Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Welcome Basketball Fans

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Downtown Restaurants in Nashville

We have many visitors coming to Nashville this week for the NCAA Women's Final Four Basketball Championship. We hope you have a wonderful time here in the Music City. If you're looking for Nashville restaurants that we have reviewed in the downtown area, you can simply click on the "Downtown" label in the column to your right. Please join us in supporting Nashville independent restaurants!

Eric and Katie

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Treehouse

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Treehouse
1011 Clearview Ave.
There are plenty of new restaurants opening in Nashville. With all of that competition, it’s easy for a new place to get lost in the shuffle. The successful restaurants are inventive on many fronts. The Treehouse seems to be joining them. It’s a cozy space, nestled in between trees on a quiet street just off the bustle of Five Points in East Nashville. If it seems like a converted house, well it is, and even more importantly, a 1920’s house once lived-in by co-owner Corey Ladd who did the renovation with his business partner/uncle, Matthew Spicher.  It’s a family project and a true labor of love. They’ve transformed the modest house into warm dining room and kitchen combination. The proximity of the kitchen to tables and the tight quarters leads to an easy conviviality at the Treehouse. We especially recommend the bar seating, which gives you a spectator view of the kitchen in action. If you’re nosy (and we’re nosy) you can ask questions of the staff while they prepare the food.
The menu is simple and made up of starters, plates and after dinner items. We immediately appreciate the vegetarian, vegan and gluten free designations. In this age of varied diets, knowing what you can and what you can’t eat, without having to ask, is a good thing. It’s a trend worth continuing.
Chef Todd Alan Martin is running the kitchen and the evolution of the menu is interesting. An early visit actually had a longer list of menu items than a current dinner. There are still a variety of smaller dishes for sharing and four entrees for the evening. Fry bread is a specialty and when topped with crispy, dressed greens takes on a new flavor, like an all-American bruschetta.  They seem to shake it up from time to time with the fry bread toppings. Another good starter is the Kale and quinoa, which comes in a crisp vinaigrette.
Antichuchos are a spicy beef heart dish from South America, served with pepitas. The Latin American influence comes across in many menu items, such as the chocolate in the spicy short ribs. The influence is subtle at times. The baby carrots come in a mole poblano, but the mole is done sous vide for an infusion of sorts, a light touch that pairs well with the sliced tomatillo. Ceviche, tamales and queso all make appearances, but there is a Mediterranean influence, as well. The generously portioned, warm olive plate with pickled radishes is an excellent starter. A simple thick pork chop is a hearty dish and done perfectly. It’s accompanied by fideo seco, which is a kind of dry noodle soup, a description that doesn’t do it justice. Think really good, light pasta. 
Veggie Eater: As noted above, the menu contains a key to denote veggie and vegan items, making it easy to focus your attention on items of interest.  Originally, there were multiple veggie options in each menu category, but by the second visit with the smaller menu, only one veggie main plate option.   On the first visit, the fideo seco reminded me of a Latin version of pho: a light broth, noodles, which lots of veggies (shitakes, peppers, herbs, and more) to provide texture and crunch.  The cauliflower steak was the veggie main plate option on the second visit and was lovely, though I am reluctant to part with $18 for cabbage.  Instead of breaking up the head into florets, the head is sliced into a sort of solid filet (thus the reference to steak) and then grilled until it is somewhat charred and caramelized, with sorrel providing a tangy contrast. Crema adds creaminess and toasted almonds provide texture and protein.  The pilaf is a hearty affair and all grains maintain chewiness from al dente preparation.  In all fairness, the portion size was large and did provide me with the desired left overs for a work lunch.  Although I have complained about the cost of my cauliflower, the bar seating is as enjoyable, and infinitely more reasonably priced than Catbird Seat. 
Meat Eater: They have a nightly line-up of craft cocktails and late night specials. The Treehouse stays open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.
The inventiveness of the menu and the ever-changing line-up is really appreciated. Nashville is beginning to suffer a bit from commonality in fine dining. The Treehouse stands out with well-conceived differences.
We paid $68 with tax and tip on one visit and $87 on another.
The Treehouse on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Saving the Soul of the “It” City

Nashville Restaurants and Food

Saving the Soul of the “It” City
What do you like about Nashville? There could be a million answers from a million people. Some things resonate: fun, vibrant, quirky, cultural and friendly. I think we’ll see plenty more fun and vibrancy in the future of this city. But where goes friendly and, integrally tied to that concept, where goes Southern? Like many people who live here, we’re Northerners. We moved here ten years ago in search of a high quality of life and the beauty of Tennessee. What we found when we arrived was a good dose of Southern culture and a small-city, friendly vibe. We like that about Nashville. We like Nashville Southern and friendly.
So, do we fear the impact of “It” city designations? Perhaps. It’s great that the cool and interesting people, who play in bands, run clubs, start restaurants and embark on unique small business ventures, are being recognized for what they have built here. And the same is true for the city leaders who have shepherded this city to its current success. But what happens next? Do we grow up and become Atlanta? Or do we fight for our soul, as Austin, Texas has been doing for many years? I think that the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” is a good place to start. For Nashville I would suggest: “Keep Nashville Friendly (and Southern).” I don’t want to feel like I’m in Portland, Brooklyn or Austin, for that matter, when I walk down the streets here. The Nashville identity is worth fighting for.
Local natives have probably been worrying about this for years.  Nashville is a great city because of the generations of families who have built their lives here. It is a Southern city with a rich cultural identity that goes back for more than two centuries. Would you trade that long-time cultural identity for a Trader Joe's and gourmet burger joints? Probably not. Can we have it all? Perhaps. But it will take a fight. Protecting the historic buildings downtown was one step towards keeping Nashville, Nashville. Saving the Ryman Auditorium was another step. Neither process was easy. 
The problem with being the “It” city is that money comes looking for opportunity in an “It” city. I have nothing against money, but it’s not always good for a community. Right now, our best business people are the individuals who value local ties and seek to fill a need in the community. New folks, doing new things, for the sake of creating something of quality- a labor of love, join them daily. They may make plenty of money along the way, but money is not the beginning or end of that type of business quest.
I’m going to use a vulgar term now that may provoke some anger: douchiness. I know it’s over used and often targets anyone we think is different, in a way that we don’t like. However, to me it describes fakery. Douchiness is money over quality. It’s ripping off the tourists or suckering in people trying to be hipsters. It’s doing something in a crass manner and not worrying about adding anything to Nashville. On the flip side, douchiness is also folks who try to do the latest “in thing” or visit the newest “hip” establishment, without caring about the quality of the product.
We’ve had plenty of cool things happen in Nashville in the last ten years. We’ve also had some douchiness. It’s going to be up to us to decide which way the city goes. Can we keep Nashville friendly and Southern? Can we celebrate the new without being subject to rampant douchiness? That will be up to all of us.
I also suggest that we visit our favorite restaurants on a regular basis. The deluge of new eateries is wonderful, but it comes with a dangerous potential. If we’re constantly trying the new joints, some of our favorite restaurants may go under. Katie and I are as responsible for that as anyone. This blog is always about the new. We’re going to try and change that a bit and start blogging about revisits to our favorite places. We’ll keep hitting the new spots. But I fear that many of our favorites could be in trouble if the restaurant market becomes over-saturated.
Let’s fight for the businesses we care about. Let’s fight to keep the cultural identity of this city strong. Let’s fight to keep Nashville friendly and Southern. We live here and we should decide what our city will be like in ten years. We can have it all, if we try.
Eric Melcher 

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Nashville Restaurants and Food
2902 12th Avenue South
There’s a delicate touch to just about everything at the new Lebanese restaurant Epice. The style starts with the tiny metal sign in front of the unassuming building. The miniscule signage makes it easy to miss Epice in the hubbub that has become 12 South. That will change in the warmer weather when they can open up the front doors and serve on the small patio. In the meantime, just look carefully. This is one bistro that you want to find.
Inside, you’ll find a minimalist d├ęcor and a sleek, modern design. The dining room is made up of stone, marble and blonde wood. It’s a treat in and of itself. During the day the skylights bathe the room in enough sun to illuminate the space without lights.
It’s wonderful to see the Nashville culinary scene expand to offer something more refined in ethnic restaurants. Don’t get us wrong; we love the mom and pop joints. It’s just nice to have new choices in global cuisine. The food at Epice is a nod to the native country of owner Maher Fawaz. The Lebanese bistro style is bit different from his other establishments, the highly regarded Kalamattas Mediterranean restaurants. The high quality ingredients are familiar and yet there is greater latitude in dishes and the execution is more precise and refined at Epice, thanks to executive chef William Zaitz. You can see that in the presentation and plating- a grace and elegance to each dish.
There’s a light touch to just about everything on the menu, including the Muhamara roasted red pepper soup. Such a soup could be heavy in other hands. Here it is rich and yet crisp and tart. Adas Be-silik is also a delight- lemony soup with lentils and Swiss chard. Hummos is straightforward and creamy. However, when it serves as the bed for braised ground sirloin and pine nuts, the entire dish is elevated. Makanik, spiced sirloin sausage, comes inside thick cut bread, for a sandwich of sorts. Despite the heavy-sounding fare it’s also a delicate dish with wonderfully complex flavors in the herbed lamb and beef.
Perhaps the favorite dish of the visits proved to be the julienned roasted garlic potato slices. They are exceptional. Crispy, zatar pita slices and toasted pita accompany many of the dishes. Even the garnishes have pop, as exemplified by the violet colored pickled turnip or the sliced cornichons.
It would be a mistake to skip the dessert at Epice. Kat ayef are crepes featuring sweet cheese, walnuts and an orange blossom infusion. Combined with a cup of coffee it’s a delicious finale to a fine meal.
Veggie Eater:  There appears to be pride in the fact that there are quite a few veggie items on the menu. Ask and you shall be appropriately steered.  I have developed a full blown labneh obsession based on the sandwich offered here-fresh pita surrounds yogurt that is the consistency of cream cheese, but tangy and tart.  The labneh is studded with a tiny dice of cukes, tomatoes, and olives and is completely satisfying.  Meat eater has already sung the praises of the side item, the garlic potatoes, so I shall not repeat.  Second time out of the gate was the Mujadara-lentil and rice pilaf.  It is a visually stunning dish that is plated with great care.  The pilaf, studded with bay leaves,  is formed into a square with thick, roasted veggies redolent of smoke, on the side.  A crispy microplaned slice of eggplant adds some texture.  Combine this with caramelized onions to add a little bit of sweet and earthiness.  I’m normally a left over hoarder during my meals out-nothing makes me happier than a good meal at work several days later.  However, I had nothing to show after either of my visits, not because portions are skimpy (they are pretty fairly sized), but because I was not willing to delay additional gratification until a later date.  A side note, the un-sweet mango tea is a lovely accompaniment-it’s nice to have tea that can be fruity without being cloyingly sweet. 
Meat Eater: Epice means spice in French. We think this little Lebanese bistro puts some nice spice into the 12 South strip. We paid $52 with tax and tip on one visit and $55 on another. Each was well worth the money.

Epice on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pinewood Social

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Pinewood Social
33 Peabody Street
The room is the star at the Pinewood Social, the latest dining and cocktail establishment from the gold-dust twins of the Nashville restaurant scene, Benjamin and Max Goldberg. The huge space, part of the converted trolley barn project just south and up the hill from SOBRO, turns the towering ceilings and brick of the historic warehouse-like building into a vibrant entertainment room with several different open spaces. While that may seem like a lot to manage, it is done to great effect. Witness brunch on a recent Sunday. Teachers are grading papers and drinking coffee at the long, laptop friendly, communal coffee table. Kids are sitting nearby with parents in one of the several armchair and couch areas. A group of twenty-something’s, dressed up with heels and hats, take photos of their food at the massive copper-topped bar at the center of the room. On all sides, diners in more traditional restaurant seating are chatting happily. Oh, and did we mention that all of this looks out over a bowling alley? It’s thankfully in another room. The main space is loud and energetic enough as it is. It has to be one of the most unique setups in Nashville.
This could be a DIY type of joint, but if you are expecting that, clearly you don’t know the Goldbergs. Everything is done in upscale hipster flair, much like the Patterson House and the Catbird Seat, and the crowd reflects that. Out of more than a hundred diners and staff in the room there is not one face of color to be seen in the place on our brunch visit. A dinner stop brings in a slightly more diverse crowd.
The Goldbergs love their craft cocktails and Pinewood Social doesn’t disappoint. A District 9, the kissing cousin of the Sazerac, is well balanced and refined. The Marathon Manhattan most likely takes it name from the Marathon Village home of Nashville’s own Corsair Distillery. Their intense and lovely Triple Smoke whiskey is paired with rye for a bolder flavor than the traditional version.
Pinewood Social serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu is spare at all times of the day. Cheese curds are salty, chewy and, in this case, perfectly fried. Served with a tangy pepper aioli it’s a good starter. The fried chicken is super-crispy and juicy. The Asian slaw on the side is a welcome twist. Brunch brings a beef tongue Reuben Benedict. If that sounds a bit much, you should give it a try anyway. It’s basically an open faced Reuben with a poached egg and hollandaise on top. The sauerkraut provides a welcome contrast to the rich egg yolk and hollandaise. The beef tongue is remarkably tender and light. A biscuit is baked browned crisp and served with an apricot compote that is both sweet and light. The smashed potatoes are simply tender fingerlings slightly smashed to draw in the butter and then herbed. They are a delight.
The terse menu can pose a problem for vegetarians. Only a couple of choices are available at each meal.
Veggie Eater:  As ME noted, it’s a rather limited menu and even more so for the veggie eaters of the world. Then there’s the pretentiousness...any place that notes on the chalkboard, “Playlist curated by…” is inherently irksome.  That being said, I did rather enjoy what sounded like a Robbie Fulks’ rendition of the “Eye of the Tiger”-yep, you know the awful song (yes, sounds like the playlist was well curated-M.E.).  I am also opposed to people wearing their sunglasses on the back of their necks (sorry, she is rather cranky today-M.E.), yet I again found myself enjoying the experience, despite my best intentions not to.  First time out, I went with the ubiquitous kale salad and since I care nothing about being trendy, it doesn’t bother me that kale is so 2013.  I ordered the full plate, which was in fact a lot of kale.  I found the Parmesan skimpy and think I only counted a few croutons.  The dressing was authentic, so if you opt to fully exclude fish products from your veggie friendly diet, don’t bother with the salad-you can taste the anchovies in the dressing.  I should be as strong as Popeye (that was spinach you know-M.E.) following the voluminous amount of the healthful green ingested.  Brunch too offers only limited veggie options.  I enjoyed the bloody Mary- it’s made with fresh tomato juice, fresh lime juice, olive juice and hot bitters-it could have used more of the bitters (or simply opt to doctor with Sriacha at request) to balance it out, but it is tangy and tasty.  The goat cheese omelet was room temp upon arrival and has a somewhat unearthly spongy texture and appearance.  Noble Farms goat cheese is the star and as I have a crush on Dustin at Noble (sorry Justyne) (she’s full of admissions today-M.E.) I love it whenever his products are prominently featured.  Again, a little skimpy on the filling, but despite room temp, it was still a lovely combination of tangy (thanks to the tomato puree on top and inside of the omelet), creamy (from the goat cheese) and the strange egg texture works well with the baby spinach.  Not sure I’ll be racing back, but probably can be enticed back without much fuss.
Meat Eater: Sorry, apparently she needed more than just one bloody Mary. It may be a bit off-putting to need the hostess to seat you at the bar. It’s the same technique the Goldbergs use at Patterson House and in both cases it’s quite necessary. On our two visits the place was packed from the word go. The genuinely nice and attentive staff more than alleviates any of the aforementioned pretentiousness. There is an army of well-trained young people at the Pinewood Social and everyone is all smiles. They keep long hours, often 7am to 1am. We never did make it to the bowling alley, but it looked fun, and well, rather hipster.
You do pay for all of this vibrancy. We ran up a $100 tab for dinner and a $56 tab for brunch. Still, that’s with a few cocktails and plenty of drinks at dinner.

Pinewood Social on Urbanspoon