Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Best: Gingham (and Giant Bugs)

I was hoping to get some better photos of this gingham dress, but Dan's idea of "outfit photos" is long-distance pictures of me with giant bug art sculptures at Cheekwood!  Sorry!  But I really love this dress I bought via eShakti, because I have been wanting a dress in this pattern for a while.

Gingham and Ants go together like a Picnic!

Spider gonna get me!
Dress: eShakti (affiliate link)
Shoes:  via DSW
Purse:  H&M

Even though there was a little sprinkling rain, it made it a nice, cool time to visit the outdoor bug sculptures.  I also wanted to see the Andy Warhol "Flowers" exhibit, and we learned it was on loan from the museum in Pittsburgh!  Dan had already seen most of the pieces, which was kind of funny.
Later, I layered a red cardigan over the dress, and it was pretty cute!  The gingham feels a little casual for the office, but perfect for a weekend date with my guy.  We had lunch, visited the brewery, and it was overall a really great outing...  but I need to get him to take better outfit photos!

Cheekwood was one of our first dates in Nashville.  It's a beautiful property in the Bellemeade area, and there's always some kind of exhibit that pulls us in once a year.  The first time, we went to see the Treehouses, then last year to see the LIGHT: Bruce Munro exhibit in the evening.  It's definitely worth visiting if you're in the area, because the exhibits change enough to keep it feeling fresh, and the gardens are always beautiful.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Last Road Trip of Summer with Advance Auto

This is a sponsored post that contains affiliate links.

I've never been much into driving... before, I always had a very basic car without a ton of bells and whistles.  Driving just got me from one place to another!  But then this month, I traded in my old undergrad car (a beloved Toyota Corolla) for a brand-new Subaru Outback.  Holy cow!  Suddenly, driving is like a brand-new experience.

My New Car!

Dan, as excited about the car as me, immediately dragged me to Advance Auto.  I don't usually like auto parts stores (I feel lost and out of my element), but I was pleasantly surprised by how kind and helpful everyone was.  I already have an emergency kit in my car, but we added a tire gauge (I keep losing mine) and a new fire extinguisher since my old one expired.  I also picked up some fabric protecting spray to prevent stains.  I keep my cars well-maintained, but I outsource everything.  Dan even replaces the windshield wipers on my car too!  Most of my mishaps are issues of ignorance!  I never know when to get new tires (or how old my current ones are), and my battery once died because I didn't know they had to be replaced.  Oops.  Wish I'd known about free battery testing!  Thankfully, I've always been surrounded by people who could help.

When Advance Auto reached out to me about their Last Road Trip of Summer campaign, I thought it was perfect timing.  I just took three girlfriends (and ALL our stuff) on a road trip for a DAR retreat, and it felt good knowing my car was tuned up and safe to go.  I proudly packed the trunk like a Tetris pro, loaded everyone up, cranked some tunes, and hit the road.  Now that I actually enjoy driving, I find myself reading more about cars; Advance Auto has some great blog posts on topics like fuel efficiency, which is one of the reasons I chose my car specifically.

Group Road Trip Selfie, taken while parked for safety purposes!

Check out this great infographic from Advance Auto, perfect for girls like me who spend a lot of time traveling and on the road, and might not know everything we ought to about our cars.

Disclosure:  I received compensation in exchange for writing this post about road trips and Advance Auto.  Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own, and I do believe in good car maintenance!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Budgeting Bloggers: August 2014

August was not a big shopping month for me in terms of clothes, mostly because I bought a new car (eep!) and a couple of DAR pins, so I didn't feel like spending a whole bunch of other money on stuff.  In fact, I am considering lowering my budget for next quarter, given the holidays and higher expenses.  I still bought a few things, though!

  1. Classic Toms in Olive (retail $48, paid $38 via Amazon):  My black Toms are getting up there in age and wear, so I knew I wanted a new pair.  I use them when I ride my bike, run around on weekends, etc.  I chose the Olive color because I knew it would be a good neutral that could go with either black or brown.  I might still consider the Ash grey, but these looked good for everyday wear.
  2. eShakti Sadie Dress in Radiant Orchid (originally $75, paid $33):  I added short sleeves to this dress to it would be even more retro.  I almost bought the dress in orange, then I decided the purple would be better to carry me through different seasons.  It's a bit dressy for work, but it's perfect for DAR luncheons and teas.
  3. eShakti Gingham Check Empire Waist Dress (originally $70, paid $18):  I love gingham, and I've been wanting a gingham dress for ages.  It may be August, but it's still 90-degree weather here in TN, so this girl dress will get plenty of wear, and I'd wear it into the fall with a jacket.
  4. Anjolee CZ Necklace (c/o Anjolee):  I received a CZ version of this necklace by Anjolee to review for the blog.  I love how sparkly it is.  Check out my review here.
Not Pictured:
  • Yellow Circle Skirt & Red Circle Skirt ($35 each, free shipping):  After seeing Jade's work on my friend's custom skirt, and learning of her reasonable prices (I've seen comparable ones for double the cost) and the quality looked great.  These were the quality I would expect from a site like ModCloth, so I was very happy with them!  I used a discount code for free ship.  I hope to have some pics of them in a future post.
  • eShakti Cat Print Dress ($13, via Poshmark):  It's hard to take on and off, but I got an adorable cat-print dress for a song.  I'm pretty much done buying any clothes via Poshmark.  I'd rather buy used clothes locally than online, because I haven't been having good luck with anything I buy. This dress I still hope will become something I can wear once I lose a couple of pounds based on the construction.
I know, I know, AGAIN with the eShakti dresses!  But the thing is, I get so many compliments on them!  They do require ironing (bof!) but with a huge sale plus $35 in gift coupon codes, I just had to jump in.  You'll probably see another one at least this fall, because they always throw in a $25 giftcard to use on top of their deals after you purchase something.

$172 spent - $57 earned = $115 total
$$$ savings (lots of freebies and savings!)

Quarterly Budget: $500 - $159 July - $115 August = $226 remaining

Check out the rest of this month's Budget Bloggers at the linkup at Franish!

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Effortless Weeknight Pasta

Dan and I have discovered a new favorite dish, which I'm calling our Weeknight Pasta.  I was inspired by a weeknight dinner my friend tossed together at her apartment, tossing ingredients into a blender and tossing pasta in the mix.  It was so good, I gave it a try at home.  Now, we toss whatever we have that makes sense into the mix for a super easy, tasty meal.

Example Ingredients

Typically, I'll cook an entire box of pasta, something like rigatoni that will allow the mix to stick.  I save a little of the starchy pasta water on the side for later.

Separately, I'll combine a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil with whatever cheese, herbs, etc. that I want to add in that night.  For these photos, I happened to have fresh basil from my coworker, garlic, and some boring parmesan cheese in a shaker.  But once you toss it all into a food processor or mini chopper (this night I used my mini chopper) and mix it up, you come up with a great flavor.  You could do this to make an easy pesto too, with pine nuts and more basil vs. tomatoes.

Once the sauce gets to a good consistency, I stop pulsing it in the chopper.   It should be well-mixed.

Lastly, I just toss the pasta in this sauce, adding the starchy water I saved to help it all stick.  The pasta water is key to helping it make that great squelchy sound that lets you know it's mixing up well!

Even though there are just two of us, I still use the whole box of pasta.  Why?  This pasta is great warm or cold, and it's the perfect leftover to keep in the fridge.  We pack it for lunch the next day, or eat it for dinner multiple days.  You can serve it with salad, bread, whatever is easy.

As I try to cook more at home, I know that this will be a tried-and-true combo to help me clean out the fridge and pantry.  If there's leftover Italian sausage, why not cook it up and add to this?  I imagine this is something we will eat every other week or so because it's so effortless.  And it looks nice too!

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P.S.  Another weeknight favorite?  A little compound butter.  I typically set out half a stick of butter before I go to bed, then spend five minutes in the morning mixing it with herbs and/or spices.  For this pasta dish, I made some butter with minced garlic and Italian herbs to put on some warm bread.  You just mix the softened butter with whatever you want (sweet idea: cinnamon and sugar or honey to put on your breakfast pancakes!) then wrap it in a little plastic to get back to a stick or ball form and put it back in the fridge for at least an hour.  It really adds some great flavor to whatever you spread it on later.

Friday, August 22, 2014

On being brave

Every so often, I occasionally feel compelled to write something truly personal.  To confess.  To shove all of my thoughts out into the universe.  To be vulnerable.  Because while you know me through my posts about where I've been, what I wear, and what I've eaten, those are clearly the things I'm most comfortable blabbing and writing about.

This week, I had a bit of a personal epiphany, and it has shaken me up in a way that I did not expect.  I realized that I am too often afraid.  And I realized that I am brave.

That sounds like a bit of a contradiction, given my background and the way I appear to most people.  But I am filled with irrational fears.  I tend to be risk averse.  I like the bad news first.  I read the Wikipedia summaries of scary movies before I'm forced to watch them, so I won't be spooked.  My nightmares are filled with a myriad of common and uncommon fears, of physical harm, emotional harm, inadequacy, and shame.

What makes me feel able to overcome these fears?  Other people.  I seek approval, I seek support.  I fear rejection, but I applied to and survived West Point, went after a new career, started my MBA.  I'm terrified of heights, but I have jumped out of airplanes and zip-lined and climbed towers and obstacles.  I'm afraid of guns, but I learned to use them and went outside the wire in Iraq.  There have been so many times in my life where I have been afraid, but somehow persevered and achieved something I thought to be impossible.  And in every single instance, I had people that I trusted and cared about encouraging me and reassuring me that I was capable enough to do it.  I needed them to feel I was good enough to do it.  Because I apparently didn't believe in myself.

Last December, I was in a course for women designed to teach us to lead powerfully.  It was an emotionally exhausting journey, and at the end of it I had a realization: I am brave.  I walked away from that course feeling on top of the world.  I was able to look back at my accomplishments and realize that I did not achieve them because other people told me I was able to...  I achieved them because I always had the innate ability to do so.

But ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on...  and I forget that I'm brave.  I seek approval everywhere.  I lose faith that I'm good enough to do something.

This week, I was in Colorado with my team from work, including my boss.  The activities planned for us were a surprise, another one of those things I don't tend to like due to my irrational fears.  You should see how sweaty my palms were!  One of the planned activities was a 9-hole golf scramble, something I had never participated in before.  I was beating myself down the entire time, feeling like I would let my team down, embarrass myself, and ultimately be a failure.  But my team was encouraging, coached me the entire time, and my confidence grew.  I even contributed a few good strokes that helped the group, in between slices.

Then the next day, I was told we would be riding ATVs into the mountains.  I don't like to go fast.  I am afraid of motorcycles, four-wheelers, and basically anything else my mother told me was a death trap.  I've never even ridden a riding lawn mower, because I'm irrationally afraid of the blades.  But my entire team was riding up the mountain, and I was going with them.  I trust them and love them, and I didn't want to hold anyone back.

I was afraid.  The slopes were steep, the course rocky.  But I pushed on.  And then I went faster.  And then I let go of the fear.  The guide, sensing the change in his only real novice rider, led us to bumpy, muddy mess and blazed on through.  I was first in line behind him, and he looked back to see if I would follow.  I gunned it.  I let go of everything I was afraid of: getting dirty, getting stuck, falling off, being hurt...  and I just went straight in at full speed, the way I always do when faced with a sense of "fight or flight".  I fight.

Letting go.

Later, I would tell my boss just how afraid and uncomfortable I was during the trip.  I would also tell him that what made me feel able to face my fears was knowing I had my trusted team behind me.  And I couldn't stop thinking about it after I said it aloud.

I'd forgotten.  I'd forgotten that while having the support of others makes me FEEL able to face my fears, I was still the one facing them.  Alone.  By myself.  In spite of myself.

I'm brave.  I'm fortunate that I've had such good people in my life to remind me that I'm capable, but I hate that I've relied on them so much, instead of relying on me.

When it comes to my life, I need to put my foot on the gas and stop riding the brake.  I need to believe in my own abilities, because the hard work and effort and passion I have put into my life are what have made it what I have today.  It's not because everyone else told me I could, it's BECAUSE I COULD DO IT ALL ALONG.

I'm brave.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Loving Pie Company

When one of my coworkers mentioned the existence of a restaurant that serves NOTHING BUT PIE we all freaked out and had to go.   Six of us made the trek on a Friday for lunch at The Loving Pie Company, and we were not disappointed.  I almost squealed in delight as we pulled up to this adorable house-turned-pie-shop.  It made me feel like I was stepping into a real-life Pushing Daisies Pie Hole.

For lunch, I decided on their Mac & Cheese Pie, and it was AMAZING.  It was served hot, personally sized for one, and absolutely delicious.  I scraped the little bowl clean!  (Decided not to include that photo, because gluttony.)  It was just as good as the homemade baked mac I make at home, so it's tempting me to throw a pie crust over the top of my normal recipe, in little ramekins!

For dessert, I took home their Chess Pie and Red Velvet Chess Pie.  I've been on a buttermilk/chess pie kick for a while, for no reason in particular.   Both were really good (the Red Velvet had a rich chocolate flavor) but I want to go back to try a fruit pie sometime.  Heck, I want to come back and try a lot of things at this place.

I will warn you, it's a slow-paced meal, not a dine and dash kind of joint.  You need to sit down and savor and enjoy the pie.  Because PIE.

The Loving Pie Company on Urbanspoon

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Longhorn's Steaks Across America: Nashville Style!

I think Dan's favorite meal at home is steak night.  We've always been red-meat people!  So when Longhorn  Steakhouse reached out to ask if we'd like to try their new Steaks Across America menu, it was a resounding yes for us.  Even better, I'm part of a multi-week culinary trek where bloggers in different states come up with a steak recipe that represents our city.

That's me!

At Longhorn
First up, our meal at Longhorn.  While we were waiting for our table, I started sipping on a delicious skinny sangria that I could not believe was "skinny" in any way.  DELICIOUS.  I could have had a pitcher.  Dan had a margarita.  Then, they started us off with some warm bread.

Dan chose a salad before his meal, while I chose some awesome tomato soup.  It's one of the best tomato soups I've had at a restaurant, and that's saying something.  Super tasty.

I also ordered the Steakhouse Mac & Cheese as a side with my steak, which was pretty good, while Dan splurged on some grilled corn and a lobster tail.  But THE STEAKS.

We each chose a steak from the special menu.  The quality of the meat was great (we always go medium or medium-rare), and the new recipes offer a lot of flavor.  Dan is a mushroom lover, so he picked the Manhattan Stuffed Mushroom Filet, a grilled (6 or 8 oz) filet topped with cheese-stuffed mushrooms and a housemade bĂ©arnaise sauce.  It was definitely the right steak for him, with a ton of taste all-around.

I chose the Kansas City BBQ Sirloin, a grilled (9 or 11 oz) signature sirloin glazed with warm bourbon BBQ sauce and topped with delectable candied bacon.  Yup, candied bacon.  I have to say, this was the perfect selection for me.  The BBQ sauce glaze actually tasted a lot like Korean BBQ to me, which my regular readers know is my fav.  There was a definite tangy flavor, and the bacon was a great compliment.

The other steak, the one we did not get to try, is the Texas 3-Chili Pepper Ribeye.   It's a juicy (6 or 8 oz) ribeye drizzled with a smoky, three-pepper blend and topped with crispy onion straws.  Sounds yum!  We both left the restaurant feeling very full, having gorged ourselves on a fantastic meal.  It was honestly our first time at a local Longhorn Steakhouse, and the service was really great.  I have to give a shoutout to the Longhorn in Brentwood, on Old Hickory Blvd., for providing great service, food, drinks, without even knowing I would be writing about the meal.

At Home
Next up, a Nashville-inspired steak prepared at home.  And I knew exactly where I was heading with this one.  You see, while Nashville is truly a melting pot of music goodness, it's also known for one culinary treat in particular: HOT CHICKEN.  Hot chicken is a religion here (we even have an annual festival), and the story goes that it was created by a jealous girlfriend who wanted to punish her womanizing boyfriend with a fried chicken that would light his tastebuds on fire.  But, as it turns out, it was delicious!

I knew I would need to create a steak in the spirit of our hot chicken fanaticism.  I then figured the best way to do that with a steak would be to create a compound butter, using some cajun spices (focus on cayenne and paprika, to your own taste) and garlic.  I usually leave half a stick of butter out on the counter overnight or during the work day, then whip it up with spices and re-refrigerate it for spreading later.  You could even mix in sriracha if you're feeling froggy.  For this steak, I mixed up the butter and then spread it immediately while soft on the top sirloin I picked up from my local grocery.  Both sides, please!

When I make steak in our apartment, I don't use a grill, because another thing Tennessee is known for is our Lodge cast-iron skillets.  Seriously, buy a Lodge, they've had a working foundry in South Pittsburg, TN since 1896.  I heat up a little oil in the skillet (use a pot holder, these babies get sizzling!), then sear the buttered steak on both sides for 90 seconds, to lock in the flavor.

From there, you have two options:  continue to cook it in the skillet via stovetop, or stick it in a pre-heated oven until it reaches your preferred temperature.  I know, steak in/on an oven?  Trust me, it works, and that's how many restaurants get your steak to the perfect temp.  You lock in the flavor, and you control the pinkness.  Let your steak sit for about 10 minutes before you cut into it.

"Hot" Nashville Steak!
And, because it's a tradition with hot chicken, the steak is served on top of a slice of white bread with some pickles.  Because that's how it's done with hot chicken in Nashville, y'all.

Next up on the culinary journey: PHILADELPHIA!  Love that city.  Check out Leslie at And Her Little Dog Too as I pass her the baton (or rather, the tongs) on our steak adventure.

The Longhorn Steaks Across America Summer Road Trip:
Atlanta via The Divine Miss Mommy  8/5
Boston via Eat. Live. Blog. – 8/15
Nashville via Adventures in Aubreyland – 8/18
Philadelphia via And Her Little Dog Too – 8/20

Disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post. I received compensation in order to taste and make the steaks featured in this post, but all opinions are 100% my own!

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Best: Work and Play

I like to wear things that can go from work to play without having to change.  Since my office is chilly, and I don't like going sleeveless at work, I figured I could take my fun sailor-style dress from my desk to dinner with a dear friend.  And yes, I'm wearing sunglasses again, because I can't open my eyes in this gorgeous Nashville sunshine!

Dress: Hearts & Roses London via Hot Topic
Cardigan:  J. Crew Factory
Shoes:  Naturalizer
Purse:  Longchamp (custom)

This dress is a so easy to wear!  No petticoat needed, because it's already got a layer built in.  I felt like the flats dressed it down enough to feel more easygoing in a casual workplace.  It was a great deal, and I really love the quality and color.  When I took my sweater off for dinner, my friend VB was like, "You're a sailor!"  I'm glad she was there to snap these pics so I could show you how I incorporate my personal style into my work outfits.

It did not come with a belt, but I used a cheapo that I already had.  I'd probably pair this with wedges if I wasn't at work and wanting to wear my super-comfy loafers.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Moto Cucina + Enoteca

After reading about Moto on Lauren's blog Old Red Boots, I knew that I had to add it to my list.  It's one of the M Street restaurants in the Gulch, and I'm a sucker for Italian food.  When my friend Lindsey and I were planning a girls' night out, we made a reservation for dinner.

Moto, with its proximity to the other M Street restaurants, offers valet parking, which is a blessing in the ever-hip Gulch.  We handed off the keys and were escorted to a table with an adorable wooden "Reserved" sign, feeling quite VIP.  The decor is modern, and the menu has a ton of options.

I started with a glass of prosecco, the house-made foccaccia bread, and a shared appetizer of their housemade burrata.  The cheese was so excellent!  Everything was delicious.  I also thought the croutons in the burrata/tomato mix were awesome, and I usually hate croutons.

For my main course, I chose the Garganelli, a delicious pasta with a spicy tomato cream sauce and fennel sausage.  It definitely had a kick!  The pasta was perfectly chewy and fresh, and the sausage was a great complement.  I ate every last noodle.  I also sampled Lindsey's gluten-free pasta and a delish meatball.  We also had a side of brussels sprouts (not pictured) that were actually really good.  I mean, I hate veggies, but I could definitely eat those without protest!  If only Moto knew what a huge compliment that is from me.

We were so stuffed that even though we wanted dessert, we could not physically eat another bite.  I would definitely come back to Moto for some more delicious bites.  But I need to work my way through the rest of M Street sometime too!

I had a great time catching up with one of my best friends over a superb meal.

Moto Cucina + Enoteca on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Anjolee, The Art of Jewelry: Necklace Review

When Anjolee reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing one of their jewelry pieces and website, I jumped at the chance!  I mean, SHINY.  I was thrilled when a package showed up for me in a beautiful wooden box.

I received a CZ version of what they actually produce in DIAMONDS...  a beautiful tennis necklace that I wore with a pair of tiny diamond studs I already own.

Anjolee is the leading manufacturer of fine diamond jewelry since 1977 specializing in diamond wedding and anniversary rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces. Anjolee offers thousands of high-quality fine jewelry designs which can be customized based on metal type, diamond weight, and size, thus creating various price options for each product. All orders enjoy free overnight shipping and insurance, arrive in stylish gift packaging, and a 30-day return policy.

I received my first compliment on the necklace within minutes of arriving at work.  True story!  I think that the beautiful pave stones give it a unique shine, yet it's not overly flashy for the office.  I have to mention the quality of the necklace, because even though it was CZ, they did not skimp on the details.  The stones are perfectly placed, and the silver is quality and of a great weight.  The pendant itself looks delicate, but definitely stood up to my usual wear.  I think people were secretly wondering if it was a new gift from Dan.

Based on my experience with Anjolee, I would not hesitate to purchase from them in the future... especially if I needed to drop hints about some bling I wanted.  Shipping was fast, the presentation of the box was beautiful, and I find myself looking in the mirror a lot when I wear this piece.  It's definitely going to become a regular in my rotation of necklaces.  Now I just need to save up for some real diamonds, eh?

Disclosure: Anjolee provided me with a cubic zirconia version of one of their necklaces for the purposes of providing a review. I received the necklace at no charge in order to provide my honest, personal opinion of their product offering.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Knoxville: The Stock & Barrel

(I know, more food posts... but to be honest, I've had a lot of these posts queued up for while!  Been playing catchup on homework and other projects in the meantime.  Enjoy it nonetheless!)

While we were in Knoxville for a DAR event, my friend SM and I had a delicious meal at The Stock & Barrel, an establishment known for their selection of bourbon and burgers.  While the wait for a table on a Friday night was a couple of hours (there was a lot going on!) we were able to walk right up to the bar for food and drink.

Check out all that booze!

For my bourbon drink (a must!) I had the Bourbon Fizz, which was Belle Meade Bourbon, lemonade, and muddled strawberries with basil.  It was one of the less strong-tasting bourbon drinks (since I just can't handle the stronger stuff) but definitely delicious and refreshing.

For my meal, I had the Farmhouse Burger, featuring barrel aged cheddar, Benton's Bacon (a TN farm-to-table powerhouse), a fried egg, and garlic aioli.  The meat was deliciously cooked.  Thumbs up from this burger fan!  I also upgraded my fries the Duck Confit fries, which I highly recommend.  They were so decadent, SM helped me finish them off.  The portions are huge at this place.

I highly recommend you make reservations before you go, or call in to add your name to the list, especially given the small size of the restaurant plus its obvious popularity.  Otherwise you can sidle up to the bar like we did.

If I ever bring Dan to Knoxville, I'm definitely going to bring him here.  Not only is the meat excellent, but everything from the fries to the drinks would be right up his alley.  I'm glad SM's friend recommended the place, because we had a great time there for a little DAR girls' night.

Stock & Barrel on Urbanspoon

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