Its deceptively small store front hides a sprawling restaurant and coffee shop.
“I like that I can sip coffee and have a conversation without feeling like people are listening in. It’s a cozy atmosphere but plenty of room.”
Just off the highway the Allman Brothers made famous is a precious gem worth the drive. Manchester, Tennessee, sits between Nashville and Chattanooga, a still small but growing town with origins along the main drag, otherwise known as Highway 41 South. You can take this highway all the way from Copper Harbor, Michigan, to the Everglades. If you do, I suggest you stop off at Coffee Cafe for a whole bunch of reasons.
Lisa and Geoff Moreland run the place, which some call “Manchester’s best kept secret.” I was looking for a coffee house open on Sunday; their hours correspond to a brunch crowd and the church rush. I wasn’t looking for great food the day I went, just a place to have coffee and catch up with an old friend; our schedules are tough to accommodate, given that she’s night shift and I’m days.
The smiling server brought up vegetable omelets with all-natural ingredients, the kind of dish that is more of an experience than a meal. The food was of a caliber I’ve only seen in much fancier places, the kind with folded napkins and waiters who speak French. There’s none of that at Coffee Cafe, and thank the Lord for it. The staff made me a custom latte with honey and cinnamon, brought us light desserts, and didn’t rush us along as we lazily spooned up lemon pie.
Even though their food is Five-Star, the best thing about Coffee Cafe in Manchester is the family that owns it. The Moreland’s daughter waited on us, and it was clear she had an abiding interest in repeat customers. We kept a running conversation going as she hovered among the tables. That’s how we found out about the pride of family ownership that goes into every plate and every latte. Try getting that kind of personal touch at Starbucks.
Not everyone will have occasion to meander along this Southern route among the foothills and small towns that dot the landscape headed Southbound to Lookout Mountain and points beyond; but if you should find yourself with the luxury of time and a craving for friendly, personal service, not to mention gourmet southern fare, Coffee Cafe in Manchester is the place for you. Coffee Cafe is located at 105 W. McClain Street; they are closed on Monday and open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. You may contact the owners at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a place where all the best things in life converge in the heart of Tennessee. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because the owners of Picker’s Creek Winery, the George family, dreamed a dream so expansive, it has blessed countless people, from locals looking for an event venue to travelers stumbling across the Picker’s Creek website, to musicians trying to make it in Nashville. At Picker’s Creek, the emphasis is on all the finer things in life: music, art, fun, and fellowship with the like-minded, those who appreciate all those things. Run by family, Picker’s Creek Winery, in Lewisburg, Tennessee, is a place you can bring your children, listen to instrumental guitar gurus warming up the night in the pavilion or on the porch, sip fine, home-made wine, and enjoy universally-appointed meetings of people from around the country (and the world) who enjoy the finer things.
The George family roots go back to the Tennessee Variety Boys and the popular, accomplished guitarist and patriarch of the family, Mack George. Formed in late ’40’s, the Tennessee Variety Boys featured Wayne Owens, guitarist Johnny Gidcomb, and Mack George as rhythm guitarist and lead singer. In those days, schools were the main performance venues, a tradition in Tennessee counties like Marshall, back to the days of Dave Macon, who played the Farmington school. Often these Vaudeville era players would stay at private homes close by to play the rural schools and bring music to the masses. Tickets were sold, and such performers gave the schools a cut of the proceeds. Out of such a heritage, Uncle Ed Poplin of the Ed Poplin band out of Farmington performed on the Opry. In a way, Picker’s Creek Winery is a community venue in the mold of those early rural performances.
And yet, people from all over the country come to hear the performers, who hail from everywhere. Bird and Bear, originally from Wyoming and Holland, now based in Nashville, were recently featured on National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concert. The duo boasts over 500,000 music downloads. They are featured performers at Picker’s Creek.
On a personal note, Picker’s Creek Winery is a mom’s answer to the question, “What are we going to do tonight?” Instead of the usual cookie cutter experience of the chain restaurant, I can slowly sip a glass of muscadine wine with a whimsical name (Rockabilly Red, $27.00) or the newest peach blend (Give Peach a Chance, $18.00), while my kids enjoy the picnic lunch I packed for them as the best bands in Nashville’s eclectic music culture light up the night with sound, surrounded by rolling hills, seasonal foliage, and acres of grape vines, not to mention the biggest front porch for miles around. Picker’s Creek is a community, a home for wine, song, visual art, and the creative spirit, but most of all it’s a place where family is welcome, and that is the most magical aspect of Picker’s Creek Winery.
The family heritage of the winery includes Phil and Lydia George, who left a thriving law practice in Smyrna, Tennessee, to pursue their dream, Phil’s brother David, who created the stained glass in the tasting room, and Phil’s brother, Kenneth, who also lives on the farm in the original house and manages the vineyard and the music venue. Kenneth can be heard some evenings doing a bit of tune-smithing himself. Picker’s Creek Winery is located at 1986 New Columbia Hwy, Lewisburg, Tennessee, 37091 or you may vist at pickerscreekwinery.com
We are sometimes rewarded for merely getting out of our comfort zone, taking to the road, and exploring life beyond the well-worn path between home and work. If it’s high time you got out of your Hobbit hole to go on an adventure, here is a suggestion, especially if you live in the Mid-South.
The Berlin Store is a feast for the palate. We no sooner walked in the place than we were faced with a huge banquet table filled with pies, fudge, coffee cakes, and cookies. The four of us, my brother, niece, my youngest son, and I, the mere driver of the brood, swarmed the dessert table like an army of ants. I almost missed the home-grown tomatoes and had to go back for them. I’m pretty sure the cashier thought we had a weekend pass from the workhouse. But she was nice.
I had my eye on some ultra-red just-picked Bonnie Bell tomatoes from a nearby garden, the kind that look like apples until you get up close.
This time of year there’s nothing better than a turkey sandwich with lettuce, Duke’s mayonnaise, and a thick slice of red, ripe tomato.
Unless its chocolate chess pie. The staff was friendly, the air conditioning system successfully chilling the air, the customers all smiles. But my youngest had his eye on a single slice of chocolate-chess pie wrapped neatly but buried among the other treats.
We packed a picnic basket because we had heard about a little park with a cave spring beside the store. The park had picnic tables, a pavilion, and a rocky trail leading up and over the cave. My niece walked up to peer over a ridge and found hundreds of slender, black and neon green dragonflies known as darners. While we explored the creek bank, dozens of construction and electrical crews pulled up to eat lunch at the store. I’m fairly certain my eleven-year-old swiped the last of somebody’s favorite pie, but we were amidst the dragonflies by then, all evidence of pie-eating returned to the utility vehicle.
People by and large keep the park clean. There are no trash cans, and most people take their trash with them instead of leaving it to others. If you’re looking for someplace a bit different, a taste of a simpler time when we knew who made the food we were eating, a shady oasis in the cacophony of living, Berlin Springs (with emphasis on the first syllable) is a great destination. Nearby Cornersville has a nice bed and breakfast known as Lairdland, and Lewisburg is close by if you need a Wal-Mart or a Walgreens.
The Berlin Store and Spring are on Highway 431 just north of Lewisburg.
Sweet Side Cafe outside Verona, Tennessee. . .So close and yet not exactly on the beaten path. . . .
Sweet Side Cafe has the sort of slap-yer-mama fare that grows the population of a once-thriving town known as Caney Springs every day at lunch hour. In fact, I hate to even publicize pictures of the club sandwich with tangy, country ham you can’t get anywhere else, or the grilled chicken tenders with a side of creamed potatoes and home-made mac and cheese, not to mention the red, white, and blue salad with raspberry vinaigrette over mixed greens, feta cheese, walnuts, strawberries, and grilled chicken. This quaint spot is already covered up with electrical workers, construction guys, and moms taking their kids on summer outings. But if you show up early, you won’t have any trouble finding a seat.
Lured by the promise of catfish, white beans, slaw, and hushpuppies, we soon found ourselves paralyzed at the thought of what we might be missing. Now, we have to go back to check out the original catfish dinner, frustrated because we don’t live next-door so we can eat every meal there.
Lest I leave the wrong impression, Sweet Side Cafe has a unique mix of stick-to-your ribs Southern traditional food and some surprising finds, such as cranberry-walnut French toast and chicken salad on honey-wheat bread. Each day, they line up the pies: often its chocolate meringue, chocolate-pecan, and chess, some in mini-pie size and some regular sized. The chef often surprises with new items on the menu; guests find specials of the day featured on a traditional blackboard at the bottom of the stairs of the old store.
Sweet Side Cafe is located on the corner of Old Hwy 99 and Highway 99 between Lewisburg and Chapel Hill, Tennessee. From Lewisburg, you take Highway 272, the Verona-Caney Road, take a quick left and then the next right on Old Highway 99. From Nashville, you take 31A to Highway 99 on your right (you’ll be heading west).
If you’re interested in staying in the area, Henry Horton State Park is nearby with a variety of cabins, an inn, a pool, fishing on the Duck River, and a restaurant of its own.
You don’t expect to find a Japanese bed and breakfast in a town like Wartrace, Tennessee, but sometimes in life you get a welcome surprise. Nobuko and Itsuo Watanabe’s Japanese style Bed and Breakfast, Non Non, serves up authentic Japanese cooking in a homey, traditional setting that keeps customers coming back. Non Non stands out from many other quaint bed and breakfasts in the hills of Middle Tennessee, not only for its unique cultural experience, but also because of the warmth of the owners, who make every visitor feel like family.
Just outside Bell Buckle, famous for its Moon Pie Festival, art scene, and antiques, Non Non draws high-powered Japanese businessmen and millennials alike looking for something off the beaten path in more ways than one.
As far as the Watanabes can tell, they have the only bed and breakfast run by a Japanese married couple in the U.S.
Non Non sits on eight acres of Tennessee woodland off Highway 82 South. Itsuo named the place for his wife, whose nickname, Non, stuck. “People we knew from our restaurant in Murfreesboro begged us not to change the name so they could find us,” Nobuko says. Thirteen years ago, they retired from their Japanese restaurant and grocery store in Murfreesboro and opened Non Non. The couple has been married for twenty-four years.
“The restaurant was a good business but we were so busy,” Nobuko says. “Too busy. The bed and breakfast is hard work, but we have faithful, regular customers, good guests. They are like family.”
It would be next to impossible to find the personal service the Watanabes provide at Non Non.
“When someone books a reservation, we first ask about food allergies and sensitivities,” Itsuo says. Nobuko adds, “Everything we make is traditional Japanese cuisine with organic ingredients.” It’s best to give them a few days’ notice because t
heir menu is always fresh.
“We both do the cooking,” Nobuko says. She worked in a cooking school, teaching Americans Japanese cuisine. Itsuo worked as a chef both in Japan and the U.S. “Sometimes cooking together leads to unwanted advice in the kitchen,” she adds. “I notice that my husband sometimes takes credit for the meal even though I cook, too,” she says, smiling.
Itsuo admits that he doesn’t always correct his guests.
The Watanabes possess a love of nature and spend much of their time planting fruit trees and tending their garden. They use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Their house is filled with flowers, and from their back door, cherry trees they planted appear among the native cedars and locusts in their wooded glade.
Touring the lovely home, visitors get a sense of the Watanabes’ love of their culture, not to mention their talent and creativity. Itsuo remodeled many of the rooms himself. On return trips to Japan, they chose fine Japanese vases, statues, and wall art, from traditional Japanese cranes in flight to shadow boxes illustrating traditional folk tales. They even have a gorgeous red and white kimono often worn as the outer layer of a wedding garment hanging on the wall in the hot tub room.
The house of tongue-and-groove makes for cozy bedrooms featuring traditional Japanese foutons and short-legged tables with removable tops and heaters underneath. This kind of table, known as a kotatsu, is a sought-after item among Japanese families in the U.S. Another unique feature is the library filled with Japanese graphic novels. “We have some businessmen who love to sit in the library and unwind with a book.”
In fact, the Watanabes say that some of their most loyal customers tell them that coming to Non Non is like going to grandmother’s house. For so many Japanese families living and working near plants like Calsonic, Nissan, and Toyota Boshoku in Jackson, Tennessee, a place like Non Non can be a home away from home.
But the Watanabes have just as many loyal American regulars, people from half a dozen southern states, some who ask for the same dishes again and again.
In addition to operating the facilities as a bed and breakfast, the couple sometimes allows groups to hold dinner parties.
“We don’t advertise,” Nobuko says. “Our business is primarily word of mouth.”
From the first moment visitors enter the home, they are greeted with two messages: “Take off your shoes please, thank you,” and “Good friends, good food, good times.” Another sign reads, “When you’re here, you’re family.” The Watanabes’ gentle spirit is a guiding light for those looking for something out of the ordinary and for the far-flung looking for a little taste of home.
Non Non is located at 171 Loop Road in Wartrace, off Highway 82 South, which intersects Highway 231 between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee.
The Watanabes allow pets under certain conditions.
The common living room at Non Non. Many of the pieces were purchased in Japan.
I’m probably not the only one amused by Facebook posts characterizing 2016 as “Death Personified,” with memes of the grim reaper harvesting celebrities at an alarming rate, beginning with David Bowie in January of the so-called apocalyptic year. Most of these posts are by millennials, although I’ve seen a few by those who should know better. Let’s not forget that Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Natalie Cole died in 2015.
If we’re rating years by the celebrity lives they ended, I offer 1977 as a study in celebrity loss. The year Star Wars Episode IV debuted, we lost Elvis, Bing Crosby, actress Joan Crawford, Freddie Prinze, and Groucho Marx. Three members of Lynnyrd Skynnyrd, Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and vocalist Cassie Gaines, died when the band’s plane went down. The class of ’81 entered its freshman year of high school with the pall of seemingly endless death announcements and, just before the start of school, images of white limousines in procession down Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis.
Maybe it’s because I’m old, or maybe it’s because I see things differently as a musician and a writer, but I would like to offer an observation. As we grow up, if we’re lucky, we have heroes. Some of our heroes are celebrities. For the most part, these mentors are older than we are. In 1977, when I saw Episode IV in the theater, I was twelve. Harrison Ford was over 30; Carrie Fisher was 21. They were the iconic leaders of the youngest members of the baby boomer generation — the children of the Seventies — who ate pop rocks and listened to Michael Jackson (Evil Death-Year 2009) on something called a Sony Walkman. These pre-teens buying multiple tickets to the debut of the Rocky franchise were the first video gamers. Our mentors fought the Vietnam War, played California rock like the Eagles or heavy metal like Metallica or a fusion of jazz and blues like Earth, Wind, and Fire.
As a year of Celebrity Death, 2012 was no slouch either. Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride, Ray Bradbury, Nora Ephron, Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Donna Summer, Etta James, Robin Gibb, Kitty Wells, Ernest Borgnine, Larry Hagman, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jack Klugman, Sherman Hemsley, Andy Griffith, Phyllis Diller, Dick Clark, and Don Cornelius all died that year.
Two-thousand fourteen took Robin Williams.
Before that, Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin both died in 1970, and before that, John F. Kennedy died in 1963, followed by his brother, Bobby, and Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. Sometimes, these iconic deaths seem to come in waves, but those are only the deaths of people in the spotlight. A life should never be measured by how publicly a person passes out of this world but by the role he or she plays in the lives of those who really knew the icon as a person. It is the deaths we ignore that define us: the soldiers with PTSD, who return from battle with psychological scars that won’t heal, who put an end to the pain by taking their own lives; the deaths of multiple thousands of homeless people each night; the deaths of young, Black children on the streets of large cities, men killed each year in traffic stops, police officers killed in cold blood, the deaths of toddlers in cancer clinics.
Despite the constant stream of proclamations calling out 2016 as the Apocalyptic Grim Reaper of a year, these losses are nothing new, but they do remind us of the inevitable passing of the torch to the younger generation. This is the cycle of life. We grow up, and we become the mentors, and perhaps this is the real reason millennials feel ill-at-ease: they are not ready to grow up.
I can’t say I blame them. Being a mentor is a cross to bear. For many, like Elvis, Michael, Whitney, Jimmy, Janis, and Prince, it was too much.
I forgot how much I missed the sound of rain splattering in sheets across my roof with hail pelting the gutters and the release of pent-up tension and energy through cracks of thunder that ended with rolling notes, the lowest bass notes in the universe. I forgot how much a part of my life was standing on the front porch watching the funnel cloud form, watching the trees turn their leaf-backs to the wind, feeling the forces of nature press me back against the exterior wall of the house just before the glorious outpouring.
It has been three months since we had rain, and at this writing, over 75 wildfires are burning in Tennessee. Some days, the haze of distant fires moves in. Most days, the air smells of burning hickory. Despite temperatures in the eighties (yesterday, it dropped to 77), the grass is stunted. No one has cut their grass in at least eight weeks. No need. It’s as if we all got up and moved to New Mexico. Except for that burning hickory. That smell alone tells you. It puts you in mind of a Sunday barbeque.
I’m certain a meteorologist could explain the weather patterns causing this unprecedented drought, but the view from the ground is more apocalyptic because many of us have lived some decades in this storm-torn part of the world, casting our fate to the wind as we planted our lives here despite the well-known fact that tornadoes would likely touch our lives, the risk coming not once but twice every year. Tennessee is no stranger to temperatures in the Eighties in winter, just enough to get the atmospheric juices rolling, but what we weren’t taught to expect, these endless months of low humidity, this hot, dry, desert weather, leaves us wondering if shifts in the poles, global warming, the presence of El Nino, the pollution of the oceans, or angry gods are to blame. Three months without rain is a long time. It is a season. A semester in college. The first trimester in a pregnancy. The time it takes to turn a quirk into a habit.
If there’s a color Tennessee is known for, it’s green. We have underground rivers, lakes, and seas, cave-rivers, natural springs high and low, and, up until this fall, the eternal rains. Tennesseans are weather-buffs, checking our rain gauges daily, calling into the weather stations with our reports after the deluge. We are the survivors of the Thousand-Year Flood. Some of us watched a semi float down an interstate. We watched the Cumberland River claim new real estate. The Opryland Hotel. The Schermerhorn Symphony House. We are known for our humidity, hovering near the one hundred percent range, destroying hair styles, clothes, our will to move. It’s why we invented sweet iced tea.
But now, everything looks like a scene from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? A one-dimensional cast to trees and grass and dry leaves scuttling along in the stiff breeze, blowing the hickory-smoke fires along, burning acres of our gorgeous forests.
Maybe we haven’t appreciated the true beauty of our state. Perhaps we have polluted the ground with plastic and poisons. Maybe the Native Americans weren’t wrong when they taught their children that the land remembers.