#1 Dinner at Besh’s

If you have even just glanced through this blog, you know that I love great food. It’s not just that I love to eat, it’s that I love to appreciate food.  Perhaps you could say that I love to appreciate saporific beauty.

I heard of John Besh several years ago, but since I still haven’t made it to New Orleans, I just assumed I probably would never get to enjoy his food.  After marking eating at a Bobby Flay restaurant off my bucket list three years ago, I thought I had pretty much emptied that bucket (that’s in the running for the name of this project… #emptythebucket). But there’s something alluring about John Besh, and suddenly he showed up on this not-bucket-list-but-something-list.  Perhaps it’s because he’s not your typical “celebrity” chef.

Or perhaps it’s because he’s Catholic.

Yes, I admit it. I wanted to eat at a John Besh restaurant because he’s Catholic. Because he’s on the board of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. Because he likes St. Josemaria Escriva.

Come on. If I can enjoy incredible food and also support a Catholic, I’m in.

So when he opened a new restaurant in Nashville, Marsh House, despite the fact that I had heard nothing about it, good or bad… I knew I needed to convince Manda to go there for our annual joint-birthday dinner.  Lucky for me, she wasn’t hard to convince.

The restaurant is attached to a hotel, which for some reason normally would kind of turn me off. But I was pretty set on liking this place, so I pushed that aside. The two hostesses were wearing adorable blue wrap dresses, and a nice man in a suit showed me to my table. He later stopped by to chat while I waited for Manda, just to make sure I didn’t need a drink while I waited.  I appreciated how down-to-earth the wait staff seemed, while also remaining completely professional.  (Like the wonderfully perfect gesture of folding your napkin for you if you left to use the restroom. Always a nice touch.)  We later found out that the nice man in a suit was the sommelier.

The menu is seafood-based, and the majority of it consists of small plates meant for sharing. There are also several meat and seafood entrees, and a raw bar menu that features a selection of oysters.

We both ordered cocktails – mine was whiskey-based and Manda’s had prosecco.  Both, while very different, were nicely suited for the cold weather.

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The one article I read about Marsh House was an interview with Besh where he spoke highly of the gumbo, stressing that he had worked with the chefs to make sure they got his recipe – or rather, his mother’s recipe – just right.  So Manda and I split the gumbo (which they dished up beautifully in separate bowls for us).  Manda also ordered oysters, and loved them. I passed.

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For dinner, I was excited to see swordfish on the menu, so I couldn’t pass that up.  Swordfish isn’t a fish I generally see at the places I frequent. I distinctly remember the first time I had swordfish – it was in 2001 at a restaurant in Rome in a neighborhood near the Aventine Hill. I was told that it had a more meat-like texture than most fish, and I ordered it on a whim… and loved it. Since then, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve had it, and I was anxious to try it again.

This didn’t disappoint. There was a nice light breading on it – more of a slight crust than anything – and it was served with winter greens and a tomato jam. Manda ordered the stuffed flounder, and it looked pretty incredible- almost a work of art, and probably more worthy of a picture than my dish. Oh well.

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We both saved room for dessert, of course… and when we couldn’t decide between the opera cake – a buttermilk chocolate cake with ganache and espresso – and the pumpkin cheesecake with cranberries and brittle… we ordered both.

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Good night. They were both incredible, but the pumpkin cheesecake was simply out of this world. I was afraid it would be a bit cliche- a concession to every PSL lover and a throwaway tribute to fall. I was wrong. Manda hit the nail on the head when she said it was more of a mousse than a cheesecake.  It was exactly what you wanted out of a pumpkin dessert – enough spice to bring home the pumpkin (since pumpkin doesn’t actually have much a flavor by itself) but a lightness that left you completely content and not overwhelmed.  The brittle and toasted marshmallow on the top were the companions you would expect – but surpassed expectations – and then the cranberry drizzled around the plate was a completely unexpected guest but rounded out the dessert without being a strange forced reference to Thanksgiving dinner.

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The atmosphere of the restaurant gave me the same feeling I had at Bar Americain – it was more relaxed than I expected, and there were people in jeans — but it was just the right mix of classy and casual – definitely an elevated feel that was comfortable without being ostentatious.  Our waitress mentioned that the decor was supposed to evoke a train station (which it did, without being over the top) because of back in the day, that’s what used to be in the neighborhood.  Any indication that a place recognizes the history of Nashville gets props from me, especially in a neighborhood like the Gulch that is congested with brand new restaurants, condos, and bars that are trendy today and will probably be closed tomorrow. So many of the places – and people – that have come to Nashville seem ignorant of the true charm of the city, which is quickly disappearing as it grows faster than is probably healthy.

How many of these new places are worth the hype?  Probably very few. But, while I admit I went in tonight pretty biased … I’d like to see John Besh’s place stay. The menu was elevated without elevating anything just for the heck of it.  Most of the ingredients were recognizable, and while brussels sprouts and beets made an appearance, the menu was largely devoid of the trendy ingredients that people probably only eat because the person next to them told them they should.

First item of the list complete.  The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Chef Besh had come out and talked with us about Josemaria Escriva. Maybe next time.

dusting this off for some new life…

I have a project, and I decided a few days ago this project will involve this blog.

Next week I celebrate a birthday.  When birthdays roll around, people tend to reflect on the year that has passed and the year to come.  I don’t feel like I’ve ever been particularly philosophical on my birthday – I am grateful for the blessings God has given the past year and I look forward to the ones in store.  I never make plans about what the next year should hold, because frankly, I have no idea what’s in store and I’d rather just wait and see.

But this year, I decided to make a plan.  This coming birthday isn’t a milestone, per se, but I do have a lot of fun things already planned for the coming year, so I decided this year will be full of bucket-list items.  I have plans to do great things, and I’m going to document those great things on this blog.  New life, joaninordinarytime!  Here comes some adventure!

The tricky thing is that I don’t know what to call this.  Some of the things I plan to do are probably bucket list items.  But others are just fun things that I have never really put on a bucket list… because let’s face it, there are really only a few things on my bucket list, and one of them is Australia, and that’s not happening this year.

Plus, I’m not turning 80, I’m turning much less than that. So it seems a little silly to call it a bucket list.

So I need your help.  These are items that I’m accomplishing this year so I don’t have to put them on my bucket list someday. But that’s a mouthful and certainly doesn’t fit in an Instagram hashtag.

Are you ready, world?  It’ll all be documented here. And it starts tomorrow (a little earlier than my birthday, but who says you can’t celebrate early?).

But first I need a hashtag.

2016 Pilgrimage Recap

This was published in the diocesan newspaper this week – I thought I’d share it here, since it’s hard to link to the print edition of the paper.

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When I began work as Director of Adult Formation for the diocese, I knew I wanted to take people on pilgrimage.  My own time spent in Rome had a deep impact on my spiritual life and the discernment of my vocation, and I knew that no amount of study or reading could replicate what happens on a pilgrimage.  To walk in the footsteps of saints, to experience Catholic culture lived out, to see the Holy Father, and to pray and celebrate Mass with fellow pilgrims are formative experiences that cannot be taught, but lived.

Before the trip even began, our group experienced sorrows and joys.  One of the couples planning on coming with us had to cancel their trip after the husband was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away two weeks before we left.  He and his family were remembered along every step of our pilgrimage, and we offered Mass for the repose of his soul in Assisi.  Two of our pilgrims were united in Holy Matrimony on the feast of Pope John Paul II just a few days before we left, and on our trip Father John Hammond blessed their marriage before Mass in St. Peter’s basilica, directly in front of Pope John Paul’s tomb.

The high point for everyone was the chance to see the Holy Father.  Months before we left, we found out that both the Wednesday General Audience the Pope holds weekly and the special Papal Mass that is held every year for All Soul’s Day had been cancelled.  Francis was traveling to Sweden right when we were arriving in Rome.  Since these were the only opportunities our pilgrims were going to get to see the Pope, I had to break the hard news to everyone.  They weren’t going to get to see Francis.

Behind the scenes, I worked with my fellow tour leader, Mountain Butorac, who lives in Rome with his family, to see what we could do.  Since we were familiar with the Pope’s routine, we knew there was a good chance that he would stop at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major after returning to Rome from Sweden.  He usually goes to pray in front of a famous icon of the Blessed Mother before and after his trips.  We planned our visit of St. Mary Major for Tuesday afternoon and prayed, not daring to tell any of the pilgrims about the possibility so as to avoid getting hopes up.  I entrusted the intention to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes!

God – and St. Jude – were certainly smiling on our pilgrimage.  Not only were we in the basilica when the Pope arrived, we were in the front row along the temporary barricade that had been set up.  The Nashville pilgrims were less than 20 feet away when Pope Francis quietly came to the basilica to lay flowers at the altar and silently pray at the icon.  We joined him in singing the Salve Regina, and then as he left, he gave a small wave to us.  To see the surprise and happiness on the faces of our Nashville group, a group that had thought their chance to see the Pope had been taken away months ago, was well-worth keeping the secret under wraps for so long!

To top it off, the Papal Mass that had been cancelled was rescheduled, and so our group joined a small gathering of mostly Italians for Mass in a Roman cemetery outside the city of Rome.  There were only about 1,500 in attendance, and our group was a mere 60 yards away from the makeshift altar that had been set up amongst the mausoleums and graves. I have been to dozens of Papal Masses, but this one certainly took the prize for most unusual!

Besides our times with the Holy Father, the trip was marked with beautiful liturgies celebrated by our own Father Bulso and Father Hammond, prayer in front of the tombs of saints like St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Paul, and the traditional climbing of the Holy Stairs on our knees.  We saw the Sistine Chapel, relics of the Passion, the wood of the crib of Our Lord, and the table of the Last Supper.  We were able to go under St. Peter’s Basilica and see the very bones of our first Pope. We walked through the Holy Doors of all four major Roman basilicas, making our Jubilee pilgrimage complete.

New friendships were forged as people from various parishes journeyed together.  Gelato and pasta were consumed, memories were made, and prayer intentions were lifted up.  Most of all, a group from Nashville, TN, touched the heart of the Church in the footsteps of saints, and brought you with us.