Athens Family Restaurant & McKay’s Used Books

Athens Family Restaurant is a favorite in Nashville for great breakfast and great Greek food.  My mom and I finally got the chance to try it today for brunch.  The place is small and quaint, with blue checkered table cloths.  I ordered the Eggs Crab Cake, which consisted of crab cakes on English muffin halves topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, and my mom ordered the Eggs Florentine, which was essentially the same thing minus the crab cakes and with tomato, spinach, and feta.  We were incredibly pleased.  The eggs were poached perfectly and the crab cake was delicious.  I was looking around at the crowd, hoping to see someone semi-famous.  I’ve lived in Nashville for almost four years and still have not seen a celebrity, or at least one I recognize.  I should probably brush up on my country stars.

After eating brunch, I took her to the international market, where she was almost as giddy as I was on Friday.  Then we headed over to McKay’s Used Books, CDs, Movies and More, which is a huge store filled with great, cheap finds.  I got two old cookbooks.  One was a Nashville-themed from the Junior League of Nashville written in 1977 and a huge volume called the Gold Cook Book from 1948.   I thought both were appropriate for my Southern Foodways Class as historical documents.  They really are “of their time”; the Gold Cook Book had this to say in its introduction:

“American homemakers are increasingly aware of their rich heritage of cooking, of its wide variety as a result of its regional origins.  We have the fine culinary traditions of those who settled in Louisiana, Virginia, New England, the South, the North, the East, and the West.  No statement of the excellence of the cooking of American homemakers, who are representative of every race of mankind, is complete without a reference to the fine cooking of the Negroes of the South, who are natural gourmets.  They seem to have inherited a sort of tradition of good cooking, and it may be that this will have a large place in the final development of a real type of American cookery.”

At this point, the author does not seem to recognize a definitive American cuisine, but one that is in development out of the diverse “rich heritage” of cooking.  He predicts that it is African-American cooking that will bring it to its culmination.  It’s definitely a historical artifact.  Flipping through the recipes is fascinating.  This particular book has over 1,000 recipes, most new to me.  The Nashville cookbook had a recipe for “Deer Chili.”  I may be trying some of these recipes and putting them up on the blog.  Probably not the deer chili…

Losing my Pho Virginity to Miss Saigon

I have heard of the wonders of pho (pronounced “fuh”), hot Vietnamese beef and noodle soup, but never had the pleasure of trying it.  I thought, where am I going to get good pho in Nashville?  Luckily, my roommates took me to Miss Saigon so I could lose my pho virginity, and let me tell you: it was gooooood.  I think it’s the beginning of a long, beautiful relationship.

I was daunted–and somewhat confused–by all the choices on the menu, which led me to accidentally order a seafood pho rather than one with beef, (I can’t seem to read well when I’m hungry…), but it was the most delicious mistake I’ve ever made.  The pho had crab meat, squid, fishballs, and shrimp as well as the typical noodles.  It also came with the traditional side of bean sprouts, lime, and mint to add to the soup.  I also jazzed mine up with some chili sauce, and it was go time.  Before the pho, however, I had some shrimp and pork spring roll with peanut sauce, which were good but I’ll admit they weren’t my favorite.  However, I blame my distorted expectations and little experience with Vietnamese food rather than them.  I also had an iced coffee drink with condensed milk, which was divine.  The ambiance of the place is modern, but warm.   Seems like it would be a good date place, except that it’s hard to eat soup in a remotely attractive manner.  Although one Yelp reviewer, Michael, who wasn’t a fan of Miss Saigon, had this to say:

“Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is like pizza, in that it is like sex. There is good pho, there is great pho. There is toe-curlingly amazing pho. There is no such thing as bad ho. Slurping will still ideally be involved.”

According to Yelp reviewers, Miss Saigon has a little rivalry with another Vietnamese restaurant in the same area, Kien Giang.  I might have to settle that score. ;)

Just a couple stores down from Miss Saigon is K&S World Market, an international food market.  After dinner we decided to check it out, and it was almost as good as having dessert.  Foods I have never heard of or foods that are hard to find in mainstream supermarkets make me absolutely giddy so I practically vibrated my way through the store.  Unfortunately my camera died after only a few pictures.  They have a produce section with fruits and vegetables I’ve never heard of and they also have fresh fish and meat in the back.  Some of the fish is actually fresh, as in, still alive.  I found so many things I wanted to try.  I was thrilled that they had frozen mamey (a tropical fruit).  My grandmother used to make batidos de mamey (mamey milkshakes) out of that stuff  in Florida but we could never find it in Tennessee.  They also had these pastry cookies I love and haven’t been able to find anywhere else.

The smell of the store is odd to some people, perhaps because of the butchery, but it reminds me of the bodega my maternal grandfather had a long time ago in Union City, New Jersey.  He was a butcher and sold fresh meat in in store.  My earliest image of my grandfather are his eyes smiling from behind his rectangular Santa Claus spectacles and a very bloody once-white apron falling joyously over his bowl full of jelly.

Some unique produce at K&S World Market and a man wrangling a catfish