Down a winding country road in Walland, Tennessee, that meanders past tiny, white-steepled churches, weathered barns, pastures, and a field of sunflowers, lies an unexpected culinary destination. There is no sign to mark the Barn at Blackberry Farm. Only a white wooden crossbuck fence signals “you have arrived” to visitors in search of this understated, luxurious hideaway nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.
The resort and spa—and most of all, the cuisine—are the legacy of the late Sam Beall, who transformed an unknown Tennessee town into the darling of international food and wine connoisseurs. Mr. Beall’s restaurant lives up to the reputation of his prior experience at the Ritz Carlton San Francisco and the inimitable restaurant French Laundry, but also reflects the charm and hospitality of his southern upbringing. Local rumor has it that he opened the resort and its kitchens to victims of Hurricane Katrina, offering nourishment for the body and soul in this peaceful retreat.
There is no cell phone service to distract from the natural beauty and serenity of the property: all woods and fields with the majestic Smoky mountains rimming the vista. Guests of the resort have priority for dining in the Barn, but a limited number of outside dining reservations are available. The intimate dining space is lined with high-backed, whiskey-colored leather banquettes, populated by well-heeled couples and lit with the soft glow from wrought iron chandeliers. Staff are fresh-faced, rosy-cheeked, and cheerful, projecting fresh air and health.
Modern bluegrass, in the vein of Béla Fleck, plays softly in the background, and the cocktail menu includes aperitifs such as the Tennessee State Bird, a whiskey-based drink with dashes of coffee, pepper bitters, peanut, and lemon peel. The star of the table is the wine menu, as thick as the Bible (Blackberry Farm currently harbors 160,000 bottles of wine). The house sommelier offers personal recommendations to each party, affably imparting his impressive knowledge of the wine catalogue and the history of rare vintages. Results are outstanding, like a delicious half-bottle of Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja to complement the crispy trout with potato foam and succulent lamb with goat’s milk yogurt. Side note – if you are not planning to spend the night at Blackberry Farm, you should arrange transportation to enable you to partake of the wine cellar’s delights.
With a focus on fresh, local, and seasonal fare, the menu changes frequently if not daily. Your best bet is to order anything with truffles. On a recent visit, the innocuous sounding thyme-basted golden beets with chanterelle mushrooms, pine syrup (yes, from pine cones), and summer truffles was a symphony of sweet, chewy, earthy, and bright flavors.
My only regret was not booking accommodations, which include three daily experiences with the food that Sam Beall humbly dubbed “Foothills Cuisine.” The journey to Walland is well worth it.
www.blackberryfarm.com – Three course dinner from $125 per person.
Photos of BlackBerry Farm are courtesy of beall + thomas photography