Sunday, February 12, 2006


Nicholson Farmhouse Restaurant

Ever since I came to Tallahassee more than a year ago, people have been telling me about the Nicholson Farmhouse Restaurant, but until this afternoon, I'd never actually been there. The one night that all the folks from my office went there for dinner, I was traveling, and I've just never gone on my own.

Well, the weather today started out positively awful-- cold, rainy, thunderstorms, severe weather and flash flood warnings-- so my original plans were pretty much trashed. At about 2:30 PM, the weather started clearing, and I was bored, so I decided to hop into the car and drive up to Havana, a little town about 14 miles North of the city, which is chock full of cute little antique stores. And, I thought, will all those touristy-stores, there ought to be someplace to grab an early dinner before I came back to Tally to see the 8:00 show of Capote.

Well, I was wrong about the possibility of eating in Havana, unless I wanted Subway or Pizza-- all the quaint little tea rooms and cafes were closed. So I decided to drive a few miles farther down the road toward Quincy. There is not much of anything between Havana and Quincy-- Well there are cows, truck stops and Baptist churches, but no restaurants.... except Nicholson Farm House. So I figured..."why not?"

I wish I'd had my camera, because I was completely nonplussed by what I saw as I drove down the muddy, unpaved drive with potholes deep enough to make me glad I had the Jeep. As you make the turn into the compound, you see first a gazebo, then a cluster of buildings- one appears to be a barn, another a smokehouse, another a gas station and general store, a long, low building of undetermined use, and what looks like a pretty good-sized house that could use some repairs and a coat of paint. (Actually, they all looked like they could use a coat of paint.) A hand-painted sign read "Restaurant Entrance" and an arrow labeled "Parking"pointed to what appeared to be a grassy pasture area, so I picked a spot as far away from the largest of the mud puddles as I could and parked the Jeep.

It was 5:30 PM-- the parking lot was not full, and when I entered, neither of the 2 dining rooms that I could see appeared to be crowded. That notwithstanding, the four women at the reservations desk first were incredulous that an unaccompanied woman wanted a table, then spent 10 minutes trying to decide where to seat me. Finally, I was led through a rats maze, out of the house through which I entered, down a covered walkway, past a freestanding building which contained the restrooms, and into another house filled with small dining rooms. I met my server, a very nice and efficient woman named Connie, and was handed an 8-page newspaper, which contained information about the property and the menu. When I was seated, there were 4 other people in the dining room, and perhaps 18 empty tables.

Connie brought me a carafe of iced tea, and launched into her spiel about the restaurant. Short version: there are other things on there, but it's mostly a steakhouse. I ordered a steak, the smallest one on the menu. Connie took my order, and I noticed a small bowl she'd placed on my table. It contained one of the few Southern Delicacies I've never even tried-- boiled peanuts.

There is a reason I've never tried these things-- aesthetically, they're slightly disgusting. Imagine buying a regular bag of peanuts in the shell, dumping them in salted water, and boiling the crap outta them. Voila! Boiled peanuts. They're wet, dark brown and squishy. You peel and eat them, dumping the shells in the empty bowl provided for this purpose. They aren't terrible-- they taste like bland salted legumes-- but I don't know why anyone would go out of their way to get them.

I'd peeled and eaten the contents of 2 or 3 shells, (and had decided my curiousity about boiled peanuts was now satisfied forever) when Connie was back with my salad and bread. New Southern Delicacy #2-- pickled okra. I actually like okra, and have eaten it dozens of ways, but never pickled. Since the okra was by far the most interesting thing on the salad plate, I ate it first. I think I'd have liked it better if the brine had been more intense-- it was pretty bland. I think I could like really good pickled okra-- I like fresh cucumbers and beets in home-made brine- but this was trying too hard to be inoffensive.

When my steak and veggies arrived, I could only stare at it-- if this was the smallest steak on the menu, I don't want to think about the others. It was huge. It tasted great, and their special recipe Vidalia Onion steak sauce is quite good, but I only ate about a third of the beef. The twice-baked potato and green beans were both hot and fresh-- though the beans were cooked to death in true Southern style. )I'm not sure why, but in the South, al dente veggies are unheard of.

The food is well-prepared and tasty for the most part, and the service was excellent, but there's nothing exotic about the place or the menu. Nor is it cheap. Expect to spend $60 or more (without liquor) for dinner for 2. There are some really decadent-looking desserts to be had. But it's way out in the middle of nowhere in BFE, and the restrooms (which do have modern plumbing) are in what amounts to an outhouse. Ordinarily, less of a problem than they were tonight in a cold drizzle.

But I thought the Sweetheart Steak for 2 was hilarious. The specialty of the house is 2 ribeyes arranged in a heart shape--- Yeah, nothing says romance to me like an enormous slab of heart-shaped charred meat. And the history of the property and the family in the newspaper/menu completely cracked me up. It was so high on the UH scale (unintentional humor) that I brought my copy home and may have to scan portions of it.

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