Thrift: May Finds in Nashville & the Trap of Sales

Oxxford sc - May14My family had to make a quick trip to Alabama over the weekend, and we took the opportunity to hit a couple of favorite thrift stores on the north and south ends of Nashville along the way. By happenstance we stopped on 50% off day.

Sometimes you hit the motherlode, a donor has dropped off a large number of items, shirts, ties, or sport coats. More often, however, you will find a select item or two. These build up over time.

Thrift buying, especially when items are on markdown even from thrift prices, can be fraught with danger. There is always the temptation to grab anything and everything that looks interesting. Cheap prices means you start comprising on quality and condition. Don’t fall for the trap. While mistakes are inevitable, it’s better to walk away with nothing than with item after item that will only frustrate and disappoint you.

Seersucker + Madras - May14

Finds included interesting books (reading copies), a DVD of a favorite movie, a cashmere Royal Stewart scarf (made in Scotland), some summer wear (seersucker trousers and a vintage madras shirt), and the big discovery: an Oxxford sport coat in near perfect shape. I carried around a few other things that I put back. I was torn at the time, but I don’t regret not buying them.

Scarf - May14

While the summer items are great finds this time of year, always look for off season items like scarves. Make sure you hold the scarf up to the light to see if the moths have found it. One scarf I put back when I saw the light through the bite holes. Remember always to look for the reason why an item is at thrift in the first place.

What are some of your recent thrift discoveries?

Books - May14

Review: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken of Nashville

Hattie B line

Expecting we would need plenty of energy for the night’s Nickel Creek and Secret Sister performances, dinner in Nashville was a high priority. We wanted somewhere local. I suggested hot chicken to my visiting friends from Kansas City. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken was (relatively) close to the Ryman, so off we went.

Hattie B’s rates well on the food sites, and I was eager to compare it to my earlier brush with Nashville’s hot chicken, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish. Hattie B’s is a much more respectable place than either Prince’s, which I had to drive around a ‘Road Closed’ sign to access, or Bolton’s, in a painted cinderblock shack. Hattie B’s is in the same building as a GiGi’s cupcake shop.

Hattie B menu Hattie B order

The line to order was out the door, which I took as a positive sign. While I had gone full-on hot at Bolton’s, I knew I had the rest of this evening to spend at the Ryman, so I opted to notch the heat back a little at Hattie B’s. There are five levels of heat at Hattie B’s, starting with no heat with “Southern.” I stepped past Mild/Medium up to “Hot!”for my small white meat order. It was the right choice.

The heat doesn’t register at first, but then it sinks in. As I discovered at Bolton’s, the key to handling the hot breading is to get plenty of meat in the same bite. The taste was good, the heat level was about right. According to the young lady when I ordered “Hot” is supposed to be 3X hotter than Mild/Medium. I would be willing to go up another heat level on another visit.

Hattie B chicken

My hot chicken compatriots tried the “Southern” (no heat) and Mild/Medium. The Southern still has a spicy taste, and I was told the Mild/Medium had kick without distracting with too much heat.

Hattie B banana puddingI chose standard sides, beans and fries. Both were fine, no complaints about either. The banana pudding was creamy and tasty, which lived up to the billing. I wish the sweat tea was a bit sweeter. My eating companions tell me that I missed out by not having the pimento mac and cheese. I won’t make that mistake next time.

I admit it’s tough for me to compare Bolton’s with Hattie B’s. I chose a much higher heat level at Bolton’s. Location and facilities makes Hattie B’s more accessible and eater friendly. I think if you like hot chicken you would be happy with either one.

If you’re new to  Nashville hot chicken, Hattie B’s is good place to start. The chicken is tasty, the sides solid, and the banana pudding excellent.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
112 19th Ave South
Nashville, TN
Monday – Thursday: 10 am – 11 pm
Friday – Saturday: 11 am – 12 am | Sunday 11 am – 4 pm

Concert Review: The Secret Sisters at the Ryman

“If your music doesn’t make you feel bad then you’re not listening to country music.”
~ Laura Rogers, The Secret Sisters

Secret Sisters 1

As much as I enjoyed the Nickel Creek concert at the Ryman on Saturday (read my review), it wasn’t only the headliners I wanted to hear. The Secret Sisters were slated to open the show. I’ve wanted to see the harmony duo for a couple of years now. Its hard to imagine if you could put together a more solid opening and headlining act than the Secret Sisters and Nickel Creek.

Like Nickel Creek, the Secret Sisters have released a new album to coincide with the summer tour. Their show opening set were all songs from that just released album, “Put Your Needle Down.” It was a home run set–about 35 minutes of harmony goodness–and I have no doubt they made plenty of new fans.

Highlights performed off the new album included the power charged “Rattle My Bones,” Everly Brothers tinged “Black and Blue,” and girl-power anthem “The Pocket Knife.” The murder ballad “Iuka,” inspired by their grandparents’ young marriage in the Mississippi town, tells the tale of young lovers who meet a tragic end.

What would have made their warm-up perfect for me? An encore performance of “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder,” their tear-jerker written in response to the 2011 Alabama tornado outbreak. The song was featured on The Hunger Games soundtrack. Alas, the Secret Sisters did not return for an encore Saturday night.

Laura and Lydia Rogers grew up singing a cappella harmony in churches of Christ around their native–and legendary–Muscle Shoals. The obvious comparison is to the Everly Brothers, but a more apt comparison might be to Alabama’s Louvin Brothers. Certainly the Louvins’ album title “Tragic Songs of Life” coincides with the Rogers’ stated philosophy that country music ought to make you feel bad.

Picture courtesy of Beth Pontal of Love You Muches

Picture courtesy of Beth Pontal of Love You Muches

But the Secret Sisters aren’t simply channeling the 1940s like a harmony version of Gillian Welch (that’s no knock on Gillian). Songs like “Rattle My Bones” make you want to turn the volume all the way up to eleven. They clearly feel as comfortable with a single acoustic guitar as with having Jack White (or The Punch Brothers) back them up on “Big River.”

I have to admit that one of the reasons I feel an affinity for the Secret Sisters is the guitar they play. On the Ryman Saturday night they used a D-28 style acoustic made by Athens, Alabama’s Jim Hays. Jim is a good friend, and has been quietly making some of the best guitars out there. After the show when I mentioned Jim Hays to the Rogers girls they brightened up and began raving about him and his guitar. For me, it makes their music even more special.

Whether with Nickel Creek or on their own, run, don’t walk, to hear the Secret Sisters perform live. You won’t be sorry. These gals are doing country music the right way, and they showcased that at the Ryman on Saturday night.

 

Dr. Ralph, The Ryman, & the Redneck Taco: Martin’s BBQ Joint of Nolensville, Tennessee

Ryman Auditorium

I finally made good on a trip I’d wanted to make for some time. I headed north to Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium for one of their summer Bluegrass Nights. The equally legendary, and nearly as old, Ralph Stanley was headlining in possibly his last full concert appearance at the Mother Church. A farewell concert by a first generation Bluegrass legend at ground zero for Bluegrass music was a recipe for success.

Always on the lookout for new places to eat, I noticed that Southern food guru John T. Edge had listed something called the Redneck Taco at Nolensville’s Martin’s BBQ Joint on his Garden & Gun 100 Southern Foods. There’s not a better combination than barbeque and Bluegrass, so I put Nolensville onto my travel map and started toward Nashville.

Martin's BBQ Joint

Martin’s apparently used to be a bit more of a hole in the wall (which I enjoy), but the new place is a stand alone building in nicer shopping area. Good sign number one: smoke was billowing out. The smell of pork filled the air.

Martin's PigThe inside is properly porky, signs and artifacts cover the walls. The restaurant was busy, but there was no wait time when I was there. You walk by a very large menu board that highlights “The Notorious Redneck Taco.” There are several meat options, each with its own sauce recommendation. I went with the basic pulled pork with  Sweet Dixie Sauce. I gave my order to the young lady at the order window and waited for my taco to be brought out.

The Redneck Taco is a hoecake covered in meat–pulled pork, in my case–then a layer of slaw, finally topped with barbeque sauce. The hoecake is similar to a regular pancake, slightly sweet. I found the pulled pork tasty and moist (tried alone without sauce). The slaw was finely chopped. The recommended sauce, Sweet Dixie, lived up to its name. It is tangy, a little sweet, with good flavor. The beans were likewise tangy, and although I liked them at first, later, I wasn’t entirely sure if I did or not. I will say this, I appreciate a place that doesn’t just give you warmed up beans from a can. I want them to at least do something to make them their own. Martin’s fulfills its responsibilities to the beans.

Martin's Redneck Taco

You really need a little more sauce than they put on it, so ask for more or it gets a bit dry. In what may be a barbeque restaurant first for me, there was no sauce readily available. You have to ask for extra in which case they’ll bring you a small paper cup with sauce. Maybe Martin’s will find some squeeze bottles and put this stuff out for their patrons. BBQ Joints shouldn’t be stingy with the sauce.

Having Martin’s Redneck Taco was a great experience, one I recommend. The atmosphere is right, service is solid. Now I want to go back to try their ribs and other sauces. Speciality items are one thing, but ribs are where an establishment can stand or fall.

With the Redneck Taco behind me, it was on to Dr. Ralph and the Ryman.

Bluegrass MarkerRalph Stanley is probably most known to modern audiences as the voice behind the song “O, Death”, featured in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? Stanley is really the last of the true old guard in Bluegrass music. He began his career as half of the Stanley Brothers in 1946, and even toured with Bill Monroe. When Carter Stanley died in 1966, Ralph retooled and began his solo career using the Clinch Mountain Boys as his back-up band. Ralph hired teenagers like Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Marty Stuart over the years, giving the future stars their starts.

The show opened with co-headliner Jim Lauderdale and band who did a fantastic job. Lauderdale and Dr. Ralph did a couple of albums together, and have toured extensively. Lauderdale has written a great bit of material for Stanley, some of which Lauderdale performed during his set.

Dr. Ralph Stanley came out with his Clinch Mountain Boys for the second set, and I wondered how well he would hold up. At 86, he’s understandably slowing down a bit. He’s no longer playing his banjo, and had a chair on stage to rest.

Ralph Stanley O Death

But although Stanley started the set a bit slow, he nailed the a cappella “O Death” (capping it with a sung, and sincere, “thank you”). From that point on, Ralph Stanley seemed only to pick up steam getting stronger with each song. My only disappointment: there’s no mandolin in the current iteration of the Clinch Mountain Boys–what?!

I wasn’t sure how long Dr. Ralph would be able to keep going, but they did a 90 minute show, which was amazing. Stanley was spelled with lead singing by his grandson and various instrumentals. A highlight was Jim Lauderdale joining Dr. Stanley onstage for a song.

It was a great way to begin seeing shows at the Ryman. And I was glad to have the opportunity to have Dr. Ralph Stanley sign my official Hatch Show Print for the summer Bluegrass Nights.

I should have asked Dr. Ralph if he had ever eaten a Redneck Taco.

Ryman Hatch Print

Chicken That Lights You Up: Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish of Nashville

Bolton's

When you think of Tennessee and barbeque it’s Memphis, not Nashville, that comes to mind. Nashville is just a bit too far east and bit too far north to be a real barbeque town (not to say there isn’t good BBQ in Nashville). But Nashville has been wisely promoting itself as a hot chicken capital.

Hot chicken is fried chicken that has been seasoned heavily with spices dominated by cayenne pepper. A lot of cayenne pepper. It began as “soul food,” but has caught on popularly. This is a long way from your father’s KFC.

Hot chicken has been in the news, has its own website, and even has its own festival–The Music City Hot Chicken Festival, tomorrow, July 4. With a family appointment in Nashville recently, I figured it was high time I found out what the hot chicken fuss was about.

Probably the most famous of the hot chicken joints is Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. The name alone demands a visit, and visit I intended to do. I even dodged a ‘No Through Traffic’ sign across the road only to find this:

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack

Closed on Mondays. But having seen the front window I want to eat there even more.

My crew was anxious for food, so a quick search turned up Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish as the right alternative. A phone call confirmed they were actually open.

Bolton's exteriorBolton’s turned out to be far more of an actual shack than Prince’s (which is in a strip mall). The parking is wonky, and you probably won’t figure it out until one of the guys there tells you what to do. Although I would advise visiting during daylight hours, the folks at Bolton’s were very friendly and helpful.

Bolton’s is really designed as a carry-out place with just a few odd tables for those waiting to pick up their orders and the odd customer who stays around to eat in (that would be us). You knock on the door when you’re ready to order and the window slides open. The gracious Tee took our order and waited on us. We were there during the early afternoon, but past the lunchtime rush. Some hipsters were hanging around to pick up their carry-out order.

Knock to Order

With the family in tow, we ordered chicken wings for one daughter, catfish for another. My lovely wife got the leg quarter. I ordered the breast. You are presented the options of hot, medium, or mild for the chicken. We went mild on the chicken wings, but full bore hot on the leg and breast quarters.

Those of you who have had hot chicken know this already, but hot chicken is aptly named. Our food was made to order, so when it came out it was doubly hot. We had to let the food cool a bit in order to eat it (no heat lamp food here). But there is no moderating the spicy heat.

Hot Chicken Breast

Prepare for your lips to burn, for sweat to break out on your brow, and for your nose to run. I was told my face turned red. This is Nashville hot chicken. The key is to get plenty of the juicy meat in your bite with the spiced skin. It helps control the heat per bite plus adding flavor to the meat. The chicken was well prepared, moist and tasty.

One of the benefits of bringing family with you is that you can steal bites of their order, too (hey, I was paying). The wings were also quite good, although I’m not a big wings guy. The mild chicken tastes like simply good, perhaps slightly spicy, fried chicken. If you’re leery of the heat, then try out their mild. Alas, I’ve not tried the medium heat level. The catfish is also quite good, and is recommended.

The Catfish is also recommended.

The Catfish is also recommended.

MenuHaving your first hot chicken is not an event you will forget. It is not for the faint of heart or taste bud. I admit to being a hot chicken novice, but I’m ready for more. And while I will certainly be heading to Prince’s sometime soon, I’m not at all sorry that circumstances led me to Bolton’s. Put it on your list the next time you’re in Nashville.