[FOOD POST] Venison Pizza, Two Ways

Trust Fall is an organization in Knoxville that has one of the coolest concepts I’ve ever heard of. It’s a secret dinner party. Top secret, even. Ultra exclusive.

But to get in, you needn’t be one of the Knoxville elite or have an in with the local foodies and hipsters (maybe these are the same people, I’m out of touch so I don’t know). No, to attend a Trust Fall event, one only needs to provide their email address on the website.

And you wait.

You wait until there’s an event scheduled at which point they’ll email you to let you know when the event is and when the tickets will go on sale. Frequently the on-sale time is something very specific — like 3:57pm or something — and tickets are frequently between $100-$200 each. Regardless of the price and the oddball sale times, tickets sell out every time, sometimes within seconds.

It’s at this point that I say that I’ve never secured tickets. My real-life knowledge of these events ends here but it’s my understanding that after you secure tickets, you then must figure out where the event is. They won’t tell you, but they’ll send you hints and riddles that indicate where the event will be held. The only concrete information you have is the date and who the chef is. The guest chef is usually from one of Knoxville’s many artisan eateries and for them, these Trust Fall events are a free-for-all. “Here’s your budget — go ham,” and the chef will then design a menu that’s way outside of their usual box and is frequently quite experimental.

On the evening of the event, the lucky diners who were able to secure tickets meet up for dinner and drinks at the secret location — usually the backroom of a restaurant, the courtyard of a local business or even a hidden underground meeting space. The menu is then revealed and it’s set — no substitutions, no special requests allowed. It’s a memorable event for everyone in attendance and definitely a gem among our Scruffy City’s many unique offerings.


A few years ago I had a brilliant plan to do something similar only the menu would be pizza and the location would be my house. No secrets there but the pizza menu would be highly experimental and my guests wouldn’t know the pizza styles until each pie was delivered to the table. I would design and develop as many as seven or eight pizzas and keep my oven hot the night of the event as I deliver each pie and briefly explain to my guests what they were about to eat, where I sourced each ingredient and what inspired me to combine them. I would introduce my guests to pizza toppings they’d never had before and even ingredients that they’d never considered putting on a pizza to begin with.

(After proofing that last paragraph I realize how much I sound like Bob Belcher. I’m not mad about it.)

In those early days, I designed about six unique pies, wrote out the full ingredient list and made each of them. I snapped photos of them and took extensive notes about what worked and what didn’t about each so I could adjust and try again — I needed these pies to be perfect before serving them to a group of friends. I was taking this WAY seriously.

Unfortunately, this party never materialized. I keep it in my back pocket, though, and each time I make a homemade pizza I keep notes about what I’ve made just in case the opportunity ever presents itself again. It won’t be in the near future or anything — I can’t host more than one or two extra people at my townhouse — but when I have the space to entertain, that’s going to be one of the first things I plan for.

With that in mind, let’s talk about this past weekend’s pizza experiment: Venison Pizza.

My dad has been a hunter for as long as I’ve known him. He’s secured a great place to hunt and regularly brings home a couple of deer whose horns get mounted and whose meat goes into the freezer. The problem with that, however, is that mom doesn’t like the gamey flavor of wild deer meat and usually won’t cook it. That’s great for me, though, because I LOVE wild game but I’m not a hunter, myself. So Chuck gets to hunt deer and I get fresh deer meat. Everybody wins!

Over the last year, especially, I’ve gone through pounds and pounds of venison steaks, ground, tenderloin, jerky, roast and chopped.

Last weekend I decided to take some of the steak out of the freezer and in doing so saw that I still had two homemade pizza doughs wrapped up and frozen — I had a brilliant idea.

I took an earthy approach to these pies, each one with nods to pies Cara and I both like but with a venison twist. First of all, there’s this guy:

  • Homemade crust
  • homemade sauce (also batched, portioned and frozen for future use)
  • seared venison steak
  • grilled onions
  • roasted sweet potatoes
  • mozzarella
  • fresh thyme

I didn’t do much to the venison — I sliced in thinly then seared it up in a skillet with a bit of fat. Garlic powder, salt, pepper, done. No marinades, no sauces. Ever. The onions were caramelized in a skillet with some butter and the sweet potatoes were diced and roasted with garlic powder. Thyme can sometimes be overpowering so I kept it light and I feel like I used just the right amount to come through without overpowering and it complimented the flavor of that venison perfectly.

So far I was on a roll. Next came pie two:

  • Homemade crust
  • Homemade sauce
  • seared venison steak
  • grilled wild mushrooms
  • roasted garlic cloves
  • mozzarella
  • shaved parmesan
  • truffle oil

One of mine and Cara’s favorite frozen pizzas is the mushroom-and-truffle flatbread sold by Trader Joe’s. Mushrooms are my favorite pizza topping so I wasn’t about to make two pizzas and not use them! These “wild” mushrooms were an assortment of mushrooms bought at my local Kroger that I fried up in some oil until they were nice and soft. Roasting garlic is somewhat of a new obsession of mine since it’s relatively easy to do and, I mean, who doesn’t love roasted garlic cloves? The shaved parmesan was the perfect consistency — sharp flavor and slightly melty. Finally, the drizzle of truffle oil was the flavor finisher that made this pie shine. It was unanimous, this pizza was the best one of the night.


Now that I’ve shared photos of these pizzas as well as the ingredient list, I don’t guess these will ever be included on my secret pizza party night but if you get an invite, don’t be surprised if I still serve up a venison pizza of some kind because these were so, so, so good!

Shoutout to anyone still reading despite this blog being so quiet lately.

Level Up: I Got a Motorcycle

Figured I’d revive the ol’ blog for the first time all year. Better be something good, yeah?

Well, it is.

Let’s talk.

We’ll go back to when I was but a wee lad. Dickerson street in the Model City. My dad had some kind of Suzuki motorcycle — a cruiser. I don’t remember a lot about it other than it was black and had a seat that was peeling apart. It stayed parked outside, uncovered, and he would often take me for rides on it. I was small enough to sit in front of him and lay my head down on the gas tank — it was THAT long ago.

He had a couple of cousins who each had Kawasaki Ninjas. I’d later learn these were crotch rockets and the muse of energy-drink-chugging, tribal-tatted bros who apparently enjoy being uncomfortable while operating a motor vehicle. While I’d later go on to hate these bikes, I thought they were the shit when I was a kid. Dad and I got to ride one of them in a parade in Hawkins County but I don’t remember why. I just remember it was early in the morning and our motorcycle was turquoise.

It wasn’t long after that my dad got rid of his bike and it was never spoken of again. I always thought they were cool but never had much interest in ever having one. When my dad and I had our falling out, my interest in motorcycles lessened even more — if he had one, I sure as hell didn’t want one. Ever.

As I got a little older, my opinion on the motorcycle didn’t change (yet) but my rule of “if dad did it, I’m not doing it” was broken because other things my dad did include:

  • Growing a beard
  • Wearing tanktops in public
  • Sometimes craving pinto-bean-and-mayo sandwiches

Bet you didn’t know that last part about me but it’s true.

Anyway, when I turned 30 it’s like some weird switch flipped in my mind and suddenly things changed. I yearned for a different lifestyle, a new look and, you guessed it, a motorcycle.

But being an adult is hard so saving up for a motorcycle wasn’t easy and I didn’t exactly have all the support in the world at home at the time.

Oh, boo-hoo.

Fast-forward to age 34. Life looks a lot different now, for better or worse. Things I wasn’t allowed to do for a long time — like owning a drumset or getting skull tattoos — are suddenly possible. So long as I had a plan and was responsible about it, anything was possible.

Fortunately for me, I like following through with plans and I’m a pretty responsible guy.

So on May 22, 2019, I registered for the New Rider Course at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson. The course wasn’t scheduled until a month later but that would give me plenty of time to buy the necessary gear, research motorcycles and go ahead and stress myself out real well beforehand.

I want to take this time to give a big shoutout to the folks at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson. I’ve been to several Harley shops around the southeast and most of the time I walk in, look around and walk out without anyone saying a word to me. Not so at Smoky Mountain. They proudly tout how they’re the #1 dealership in the world and they back it up 100% of the time. My main contact, Justin, was patient with me the first day I walked in and he talked to me about bikes, life and life on bikes while I tried out various sporters and Dynas. For 45 minutes he hung out with me, never once made me feel pressured to buy anything and never once made me feel like an idiot for being such a n00b.

When I told him I also wanted to look at gear for my class, he personally walked me over to the retail area, introduced me to one of the specialists who then stood by my side while I considered different jackets and tried on a variety of helmets. She hung out with me, assuring proper fit and reminding me of important things to consider when purchasing it. My custom-ordred helmet was delivered two days later and the dealership promptly alerted me that it was ready for pickup.

On June 24 I arrived at Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson where I was introduced to eight other people who had registered for our class as well as our head instructor, Maggie. Our first night was spent going over some basics, getting to know each other, doing some paperwork, getting a tour of the dealership and beginning our reading assignments. Over the next two days we saddled up on some Harley Street 500s to learn the basics of clutching, gear-shifting, braking, turning and all the other stuff that seems damn-near impossible if you have zero experience on a motorcycle.

By the end of the third day most of us had passed the riding test and written test. I say most because while 10 people had signed up, only nine showed, only eight made it through the riding exercises, only seven passed the riding test. It was like a weird Willy Wonka situation only no one got sucked into a chocolate river (that I’m aware of).

The survivors posed in front of the big fireplace at the dealership, exhausted from riding eight hours in the blazing summer sun but full of pride that we were on our way to becoming licensed motorcycle riders.

It took four attempts and an equal number of weeks at the DMV to get my motorcycle endorsement. By the time I got the endorsement, had my ID updated and had the new “Real ID” star put on my license, I had a collection of personal identification that included everything I’ve ever owned to identify myself save for my college photo IDs, though I’m surprised they didn’t require one of those.

Now a licensed rider, I needed to get a ride. Back to Smoky Mountain Harley!

With a little guidance from some friends and my HD bro Justin, I settled on this little beauty:

She’s a 2013 Harley Davidson XL 1200X Forty-Eight and she’s sexy. as. hell.

Possible names include Rhonda, Teeth Grinder and Adrian.

Shoutout to my Viking Queen Cara for the photos and for driving me to the dealership to pick it up … and for riding behind me to make sure I didn’t die on the way home :-)

Expect more posts this year that are mostly related to this little lady as well as a damn-near 100% Instagram takeover.

[Photo Post] The Lees of Memory at Exit/In

Recently a friend told me that she hadn’t received any of my blog updates since our email migration at work. That email migration was on August 23 and my last post was …

… also on August 23. So it’s not email’s fault — it’s your humble narrator’s.

In addition to my 40-hour-a-week job, I’m teaching five classes a week at TITLE and I now have seven paying personal training clients that I meet with weekly. I’m working on trying to finish this nutritional specialist program for my PT certification and my current workout program has me scheduled to work out four days a week (of which I usually only get in three). With that said, I think it’s reasonable to say that when I have some down time, I’d rather spend it sleeping or watching the Office for the fifty-leventh time on Netflix.

The concept of treating myself has certainly changed as of late. On December 9th I went from being 33 years old to being the ripe-old age of 95 and I can’t explain it. In the words of the carnival and side-show talkers I so admire, What has nature done?.

Despite the aches and pains that come with being another year older and following a 5/3/1 heavy-lifting routine, I was able to make my way to Nashville to catch one of my favorite bands — The Lees of Memory — play a hometown show at the historic Exit/In. I covered what makes these guys so special in my eyes in my previous post so if you want the back story, go there. Otherwise just know these guys are the real deal and never cease to amaze.

The opening acts included the Vamptones of nearby Murfreesboro and a Christmas jazz set played by Nashville legend Krazy Kyle (organist for the Nashville Predators) with his band The Sanatarium. While the two acts were completely different from the headliner, they set the stage perfectly for the wall of sound that hit the 200+ people in attendance on that rainy Friday evening in Music City.

The same crew from Birmingham was back together with Brandon Fisher on guitars and vocals, John Davis on vocals and a variety of other instruments, Nick Slack on drums, Sam Powers on bass, Dan Benningfield on keys, Jason Moore on guitar and Ethan Luck on guitar. The addition of multi-instrumentalist Josiah Holland — who performed with the guys at SXSW a few years ago — rounded out the Lee’s lineup. The setlist was made primarily of songs from their 2017 double LP The Blinding White of Nothing at All but also included fan favorites from 2014’s Sisyphus Says, 2016’s Unnecessary Evil and a couple of Superdrag covers from their 1998 classic record Head Trip in Every Key that closed the set.

When you get a group of accomplished musicians like this together, magic happens before your very eyes on stage and they definitely brought it. This magic was then paired with the psychedelic effects produced by Silver Cord Cinema’s liquid light show — literally the only way a Lee’s set could be any better. Brandon has since told me that they’ve unofficially decided that they can’t do another headlining show without them and I can see why.

Anyway, here are a few picks from the set as well as a hot picture of my super hot date. Everything was taken with my Canon EOS 77D with a 50mm lens (that was giving me hell with focus that night for some reason). If you want to see more, there’s plenty of them on my Flickr page.

If you want to rock out with any of the above mentioned bands, you can do so below. Show them all some love, they deserve it.