I Found My Thrill on Blackberry Farm’s Rolling Hills
The only restaurant/bar on our concourse at the Knoxville airport was a Ruby Tuesday, which was fitting because we were headed to Blackberry Farm, the homestead/resort of Ruby Tuesday’s founder Sandy Beall. Beall and his wife Kreis took over the 9,200-acre estate in the Smoky Mountains in 1976, where they raised both their family and the bar on luxury resorts.
Their son Sam, who had taken over the farm where he had learned hospitality at his mother’s knee, was killed in a skiing accident the month before our visit in March and his wife, Mary Celeste Beall, was stepping into that role. Easter weekend the crowd was mostly their family, friends and the residents who had vacation homes there—and a few stragglers like me and my husband.
I hate to compare the hospitality and attention to detail to Disney, because it’s so predictable. I would, however, offer up Blackberry Farm as a new gold standard—mostly because it had the good sense to cater to grown-up sensibilities and nix the mouse and princesses. Everything was classy. The logo'd shirts are from Orvis and their signature scent is bourbon lavender.
The farm does have its share of cute, cuddly animals, however, in its lambs and truffle dogs. A litter of the Lagotto Romagnolo puppies had been born a few weeks earlier and the rough and tumble bundles of fur were available for selfies. There’s more than a two-year waiting list for the puppies and most will never be called into service to sniff out truffles by a tree trunk. (I’m sure they could also sniff out the homemade chocolate truffles left on guests’ pillows each night.) The cost per puppy, we were told, is $8,500.
Southern hospitality is legendary and the staff was at the ready. Rent a golf cart to roam around the vast acreage and at night it is mysteriously charged. There was no bill at the end of a meal, no need to tip, because it was already added in. It’s a little disconcerting to walk out after a meal or service without paying or tipping, but I got used to it. Hopefully, I won’t continue to do that in the real world.
The food, much of which is grown on the property, is the star. It was complex, with layered flavors, and at times it tried a little too hard. One’s stomach struggles with three gourmet meals a day. We never missed a meal, not just because it was included in the price, but because they had our rapt attention. What twist was going on with the lamb? What was going to be pickled this time? Strawberries? Deviled eggs?
I would have refused to leave on Sunday had my allergies not gone into overdrive the day before. They may not remember our names after the next wave of guests come in, but they’ll remember our coughing fits.
When our rental car was brought around to us, our luggage had been retrieved from the cabin and the boxed-up cookies I had left behind from the previous night’s dessert were sitting on the gearshift. Two bottles of ice cold water were in the cup holders. How am I ever going to return to the world of Hampton Inns and Marriotts?
At the airport, my heart went out to the bartender at Ruby Tuesday. She could see it on our face; she didn’t even try to live up to Blackberry Farm.