Hello From The Road: Chef Larry Checks In – Welcome To The South!


From Santa Fe, we started our journey to Arkansas. It was cloudy and cool, perfect for driving and just enough wind to keep me on my toes. We decided to visit the historic town of Van Buren. This small town has done an amazing job of restoring it’s 100 – 150 year old buildings. The folks in the town were delightful and we felt right at home, but we had to continue towards Little Rock. As we drove into town, one can’t help but notice more growth and more development. This town has also done an incredible job of rebuilding their old town, using the Arkansas River as the focal point. There are blocks of restaurants, an open air theater and of course, the Clinton Library (no political commentary to follow). There’s an amazing bike path that runs on both sides of the river, so we made our plans to rent bikes in the morning. For our first meal in Little Rock, we choose the Flying Fish, a really fun and lively place. I ordered the Grilled Grouper Po Boy with Hush Puppies and a local ale and Joan went for the Fresh Trout. The Flying Fish appeared to be a local hangout, and why not, as it had great food, good prices and great local brews with very reasonable prices!

The next morning, we were up early for our much needed bike ride along the river. When we returned the bikes, we discussed food favorites with the owner. Taking his suggestion, we went to Sims BBQ in an older part of town. Although it’s not in the best part of town, it’s known as the BBQ joint of Arkansas. The food was amazing and the people there were really welcoming. Not only was the pork outstanding, but they made the best turnip greens. The Sims family has operated the place since 1937.

With 2100 miles down and few days to relax, it was time to move on to Tennessee. As we approached Memphis, traffic was picking up, and we knew it would be a much more populated area. It had been about 1700 miles since we had much company on the road, other than our friend, the wind. We pulled into Memphis and decided we would need to come back, as it was bigger than we thought and appeared to have a culture that demands more than a two-hour visit, so we decided to move on to Nashville. Just as we got into town and were trying to figure out which freeway to take, there was a gigantic cloudburst! I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me…it’s like the wipers weren’t even moving. There was a short break in the rain, I got my bearings and noticed I had slowed down to 30 mph. After checking in to our room we decided to drive through Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville, to look for an interesting place to eat. We found Soy Bistro, a Korean restaurant. I enjoyed the traditional fried rice with chicken and Joan had the orange salad with chicken. The presentation as well as the flavors were out of this world and the sweet potato dumplings were amazing. The owner stopped by the table, said hello and explained that the recipes are his wife’s originals. She is the chef and their son is the gentleman who greeted us at the front door. He then decided to bring sample of one of their family favorites: The bibimbap, a classic Korean dish of rice, sautéed vegetables and grilled steak. All these dishes with their incredible sauces would have paired so well with a Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc but alas, I had already finished what I brought along for the trip. I could go on about this place, but let me suggest, if you are ever in the Nashville area, do stop by the Soy Bistro in Brentwood. As a chef and recipe writer, it is so much fun to talk to chefs across the country and see what’s happening outside the TV world of celebrity chefs! Chefs of all nationalities are so nice and are excited to share their stories, but it does help to mention that I’m a chef from Napa Valley!

In the morning, we departed for Franklin, a historic Civil War town. We started with breakfast at Merridee’s then enjoyed a tour of the Carter House with a history lesson on the battle fought there. Sadly, 10,000 men lost their lives in a 12-hour battle. After a stop at an old mill turned shopping center, we relaxed back at the hotel with our Soy Bistro left overs and the Warriors playoff game. The next morning, we had to stop at Pancake Pantry, a Nashville tradition of waiting in line for a great breakfast. After wandering through old town and a tour of the Opry House, we headed to the Blue Bird Café’s early show, a place to see and hear songwriters. Finally, we enjoyed dinner at the Mellow Mushroom for a great mushroom pizza and a spinach salad (there’s also a Mellow Mushroom in Greenville). In the morning, we’d begin the last leg of our trip, destination is finally Greenville!