Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mad Donna’s

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Mad Donna’s
1313 Woodland St.
East Nashville

You gotta love a place where people are having martinis and beer with a pug. And Hank the pug seemed to be digging the vibe on the patio at the recently opened Mad Donna’s restaurant in East Nashville. Just down from Hank and his crew was a pack of parents and kids out enjoying a Friday night together. That seems to be what Mad Donnas is developing into: a cool, relaxed neighborhood place. While the food didn’t blow us away, it is good and that combo could prove successful.

It’s been a long time coming. The owners have spent more than a year in renovations and what they call “surprises”. They have done an amazing job transforming the old Radio Café into a hip, upscale space which manages to walk the line between formality and modesty with a little swagger along the way. The bars on each floor are modern and inviting. The patio is more than a bit shielded from the outside world and while this really squelches the fun of people watching, I would imagine it had a lot to do with neighbor requests. The patio is topped with a tent over the back half to avoid the spring showers and perhaps the baking August sun. While we really miss the funky, do-it-yourself feel of Radio Café it is nice to see the building take a new turn.

The menu at Mad Donna’s is pretty straightforward American. Don’t expect a lot of invention here. We did spy a couple of interesting twists. The Veggie Eater was having a heck of time deciding between the five cheese bow-tie mac and cheese and the sweet potato enchiladas. They offer up a tomato bisque soup, fish tacos, pastas, burgers, salads and seafood. There is a nod to vegetarians here and there, and even better they understand that just because something doesn’t appear to have meat, it doesn’t necessarily make it vegetarian. The waitress pointed out that the black beans were lard free.

We started with the Queso Blanco. It was a tad runny, but with good flavor and speckled with bits of fresh cilantro. The cheese seemed pretty typical and lacking the bite, and tang, of better Mexican cheese. Still, the fried flour tortilla strips were crisp and light making the dish a good start to the evening.

They have a few interesting burgers on the menu. One features cheese and mushrooms stuffed into the burger and another promises a kick with jalapenos stuffed inside. They also have a garden burger option. I went with the Miss Swiss, which is piled high with avocado, bacon and Swiss cheese. I ordered medium-rare and it came out medium. I noticed another diner had more pink in his burger, so I don’t think this is necessarily a trend, perhaps just an aberration of the night. The slightly sweet bun was a nice way to top the burger. Overall it was good, nothing incredible, but the cooking may have put me off a bit.

The aforementioned black beans come lightly seasoned. We tried to guess, perhaps cumin? There is a bit of tomato in there for some tang. It’s topped with sour cream. It’s a really good side for a meal.

Veggie Eater: I had the sweet potato enchiladas, which made for a nice veggie twist. They were loaded with sweet potatoes, enveloped in corn tortillas, and topped with what appeared to be a fresh enchilada sauce. There was a smattering of cheddar melted on top. Would have preferred a bit more cheese, but I always want more cheese. The black beans were a bit smoky in flavor and our server made a point to tell us that they were completely vegetarian (no lard). The queso seemed a bit uninspired and I’m not really a fan of flour tortillas, but they were freshly fried. I think Alley Cat's Tex Mex is better, but if this was my neighborhood joint, I’d probably venture back regularly, if for nothing else for the vibe.

Meat Eater: It looks like the Lipstick Lounge crowd has figured out this is a good place for dinner before a show. I can certainly see summer nights out on the patio and winter evenings inside the candlelit dining room. Mad Donna’s is a good, casual addition to the East Nashville dining scene. Our total with tax and tip was $36.
Mad Donna's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish
624 Main Street
East Nashville

Bolton’s is the definition of a chicken and fish shack and a Nashville institution that I always enjoy, no matter how weird it gets. It’s basically a takeout joint with a hastily added little dining room, which is really just four patio tables with mismatched plastic table cloths. It kinda smelled on my latest visit, but they made up for the odor with the down home spirit which always rises above whatever the current challenge. Someone sticks their head out into the dining room to ask me what I want to eat. I ask for a reminder of the menu again…really just trying to figure out how much chicken I want to order. He’s happy enough to discuss it all and finally we settle on my order.

Bolton’s is known for the hot fish and it is a truly great, spicy sandwich. I often find myself drawn, though, for the hot chicken. It’s fiery, flavorful and one of the best in town. Bolton Matthews got the recipe from his uncle who reportedly schooled him in exactly how it should be prepared. Along the way Bolton’s has been written up in everything from Gourmet to Southern Living.

The menu is simple enough to recite from memory. Hot chicken comes in a breast quarter, leg quarter, wings or on a stick. The fish is whiting, catfish and grouper. I haven’t had the chicken on a stick yet or the grouper, but everything in good time. The sides are surprisingly good for a place where chicken and fish are truly king and queen. The Mac and Cheese is quite peppery with what looks like a roux based sauce. Not your usual Mac and Cheese and one of the better versions in Nashville. Slaw and the potato salad have a vinegar tang. Bolton’s also serves up a number of bean varieties each day. I need to get back for the barbecue one of these days. They have ribs, pork chops and shoulder sandwiches. I have tried the barbecue spaghetti, which is good and rather spicy.

The fellow comes sticks his head out again with a somber look. They have just fired up the fryer and it’s acting up. He wants to make sure he gets it right for my chicken, so it will take a couple more minutes. It’s that kind of friendly atmosphere that makes Bolton’s fun. You feel like you are visiting family. I’ve been there when they are cracking up regular customers with jokes. I’ve also seen a pitch battle develop with a woman who just couldn’t figure out what she wanted to eat. I wouldn’t call the Bolton’s dining experience relaxing, just always interesting.

The chicken finally comes out, still bubbling from the fryer. They warn me about the physical heat and I also prepare for the Scoville heat. The Bolton’s medium is much more manageable than the Prince’s medium, but it is still hot. The chicken breast quarter is huge and perfectly fried. You can smell the spicy fry even before you taste it. The solid, hot kick of the skin is offset by the moist white meat. The white bread they serve alongside is essential for sopping up the juice and cutting the heat. The flavor is full and satisfying no matter what the heat level. I usually stick to medium to make sure I can still taste that wonderful flavor. It all makes for a fantastic lunch and a truly original Nashville feast in one of the funkiest little chicken shacks in the city.

My total with tax, tip and plenty of water was $9.
Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bunganut Pig Pub and Eatery

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Bunganut Pig Pub and Eatery
1143 Columbia Ave.

You gotta love a place that mixes a good Bloody Mary. And if they have a weird name with an odd story attached to it, well even the better. The Bunganut Pig Pub and Eatery has been in Franklin for more than 20 years. Recently it changed hands and it was our first time to visit.

The Bunganut Pig is made to look like an Irish or English pub. The décor is cozy and aged enough by now to seem almost authentic. Many people know The Bunganut Pig for live music. They feature singer-songwriters, cover groups and other folks. It’s a small room so I would imagine it’s an intimate venue for performer and audience.

We arrived for lunch when the bar was just opening up. I ordered the aforementioned Bloody Mary and was pleasantly surprised to find it well balanced, spicy and with a good solid flavor. It’s not easy getting a Bloody right, so they get points there. The lunch and dinner menus are fairly extensive. There are 20 sandwiches to choose from, including fried bologna, grilled Tilapia and something called the Monte Cristo: a deep fried, cinnamon battered triple decker with ham, turkey and cheese. Wow. Didn’t make it there on this visit. I did sample the unusual sounding BBQ Pork Wings. They’re meaty grilled pork medallions still on the shank bone. It makes a good handle to get at the juicy, flavorful pork covered in an okay barbecue sauce with a decent little kick. They proved to be quite good. The gumbo I started with was okay, not great, but certainly respectable.

Entrees include Shepherd’s Pie, pastas, seafood and several steaks, including a Filet Mignon. All of this might be a bit much with a band blaring and smoke wafting over from the bar area, but hey you have to give them credit for giving people a wide range of options.

Veggie Eater: So, the name begs the question, “What the hell is a Bunganut Pig?” I happened to ask this question to the right person, the owner. Hopefully I am relaying the details with some accuracy. The bar has existed for the past 20 years. The original owner and his son many years before that were in Maine, near Bunganut Pond, on a boys camping vacation. While driving around, they passed a big, red stained barn, which had “Bunganut Pig,” painted on the side. The father/original owner of the bar then invented a scary campfire tale which starred the Bunganut Pig and Charles Manson. The story was part of family lore and thus it was forgone conclusion what the name of the bar would be. The current owner has contacted the various records departments in Maine to try to determine the origin of “Bunganut”, to no avail…enough about history. I had the curly fries and the house garden salad (if veggie, request no bacon bits). Fries were thin, fresh and crisp. Perfect with malt vinegar. The salad was generous and included spinach and other fresh greens. Shredded cheddar over the top. I am a bleu cheese snob and it was a good dressing. Perhaps it was the Guinness at lunch, but I left a very happy camper.

Meat Eater: We would probably go back to Bunganut Pig again. We did like the interior and the staff was quite nice. We spent $28 with tax and tip for a couple of beers, Bloody Mary and lunch.Bunganut Pig on Urbanspoon