Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bakersfield Tacos

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Bakersfield Tacos
201 Third Avenue South
There’s an upscale taco boom in downtown Nashville. The latest entrant, Bakersfield Tacos, is a chain restaurant, offering quality Southwest fare in an energetic and casual setting. We usually don’t do much with chain restaurants on this blog, but Bakersfield is a small chain thus far, and they’re providing a quality meal at reasonable prices downtown. That isn’t the case at many places downtown, so we think it’s worth a mention.
The room is packed on a Friday night visit. Bakersfield has the obligatory roll up garage door windows and yet it’s a loud room and with dim bar lighting. Nothing wrong with that, especially when cocktails come around. They have several margarita versions, a full bar with a decent beer selection, and even mimosas for weekend brunch.
Start with the queso- it’s a real star. Dark and husky queso is covered up with melting cheese and then popped in the oven. The baked top comes out bubbling hot. The taco options are limited, but interesting. Chicken mole tacos are a highlight- pickled peppers, cotija cheese and a great smoky flavor. The short rib tacos are a bit more laid back with tender beef and the traditional taco toppings of radish and cilantro. The tacos have house made corn tortillas and freshness is noticeable. It’s nice to see a chain restaurant featuring tortas. The milanesa version is a large, tender chicken patty lightly fried and then topped with lemon mayo and avocado. The flat, pressed, torta roll allows the chicken to do the talking.
Veggie Eater: First time around, our visit was on a Sunday for brunch. They’ve got 2 veggie taco options, Rajas and Huitlacoche, and since tacos are single serve, I opted for both.  Both have an earthiness imparted by the various roasted items (including whole green beans/elote corn in the rajas), though the huitlacoche is has perhaps more depth from the subtle flavor of the featured corn smut.  Two tacos with an app is more than ample fare.  On our second venture, I had the papas tostada.  The corn tortillas are fresh and I was a bit unnerved by the layers of 2 corn tortillas for a tostada. It made a 7 inch high stack.  I thought I could remove the bottom tortilla, but discovered that this tortilla housed the promised black beans.  So with my dish reassembled, I began to tackle it in earnest.  On the top tortilla, chunky bits of avocado were sprinkled amongst diced fried potatoes and queso fresco and then topped with romaine, radish, and scallions doused in a sprightly buttermilk dressing.  One is definitely enough (perhaps the reason for the second tortilla).  I opted for the pickled peppers on both trips, which impart both a bit of astringency and heat without overwhelming the dishes.
Meat Eater: This is a good option for Southwest fare downtown. We paid $58 with tax, tip and two drinks on one visit and $47 for the same on another visit.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

First Visit: Fifth and Taylor

Nashville Restaurants and Food
First Visit: Fifth and Taylor
Comfort food can mean boring to some folks. Fifth and Taylor, the month-old Germantown restaurant, challenges that notion at every step. We had our first visit recently and despite the departure of the executive chef, after only a few weeks, they were firing on all cylinders. Beer can chicken sounds lowbrow, especially when the sauce is served in a PBR can. That’s probably the expectation defying point- the juicy chicken has excellent flavor and is perfectly seasoned. You won’t find salt and pepper at the table and you won’t need them. Mashed potatoes are straightforward- without the cheese and herb options so prevalent these days. You won’t miss a thing. They taste exactly how you would hope simple mashed potatoes would taste. Even fried pickles get the star treatment when paired with fried ramps and a nice remoulade for dipping. There is more than the menu originally showed for vegetarians and it should be enough to keep them happy. The red quinoa is served a bit cold for a nice contrast with mushrooms and baby squash. Despite the simple food stylings and the casual vibe, this is an upscale restaurant. It’s a massive room with towering ceilings and tons of seating. The warehouse interior is lightened up by palms, modern artwork and large windows. There’s a long bar inside and another outside on the patio, which may be one of the new favorite cocktail patios in Nashville. We’ll be back in a few weeks for a complete review.

Fifth and Taylor
1411 Fifth Avenue North

Monday, April 6, 2015

Butchertown Hall

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Butchertown Hall
1416 Fourth Avenue North
 Everything at Butchertown Hall seems to be a star attraction: an eclectic beer selection, creative agave drinks, inventive and well-executed food and a lofty dining room that brings new meaning to the phrase beer hall. Butchertown Hall is a Texas barbecue themed restaurant with a Southwest flair that doesn’t stop with brisket, sausages and pork. You’ll find tamales, tacos, mole chicken and borracho beans. The restaurant has been open for two months. It’s the latest offering from Holland House and Pharmacy owner Terry Raley, who grew up in the Hill Country of Texas. Raley has help from former Holland House front of house man Shane O’Brien and chef de cuisine Benjamin Houk. As the branding implies, this is a beer-centric restaurant and Dan King, who does such a good job selecting unique brews for the Pharmacy, has amped up the approach with the official title of Beer Program Curator at Butchertown. A beer curator? It may sound a bit Portlandia, but then you notice the Private Selection local beers. They’re craft brews from Tennessee breweries that are unique to Butchertown. One sip of a Cool Springs Rosehip Raisin Dubbel or a Little Harpeth Bison Bock Vienna Lager is enough to forgive the title. Curate away, we say. There are several Private Selection beers and then another whole list of unusual and hard to find beers filling out an extensive list of tappers.
 While we’re on the subject of drinks- prepare yourself for an agave extravaganza. You’ll find many interesting tequila and mezcal choices, for drinking straight and mixed up in a revolving list of cocktail choices. Mezcal is hard enough to find anyway, so seven or eight varieties of high-end mezcal is quite fun. They have a small wine selection and if you want another liquor they just have a few bottles of staples. Clearly you are supposed to be drinking agave drinks here people. We’re happy to oblige. Mezcal in a bloody Mary is always a good idea, it gives brunch a smoky start. The white Negroni is a refreshing and sweet knock-off the of the original with mezcal, vermouth and Suze bitters standing in for Campari.
 Did we mention the interior yet? You are welcomed to the restaurant with a view of the bustling open kitchen, with logs burning away for the smoked items. Then you step into one of the most inventive dining rooms in the city- soaring ceilings and gleaming white tiles from floor to roof. Meat hook lifts support lighting and a rock partition is a mossy Zen-garden art piece. The effect is a grand meat market transformed into an upscale eatery. It fits the history of Germantown, certainly in the German influence in Texas barbecue, and as the Butchertown web site points out, the number of butchers that used to serve residents in the area. This is a truly astonishing section of town these days, with town houses and condos having popped up seemingly overnight and a new retail/restaurant section development preparing to open just down the street at Fifth and Taylor.
 So, let’s get to the food. The brisket is good. It’s tender enough and with decent flavor. The house-made knackwurst and barbecue rib meat also decent. However, when all three are combined with a sweet tomato sauce, stewed onions and excellent thin-sliced Texas-style toast (first rate bread) it becomes the Texas Trinity sandwich, which is now in my top ten list of favorite sandwiches in town. The so-called “coal” slaw is fermented and char grilled, before being served cold. It’s a tangy twist to the Cole slaw world.
 They serve brunch and lunch starting at 10 a.m. on the weekends. For a different take on the chicken and waffle craze, Butchertown presents hot chicken and Johnnycakes. Those cakes are sweet and wonderful with the mezcal-honey syrup. The hot chicken is a dainty piece of chicken breast with a thick crust and a fiery Mexican bite reminiscent of mole and that supper-complex, thick, dark and spicy red salsa you get at the better food trucks. Bravo to the chef for pushing hot chicken in new directions!
 You can get meat by the pound in what they call large format. Given the inventiveness of the kitchen, though, we would suggest working your way through the menu items to see what they do with that meat. It is a tight menu, but there are a surprising number of items for vegetarians.
 Veggie Eater: Meat Eater enjoyed this joint so much, that he returned the very next day with me in tow and I’m grateful he did.  I was initially annoyed by the hipster vibe of both staff and patrons, but was won over by our phenomenal server.  She was enthusiastic (actual quote: “it’s one of the best Vienna style bocks I’ve had”) and knowledgeable (a look of horror and disbelief masked her face as she witnessed me eating part of a  Johnny cake supplied by the Meat Eater-she seemed flummoxed at how to break the news that they were cooked in meat fat. The Johnny cake was then hastily returned to it’s original owner’s plate).    There’s not a ton of veggie options, but what there is can keep me happy.  I opted for the nachos borrachos.  Fresh fried flour tortilla chips are topped with drunken beans-the beans are kept whole and slightly brothy (these are veggie safe).  Velvety queso is dribbled over the affair and pickled onions and jalapenos are then mounded atop.   The mezcal bloody Mary paired wonderfully with this, adding tartness and smokiness.  I found myself bobbing my head to really awful 80’s tunes, acknowledging the guilty pleasure of it all.    
 Meat Eater: Yeah, yeah, yeah….it should have been obvious to us that a Johnny cake would be cooked in lard. Perhaps the Veggie Eater wanted to forget that fact for just a moment? The in-depth menu knowledge of the staff really stands out at Butchertown Hall. The patio is spacious and looks like it may be one of the better outdoor dining choices in the city.  Butchertown Hall adds to making Germantown one of the top eating neighborhoods in Nashville, especially when one considers the several planned restaurants on the way for the neighborhood.
 I paid $26 with tax and tip for a sandwich, side and a beer. While that may seem on the high end, we paid $56 for brunch with two cocktails, a beer and tax and tip. That’s a good deal. We’ll be back.

Butchertown Hall on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Love, Peace and Pho

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Love, Peace and Pho
2112 8th Avenue South
Ethnic food is expanding out of familiar enclaves in Nashville and into virgin neighborhoods. Such is the case with Love, Peace and Pho, the new Vietnamese restaurant along the short retail strip on Eighth Avenue South and Douglas. It’s co-owned by Thuong Vo and her brother Minh Nguyen. It’s cool to have quality Vietnamese fare in the area and the neighborhood seems to be embracing it, based on the number of customers when we visited.
The headline here is that Love, Peace and Pho is probably the most vegetarian friendly Vietnamese restaurant in town and it’s not just the vegetarian pho that gives them that distinction. Veggie banh mi sandwiches, vermicelli, spring rolls and egg rolls are just some of the possibilities.
But the first visit is a solo one for me and that means a big bowl of what they call Three Regions pho is the order…and there is nothing vegetarian about it. Rare beef is perfectly cooked when it comes out and doesn’t loose any tenderness as I eat. The same goes for the beef flank and soft tendons. I’m not a big fan of tripe, but it’s better here than I have had in other joints. Of course, the key to good pho is the broth. This version has some depth and is perfectly satisfying unadorned, although after a few sips I do ramp it up, as always, with fresh basil, sriracha and peppers.
The restaurant space is spare and modern in design. They’re clearly trying to break away from the traditional American-Vietnamese restaurant vibe. Service had some issues on my first visit. But a few weeks later and they had the kinks worked out and service was very good.
On another lunch visit we go all veggie friendly. We sit down to vegetarian hue rice batter crepes with tofu, mung bean sprouts and a pile of fresh greens on top. The vegetarian brown sauce is salty and just a hint of sweet. It’s a very good dish.
The big surprise here is the use of soy based “fake meat” products. If that turns you off, don’t let it. They have picked decent quality products. In fact, we tried to turn back the Veggie Pho when it first came to the table. Meatballs and what looked like chicken were apparent in the bowl. Lo and behold, all soy. Super fat and fresh veggie spring rolls, stuffed with cabbage, daikon and tofu, are a treat, as well.
Veggie Eater:  I generally become crabby when we eat out at Vietnamese joints, as there is decided lack of veggie friendly food. No need for crabbiness here.  First off, it’s a delight to actually be able to eat pho-about the only other time I’ve had it is when friends (of Pickled and Fried blogging fame) were kind enough to make a veggie version just for me.  The veggie version may lack a depth that the meat versions have, but I found this plenty satisfying-light and flavorful.  I wasn’t really prepared for all the fake meat products, but was pleasantly surprised at the texture they added to the broth and noodles.  All this, combined with the toppings-peppers, cilantro, sprouts, lime, and basil, makes for several satisfying meals.  There’s more to sample on the menu for a veggie eater, so I’ll likely be back when I have a Vietnamese hankering and don’t want to be limited to one off menu veggie stir fry.  
Meat Eater: Parking is a bit tough. We suggest picking a side street. Avoid parking in the neighboring business lots. We paid  $51 with three beers on one visit and I paid $15 for my pho and a diet coke on another visit.

Love, Peace and Pho on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Party Fowl

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Party Fowl
719 8th Avenue South
Hot chicken is red hot. The competition to join in Nashville’s truly original yardbird style is at fever pitch in the Music City. Party Fowl throws a spicy leg and breast into the ring, but it’s offering something extra and that’s where the party comes into play.
Let’s start with the hot chicken. It’s super crispy and has a sharp flavored heat. The medium heat on this day would be a mild most everywhere else in Nashville. That’s fine, but the bird itself is a bit dry. One staple of hot chicken is a certain amount of greasiness. The sourdough bread underneath barely soaks anything up, which is a warning sign for me. The sweet slaw is a good side dish.
Another visit and the order is hot chicken nachos. The chicken tender version served on the nachos at medium is spicier than the previous visit for whatever reason. There’s still that distinctive sharp flavor to the spice. It’s not bad, but I tend to prefer more depth of flavor in my hot chicken. I think it’s what made the style truly standout as a Nashville classic in the first place. It’s not just spicy chicken that makes it special, it’s chicken with a wallop of flavor with that heat. The nachos are otherwise cold, and are served that way on purpose; it’s kind of a nacho salad with plenty of greens, white beans and salsa. I enjoy the style. I do wish they would consider upgrading the rather average chips. A wedge salad features good blue cheese dressing on my request and fun cornbread croutons. Crispy, Southern bacon rounds out a good salad.
The menu is much more wide-ranging than most hot chicken joints and that’s where the party comes in. With two well-stocked bars (kick-ass whiskey selection and many local beer choices) and plenty of space to spread out, Party Fowl is a bar/restaurant, not a hot chicken stand. Chicken liver mousse, smoked chicken dip, chicken and dumplings- they do a number of fun things with chicken, even serving it stuffed with goat cheese. It all has a Southern vibe and a whimsical attitude.
They have a bunch of happy hour specials and a friendly staff. Party Fowl would be a good choice for after-work drinks. But I don’t suggest Party Fowl as a place to take out-of-towners for the hot chicken experience. Prince’s, Bolton’s, Hattie B’s, 400 Degrees and Pepperfire are much better representatives of the style.

As the name suggests, there is not much hear for a vegetarian. Bacon fried potato chips is an indication that any vegetarian venturing to Party Fowl should ask about prep and process.

I paid $18 with tax, tip and a beer on one visit and $24 on another visit.

Party Fowl on Urbanspoon