Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hotel Review: Country Inns & Suites, Knoxville East

My Rating: 4 Stars
A simply quiet, comfortable hotel and a reasonable room rate. When it's a one-night stop along the way, it's hard to beat the combination. With a clean indoor swimming pool, maybe too clean as that much chlorine does burn a bit and a simple but free breakfast it's a good choice. The location is close to a few food choices, including Puleo's Grille I recently mentioned and near I-40.
Pros: Quiet, reasonable price and good sized rooms. Indoor pool and whirlpool are good for relaxing.
Cons: The single worst blow dryer I've ever used. Whoever cleans the pool is the person I want cleaning it, It might be clean but that much chlorine can't be healthy either.

Lunch at the Sandwich House in Greeneville, Tennessee

Sandwich House in Greeneville, Tennessee

My rating: 3 Stars

Finally a place that knows how to properly cook tater tots! Crispy & brown outside and potato goodness inside. It's nothing like the blonde mush passed off as tots by places like Sonic. Or the dry potato shells that once had potential.
The burgers and turkey sandwich were good diner style fare, and watching the patrons it's clear they do a healthy take out & drive through business. Located in 6reeneville, Tennessee less than a mile from hwy 11E, its a nice break from the chains.

Pros: varied menu, something for everyone. Great tots.
Cons: mostly fried foods, not 100 percent homeade. Traffic on the bypass in Greeneville is filled with suicidal crazies. Drive careful!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Review: Puleo's Grille in Knoxville

Listed as a "best of the best" local restaurant, Puleo's Grille lived up to its reputation, providing this tired traveler with a very good dinner. The Chicken and Things dish featuring grilled chicken breast topped with black forest ham and fontina cheese was good but more than I could eat. The chicken tortilla soup was good, but had a bit lengthy list of ingredients. The spaghetti was good, the sauce had a very strong tomato flavor. Finishing off with the Chocolate Lasagna was a great finish.

Service was exceptional, and the atmosphere relaxed.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Climbing a Mountain - Part Three

The restaurant has one great thing going for it: the view. With a huge fireplace adding warmth to the room even when not filled with burning wood, and opposite that a wall of windows all in a rustic setting, it's charming but with an upscale feel. Enough about the atmosphere, let's get to the good stuff, the food.

We went for dinner on Friday night, and choices are varied but a somewhat limited selection. Of all the meals at the table, we all agreed the meal was good but not exceptional. I had the Bleu Bliss Chicken (at right), which was a chicken breast filled with blue cheese and apricots with a sauce. I sampled what others at the table had, and the shrimp and scallops were good but a bit small for the price, the ribs were very mild but good. Desert however was fantastic. The white chocolate creme brulee was in the top five creme brulee dishes I've had anywhere. The red velvet cake and chocolate cake both were good as well. Then there's Blueberry Bread Pudding (at left, what's left). Wow. It was absolutely delicious. I'm not a huge bread pudding fan, but this was something as they say "to write home about." Or in my case make a note in my blog. As evidenced by the picture, I finally put down my fork long enough for a photo. It meant giving up a bit to my mom since we were sharing the dish, but sometimes I have to sacrifice for the blog.

A word about breakfast at the lodge... don't try it. Order the blueberry bread pudding the night before, refrigerate and heat it up instead. You'll be far better pleased.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Climbing a Mountain - Part Two

How I can possibly go on about the view and then not show a picture is absurd even to me. Let's see if I can't remedy that mistake...

I think the picture speaks for itself. This was taken from the deck off the cabin.

You can click this image or the one below for a bigger version of the photo.

Climbing a Mountain

Rather than fight the weekend holiday traffic over Memorial Day, I decided to go to Mount Magazine with my husband and parents last weekend. We had planned a weekend last year but didn't get to go. Now, after over a year of waiting and wanting to go there, was it worth it? It was well worth the wait and the drive, but I'll let a few pictures demonstrate that as well.

The road leading to the park is Highway 309. It's not recommended that trucks with long trailers (like boats, large RV's, etc) attempt the climb as the road is somewhat crooked and steep. For a sports car driver or a motorcyclist, it's right up there among the best places to visit. There are a couple of overlook stops along the way, but they pale in comparison to what is available at the Lodge.

The Lodge at Mount Magazine is simply impressive. In terms of Value for the Dollar, I've mentioned before that Kentucky's State Park system was exceptional. However, this has a different good value for the cost. It's more what I'd expect from a higher quality resort than a State Park. The Lodge itself contains sixty guest rooms, most with balconies and a spectacular view. It also holds the indoor pool, several areas to walk or relax and enjoy the surroundings, a gift shop and a restaurant with one of the best views anywhere. Staying at the lodge even means room service! This, from a state park?

My abode for the weekend was a two bedroom, two bath cabin located not far from the lodge. The living room was spacious with leather sofas and a large fireplace. A full kitchen with all the necessities including full-sized appliances would make this a great space for a more extended vacation. Each of the bedrooms had a king sized bed that would take quite the determined three year old lots of scheming to find a way to scale the side and sneak in at 4 am. It required me to have a little forethought about it anyway. The view from the cabin was equally spectacular to what I found at the Lodge, except here there's privacy. Windows are abundant in the right places, but the best view is from the deck across the side and back of the cabin. There's a surprise on the deck too, a 4-person hot tub that is ready to go.

More details coming soon...

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Wrap up some Flavor

After deciding that the whole process of going to the grocery store, buying the needed items, returning home and finally firing up the grill to cook might take a bit longer than our impatient stomachs would allow, my husband and I decided tonight to try BA Burrito. It's a new local restaurant that features a create-your-own burrito. The burritos start with a huge tortilla they warm in a press. Then it's filled with with rice or beans, a choice of meat which is then topped with garnishments including peppers, salsa, lettuce, cheese and the like. It's wrapped up and served with a side of fresh tortilla chips and their queso. It was exceptionally good and while very flavorful, it's only as spicy-hot as the ingredients inside. It's refreshing to find a restaurant with such vivid flavor, not the same bland food-service preparations with a little dash of salt & pepper in an attempt to call it "home-made."
While the decor and atmosphere is contemporary and quite pleasant, it's definitely a small local restaurant that's not backed by the cities most wealthy financiers. I certainly will give them a strong two thumbs up and am hopeful the concept is a success. If my first visit was any indication of their food flavor and quality, I am optimistic I'll be returning to find a thriving restaurant.

I've not included a link to this restaurant because I could not located their website, if they have one. You can get a map compliments of Google Maps here. There was an article about them in a local newspaper but the newspaper website's archive is pathetic. BA Burrito is a new small operation and I think they're a bit busying wrapping up burritos to be worried with a website. I think this case, I'll let that slide for now.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Little Rock Restaurant Reviews

Monday I was in Little Rock, Arkansas and had the opportunity to try a couple of new restaurants.

I had heard good reviews of US Pizza Company in the past and was not disappointed. The house salad dressing is very good; the waiter described it as a cross between Ranch and Creamy Italian. His description was accurate, and it had a bit of a pepper kick. The pizza reminds me of what I get at my local favorite, Upper Crust Pizza Co. The cinnamon sticks for desert were well worth saving some room. Their breadsticks are cut lengthwise and brushed butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar; since that isn't enough, they top it all with warm vanilla icing. It's sugar overload, but in such a good way all is forgiven. The restaurant location we visited at the Heights was a converted building of some sort, but the conversion gave the place a bit of added character. It was clearly a popular spot with locals, as it was quite busy even past the noontime hour.

For dinner, we went to Capers on a recent recommendation from friends. I have since thanked them for such a good find! Everything from start to finish was excellent. We started with the BBQ Shrimp appetizer, which arrived with fresh shrimp served atop yellow pepper grits all with a Cajun cream sauce. I recommend the chicken vegetable soup, but the soup selections do vary daily. For entrees, we both opted for the Filet Mignon, served on a pool of Crawfish Cream Sauce. The beef is a good quality aged Angus and the filets are hand cut. I've had steak graded prime that was of lesser quality than these. My complements to the chef too for cooking them exactly as ordered, somewhat of a rarity these days. The cranberry rice I ordered with it was good but sweeter than I would have paired with the steak; my husband's blue cheese mashed potatoes made for a better combination of savory tastes. Desert choices were plentiful, but the chocolate layer cake was one of the best I've ever had. Served warm, it is sweet without being overpowering making it easy to eat the whole slice!

Both of these are well worth visiting, and Capers would make an excellent choice for a quiet dinner for two or a great gathering spot for a group.