My mom had spoken of Blackberry Farm for a long time. It is only a little over an hour away from my hometown, but I had never been. I had only seen pictures in Bon Appetit and travel magazines, and of course the little feature on the PBS series, Mind of a Chef. Apparently I have distant relatives that own the place, so she really wanted to see the place she had heard about for many years. When my cousins who were also curious about this spot came in from Florida, she took it as a good opportunity for them to finally go to Blackberry . After catching wind of this plan, I quickly let her know of my interest in the resort due to my foodie obsession and quickly let her know about the 2014 James Beard Award for the wine program. They were able to add me to the reservation and I made plans for my husband and I to take the long drive to Tennessee.
The service and the wine program are what impressed me most at Blackberry. They have won James Beard Awards for both of these elements and rightly so as they are well-deserved. From the moment you enter the grounds, you are well-taken care of.
My parents and cousins spent the morning in the mountains while my husband and I caught up with people in my hometown that day since it had been over three years since I last visited. We decided to meet up early at the resort to see the place and partake in their cocktail hour.
When you pull in, they ask for your name and then you really do not have to worry about or do anything. The staff takes it all from there. We parked our car in front of the main building. My family was already there, and my dad had found himself a new toy as he was driving around in a golf cart the staff had given him to explore the large property.
Then we headed to the building that has a porch and the famous view of the mountains that I had seen in magazines. It really is a picture perfect scene of the East Tennessee countryside and the Great Smoky Mountains. I grew up in this area, but when you see it every day, you don’t appreciate the beauty that is there. You take it for granted. After living in Philly for five and a half years, I find this scene relaxing and calming. At Blackberry, you have the beauty of the countryside, but the luxuries of the city.
We took pictures gazing out at the porch at the mountains and just spent some time taking the scenery in. Then cocktail hour soon began just inside the house with the large porch. There is a small bar where you can grab a cocktail to enjoy with this view outside or spent time inside the cozy lounge around the fireplace. The genius part of this is that everything is under the reserved name even if you are not staying the night at the resort, and they remember your name, so you don’t even need to say anything. You never have to pull out your wallet until you leave. Granted, this can be dangerous as well because it doesn’t feel painful to spend that cash until the damage is already done. I had the signature cocktail which is the Blackberry Bramble. It’s like their take a on a cosmopolitan, but made with fresh blackberries from the farm. It was quite refreshing.
Then we stepped outside, and the staff was waiting for us with a black SUV. They drove us over to The Barn, which is the dining venue. We had a nice chat with the driver on the way over.
The Barn is what it sounds like, a very large barn that has been converted into a restaurant. It is rustic and luxurious at the same time with the high vaulted ceiling with large chandeliers and dim lighting. There were seven of us, and we were seated at a large round table by the fireplace.
Your options for dinner include a 4 course menu with 3-4 choices for each of these three courses. This is around $120 a person. A chef’s tasting menu is available. However, as with many places, everyone at the table has to participate or it is not possible. There is an optional wine pairing with that as well. It was our first visit here, and everyone went with the 4 course menu.
I inquired about a wine pairing for this option and the server said it was possible and he would send the sommelier over. The head sommelier, Andy Chabot didn’t seem to be there that night, but the gentleman they sent over was amazing. He first asked if I was more interested in doing a traditional pairing or something more off the wall. I liked that I was given that option, so of course I chose something less traditional and more interesting. I don’t remember exactly, but I recall it was around $100 more to add the wine pairing to this 3 course menu. Whatever it was, it was completely worth it, because it was the best part of the evening. Of course my husband and I had different wines because we opted for different choices on the menu.
The menu is seasonal and they get ingredients from their farm, so the courses I had will probably not be available when you dine here, but just to give you an idea of the food that was offered, here is what I had:
Bread – Two types were offered, a seeded roll and a french loaf. Both were good, but I preferred the seeded roll. Fresh butter and an excellent mild and creamy sheep’s milk herb cheese were served with it.
Amuse Bouche– Smoked Quail Leg with White Barbecue Sauce – This was probably a tie for my favorite amuse bouche ever given. It was the smokiest thing I’ve ever eaten, and the meat was so tender it just fell off the bone. I would have been happy with just more of these.
Cold Appetizer Course– Fresh Pea Salad with Farm Cheese – This was my favorite course if you don’t include the amuse bouche. It was fresh, crispy, and the cheese was packed with flavor. It was beautifully presented with red radishes around it and some flowers on top. This dish screamed spring and freshness. This was paired with a French Wine, a 2002 Cour-Cheverny from Domaine des Huards. It was very fresh and light and completed the salad nicely.
Hot Appetizer Course – Shrimp and Grits -This was an upscale version of a traditional southern dish. It was very well-executed and had a lot of flavor and the creamy texture was perfect. Most people at the table ordered this dish and were very pleased. It was paired with a 2002 Pinot Grigio from the Alsace region. It had a little sweetness which worked with with the spices in the grits.
Main Course – Poussin – which was a disappointment compared to the quail. It was a little smokey, but not nearly as much. It was served with farro and asparagus. Good, but not earth shattering like the quail leg. I thought the sides were a little salty. My husband had some type of red meat. He had no complaints.
Dessert – Olive Oil Ice Cream – This was boring in terms of both taste and presentation. It looked like it was made in ice cube trays and tasted a little frost bitten on the outside. There was no olive oil flavor, it just tasted like vanilla. The garnish was powdered sugar. I was hoping for something like the olive oil gelato I get at Pizzeria Stella in Philly, but this was no where anywhere near as good and creamy and olive oily as that. I will say that other people’s desserts looked good. Maybe I just ordered wrong.
The wine pairing only covered the savory courses. I ordered dessert wine for my dessert course though, so dessert was not a total fail. I don’t remember what it was other than madeira because I didn’t get a picture of the bottle, but I remember being impressed with it, unlike the actual dessert. Also, the free little desert that was brought to celebrate one of my cousins birthdays was lovely. If only that could have been the main dessert!
When it was time to go, our cars were all warmed up and outside waiting for us as the valet had already brought them around. Again, the service was truly excellent. The wine complemented the food extremely well and was on par and possibly even better than some wine pairing we have had at some Michelin-Starred restaurants.
Blackberry Farm is truly a beautiful, luxurious place that utilities the best things about East Tennessee where I grew up — the mountains, fresh produce, and southern hospitality. Of course this luxury comes at a cost. For my parents and my husband and I, the damages were around $1,000. My folks had water, but the two of us had a wine pairing. The resort offers something that you don’t see so much of in this area. It is definitely not something you would get in the habit of doing. I do think it is the best option in the area for a special occasion though and was worth the splurge. I’d certainly be happy to return.