Nashville Restaurants and Food
104 5th Avenue
How good is a $15.50 cheeseburger? Pretty darn good, thankfully. And as you gaze out over Broadway and the Bridgestone Arena plaza, from your shaded perch at the cozy bar on the rooftop, you realize that while the ingredients are excellent and execution spot-on, you’re really paying for that view. Pub 5 is just down from the Palm restaurant on Fifth Avenue. It’s a prime location for concert-goers, hockey fans and tourists. The downstairs bar and dining area are tiny by downtown standards. That’s actually a good thing. Once they get fully settled in, the dining room and the rooftop could have a more intimate vibe. They’re still working on that. The staff currently seems to be more downtown tourist veterans than the Nashville homer servers we prefer. Nothing against the downtown wait staff and bartenders- they put up with a lot. But cowboy-weary and jaded doesn’t seem like the atmosphere Pub5 is aiming for. Maybe it’s just us- we were hoping the place could join Fleet Street as a Nashville locals place. Or at least split the difference. And the ownership knows neighborhood service. The bar and restaurant is the creation of Will Shuff and partners, best known for the successful 12 South Taproom, which anchored much of the growth in that area.
Back to that burger: it’s $13 for a perfectly medium-rare, juicy, grass-fed beef patty on a sweet bun. Add cheddar, bacon and avocado and you’re up to $15.50. Perhaps our waiter heard us complaining to each other. We were only charged the $13, which seems much more reasonable. Generous, high-quality sides help the price differential. Black-eyed peas with peppers, carrots and onion make for a lovely salad. They also load up the potato salad with carrots and peas in a tangy, creamy sauce.
A $13 Pastrami on rye is piled high, deli-style. It comes with kraut and Swiss, but seems a bit dry. Mustard does the trick. This outing puts Elote-style sweet corn on the side and it is outstanding. The elote is served Mexican street food style: grilled kernels off the cob with queso fresco cheese and pimentos in a cup. It’s brunch time and a bloody Mary comes out a wee bit thin, perhaps from the addition of beer.
The spare dinner menu, needless to say, ramps up entrée prices considerably. $30 gets you four 2 ounce filet mingon medallions in a creamy, mushroom sauce. $22 brings chipotle chicken pasta to the plate. There are a few nods to the Veggie Eater, although strangely, not any entrees on the main menu.
Veggie Eater: Let’s just get the full disclosure over-I’m thrifty by nature (M.E. would state cheap) and it’s hard to get past the prices. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a quibbler when it comes to a high end meal, or even when I pay more for a well crafted low key meal. But it’s hard not to balk at an $11 and $12 vegetarian sandwich unless it’s spectacular. The sandwiches are Pub 5 although good, they weren’t exceptional. First up was the tempeh sandwich ($12). It’s a pretty straightforward affair: fried tempeh, which was well seasoned, mustard, arugula, tomatoes, and red onion on fluffy sourdough bread. You get a choice for side and I opted for the garlic kale, which, well, certainly tasted of both those ingredients, but nothing else. Perhaps the menu designer and/or chef is a minimalist/back to basics sort of bloke. The less expensive of the two sandwich options is The Wabbit and if you are feeling particularly decadent, you can pop an extra $3 for the fried tempeh found in the first option (bringing your fancy tempeh/hummus sandwich to $14). Needless to say, due to my aforementioned thriftiness, I had mine as originally advertised, sans tempeh. It is veggie wrap sandwich-that’s really the sum of it-the usual suspects are there-cukes, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, onion and sprouts, with, as advertised, black bean hummus. Again it came with a choice of sides, which are admittedly at least reasonably portioned. Both the potato salad and the black eyed pea salad were tasty accompaniments. M.E. did talk me ordering nachos for an app, for which I am appreciative, as they were a highlight (and somewhat more reasonably priced at $9). The queso had a subtle heat and strayed away from the Velveeta version. Fried jalapenos dotting the top provided some heat. The black eyed pea salad provided creaminess and the Pico de Gallo a bit of astringency. And the chips were freshly fried. Another positive is the Sunday special, $3 pint drafts, which includes Yazoo. Is the rooftop location and meal worth the prices? You’ll have to decide for yourself.
Meat Eater: We’ll always support quality food options downtown and Pub 5 certainly fits that bill. It wouldn’t take much to tweak the prices a bit, if the rent can afford such a change. I would suspect that the ownership is going for a combo of locals and tourists. With the new Music City Center convention hall just down the street, they will undoubtedly be getting the type of visitors the price point wouldn’t bother. That rooftop bar will certainly be calling to us when we’re downtown this summer. The beer prices are fairly reasonable and the draft selection small, but nicely local. It will be a unique and comfortable spot for safely watching the tourist throng on a hot summer night and not having a hollering, drunk guy in a cowboy hat next to you.
We paid $54 with two beers, tax and tip on one lunch visit and $50 with two Bloody Marys on another visit.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Sunday, May 12, 2013
110 Lyle Ave.
The Row is strategically placed to entice tourists, Vandy students and perhaps even people who work on Music Row. The interior speaks to the country music theme and in a tasteful and comfortable way. Large banquettes give the place the feel of a supper club designed for the TV show “Nashville.” The space has had several incarnations, including eating and drinking spots for Nashville songwriters, thus the inspiration for the name. The cavernous enclosed patio has wide doors for nicer weather. If location and design are positives for the crowd they seem to be trying to reach, the food is a mixed bag in execution right now. We’re hoping that can change.
The Row features a Southern bar-style menu including barbecue. Pulled pork has a good smoke and yet comes a little dried out. The slaw on top of the sandwich and a variety of barbecue sauces, including a classic Tennessee vinegar base, help matters, as does the grilled bun. Bacon Mac and cheese comes with corkscrew noodles. They’re baked and perhaps a bit dry (sense a theme?) bacon and breadcrumbs adds a nice crunch to the crust.
Some aspects of the Row reflect that the managers value Tennessee products. The well-culled beer and whiskey selection highlights locally made items and the menu incorporates Tennessee ingredients here and there. That said, this isn’t a farm to table joint by any means, and we experienced several ingredient choices that could have been upgraded. The choice in chicken breast and the quality of pork are just two examples.
There is a sweet touch to everything (another theme). Even the hot chicken sandwich gives a sweet drizzle of honey to the mellow spice of the spicy chicken breast. It’s a good open face sandwich. However, combined with sweet-sweet potato fries and sweet pickled items, it gets to be a bit much. Those fries are soggy on one visit, probably from an overabundance of honey.
They have a number of interesting starter sets, including a selection of sweet pickled stuff. Pickled carrots are a surprise and the sweet and tart peppers stand out on the plate. “Pots” of spreadable appetizers come individually or mixed and matched. Pimento cheese was our favorite. Chicken pate is accompanied by sweet caramelized onions. A tangy white bean hummus hit the spot.
The brunch menu is a short accompaniment to the usual lunch line-up. French toast and griddle cakes keep company with a couple of eggs Benedict options. The bloody Mary, made with our choice of jalapeno garlic infused vodka, and helped along by generous horseradish, is spicy and tasty.
The items are limited for a Veggie Eater, but quite frankly we shouldn’t have ordered anything for her- the Veggie Eater spent most of her time sampling the various condiments.
Veggie Eater: Meat Eater is right, I’m a condiment whore. I found most sauces to be a bit too sweet for my liking- the peppered vinegar was my favorite. First up for me was brunch and the theoretically enticing Greens and Green Eggs. This was a take on eggs Benedict consisting of biscuits topped with vinegar greens, fried green tomatoes, poached eggs and hollandaise. The tomato and greens were a nice touch, but the eggs were overcooked and it appeared that my dish had sat under a heat lamp for some time, as the hollandaise was cracked and dry. The grits on the side appeared to be real grits, but suffered from a serious lack of personality. Next up, was the pimento grilled cheese sandwich. Upon arrival, I was advised they had run out of the bread for the sandwich, so standard white bread was used. Due to the bread deviation, they threw in an extra half sandwich. The pimento cheese was tart and tasty, but it was unclear if this dish was to be warm or cold, as mine was lukewarm. The bloody Mary was tasty, but the promised pickled eggs were omitted and Bibb lettuce was substituted instead; for the record one is not like the other. The other oddity we encountered was the green serving staff, which seemed to account for the rather bizarre interaction whereby our waiter pocketed 5 dollars of our change, stating he took it for his assumed tip (actually it was stranger than that…but hard to explain-M.E.) Don’t know that I’ll be racing back here, but don’t think it will matter, as every frat and sorority member at Vandy seemed to be eating here either in groups or with their parent in tow to foot the bill.
Meat Eater: We hope they’re still tinkering here. They have an inventive menu and we appreciate that in a restaurant. There definitely needs to be more quality control in the kitchen. The prices are certainly not out of line for the West End, but they need to upgrade quality to match.
We paid $65 with tax and tip at brunch with a couple of beers and a bloody Mary. A lunch visit rang up $41.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Listening Room
217 2nd Avenue South
Hey, Nashville visitors! It’s time for you to spread out a bit and explore the city to the south of Broadway. We call it SOBRO (south of Broadway) and it has a number of cool establishments for eating, drinking and listening to music. The city is growing and unless you get off the Broadway and Second Avenue strip you might be missing out. Case in point: The Listening Room. It’s a large music hall with some innovative food and check this out- free parking! That’s a rarity downtown. The music tends to focus on singer songwriters doing original works mixed in with some covers. There is not enough original music on downtown, so the Listening Room is filling a real need.
The Listening Room is currently serving lunch and dinner. The lunch concept is still building. The room looks and feels like a nightclub. The patio could be inviting in the warm weather, but managers need to invest in some better seating and take the sunny space seriously. The Listening Room could be a good lunch alternative for people who work in SOBRO. The menu is straightforward and the emphasis seems to be making those traditional favorites, burgers, salads and such, with new twists. We appreciate the creativity. The Nash Vegas burger is topped with smoked Gouda, roasted red peppers, deep-fried spinach and Yazoo APA beer enhanced mustard. It’s a good combo, unfortunately on this day the kitchen is a bit skimpy on both the burger and the toppings. The brioche bun overwhelms everything. People expect a big burger these days- don’t downsize the bun, upsize the burger! It’s cooked a decent medium rare with a bit of char for that backyard taste. The house-made chips are crisp and hearty and the smoked jalapeno ketchup is absolutely addictive.
The Listening Room has a small but quite local draft beer selection: plenty of Yazoo, Fat Bottom and Jackalope. You’ll find Yazoo beer mixed into all sorts of items on the menu, including the chili. Smoked wings are a Saturday special. The smoke is mellow and the wings unadorned, letting the grill flavor come through.
Veggie Eater: The stuffed peppers were a treat, as they are grilled, instead of fried, and stuffed with goat cheese. These are accompanied by a sweet onion sauce. I had the eggplant parmesan sandwich, which found the eggplant lightly breaded and well fried and then topped with a light red tomato sauce, on focaccia. There’s basically at least one veggie item in each menu category. What elevates this experience, though, is of course the music. On this day, we had the pleasure of listening to the young and talented Guthrie Brown and what caught my attention was that he was not in fact playing his own song, but was playing Ryan Adams. Enjoying both Guthrie’s voice and Ryan Adams, I tipped him, which then prompted him to ask if I had a request. My request was for him to play his own songs, which he happily obliged, in addition to providing me with a free demo CD. The Listening Room was well worth another visit when we decide to play tourist in our own city.
Meat Eater: The original Listening Room began in 2008 in Cummins Station. This new location is much, much bigger. The concept and location seem perfect. But it will take some serious marketing to pull those visitors off of Broadway and to get the locals inside. We hope they don’t give up on that inventive menu or the concept. It could be a real hit if given time to grow.
I paid $22 with tax, tip and a beer for a solo visit and we paid $50 for a lunch visit together. That’s a bit pricey, although not necessarily out of line compared to the rest of the downtown establishments.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
730 8th Avenue South
If you promise burgers, whiskey and beer you had better deliver burgers, whiskey and beer. The Pour House keeps it simple and to the point: a variety of juicy burgers, a huge selection of whiskeys and a good beer line-up. If you’re looking for something more you might want to head elsewhere.
The Pour House is in an unusual location. On the plus side, you have Frugal MacDoogal as a neighbor, and that makes it easy for customers who want to stock up on booze and then go drink the stuff with lunch. Just watch out where you park, the numerous signs seem to imply some sort of developing issue. On the minus side, you have the interstate rumbling past, especially noisy if you are seated in the large upstairs and downstairs outdoor seating. Pour House is certainly well located when it comes to the burgeoning 8th Avenue strip: Jackalope and Flyte are just down the street.
The interior is dressed in the new standard roadhouse/ country kitsch design (come on Nashville, let’s move on). It’s comfortable, with a mix of table styles, including some booths. While designed for live music and nightlife, the joint also works for lunch. Service was a bit hit or miss early on and that’s to be expected for a new joint. It’s apparently been a popular place on weekend evenings and that’s even harder for a new restaurant. They definitely need a whiskey and beer list for customers to peruse…perhaps a chalkboard with new offerings?
The Big South burger lives up to the name: fried green tomato, onion ring, cheddar and bacon graced with a runny, fried egg that splits just right to add to the juicy goodness of the burger itself. It’s a mess and well-worth the napkins. Sweet potato fries are thin-cut and reasonably crispy, if a bit uninspired. The bourbon ketchup is a sweet twist on the first visit and perhaps a bit too sweet on the second stop. That second lunch brings the Cuban burger to the table. It’s an inventive twist on the classic Cuban sandwich: a juicy pork patty topped with ham and pickle. It’s completely satisfying and a nice break from beef. The beer battered mushrooms have a light fry and are tasty. Unfortunately, the horseradish sauce on the side is rather bland. The blue chips fare better. The house made chips are baked with blue cheese, tomato and onion. We get the bacon on the side to help out the Veggie Eater. Needless to say with burger joint, there is not a lot on the menu for her, but perhaps enough for one meal.
Veggie Eater: As noted above, there’s not a lot of veggie options here. The one veggie sandwich, a portabella cap, was at least respectable. It’s served on a fluffy brioche bun, covered in smoked gouda, and adorned with arugula, tomato, mayo, and grilled onions. The menu promises bourbon onions and truffle mayo-I found both items to be a bit too subtle in flavor, but the overall result was still satisfying. You get your choice of side, which is a nice option, as their sides appear to be more veggie friendly. Not sure there’s much to draw be back as a frequent flier, but might piggy back another visit with the stock up run at Frugal.
Meat Eater: I’m worried about the attitude of Pour House staff after my initial visit. I quiz the bar tender about any possible drink specials featuring that well-chosen whiskey. I am informed that they are not interested in getting “riff raff” at the bar and thus might not be offering drink specials. As a member of the riff raff community I am not offended, just amused. I did notice happy hour specials listed on our return visit, still none highlighting that fine whiskey, from what I could tell. Oh, and this too had me worried. I walk out and up pulls a fellow in a perfectly muddied pickup truck. I swear this mud was spray painted on it was so perfectly applied. The guy is dressed up like he wants to be Kid Rock and his girlfriend is wearing eight inch heels and a red leather dress. All of this at 11:30 on a weekday morning. Thankfully, the bullshit quotient is a lot lower on our next visit- a nice variety of families and lunchers. What it’s like at night I will have to leave to someone else to describe. We tend to avoid bullshit at any hour.
This isn’t bargain burger territory. I paid $17 for a burger, beer and fries on one visit and we paid $35 together on another.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Nashville Restaurants and Food
2834 Azalea Place
It’s always a good idea for a restaurant to showcase the brand in many different ways. Sunflower, the new vegetarian café in Berry Hill, starts the experience the moment you walk in the door. The sunny and bright farmhouse feel of the dining room matches the spirit of the food. Head chef Gabrielle Mittelstaedt takes pride in walking customers through the cafeteria line options, which revolve daily. She can also be seen hugging old friends and welcoming new ones, and that too is in the spirit of the place. Partner Laura Yazdian has formal instruction in macrobiotics and there is a health conscious focus at Sunflower, but not in an overwhelming way. The ladies let the food do the talking. It’s clear that the two take great care in the ingredients, which they source from local farms and dairies.
Step into the line and you’ll be choosing between four or five entrees and a number of side dishes. You can pick an entrée and sides in a meat and two or three fashion. You can even ask for the sampler and run down the full gamut of those inventive side dishes.
Enchiladas have a hearty bean base and the vegan faux sour cream and pico de gallo give them a bit of zip. Kale braised with sesame seeds work well, but the French lentils with lemon stand out on the plate thanks to the citrus accent. The big star of the sides is the kimchi potato salad- it has an awesome tang that puts it near the top of the potato salad samples we’ve had in Nashville. The kimchi is made in house and graces a number of dishes on the menu. The finish to this meal is a triple chocolate brownie that is moist, light and decadent. It is vegan and gluten-free, as with many dishes. Appropriate items are also clearly labeled as soy-free, nut-free, gluten free, and dairy-free. With the variety of dishes available on any given day, there will plenty to choose from for whatever your dietary requirements.
The veggie burger has been an entrée regular and for good reason. The unique rice, beets and sunflower seed is unlike most veggie burgers and a darn good sandwich topped with sundried tomato speared and aioli. The quinoa is a bit under-seasoned on one visit and the sweet and light cabbage and arugula salad picks up the slack.
Veggie Eater: What a wonderful change of pace to go somewhere and not have to vet the food and/or enlist others to be testers. Although many of us may have unflattering connotations of cafeteria style eating, this is a real positive here, allowing the diner to see and try many different items. There are several decisions to be made at the get-go--do you commit to one of the daily entree specials or veggie burger with 2-3 sides, just mix and match a variety of sides, or simply go hog wild and get the sampler, which is literally a dollop of every single side (maybe 15-20 items)? I tried the first and last strategies during my visits. First up was the lasagna, which was light and fluffy, chock full of eggplant and hearty greens. They have a gluten-free version as well. I coupled this with the sesame kale, which I found a bit bland, but was rectified with the liquid amino soy alternative found at the condiment station (perhaps my favorite condiment discovery of recent and I’m a condiment whore). I also had a spring green salad, which I found very fresh, but not terribly interesting. Again, this was remedied with some balsamic that is also stocked at the well appointed condiment station. Next time, I went for the sampler. The single spoonful of items seems a bit stingy for cost, until you see the heaping end product. It’s a dizzying array of dishes, which changes seasonally as well. This visit included baked apples, sesame kale salad, cumin lentils, quinoa, Thai tofu, beet salad, hummus, cabbage and arugula salad, sunflower rice, kale, caprese salad, and carrot salad. Standouts included the hummus, which is uber creamy, sunflower rice, which gains texture from sunflower seeds, the cabbage and arugula salad, which is crisp and gets zippiness from a sweet/sour dressing. Both visits seemed a bit pricey, but I think it’s well worth paying more for locally sourced food that is made with love and care. You’ll see many familiar purveyors here, ranging from Kenny’s Cheese, Noble Springs Goat Dairy, Bells Bend Farms, and Delvin Farms, just to name a few. Also enjoyable, is seeing the wide spectrum of folks that turn out to sample veggie fare in our home town.
Meat Eater: Azalea Place is off of Thompson Lane and Sunflower is located directly behind the motel and the Yellow Porch restaurant. Sunflower serves only lunch as of this writing, but they keep Saturday hours and have been doing good business. It’s a bit more expensive than you would expect for a cafeteria style serving line, but given the quality of the food, well worth the price. We paid $32 with tax and tip on one visit and $39 on another visit. It’s great to have another quality vegetarian restaurant in Nashville.