on to the small village, where we parked and walked out onto a beach at the end of the village, Praia do Meio. The beach was covered with small eateries, each one with a sprinkling of bright yellow or red plastic chairs and tables out front. The smells of fried fish and potatoes mixed with the fresh salt air.

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It was then that I uttered the 4 words that make Matt cringe on vacation.

“I read somewhere that...”

He just wanted to sit down on the beach, stretch his legs, and read his book. Maybe get some fish and a cold beer. With those four little words, he knew I wasn’t going to let him do that.

“I read somewhere that there is a BETTER beach if you just hike through that stretch of jungle over there and over that small mountain.”

Poor Matt. There is a golden throne with his name on it waiting for him in heaven just for having to put up with me.

He sighed, gathered his things back up and set off across the beach behind me.

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Praia Brava is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Unfortunately, as would be a repeated theme on this trip, I didn’t have extremely clear directions on how to get there. Here were the directions I had, “When you arrive in Trindade, forget the beach right next to the village and go to the do Meio beach, further south: you will find two small beaches separated by a bunch of rocks in the middle. From there there is just one little obstacle, a small hill you will have to climb and go down. It’s a short climb that presents no problems in dry weather.”

We literally set off blindly through the jungle. In the wrong direction. No, not even the wrong direction, on the wrong entire trail.

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There was a small path and I assumed that must be it. You know what they say about assuming don’t you? Well, just call me an A-S-S. After walking about 30 minutes in the broiling heat, sweat dripping off our brows, we came to a dead end with a small waterfall and a naked man. This was most definitely NOT it.

We trekked back through the hot, hot jungle to our starting point. At this point, most men would have cussed me out, maybe slapped me, and hoofed it back to the main beach without so much as a “How do you do,” but not Matt. He actually let me lead him down another path through the hot, hot jungle.

This time, we reached a dead end and a large chicken pecking at a pile of garbage.

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After almost an hour of wandering around in the steamy jungle, toting our beach stuff, do you know what Matt did when we got back to Praia do Meio? He went and found the right trail for me.

Saint, I tell you.

After all that hot walking, it was only a short (but steep) 15 minute walk over a small hill to Praia Brava.

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The beach was a mind blowing combination of blue water, white sand, rainforest, and green mountains. Not only was the beach beautiful, but unlike it’s cousin, Praia do Meio, it was virtually deserted.

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We finally had our beach time and just enjoyed laying in the sand, reading and listening to the waves.

Eventually, we got restless, as we always do.

“I read somewhere that there is a natural swimming pool at the end of this beach….” I ventured.

Oh no. Here we go again.

We saw people walking a path at the end of the beach, so it was pretty easy to figure out where to go this time. It was about a 20 minute trek over lots of steep, muddy hills before we found ourselves at Cachadaco, a series of natural pools formed by giant boulders in the ocean.

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We did the obligatory lagoon swim, even though the water must have been about 67 degrees. It was a beautiful spot, though.

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About this time, I started thinking about how long it would take to walk back. Twenty minutes back through the steep, muddy jungle; another fifteen minutes across the beach; about fifteen minutes more to walk over the steep hill back to Praia do Meio.

But I was hungry NOW.

It was then that we noticed the little boats on the other side of the rocks.

$7 and 5 minutes later we were deposited safely in the sand of Praia do Meio beach, ready for lunch and a stiff caipirinha!

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Matt was apparently through with allowing me to make any decisions for the day and he marched right up to one restaurant grabbed the menu, pointed at something and told the waiter he’d take that.

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I am one of these people that orders every meal as though it’s my last. I look over the menu slowly, savoring each choice. I have to read each one in detail. Then I read it again. Maybe three times. Then I ponder my options. Matt simply didn’t have the patience to wait at that point. I learned that day that letting someone else order for you can be amazing.

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Two strong caipirinhas showed up first. I was starting to really like these.

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Shortly after the drinks arrived, the waiter brought several dishes and set them down. There was a platter of salad, a bowl of rice, and a platter of grilled fish and potatoes. The fish was grilled perfectly, topped with capers and limes.

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Rice and potatoes? I like a country that double starches. Particularly after feeding me cake for breakfast. Oh yeah.

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We also noticed this little bowl of grainy looking stuff. We smelled it. It had no smell. We tasted it. It had no taste. Seeing no benefit to it ,we passed it over.

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Lunch was fantastically delicious and we ate until we could eat no more. We made our way back to Paraty and crashed at Vivenda for the rest of the afternoon.

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Now that our food rules were all a mess, what with the cake for breakfast and the triple carb lunch, we decided there was absolutely nothing wrong with dessert before dinner so we headed into the old town for some gelato.

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Gelato places were unique in Brazil. They were all self serve with tons of toppings. You simply put everything you wanted into your dish and then it was weighed at the register. You paid per kilo.

For dinner, we decided to try some oceanfront dining and headed to the beach of Praia do Jabaquara to find Restaurante La Luna. The restaurant was open to the ocean air, warmly lit with candles. We were allowed to choose our seats and opted for a thatched table facing the ocean on the back terrace. Our feet were in the sand and the waves gently lapped the shore only feet away.

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Lunch had taught us that most meals were ordered family style for 2 people, so we went with it. We ordered grilled steak for 2.

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It was delivered with a tray of condiments like peppers and chimmichurri, a salad, rice, fried potatoes, and another dish of the mystery stuff.

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When I got back to our cottage, I decided to Google the mystery stuff. It turned out to be farofa, or toasted manioc flour. It is typically toasted with butter, salt, and bacon until it is brown. It is served alongside the main course and can either be sprinkled on by individual diners to their taste before eating, or eaten as an accompaniment in its own right, the way that rice is often eaten.

It is basically odorless and flavorless and appeared to serve no purpose other than to provide additional carbohydrates to your meal, in case the oversized bowls of rice and potatoes did not sufficiently accomplish that task.

I like the way Brazilians think.

We sat by the light of the pool and used the free wi-fi to let our parents know that we still had all 4 kidneys and called it a night.

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It seemed like we had just arrived in Paraty and it was already time to move on. Before heading out, however, we enjoyed another fabulous breakfast at Vivenda Paraty.

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We bid our farewell to John and set back out on the road. This time the drive wasn’t so bad because we were still on the quiet coast and were simply backtracking the way we had already come. The drive would take us about halfway back toward Rio, where we would then stop at the town of Angra dos Reis and do our best to figure out how to get to the ferry that would take us to the island of Ilha Grande.

The drive was spectacular….towering mountains and blue sea.

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Originally, we had planned to stop for lunch before the ferry but Matt was feeling a little under the weather, so we didn’t stop, but headed straight for Angra dos Reis. Good thing I had loaded up on all that cake at breakfast.

Angra dos Reis was accessed by one single road from the highway that stretched down toward the beach. Everything in town was pretty much on this one road, so how hard could it be to find the ferry, right?

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“Do you know where it is?” Matt asked.

I didn’t….but I had a photo of the ferry and a picture of the ferry companies logo and name. Believe it or not, that did the trick. We simply drove along the harbor until we saw that sign. We pulled into the parking lot.

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A young man motioned for us to roll down the window, which we did.

“Ilha Grande?” he asked.

We nodded and he motioned for us to park.

When we got out of the car, we didn’t really know what to do. The young man came up to us with a clipboard and said something that sounded like, “Garbledy goo blah blah gibberish gibberish gibberish DIAS?”

Matt just looked at me. Like I knew Portuguese. Thanks, Matt.

“English?” I queried.

He shook his head. I shook my head. We were at an impass. He looked thoughtful for a moment, scratched his head, and then held up his fingers – one, two, then three and repeated “Dias?”

Ah ha! He was asking how many days. I held up three fingers. He nodded. He scratched his head again and then grabbed his clipboard. He wrote down “3 Dias...$60 Reis.” I understood. Parking and the ferry for 3 days was $60 reis (about $32). We handed him the money and headed for the ferry.

See! Who needs Portuguese!!

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Phase one of the trip was over and phase 2 would soon begin. Soon we would be on our way to the mysterious island of Ilha Grande. I had visions of a tropical oasis filled with orchids and monkeys, meanwhile, Matt was feeling worse by the moment and had visions of nothing more than a soft bed and some Advil for his aching head.

We settled in to wait for the ferry.

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Posted by vicki_h 08:22 Archived in Brazil Tagged south america brazil de rio janeiro Comments (2)

Brazil: An Introduction

Getting there is NOT half the fun.

Rewind to a cold day in March 2011. Matt and I are piled up in the bedroom on a rainy Saturday. Matt is reading a book and I am doing what I always do when stuck indoors...surfing the web looking for the next great place to visit.

“I want to go to South America,” I hear from the other side of the bed.

I turn my head slowly to stare stupidly at the man who NEVER utters a vacation opinion.

“You want to ...wha huh?”

“I want to go to South America,” he repeats and returns to reading his book.

I am not one to back down from a challenge. Fifteen minutes and a freakishly low super saver air miles rate on USAir later, I am sitting there scratching my head not sure how it is that I now have 2 round trip tickets to Rio de Janeiro or what I am going to do with them, exactly.

In the fashion of “Four Christmases,” we would be flying out on Thanksgiving Day. Unlike the movie, however, we did not lie to our parents and tell them we would miss the holiday because we’d be inoculating babies in Burma. We told them the truth...that we were blowing off Thanksgiving to go to exotic Brazil for 10 days.

We probably should have lied. Lying to our parents would have been preferable to telling them the truth and then enduring 9 months of “parental worry.” They did not see going to Brazil as "exotic." The viewed it as temporary insanity.

“Do you have to get shots to go there?”
“Are you going to the Amazon? You’re not going to the Amazon are you? They have snakes there that can swallow you whole.”
“Will you get malaria?”
“Don’t drink the water. Or eat the food. Can you take your own food with you? Never mind, just eat things in packages. Don’t eat anything fresh.”
“I don’t think they have running water there.”
“Can you take a gun?”
“Have you seen the movie ‘City of God?’”
“Don’t stop to help anyone on the side of the road. They’ll steal your car and rape you.”
“Why can’t you just go somewhere normal, like Cleveland?”

To our parents, we may as well have been heading to Syria or Uzbekistan. They were certain that within 24 hours of arriving, we would be kidnapped, drugged, and someone would steal our kidneys to sell on the black market.

Not only did we dismiss our parents as having “overactive imaginations,” we ignored the fact that Rio de Janeiro is regularly touted as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, that Brazil is considered by many to be a third world country, and that nearly every travel site we visited for information was loaded with disclaimers like, “Don’t wear expensive things. Dress down and try to blend in,” or “Don’t carry much cash and never let your camera be in plain view of others,” or even “Don’t walk the streets after dark; if you do, look purposeful and walk quickly.”

We were blinded by visions of string bikinis and late night caipirinhas.

We should have read the fine print.

Fast forward 9 months.

Thanksgiving Day. There was no turkey and dressing for us. We spent Thanksgiving flying to Charlotte, enduring a 4 ½ hour layover (which passed much more pleasantly thanks to US Air club passes), and then making a torturous 8 ½ hour non-stop flight from Charlotte to Rio trying to sleep at a 90 degree angle while sitting next to a woman who sounded like she had tuberculosis.

We were on our way to Rio de Janeiro with only the language skills required to order a milkshake.

“Eu gostaria de um milkshake de.”

After a $299 Rosetta Stone course in Brazilian Portuguese and several months of trying, this was the only phrase I could actually utter in Portuguese. Not because it was particularly useful, but because it was the only one that stuck in my memory due to the immature fact that every time I heard the Rosetta Stone lady pronounce, “Milkey Shakey Day,” I laughed so hard I snorted. I found the language difficult and, unlike the Italian I picked up pretty quickly years before, I simply couldn’t retain even the simplest of phrases.

Unable to sleep on that long overnight flight, I found myself looking over our itinerary. It had been a tough trip to plan. There was a definite lack of good travel information to be found. I had purchased books and I had scoured the internet, but had turned up very little. Not only was it tough to plan, I was totally unaware when I hit the “BOOK IT” button on US Air that fateful day in March, that Matt and I were both required to get travel Visas, which involved about 1,000 forms, including copies of our bank and credit card accounts to “demonstrate financial means commensurate to those of an international traveler,” and to the tune of $160 each.

I had managed, however, to put together what appeared to be a pretty good trip. Because US Air only flies into Rio, we chose to explore only areas in the state of Rio de Janeiro. We would split our time between 4 different locations: a historic fishing village, an exotic tropical island, the urban madness of Rio de Janeiro, and a swanky coastal resort town.

The flight attendant came over the speaker to announce that we were beginning our descent into Rio de Janeiro...

Fasten your seatbelts, folks, as some turbulence is to be expected. Due to extreme challenges presented by the location itself, our lack of proper tools such as maps or language skills, and an oncoming bout of the flu that we didn’t know was already incubating inside one of us...this turned out to be one crazy ride.

Posted by vicki_h 06:43 Archived in Brazil Tagged south america brazil de rio janeiro Comments (6)

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