Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boma: Flavors of Africa

One of the beautiful aspects of Disney that I love is simply the way they excel at creating themes.  Actually, I don't suppose that "simply" gives it justice, but rather the extraordinary way they excel at creating a story, or developing a theme, or placing you in another world.

The latest theme park at Disney World is Disney's Animal Kingdom and boy have they ever excelled in creating another world.  Attention to detail is at every turn of the head.  Look up you see it, look at the pavement you see it, look to right, look to the left.  Close your eyes and you'll hear it.  Use your nose, you'll even smell it (not always pleasant at the Animal Kingdom).  Disney engages all of the senses!

Adjacent to Disney's Animal Kingdom is the impressive Animal Kingdom Lodge.  And just down the wooden staircase from the elaborate and awe inspiring lobby is Boma.  It's an African themed restaurant that adds another sense to the experience - the sense of taste.  It's a buffet.  It's a HUGE buffet.  It's an enormous buffet! Which, when you think about it, is kind of cool when you're trying to experience the many tastes of another culture. You can sample a little of a lot, and feast on what you find excellent.

First, let me say... it is Disney and there are kids.  So you know you're going to find chicken nuggets, pizza, burgers, fries, and macaroni and cheese available.  Parents with picky kids can still go and enjoy themselves.  For people like me who really don't like to branch out, there are some staples as well - Steak, Chicken, rice, a salad bar,  baked potatoes, etc.  But if you are really into the experience of trying some new tastes, grab your fork and get ready to experience some YUMMY flavors!

There is a wood-fire rotisserie and WOW, the chicken from this is incredible!  I also had some prime rib, and the chef even threw it on the wood-fire grill for some added taste.  Yes, I went back for more.  I have visited here several times and the steaks have always been the driving force behind my decision.  The flavors and the perfection of all the various steaks I have had here have been simply magical!  I would mention some specific dishes by name, but they were African names and I couldn't pronounce them much less spell them.  But on this particular night, I tried some sort of stewed spicy tomato and onion dish. Oh-my-word it was incredible.  Up to that point I thought my grandmother had the best stewed tomatoes.  Now I know that Boma has them!  There was also some coconut rice.  Yeah, it may not sound so good, but it was exceptional!  There was some sort of curry pasta with fresh vegetables and a mustard sauce which also made me go back for seconds.  The variety of it all is very overwhelming.  I can't imagine even being able to sample one of everything.  This buffet is HUGE!  It's my understanding they change up the menu daily so it really is fun to repeat visits to Boma - there is always something new to be tasted.

The kitchen is all open, so you can see the chefs preparing the dishes, the vegetables being cut and the freshness being created.  You can even see the pastry chefs creating the deserts.  That's right people, deserts created by chefs.  These aren't frozen key lime pies and boxed brownies with ice cream. You could easily go to Boma and just eat from the desert bar and I know you would think it was worth the price (around $35 for the buffet for adults).  And no, I have not done this.  Yet.

This desert bar is huge!!  And I know I counted at least 12 different deserts last week while I was there.  Each of the deserts are "mini" deserts, allowing you the mental freedom to take more than one or two or three for the tasting.  I'm not sure how many of these deserts are truly African, but when you have a really good Key Lime Tart, do you really care if that one desert isn't actually authentic??

If you're ever at Disney, definitely take the time to experience this place.  It's beautiful, the service is more than impressive, the scenery is inspiring and the food is truly delicious...and fun.  And where else can you eat in America and experience the flavors of Africa, see a giraffe and eat all of the miniature cheesecakes you want?

Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney World

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Goofy Good Time

I've never professed to know a whole lot about too many things.  I think I have good intelligence, I think I have a good education, I believe I make wise choices for the most part, and I find myself always wanting to know more - at least on subjects I'm interested in.  I'm curious by nature and do like to discover new experiences. 

One of the things I do pride myself on is the vast amount of Disney knowledge I have accumulated over the years....especially for one who is not employed by Disney.  I can thank my brother Justin for this.  He worked for Disney for many years and answered all of my curiosity questions and gave me opportunities to visit Disney World (for free) more than any person could ever dream.  People come to me for help in planning their Disney trips, and I love to make suggestions about all things Disney.  I love Disney World. Matter of fact, I am at Disney as I type this.

One of the things I have done for the past five or six trips in order to keep things new and magical is to make sure I do something I've never done before during each stay.  This trip I've even beefed that up a little and I am trying something new every single day.  It's still so easy to find new things to do!  For the particular experience that I'm writing about, I decided to eat at the steakhouse at the Contemporary Resort that has been mentioned to me several times.  It fit with the theme of my blog, it was a steakhouse & I love steak and it was something sounded like a perfect combination to me!

I had spent the early part of the day with my lazy butt on the lazy river (and a couple of water slides) at Typhoon Lagoon and then the mid afternoon and early evening at Magic Kingdom.  This steakhouse was at the Contemporary and I had plans to go to EPCOT for IllumiNations that evening.  So a quick Monorail ride over to the Contemporary had me walking up to the podium to ask for a table. 

As a side note, I'd like to say this is typically not a wise thing to just show up without reservations.  The Disney restaurants book up early and my suggestion is to always book your reservations well in advance.  But I've found with a party of one and a "pretty please" and kind smile the cast members will typically try to accommodate.  ...but there I was at the podium and was told it would be about an hour and a half wait.  I pondered the wait for a second and thought "Let's do it!"  So I grabbed my buzzer and went and visited the gift shop and then the lounge. 

Time actually went by pretty fast, but it was every bit of an hour and a half.  I caught up on some phone calls, watched the Monorail zip through the concourse, got to watch the sunset and the full moon rise over Bay Lake all the while thinking about the exceptional steak I was about to sink my teeth into.  Always observant of my surroundings, I noticed that there were a lot of kids at this steakhouse...but it is Disney World.  This place didn't have the same class and dignity as Le Cellier over at EPCOT in Canada or as the Yachtsman's Steakhouse at the Yacht and Beach Club.  But it is Disney and they theme things well, and it certainly looked like something one would find at the Contemporary Resort.  I was just getting hungrier by the minute.  I had steak on my mind.

My Buzzer finally lights up!!  So I go to the podium, turn it in and they take me for the grand tour.  I opted out of the "family picture" they were giving most families and the hostess showed me the buffet and then the dessert buffet.  Hmmmmm....something just doesn't seem right.  A buffet at a steakhouse?  So I asked the hostess if this was the steakhouse.  She chuckled and said "we have some roast beef on the buffet, but the steakhouse is on the 15th floor."  Instead of the Concourse Steakhouse....I got Chef Mickey's (which is actually located on the concourse right next to the monorail track.) 

What is "Chef Mickey's" I asked.  It's a Character Dining experience.  I had waited an hour and a half for a Character Dining Experience???  Not a steakhouse???  It was a new I just went with it! 

I met MICKEY MOUSE!!!  And Donald!  And Minnie!  And Goofy!!  They all stopped by my table for a visit!  I totally loved it!  I felt like an idiot, and a bit Goofy sitting in a Character Dinner...but I just went with it and enjoyed the moment.  If you pay for it, you may as well enjoy it!  It was sheer joy to see the kids around me look at the Characters with such Joy and excitement.  It was truly sweet.   I even got to see some teens totally loose it when they saw Minnie.  Teen Boys...not faking it...they were loving seeing the Characters.  Disney truly gives people the freedom to be a kid again.

The food was good.  Very good.  The Carved Roast Beef was seasoned to perfection and the ham was Christmas Day worthy ham.  They had some stir fry veggies and some green beans....and a salad bar.....and some Turkey Pot Pie.  If it's going to have Mickey's name attached to it at Disney World, you know it's going to be better than just good!  It may have actually been the healthiest meal I had eaten while here.... until the dessert. 

They have a buffet full of all of these miniature cheesecakes and key lime pies and Chocolate Mousse Mickey's and brownies that all tasted heavenly.  Disney knows how to do food, and especially sweets!  Oh yeah, did I mention a build your own Sundae bar??  Genius!!  This wasn't a Golden Corral buffet - this was incredibly good food with an incredibly fun atmosphere.  Did I mention I met Mickey Mouse??

If you are going to Disney and you have kids (or don't have kids) make it to one of the Character Dining Experiences.  And if you want fine dining and a great steak, get the name of the restaurant correct....

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trip Down Memory Lane

In my younger days as a sales rep for WT Cox Subscriptions I got to travel through all of the diverse back roads of Mississippi.  There were two exceptionally enjoyable things about traveling through Mississippi that I fondly remember - the beautiful Antebellum Mansions which were found in the poorest of counties, and, of course, the food found in all of those little towns.  Many nights were spent in shady hotels wondering if my car would still be there in the morning.  I can't even imagine the number of miles I put on my cars traveling south on I-55 between Memphis and through Jackson on down to New Orleans. I even met my favorite author, John Grisham, on one of my trips down south.  Most sales reps would not like being a sales representative in the five poorest States in the country - to me, I enjoyed the challenge and the culture I experienced.

This past Tuesday night I was introduced to a restaurant in Franklin that brought back a lot  memories from those days, 55 South.  Joe needed some help picking up a rental car for his Spring Break trip to the beach, and asked if I could drive him and then go to dinner.  First of all, Joe is the kind of friend everyone needs - he shoots straight with you.  He's fun.  He has a heart of gold and a heart as big as Texas. When he asks you how you're doing, you may as well give him an honest answer because he's going to ask again "How are you really doing?"  I could write and write and write about the goodness of Joe, and could never give him justice.  I call him a friend, because he is one. 

Joe asked if I had ever eaten at 55 South.  I told him had I not only never eaten there, I had never even heard of it.  That within itself is pretty amazing in my book.  But if Joe said it was good, I was going to trust him, so we headed to downtown Franklin, parked in the free parking garage on 4th (I love Franklin for providing free parking!) and headed into 55 South.  55 South is just down from Puckett's Grocery and connected to Sol on 4th Avenue.  I liked it as soon as I walked in.

Entering 55 South was a little confusing for me.  It was obviously a nice place.   Not fancy, not really upscale, yet kind of upscale, but definitely a place with class.  But old wooden signage and scrappy decorations felt natural and not contrived as they often do. Joe told me that "55 South" is named for the Interstate area that runs from Memphis to New Orleans, I-55.  Then it all made sense...  It looked real. It felt authentic.  It certainly smelled authentic.  I automatically assumed the food was going to be good because the decor automatically took me back to some of those dives and BBQ joints I had eaten at in Southern Mississippi.

Joe ordered some Oyster's on the half shell.  I'm not one for seafood at all, and seriously don't know how anyone can eat something that looks so slimy as oysters...but Joe said they were good.  I trusted him, but wanted no part of it!  It took me a while to decide what I wanted to order, there were so many things to choose from.  I looked at the Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, I looked at the Red Beans and Rice, and I looked at the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.  I wanted to order all three!  Then when the server was sharing his favorites, he mentioned some BBQ Spaghetti that immediately caused me to plan another visit to this place.  The server suggested I order the "Three In One" which gave me Red Beans and Rice, Jambalaya and Gumbo.  I got a taste of all three, and all three were exceptional!  Each one seemed as authentic as if I were sitting in New Orleans enjoying the meal on Bourbon Street. 

The flavors were rich, the portions were plenty and the plates being carried by me again made it clear I would be back for another visit.  How could I have never visited this gem so close to my house?  How could I have never even heard of it??  I knew this place needed to be mentioned in my blog.  The experience was simply too good not to share.

I love trying new places, and I know I'll be back at 55 South in the near future.  I loved the atmosphere, the menu offered a good array of choices, and the service was friendly and professional.  Getting to spend some time with Joe was truly a blessing...and getting to take a trip down memory lane to my old Mississippi days was pretty sweet too.  You got to love a place where good food, good friends and happy memories all melt together.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sweet as Honey!

For a work-at-home person who travels a lot, I do find myself frequenting certain restaurants and multi-tasking.  For me this "multi-tasking" means working while eating...or eating while working?  It serves a lot of purposes;  It gets me out of sitting alone in a hotel or out of my home office, it gives me a fresh environment to think and be creative, it keeps me from going stir crazy from not being around people and in some cases, it even provides me with some chips and salsa.

Sopapilla's is one of the local places I frequent for such an occasion.  Panera Bread and Starbucks are obviously the standard choice for most people looking for an "on-the-road office."  I like things a little more original.   Sopapilla's is close to my house, and is located at the corner of Franklin Road and Moores Lane.  I absolutely love everything I have ever ordered from the menu.  Seriously, it's ALL been incredibly good to me. And as far as the chips and salsa goes, they have the best combination I've tasted in Nashville.

Sopapilla's shares with Franklin a taste of New Mexico - I'm assuming this is the State of New Mexico?  All I know is the freshness and detail found on each plate is something special.  From the moment you walk in the door and are greeted, you know it's going to be a place you'll visit again.  For an establishment of its size, there appears to be an abundance of servers.  This results in excellent service.

With the recent opening of a new bar area, patrons are able to choose from three seating areas - the bar area (tables, high tops, and the bar), the dining area and the large patio (seasonal).  The decor is minimal but very trendy.  As soon as you walk in, you know you are in a nice place.

As I mentioned, the chips and salsa are excellent, and truly the best combination I've found in Nashville or Franklin.  I like spicy, and their salsa is typically fairly spicy - so it hits a home run with me!  The Stuffed Sopapilla, Pollo Burrito, and Slow Roasted Chicken Quesadilla are my favorites.  The shredded chicken and beef are both full of flavor and very tender.  Most dishes are garnished with sour cream and pico, which screams fresh and homemade.  The guacamole is tasty, but seems to be a bit over priced to me - but I don't check the price of avocados too often, so who knows?   I'll over look the price of guacamole when their salsa is as incredible as it is - who needs it anyway!

But this part is as sweet as honey:  The name of the establishment is for the dessert that comes complimentary with each meal, a warm and fluffy Sopapilla.  Honey sits on each table, allowing you to fill your own Sopapilla with your own honey - so save room for this desert. You will begin with wonderful chips and salsa, and will walk out with the sweet taste of honey and their delicious Sopapilla.  The dessert is oh-so-yummy!

I've eaten at Sopapilla's with a couple of large groups before, and they handle the crowd well.  It's also a good place to go for good conversation.  It's not too loud and the booths offer privacy and seclusion.  And as far as people like me who go in and camp out for a while, they have not complained and keep refilling my water, chips and salsa...  Just be sure to tip your server well when you camp out for a couple of hours!

As I mentioned, I try to get out of the home office to break the monotony and rev up some creativity.  For some odd reason I've come up with and have planned three incredibly successful marketing campaigns which originated there.  Maybe all that honey just gives my creativity a buzz?

1109 Davenport Blvd
Franklin TN

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friends, Food, Full Belly

Cool Springs has so many eateries that a person could go 1 1/2 years eating lunch at different places each day and never repeat restaurants, or so I've read.  I've not counted, but I can see this as being true.  So why do I frequently go to, of all places, Smyrna to eat?  Jim 'N Nicks.

Several weeks back I met Ashley and Mckenzie at Jim 'N Nick's over in Smyrna on a Friday night.  Lucky me got stuck in rush hour traffic, but once I finally got there it was oh-so-worth-the-wait.  My water with lemon and Jim 'N Nick's hot cheese biscuits were waiting for me when I arrived.  They call them biscuits, but they are more like muffins...but that's just getting into semantics - you could put on five pounds and stuff yourself silly just from the cheese biscuits alone.

First of all, Ashley and Mckenzie are pretty spectacular people and make everything crazy fun, so the company was worth the drive and completely enjoyable.  I got to hear all of the latest on guys, Brentwood drama, competition cheer, college decisions and shared the excitement about Summer 2011!  And honestly, I loved every second of every topic!  Matter of fact, much of what I enjoy about Jim 'N Nick's has always been about the people I see while I'm there.

One of my favorite people, Casey, was a server there last summer - so I went to Jim 'N Nicks and got to see her about once a week.  She's the best server I've ever had anywhere - it's the way it is at Jim 'N Nick's.  So it would not appear I was stalking her at work, I secretly went to the Jim 'N Nicks on Charlotte Pike about once a week, too.  Yes, that's almost twice a week for me at this place!  And during that time, I tried almost all of the menu.  I'm telling you, it's exceptional food!

Ward, who is an incredible friend and just happens to be Casey's uncle, works at Jim 'N Nick's in Smyrna, too.  He always makes an effort to come over to say hello and chat for a while (and gets me to try new items).  It's just good to catch up with him when we have the opportunity.  Carmen and Reagan (his family) are often in there, so I get to see them too.  Shouldn't our meals be with friends and family?  Jim 'n Nicks creates the perfect atmosphere for this!

Ashley and Mckenzie ordered the Southern Fried Chicken Tenders.  I'm not big on chicken fingers because they are typically no big deal anywhere you go - just a staple item on any menu.  Here, they will impress, surprise and definitely fill you up.  I know I've ordered them at least three times at Jim 'N Nicks.  And with all of the other choices I love on their menu, that says a lot!

On this particular night, I ordered the Slow Smoked BBQ Chicken.  They offer it either on the bone or off the bone - my carnivorlistic side prefers it on the bone so I can get down-and-dirty-sauce-on-the-face happy.  Their original sauce is a perfect blend of spices, and their spicy sauce is indeed SPICY!  It's more than just hot, it's very tasty, and it's always fun to see how fast it makes the sweat bead up on my bald spot.

I always try to order their vegetable of the day when I can.  I'm not sure why they're not on the menu every day because their daily specials are simply spectacular and some of their best offerings.  Their "Mac The Cheese" and coleslaw and other trimmings are very yummy.  I have gotten to the point that I always look for the special on the chalkboard as I walk in the door.  I arrive craving one thing, and end up ordering something totally different when I see the specials.

Some of my favorite menu items have been the taco's (yes, this is a BBQ joint with exceptional tacos), the smoked pork hotlinks, the smoked Turkey (the best I've ever had),  the spare ribs and the smoked chicken .  Ward keeps telling me I need to try the Prime Rib, but I've yet to order it.  He gave me a slice one time after I had eaten and I kind of wanted to order some to-go...

But all of that was just leading up to my absolute favorite at Jim 'N Nicks.  Their pies.  No offense to the grandmothers of the world, but there is not a grandmother's homemade pie that I've found that can beat ANY of the made from scratch pies at Jim 'N Nick's.  Chocolate, Banana Cream, Lemon Ice Box, Pecan...yes, I've had them all and would drive to Smyrna just for a slice of pie.  Oh wait, I have done that....

As I was about to pay the check, I saw one of my college friends (and the sister to my college roommate) sitting at the table next to me.  It just added to the joy of the night.  Good times can be found at Jim 'N Nick's! 

Jim 'N Nick's
Smyrna, TN

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

a little sizzle in my life

This week I find myself in Houston, Texas.  It's the beginning of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  Like everything else in Texas, it's BIG - it's full of concerts, entertainment, a carnival, you name it and it seems to be a part of this almost month-long event.  It's all the buzz around town.  But that's not what I'm here for... but I do wish I were here to enjoy some of the fun!

What I have gotten to enjoy is some of the Mexican flavor of South Texas!  If you know me, you know I love Mexican food. I mean, it's hard to go wrong with beef, cheese, chips and salsa in any State...but in Texas, oh the joy of the local flavor!   Last night I ate at a little Mexican dive called  Tecate.  The guy who took us actually has a Margarita there named after him. The restaurant was good, but the one I want to focus on is a regional chain gone somewhat national, Pappasito's Cantina.

My first experience at Pappasito's Cantina was in Dallas probably ten years ago.  It made an impression then, and made one again this week. From the time I first stepped off of my Southwest flight and entered the gate area, I was reminded that "Pappa" has claimed a stake in the Texas food market.  I believe I saw four different Pappa restaurants before I made it to baggage claim.  I knew then and there that I would find a Pappasito's Cantina for dinner.  And I did!

I arrive during Happy Hour, which means there were lots of people in the bar area enjoying one of the things Pappasito's is known for - their margarita.  I am able to be seated immediately and instantly homemade chips and warm salsa were placed in front of me.  Then they brought some sort of creamy green sauce that tickled my tongue!  It was great!  After about three chips a plate of sizzling hot fajitas came by my table.  I instantly knew what I was ordering!!

 I ordered a combo of beef and chicken with an add-on of Smoked Jalapeno Sausage.  While the chicken was impressive, the beef and sausage were simply outstanding.  The Sausage was some of the most flavorful and best tasting sausage I have ever eaten.  It came with a bowl of bar b que sauce which found it's way to my shirt to create a nice set of stains.  But the sauce that actually made it to my mouth was oh-my-goodness good!

The fajitas were more than enough - the single size could probably feed two people.  The steak and chicken came over a bed of sizzling onions and lime on the side.  It came with guacamole, salsa, cheese, rice and beans.  This big boy could only eat about half of what they brought me - though I did eat all of the 8 ounces of sausage and all of the steak.

This place was fun!!  It was buzzing with laughter in a really cool Southwestern environment.  The service was impressive and I left stuffed.  I know this is a regional chain with a few other Pappa establishments throughout the country.  But for those outside of Texas, please time the time to make this a stop for you if you're ever in Texas.

The only disappointment - when reading their menu I discovered that "Pappa" was Greek.  It just seems like he should of hailed from Mexico.