The Rock Orchard

( 20 )


Some women can touch a man and heal like Jesus. The man who sees sunrise from a Belle woman's bed will swear he's been born again.

When it came to men, Charlotte Belle strictly ascribed to the law of catch and release. As soon as she could get a man out of her bed, she threw him back in the stream. No, Charlotte did not need a man. She had money. She had her driver, Mr. Nalls, for heavy lifting. Sex? Her pond was well stocked. What else does a woman need a man for? And so it ...

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Some women can touch a man and heal like Jesus. The man who sees sunrise from a Belle woman's bed will swear he's been born again.

When it came to men, Charlotte Belle strictly ascribed to the law of catch and release. As soon as she could get a man out of her bed, she threw him back in the stream. No, Charlotte did not need a man. She had money. She had her driver, Mr. Nalls, for heavy lifting. Sex? Her pond was well stocked. What else does a woman need a man for? And so it comes as quite a surprise to Charlotte that she can not stop thinking about the Reverend Thomas Jones.

In The Rock Orchard, debut novelist Paula Wall uses sexy, lyrical prose — and throws in a dash of magic — to create a truly unique and hysterical love story.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
"It is common knowledge that Belle Women make hard men melt like butter in a pan," writes novelist Wall, adding, "They are equally adept at reversing the process." If you find such sentiments appealing, then spirit yourself away to Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, and immerse yourself in the very southern world of Charlotte, Angela, and Dixie Belle: three generations of Belles, and the subjects of this jaunty, sexy debut.

The Belle women are part of an old and wealthy family descended from a Confederate colonel. One neighbor calls them "white trash with money." But their greatest asset, to put it mildly, is feminine charm. Just ask Boston-bred Dr. Adam Montgomery, who moves in next door with his Yankee fiancée, only to be smitten by Angela the moment he lays eyes on her. Or ask Reverend Thomas Jones, another newcomer to Leaper's Fork, to whom Charlotte applies her feminine wiles as she endeavors to help him inter his long, sad past.

Old money verses new, South versus North, hypocrisy verses honesty, prejudice versus love -- these are heavy themes, to be sure. And yet Wall handles them deftly, in a tone so confident and breezy that the pages seem to turn themselves. A resident of Nashville, Wall has a gift for fiction, a gift she employs to great effect in this marvelous novel about the transformative power of love. (Spring 2005 Selection)

From the Publisher
"Wall's created a crystalline world so full of one-of-a-kind can't help but enjoy your visit."

New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult

"The legendary Belle family women of Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, sparkle to life in this fine debut novel."

Publishers Weekly

"Wall's writing...sizzles."

Nashville Scene

Publishers Weekly
The legendary Belle family women of Leaper's Fork, Tenn., sparkle to life in this fine debut novel by the author of the popular syndicated humor column "Off the Wall." In 1920, tough-minded 23-year-old Charlotte Belle comes to raise her dead sister's bastard child and names her Angela. At 17, Angela, a free-spirited girl with an open heart and the same snappy independence as her aunt, captures the affections of Adam Montgomery, the new doctor in town, on the day he helps her give birth in his back garden. Adam's fianc e, Lydia Jackson, is a cold-hearted Boston-bred snob who takes an instant dislike to vivacious Angela. While ably capturing the insouciant charm of the saucy Belle women and the men they bewitch, Wall loses points for giving short shrift to two major elements introduced late in the story: Adam and Lydia's blueblood Bostonian crowd, who make a too-brief appearance at a winter estate on sultry Banyan Island, and the Rev. Thomas Lyle, who appears out of left field to become the sole contender for Charlotte Belle's heart. Wall's light-as-a-feather prose and winning characters carry the novel, but more work on plot and structure would improve her next effort. Agent, Aaron Priest. 7-city author tour. (Jan. 31) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A good-natured debut novel by Wall (If I Were a Man, I'd Marry Me, not reviewed), who offers a comic portrait of small-town life in the South. Lacking much in the way of distractions, the townsfolk of Leaper's Fork, Tennessee, have nothing much to preoccupy themselves except for each other-so it's a good thing that most of the locals are oddballs and characters worthy of Carl Reiner or Erskine Caldwell. Foremost among these are the Belle women, five generations of floozies who have managed down the years to amass one of the largest fortunes in the region without ever (or often) stooping to marriage. Musette, the matriarch of the clan, survives to this day in the form of the nude statue she posed for, which sits atop her grave. Her granddaughter Charlotte, technically a spinster though far from a virgin, is a hardheaded businesswoman who makes a rare indulgence into sentimentality by adopting her late sister's daughter Angela. As feral as a wildcat, the slatternly Angela has an innate gift for striking men dumb with desire in spite of her unwashed clothes and stringy, matted hair. One of her most hopeless victims is Adam Montgomery, a young doctor from Boston who moved to Leaper's Fork to set up his practice. Unhappily married, Adam feels guilty about his obsession with Angela-but he'd feel better if he knew that his prim wife, Lydia, was carrying on with a local handyman who seems to find a lot to work on at her house. And when the new minister is seduced in the graveyard by one of the Belles, the entire balance of power seems set to shift in town. Fast, funny, and surprisingly fresh: Wall's doings manage even to overshadow their author's dependence on one-liners ("How she stayed in themissionary position long enough to get pregnant was a mystery") and draw the reader into her very strange and hilarious world. Regional author tour. Agent: Aaron Priest/Aaron Priest Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743496230
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 1/3/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,481,997
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula Wall
Paula Wall is the author of the national bestseller The Rock Orchard, as well as two collections of short pieces, My Love Is Free . . . But the Rest of Me Don’t Come Cheap and If I Were a Man, I’d Marry Me. The latter was a semifinalist for the Thurber Prize. She currently lives outside of Nashville in a converted barn on 150 acres at the foot of the Highland Rim. Her nearest neighbor is one mile down the road, which, frankly, is a little too close for comfort. Visit her website at


In 1996, Paula Wall took a couple of "snippets" she'd written to her local newspaper. One year later, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists named her Humor Columnist of the Year. Wall's column, Off the Wall, went on to become Universal Press Syndicate's #3 Internet column after Dear Abby and News of the Weird, with a weekly readership of over 8 million. She was also a finalist for the Thurber Prize.

Two collections of her columns were published: My Love is Free... But the Rest of Me Don't Come Cheap, and If I Were A Man, I'd Marry Me, which stayed on the Top Requested Humor Books List for 28 weeks, sandwiched between Ben Stiller and George Carlin, a position where Wall says she had always longed to be.

The Rock Orchard is Wall's first novel. She lives on a farm in Tennessee where she writes in a closet.

Biography courtesy of the author's official web site.

Good To Know

Some fun outtakes from our interview with Wall:

"I'm a verbal klutz. I'm always mixing up words. A couple of weeks ago my Better-half and I were at a bookstore looking at magazines and I asked him if the actress on one of the covers had been ‘auto-shopped.' He said, "You mean, ‘Photo-shopped?' Then, he took a closer look and said dryly, "On second thought, considering the amount of body work done, you had it right the first time.'"

"I never look in the mirror until it's too late. I just throw on clothes and go. Better-half and I were standing at the checkout and a little kid behind us tugged on his mother's sweater and whispered, ‘Mommy, is she poor?' I looked down and I was wearing jeans I'd had since college. The knees were gone, the seat was a mere memory, and there was a dab of paint from every house I'd ever lived in. Better-half had been trying to get me to pitch them for years.

‘See,' he said, ‘it's time to retire those rags.'

‘But they make me look thin!'

‘Honey, if that butt looked any bigger the U. S. Post Office would assign it a zip code.'"

"Bury me on a bed of moss. I'm a country girl to the marrow of my bones. Better-half, on the other hand, thinks a four-star hotel is roughing it. Several times a year he drags me to Manhattan and tries to rub some culture into me. Within fifteen minutes, I'm on a first name basis with the hotel staff, asking about their kids, and trading recipes."

"Last summer, in an effort to make me feel more at home in the Big Apple, Better-half rented bikes, and we rode around Central Park and the Upper East Side. Even the squirrels' fur coats were haute couture. As he eyed a gazelle-looking jogger (and she eyed him back), he turned to me and said ‘See, there is wildlife in the city.'"

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    1. Also Known As:
      P. S. Wall
    2. Hometown:
      Nashville, Tennessee
    1. Date of Birth:
    2. Place of Birth:
      Clarksville, Tennessee
    1. Education:
      B.S., Environmental Science, Austin Peay State University
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


Just because a woman is good at something doesn't necessarily mean it's what she should do in life. If that were the case, most of the women in the Belle family would be hookers. It is common knowledge that Belle women make hard men melt like butter in a pan. They are equally adept at reversing the process.

The Belles live in a house that sits on a bluff overlooking the river. It has the look of a place whose owners grew bored with their money long ago. Honeysuckle vines wind around the columns like thread on a spool, and roses, wild as weeds, scratch at the paint like chiggers. It's a mystery where the lawn ends and the cemetery begins. The Belles are of the mind that dead people make the best neighbors.

Several years back, in an effort to turn our boring little town into a tourist trap, the historical society put up a brass plaque outside the Belles' gate declaring the old house an historic site.

Bellereve, the plaque reads, was built in 1851 by Colonel Bedford Braxton Belle for his bride, Musette. During the War Between the States it was used as a hospital for soldiers of both armies who were wounded at the battle of Fort Donelson.

History, of course, is never real. People either glorify it or horrify it. Or at the very least color it. What the sign doesn't say is that the fingerprints of slaves are baked into the brick and that when the rain sets in, no matter how many times they plaster and paint, the blood of soldiers seeps through the ceiling and watery red drops drip from the chandelier like tears.

Nor does the sign say that Musette was Cajun French and the second wife of Bedford Braxton Belle. The first Mrs. Belle was neither dead nor divorced, but Musette had a way about her that made a man forget his wife — and forget to breathe.

Musette had black hair and black eyes and could read the future better than most men could read the newspaper. And if she didn't like what she saw, she set out to change it.

"L'avenir n'est pas taillé dans la pierre," she'd say, as she slowly turned over the cards, "seulement votre épitaphe."

Loosely translated it means: "The future isn't carved in stone, only your epitaph."

They say Musette could dip her hand in the river and foretell the exact day it would freeze. She could lay her hand over a baby's heart and see his life as if he'd already lived it. Musette predicted fires, floods and tornadoes, and a month before Yankee soldiers marched across the Tennessee state line, she made the servants tear every sheet, petticoat, and pillowcase in the house into strips and roll them into bandages.

Despite her flawless track record, Bedford Braxton Belle wouldn't listen when she told him hard liquor would be the death of him. You can lead a horse to water, but a jackass takes his whiskey straight up. Musette lost her husband at the Battle of Franklin when a Union soldier shot him dead while he was drunkenly relieving himself under a persimmon tree. We rest easy knowing he didn't feel a thing.

Braxton Belle's life didn't bear enough fruit to fill a Dixie cup. But few men rise to the occasion. Most leave nothing more to show for their time on this earth than a stone to mark where their bones are buried. Musette wore black for the rest of her life, but then black was always her best color. And not a day passed that she didn't brush the leaves from Braxton's grave and kiss his granite marker. History may sweep aside the ordinary man, but women have a memory like flypaper.

Women love who they love, there is no rhyme or reason. Musette never loved another man; however, she didn't object to men loving her. They say she welcomed more men into her harbor than the Statue of Liberty. Despite the fact that every wife, widow, and spinster in town prayed for her early demise, Musette lived to be an old woman and died in her sleep. They buried her body in the cemetery next to the house overlooking the river, but her spirit lingers like a lover's perfume.

Musette's grave is marked with a white marble likeness of her that is so real, if you stare too long, you'll swear her head turns your way and her stone breast rises and falls. Naked as a jaybird, she stares a man straight in the eyes with a look on her face that is far from pious. On either side of her, fully robed angels, hands folded in prayer, gaze longingly toward heaven as if to say, "Lord, help us."

One man's art is another man's ache, and Musette continues to be as big a pain in the ass dead as she was alive. For over a hundred years the aesthetically challenged have frigidly fought to have Musette removed — or at the very least, covered.

But money beats morality like paper beats rock. When an art professor from Nashville scrubbed the moss off the base and found "Rodin" carved into the stone, the balance of power shifted. The historical society immediately threw up a brass plaque declaring Musette an historic monument. Now scholars come from miles around to debate whether she is indeed an authentic Rodin of Paris, or an authentic Bodin from Memphis, whose family has been carving top-notch tombstones for as far back as anyone can remember.

Wherever the truth lies — and around these parts truth reclines on a regular basis — many a young man has familiarized himself with the female anatomy while studying the statue of Musette Belle, just as quite a few of their ancestors learned from studying the real thing. Even in death Musette continues to shock the good citizens of Leaper's Fork, and her descendants are doing their best to carry on her legacy.

Musette begat Solange, who begat Charlotte and Odette, who begat Angela, who begat Dixie. If there is one thing Belle women are fond of, it is begetting.

Some women barter their bodies like whores with wedding bands. Some use sex like a sword. But some women can touch a man and heal like Jesus. The man who sees sunrise from a Belle woman's bed will swear he's been born again.

Copyright © 2005 by Paula Wall

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Questions:

1. In the preface we are introduced to Musette Belle and her ability to "read the future." Most Belle women have retained this gift of "sight." In what other ways do the Belle women see differently? How do they use this gift to enrich their community?

2. What similarities do Angela and Charlotte share? What makes them distinctly different? What do you think these characters learn from each other?

3. "The Rock Orchard" of the title is a reference to a cemetery. "A cemetery is like an orchard. Some lives were sweet. Some bitter as lemons. And some were rotten to the core." The cemetery in Leaper's Fork is practically a character in itself - a place that figures especially in the lives of the Belle women, often in unexpected ways. In this way the cemetery sheds its stigma as a place of sadness and death. Discuss the cemetery as a place of happiness and rebirth. How does the cemetery serve as a turning point for Charlotte? For Lydia? For Reverend Thomas?

4. Reba Earhart and Mila are just two of the many people Charlotte inspires. "You are what you are, till you decide to be different," she says. Compare and contrast these two women - how did they both succumb to the initial lots they had drawn in life? What patterns of behavior did they share? How did they go about changing those patterns? How did they perpetuate the chain of inspiration in others around them?

5. Empowerment is an important factor throughout the novel. How do various characters overcome their circumstances? Does empowerment always come in the form of financial wealth? Where else do these characters find power?

6. What was the significance of Levon Sevier initiating the kiss at his and KyAnn's wedding?

7. Charlotte is described as having "a man's mind" and frequently engages in behaviors stereotypically reserved for men, such as drinking and smoking cigars. Discuss the reversal of gender stereotypes found throughout the novel. How does it change the reader's point of view on gender roles in society? Are the characters who adhere to the classic gender stereotypes viewed differently from those who break out of their gender roles?

8. The Belles, KyAnn Merriweather, and Julia Mercer are independent women who take ownership of their sexuality. This intimidates some, and inspires others. By the end of the novel, both KyAnn and Charlotte are married. Does this in any way undermine their independence? Why or why not?

9. Throughout the novel we see a variety of partnerships - business, friendship, marriage, religious, and sometimes a blend of two or more. Discuss some of the partnerships found in The Rock Orchard. Which were most successful? Which surprised you most?

10. While national and world events are occasionally mentioned in The Rock Orchard, much of the story seems to take place in a suspended space and time. Why do you think this is? How does it help the plot? Does it hurt the story in any way?

11. Where do you see Charlotte, Angela,and Dixie in the next five years? In what ways will they have changed? In what ways will they remain the same?

12. Just for fun, imagine you are a casting director working on a film version of The Rock Orchard. Discuss whom you would cast to play some of the main characters and why. Who would you cast for Charlotte? Angela? KyAnn? Adam? Lydia? Boone?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2012

    Great Read!

    Paula Wall did a superb job of telling the story of the Belle Women in the South...this novel delivers in so many ways: A great Story, well drawn and believable characters, sexual tension, love, hatred, compassion, and passion. I can't wait to read her other novels

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Rock Orchard

    The Belle women are fantastic. Paula Wall's book was so good, I honestly had a hard time putting it down. It was an impulse buy due to good reviews and it being in a bargain bin. I picked it up to read a chapter before going to bed and was engrossed within the first few pages. Ms. Wall's characters are bursting with life and personality. You wish you lived there so that you could know these women and sense just a little of their allure and magic.

    Please write some more!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2009

    A Gem!

    I first got this book on casette tapes, listened to the story twice, then had to buy the book to savor every sentence. Thoroughly enjoyable, great characters, and a book I will re-read when I need a dose of this author's clever turn of phrase and a good laugh.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2006

    Couldn't put it down!

    So, I am in a book club with several good friends. It was my turn to pick a book and I headed to the bookstore. Instinctively, I picked this one up right away because I am familiar with her work, being that I am from her hometown. I carried it around while browsing but finally decided this was going to be my choice for the month. I took it home, started reading and absolutely did not want to put it down. The characters were rich and entertaining and the setting was amusingly familiar. Rarely do you get to read a book that is so sassy and poignant all at the same time. I hated for it to end and look forward to reading more about the Belle Women and the citizens of Leapers Fork. I know I made an excellent selection as I am already getting good reviews from my fellow members! This one is definitely recommended!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2005

    An amazing new writer

    This was an incredibly entertaining book you will struggle with having to put it down for even a moment! I can only hope that the author is in the process of writing another book soon, we need more like her! Great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2005

    A fun, oh-so-Southern read!

    Paula Wall creates a zany, small town you can get lost in. Sit down for a fun ride that delivers not only great one-liners, but you will find yourself amazed at the end the complexity of the characters you thought were there just for your entertainment. I can't wait for her next novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2005

    Amazing new talent in women's lit

    This was a great book. It has all the elements you would expect in a novel about fiesty southern women; laugh at loud humor, drama, mystery, and spicy sex. Once I started reading I could not put the book down! It will captivate from start to finish. Buy this book you won't be dissapointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2004

    The Rock Orchard ROCKS

    As steamy as an August night in New Orleans, 'The Rock Orchard' is built around the life stories of three generations of strong-willed, highly complex and totally bewitching Belle women and the men who love them and who find hope and salvation in such unlikely love. The humor, clever use of metaphor, witty turn of phrase and double entendre, combined with Biblical allusions, are gen-u-ine, 100-Proof Paula Wall. Totally Southen and extremely sensual, 'The Rock Orchard' has multilevels of meaning which come together to make it as rich, mysterious and irresistible as Western Kentucky burgoo. So pour a glass of sherry, sit back and savor every word. And don't give the book away--you'll want to read it over and over, enjoying it more each time!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2013

    One of the most hilarious books I have ever read but full of wis

    One of the most hilarious books I have ever read but full of wisdom and quotable lines. LOVED each and every character! I would recommend this book highly and remind you of the old saying, "If you love Southern women, raise your glass. If you don't, raise your standards."

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  • Posted May 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Unpredicatable by nature ...

    Characters, characters, characters. We certainly get our fill of them from this debut novel. Ms. Wall is quite adept at character development. The writing was beautiful and the story unpredictable and amusing. Who would have a child's birthday at a cemetery? The Belle sisters of course - they may even dance naked!! These are strong, intelligent women who pull you into their lives and may change your perspective. I enjoyed this book and recommend to those looking for a laugh or just to feel good.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2005

    A fabulous audio experience....

    I loved this audio book, but to be honest I am not sure which was the best part, the reading or the story. The narator really is a wonderful window into the characters but the characters where certainly very colorful and entertaining. I may very well listen to it again, and I don't usually do that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2005

    a great audio listen

    If you like Alice Hoffman, you'll like this one. I find the Bell women enchanting in every way. I feel sorry for the student who is also a writer who couldn't just have fun with this one and couldn't appreciate this as a good time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2005

    I loved this book!

    Reading Paula Wall¿s debut novel, The Rock Orchard, is akin to sitting down to a Sunday dinner with Southern fried chicken, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes and `nana puddin¿ for dessert. The Belle women, Musette, Charlotte, Angela and Dixie Cup, of Leaper¿s Fork, Tennessee, are at first glimpse, an odd family of enormously rich, freethinking and determined females. Stunningly beautiful, they tend to be the frosting on every man¿s desirability cake. The ultra-strong Charlotte and Angela Belle are both surrounded throughout by an array of memorable characters that provide both texture and flavor and move the plot along at atypically Southern speed. The Yankee doctor, Adam Montgomery, has chosen medicine for all the wrong reasons and sets up practice in Leaper¿s Fork hoping to be a big fish in a little pond. The beautiful Lydia is his vacuous trophy wife. Widowed Baptist preacher, Thomas Jones, comes to town to replace the hellfire and brimstone spouting Reverend Lyle. Disillusioned with life, apathetic Thomas walks around like a corpse until he sets eyes on Charlotte Belle. Before he can recite the Ten Commandments, his charisma peaks along with his libido and the church pews begin to fill. Boone Dickson, the handsome young Jack-of-all-trades, is dirt poor and hails from the wrong side of town. He is blessed (or cursed) with an enigmatic animal magnetism that ultimately lands him a welcomed spot inside the good doctor¿s mansion, if only in the closet. Throughout the book, Wall deftly strings together complete opposites. The rich and poor, black and white, good and evil, even holier-than-thou and cynical non-believers. Wondering how these characters can possibly blend, will keep you turning pages. It is a beautifully written book by a serious writer who knows when to inject a line or two of humor, when to take her characters down a notch or two or snatch `em bald-headed. Wall is adept at lacing plot and characters together so that the story comes out just right. The Rock Orchard is indeed comparable to Sunday dinner in the South. While you perceive a variety of textures and tastes awaiting your palate, you somehow intuit that, by the end of the meal, every morsel will have gone down as easy as cornbread and buttermilk.

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    Posted June 14, 2010

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