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Carolyn Dawn Johnson savors the fish -- and atmosphere

Growing up on a farm in Canada, Carolyn Dawn Johnson knows the meaning of fresh. "Our milk was straight from the cow," she says. "We even made our own cottage cheese!"

Though she spends far more time on the road than the farm these days, Carolyn Dawn still values fresh food.

"We don't have a stove on the bus," she explains, "so we never cook. I bring things like fruit and protein shakes. Or we just eat at the venue before the show. But good, fresh stuff is hard to come by. I've gotten to where if it's not really good or I'm not really craving it, then I'll skip it."

When Carolyn Dawn does get home to Nashville, she skips right to her favorite restaurant, The Belle Meade Brasserie, a casually elegant spot featuring French-American fare.

"My friend is the manager here," says the "Complicated" singer. "And I started coming in to hang out with her. Then I tried the food -- it was so good. I was hooked!"

Carolyn Dawn says she loves the simplicity of the Brasserie's food. "It's not like those restaurants where you look at the menu and have no idea what half the ingredients are!" she laughs. "Here, you actually understand everything, but it's still interesting and delicious."

The man behind the menu is the Brasserie's chef, Matthew Dudney -- who happens to be entertainer Barbara Mandrell's son.

Matthew leads Carolyn Dawn to the kitchen and shows her how to prepare Oven-Fried Grouper Pommery, a restaurant favorite for nearly a dozen years.

"To be honest, I'm not a big fish eater," confesses Carolyn Dawn. "But when I tried this, I fell in love with it!"

It's not just the butter-dipped, oven-fried fish that brings her back to the Brasserie time and again. "It's the piano," she says, grinning. "On the weekends, they have someone come in to play -- which is wonderful.

"But on weekdays, sometimes my friends and I go and when it gets later and people are dwindling, we'll take turns playing and singing. I'll sing 'Complicated,' or some things off my record. Then we'll sing cover songs. It's our own

little hangout."

Carolyn Dawn clearly treasures life's simple -- or should we say "uncomplicated" -- pleasures!

-- M.B. Roberts

Get the recipe in the April 2nd, 2002 issue