Bourbon And Beef Benefit

Last Thursday evening Acre restaurant in Auburn, Alabama hosted a “Beef and Bourbon Benefit” to help the victims of the March 3rd EF-4 tornadoes that devastated the Beauregard and Smiths Station communities in Lee County, Alabama. The 170 MPH tornadoes took the lives of 23 people in the community and left many others without their homes and their belongings scattered for miles. With the combined efforts of a spectacular team of chefs and their crews, the Beef and Bourbon Benefit was able to raise $34,000 in one evening! These funds will be handed over to the MEND program at the East Alabama Medical Center. This program was established after the storm devastation to help the victims with the challenges they are going to face as they rebuild their lives. As their website states their mission is, “To ensure that all affected by tragedy and disaster are able to fully recover physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually”. The Mend program combines the resources of local service organizations, civic groups, national organizations, and churches to not only allow better communication but also a better allocation of efforts to the victims during times of disaster.

The chefs that graciously donated their time and culinary talents to the evening, were the following: David Bancroft  of Acre, Jeffrey Compton of Acre, Caleb Fischer of Bow & Arrow, Leonardo Maurelli of Ariccia Cucina Italiana, Robby Melvin of Southern Living, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse, and last, but certainly not least, winner of Top Chef Kentucky 2019, Kelsey Barnard Clark of KBC in Dothan, Alabama.  Also contributing to the night’s success was the beef that was featured in all the dishes, Brasstown Beef. Their cattle farm is based out of Franklin, North Carolina, and their motto is that “Extraordinary Care= Extraordinary Beef.” Between the extreme care raising this beef, and extreme care shown in cooking it, it was by far some of the best beef I have ever had in my life. I could cut it all with a fork. Also sponsoring the event was Woodford Reserve of Kentucky and Red Clay Brewing of Opelika. Two of the live auction items during the dinner were two rare bottles of the Master’s Collection of Woodford Reserve. Also, two private wine dinners (one to be hosted in Auburn and another in Dothan) with Iron Chef winner, Chef David Bancroft, and Top Chef  Kentucky winner Chef Kelsey Clark of Dothan cooking, and John Mark Davis of International Wines pairing the wines, were auctioned off at much success! Other sponsors for the evenings’ event were the Auburn/Opelika Tourism Bureau, the Hudson Family Foundation, Southern Living, and the CALIFORNIA Wine Company by Phipps Family of Wines.

As the event started, guests were allowed to order cocktails from the bar, or participate in beer and bourbon tastings in the small private room off the right of the entrance of Acre. Being passed around also during this time were the dill pickle biscuits with a Dijon mustard and crispy piece of ham created by Robby Melvin of Southern Living. Also scattered around the dining area were Mason jars of David’s Beef Jerky. The jerky was delicious, tender, and had the perfect amount of kick. David’s cuisine is known for his signature touch of spice. Once we were all seated more starters came out which included Robbie Nicolaisen’s highly elevated black-eye pea hummus. This was no traditional hummus. In addition to the traditional elements of a hummus, black-eyed peas were used, tender beef cheeks were added, Georgia olive oil was used along with a local goat cheese, green tomato chow-chow, and benne served with za’atar spiced fry bread. This dish was so satisfying. I thought this definitely would be a great addition to a tapas style menu, as this hummus would be the perfect accompaniment to a few beers with friends. Jeff Compton prepared a delicately delectable beef heart tartare that consisted of diced raw beef heart, beef fat fried shallots, caper vinaigrette, topped with a duck egg yolk and black truffle aioli, and was served with benne crackers.

Prior to the start of the remaining dinner, which still consisted of six more sides, three more main dishes, and two desserts, Chef David Bancroft introduced all the participants and the sponsors for the evenings’ event. Each chef was welcomed to the dining room with applause and cheer. There were guests in attendance from as far as a Texas and several had made the trip up from Dothan to see their town favorite, Kelsey Clark.

After the introductions and gracious thanks to all the sponsors, a tsunami of food began flooding our table. The entire dinner was served family-style; meaning that all the separate dishes were on their own plates and were passed around the table and shared. The first shared side to come out to the table was a herb roasted wild mushroom dish comprised of the wild mushrooms, brown butter, Manchego cheese, and beef fat bread crumbs, created by Robby Melvin of Southern Living. Next was a flash fried cauliflower dish created by Leo Maurelli of Ariccia Cucina at The Hotel at Auburn University. I had never had a flash fried cauliflower that I could recall. It was slightly crispy, and the feta aioli along with the capers and mixed herbs, made this a cauliflower dish I would want to see on my plate again. Chef Leo also was responsible for the Extruded Creste de Gallo Mac & Cheese, that was full of savory garlic butter and herbed migas. No sooner had I served myself some of the cauliflower when a small cast iron kettle was placed on the table brimming with Rob McDaniel’s braised butter peas with ham hocks, lemon, and chives. They were incredible! I hope to see many of more of these butter peas in my future visits to SpringHouse on Lake Martin. During the summers, their vegetable plates are to die for. Rob has a spectacular way of making scrumptious vegetables. To round out our already abundant spread, a Sea Island Red Pea gratin with smoked beef belly and cornbread crumble was concocted by Robbie Nicolaisen. Finally, the sixth and final side brought to the table were Jeffrey Compton of Acre’s Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with an amazing house cultured yogurt and carrot top chimichurri sauce. I had never had sweet potatoes served with any type of sauce. The tanginess of the yogurt, along with the chimichurri, made this a sweet potato dish I hope to see on Acre’s menu soon. It would pair perfectly alongside a filet or other cut of beef.

Even though we all knew that there was going to be an onslaught of food coming at us, it was extremely hard to pace ourselves throughout the dinner. All the dishes were beautiful executed, and all the flavors were on point. Even though we all probably could have left the table at this point due to being full, we still had the main dishes and desserts to come. The first main dish brought out was made by Kelsey Clark, a Lavender Rubbed Brasstown Beef Ribeye served with a cornbread panzanella and an arugula gremolata. Next was Rob McDaniel’s Hickory Grilled Brasstown Beef Filet served with a celery salad and a danish blue cheese vinaigrette. Finally, Caleb Fischer’s smoked brisket with a street corn relish and arepas were served.

For dessert, Kelsey Clark made the most beautiful Georgia Olive Oil and Cornmeal Cake with beef tallow buttercream, whipped corn cream, and bourbon macerated strawberries. It was delightful and made me excited for the pending summer strawberries in my future. Caleb Fischer created a Bone Marrow Chocolate Pudding with a marcona-cocoa nib crumb, preserves, and micro sorrell. It was reminiscent of a pot de creme if you have ever had one of those. Very decadent and rich, and beautifully presented.

By the end of the meal, most of our table was no longer sitting. We physically could not sit any longer. I can only recall one other time in my life when I have felt so full, and that was after days of eating and drinking our way across Napa and Sonoma. What an awesome evening enjoyed by many, that will benefit many in the Lee County community.

Bourbon and Beef Benefit 2019- Helping feed the Lee Co. Tornado Victims.
Dill pickle biscuit with crispy ham and Dijon butter. -Robby Melvin
Black-Eyed Pea Hummus with spiced beef cheeks, green tomato chow chow, goat cheese, Georgia Olive oil, benne, served with za’atar spiced fry bread. – Robbie Nicolaisen
Beef Heart Tartare with duck egg yolk, black truffle aoili, beef fat fried shallots, caper vinagarette, served with benne cracker. – Jeff Compton
Flash Fried Cauliflower with feta aoili, capers, & mixed herbs. – Leo Maurelli
Roasted Fingerling Sweet Potatoes with house cultured yogurt, and carrot top chimichurri. – Jeff Compton
Georgia Olive oil and Cornmeal Cake with beef tallow buttercream, whipped corn cream, and bourbon macerated strawberries. -Kelsey Clark
From (L-R) Rob McDaniel of Springhouse, David Bancroft of Acre, Leo Maurelli of Arricia, John Mark Davis of Internatioal Wines and Craft Beer, Caleb Fischer of Bow and Arrow, Kelsey Clark of KBC in Dothan, Robby Melvin of Southern Living Magazine, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Steve Whitmire of Brasstown Beef, and Jeffrey Compton of Acre.

Going back to Macon

We enjoy getting out of town from time to time to change up the pace of life, try something new, and more times than not, to go see live music. One of our favorite places to go is Macon, Georgia. Just an hour past Columbus, it is a quick, easy trip for us to make. Macon is home of the Allman Brother’s Band, Otis Redding, Little Richard, and Chuck Leavell, to name a few of the famous musicians from this town. The music history here is incredibly rich and makes this town a mecca for musical artists that are passing through. Macon has been a part of my life since 2002 when I saw my first Widespread Panic show at the Macon Coliseum (now Centreplex).  Little did I know almost sixteen years ago that when I passed through this town for a concert, that I would find myself returning here time and time again.

We have a solid routine when we get into town. Today our first stop was Gregg Allman’s graveside in Rose Hill Cemetery. It is a beautiful cemetery, with rolling hills making their way down to the riverside. This cemetery was established in 1840. Some may find it morbid, but it is actually a very serene property, and on a pretty day is a great place to take a stroll. I was first attracted to stop here to visit Berry Oakley and Duane Allman’s graveside. Being a long time Allman Brothers fan, this stop and a stop at The Big House Museum are a must. You could spend an entire day just visiting both of these places. The Big House is truly a magical place. The Allman Brothers lived here during their early days of building the band, and you can really feel a special presence in the house, and for me, all over town.

After Gregg Allman passed last year I have visited his graveside a handful of times. He is laid to rest in an unmarked grave directly to the left of his brother Duane. The first time I visited, it was sad to see just a chain marking the grave, but with each visit, a sprinkling of flowers and ceramic mushrooms are filling up what is now a makeshift memorial to Gregg. The staff at The Big House said a headstone is coming, but there is no estimated time when it will be in place. While paying our respects, we chatted with another gentleman who was doing the same. He introduced himself as Tony Coleman. He was very kind and spoke to us as we were long lost friends. He told us he played with B.B. King for over 35 years and was playing with the act, Jamey Johnson, that we were in town to see. We saw him at the show later that night, and he came up and gave us a hug like we were old friends. This is a perfect example of a Macon, Georgia experience. Even though were are there to enjoy a town where we know no one, we always leave having made new friends, and having experienced something exciting.

For dinner, we went back to a place we had visited once before, The Dovetail in the heart of downtown Macon on Cherry Street. We really like this location because not only is the food really tasty, but it is located in close proximity to The Cox Capitol theater (now the Hargray Theater) and the Macon City Auditorium. We can park downtown and walk everywhere we need to go. The Dovetail is located upstairs above another great place to stop in for a bite, The Rookery. I would describe the Rookery as more casual and pub-ish, whereas The Dovetail is a little more of an upscale and refined dining experience.

We were dressed a little more casual, did not have a reservation and opted to sit at the bar this particular evening. Most of the time I prefer the comfort and service afforded with having a table, but tonight we enjoyed sitting at the bar. Our bartender was extremely attentive and we enjoyed talking with him. Our server from a previous visit came by to say hello, even calling us by name. We felt welcome and at home. We started out with cocktails, per usual. I had the “Out of Season” and my husband had his usual, Maker’s Mark on the rocks. We contemplated for a little bit on how exactly we wanted to order our food. Everything on the menu looked appetizing, and from previous experience, I knew it would be equally delicious. We could not decide between sharing several small plates, or sharing few small plates and ordering our own entrees. We ended up with a blend of both, and a delightful dining experience.

For appetizers, we shared several of their small plates, the deviled eggs, the house cold pickled veggie plate, and the beet quinoa salad. I am fairly picky about my deviled eggs, and these passed my scrutinization. They were creamy, almost a fluffy whip of deviled egg goodness. The house cold pickled veggie plate introduced me to several new pickle preparations for veggies I had never thought of, nor experienced prior. Pickled brussel sprouts, cumin pickled carrots, and sweet, pickled rhubarb where some of the standouts for me. I love beets too, so I knew when I saw the beet and quinoa salad, we had to order it. The beets were tender and did not have an overpowering earthiness to them. They were tossed in a blue cheese, quinoa, pecans, honey oregano vinaigrette, and  a little bit of shaved celery for crunch. Everything was divine, and we cleared every single plate.

For our entrees, I ordered another small plate, the Wagyu sirloin top, and my husband ordered their special for the evening, “The Going Back to Macon” Burger. The name of the special was a play on a Jamey Johnson song titled ‘Going Back to Macon’. I got one bite of it and it was savory and delicious. Had a nice smoke on the meat. My Wagyu was cooked just as ordered. I did not even use my steak knife. The tender, delectable Wagyu was in a base of shiitake mushroom cream sauce, roasted rutabaga puree, and a carrot top chimichurri. Simply scrumptious.

If you get a wild hair and want to get out of town, I highly recommend you put Macon, Georgia on your radar. Visit The Big House, walk through Rose Hill, take a musical tour with the Rock Candy tour company, watch some live music, go to Grant’s Lounge or the Hummingbird, and stay at the 1842 Inn. Get out and live life!

Dinner Menu at The Dovetail in Macon, Georgia
His and Her’s Cocktails for the Evening, “Out of Season” & Maker’s Mark
Pickled Veggie Plate.
Deviled Eggs
Beet Quinoa Salad
Wagyu Sirloin Top
House Mac N Cheese for two
Going Back to Macon Burger


Cart Barn Grille

Just a short drive from Opelika, Alabama up I-85 north, you will find some of the best seafood in the south at The Cart Barn Grille in LaGrange, Georgia.

There are zero frills and no pretentiousness, just plain good food. We were introduced to The Cart Barn Grille a few years ago by a dear friend of ours who frequented the restaurant so much they named a dish after him, the Grouper Willi. We were told that they had incredible seafood dishes, and a laid back atmosphere that could not be beat.

The original Cart Barn was located just off Exit 13 on interstate I-85 in Georgia. They were forced out of that location due to the construction of the new, large Great Wolf Lodge. Originally, owner Tony Bishop, thought this might be his time to retire, but the demand for his food was too strong. Thankfully, the stars aligned and an even better location was found. Now the new and improved Cart Barn Grille is located at 625 Jefferson Street in the historic Hillside neighborhood of LaGrange, Georgia. The neighborhood is up and coming, with Beacon Brewery going in just across the street from the Cart Barn’s new location. I am excited to see the progress these new businesses will bring to the area. I love to see a town embrace their historic buildings and neighborhoods.

We arrived at The Cart Barn Friday evening to find a wait. Expect to find a wait most any time you go here. I consider a wait a good thing. It usually is a good indication of the quality of food you are going to get. The wait has never been unbearable, and we enjoy ‘tailgating’ in the parking lot talking with friends while we wait. They serve lunch on Monday, and have dinner and lunch service Tuesday-Friday. They are closed on the weekends. Even with atypical hours, this place is booming nonstop, and it is due to one simple reason, delicious food.

For appetizers we took a non-traditional route and ordered “off the menu” starters. We ordered one of their delicious cheeseburgers and split it with the table. For some added tastiness, we also ordered the fried shrimp a la carte. Their fried shrimp is some of the best I have ever had. The batter is light and crispy, and the shrimp is fresh and tender. If you order this combination, they will definitely know who sent you.

My favorite entrée on the menu is the Grouper Willi. The grouper is sauteed in lemon pepper, served over a bed of mashed potatoes, with lump crab meat, broccolini, and covered in a delicious beurre blanc and avocado aoili. The fish is fresh and flaky, and all the seasonings combined make this a bright and tasteful dish. I have ordered this dish more times than I can count, and it is consistently good every time.

My husband ordered the veal prime rib this particular evening. The veal chop was a bone in roast, with a demi-glace sauce, tobacco onions, all served over a bed of mashed potatoes and broccolini. He raved about this dish for days. I am sure he will be ordering this again if it is on the menu next time we return.

We adore The Cart Barn and do not hesitate in making the short drive to LaGrange. I do not consider myself a huge fan of seafood. However, the seafood here is so fresh and delicious, that I have discovered many seafood dishes that I now love. Not only is the food delicious, but the hospitality is second to none. From the first time I visited the Cart Barn, Tony and his son Shawn, made us feel like locals.

Hope you make the trip to The Cart Barn soon and enjoy a delicious meal. Tell Tony the Dining Winos sent you! 😉