Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Clarksville Tour: Silke's and the Blackhorse Pub

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Clarksville Tour
Clarksville may seem to be only mile upon mile of strip malls and fast food restaurants. But there are a few hidden gems, making it well worth a day trip north. Here are a couple of our favorites.

Silke’s Old World Breads
1214A College Street

Silke’s bread is starting to make its way onto menus around Nashville and for good reason: the hearty, chewy, crusty European style makes a great part of a meal. While you can get the bread at a few locations in town, a visit to the Clarksville bakery is well worth it. It sits tucked away in an unassuming building next to an antique mall. Inside you realize immediately this is much more than a bakery. Art and photography from locals fill the walls. Inside you find a pleasant café style restaurant that is inviting and homey. They put the herb sprinkled focaccia right out front, which pretty much stopped us in our tracks. Twisted cheese bread beckons from a basket. Pretzels hang seductively nearby. Okay, so we were hungry. In fact that pretzel didn’t even make it into the bag before the Veggie Eater was happily munching away.

The Café offers a variety of pizza, sandwiches, soups and salads. Needless to say the dough is something they take quite seriously. Options on top include a vegetarian, Greek, margheritta, ham and pineapple and pepperoni. Sandwiches include interesting German ingredients: Lerberkase, Landjager Wurst and Wiener Wurst. Or you can go for the provolone and cheddar, a Muffaletta or create your own from their list of ingredients. We should note there are many options available for Vegetarians at Silke’s. Which makes it all the sadder that we couldn’t stop for a meal. We’ll do a full review in the future. We can say the Pretzel was excellent, the chewy, flour dusted hoagie rolls very good and the Italian focaccia with tomato, green peppers and onions a real treat.

Veggie Eater: The pretzel is simply the best I’ve ever had. Not the typical stale lump that has been turning on a rotisserie under a heat lamp all day at a fair or ball game. The exterior is just slightly crisp and reveals a soft interior. The interior is yeasty and has a slight baking soda zing to it. It has a light dusting of salt on top. I started consuming it before it hit the bag and essentially finished it before we reached the car. We had hoagie rolls with dogs that evening, which are a heck of a lot better than the standard hot dog bun fare offered in the grocery store. They were pretty much sold out of most of their whole loaves of bread, so get there early.

The Blackhorse Pub and Brewery
132 Franklin Street
The brew pub is a double challenge. Not only do you have to turn out top notch beer, but the food also needs to shine. It’s a challenge made even tougher at the Blackhorse Pub and Brewery in Clarksville. They have a huge menu and a big space. It all comes together though and the joint is one of our favorite lunch destinations in Middle Tennessee.

The restaurant is carved out of a historic building in the rebuilt downtown. Clarksville has been subject to more natural disasters than any one city should have to endure: floods, fires and of course the tornado that tore through downtown in 1999. The red brick design of the new buildings certainly gives a warm feel to the courthouse area and blend well with the older architecture that survived. The Blackhorse sits first in a row of several restaurants and bars. Inside you face the intimate bar and a few cozy booths. It’s not until you venture to the bathrooms that your realize this is a big space with a bunch of rooms. All of those rooms feel like an old world pub though, the dark wood and dim lighting really work to make the place relaxed.
First test: The beer. Blackhorse offers a range of familiar styles. The ale is standard fare with a bit of hops and a clean finish. The pale ale is hoppier with just a hint of bitter. They tend to better with the darker brews. The porter is malty and full flavored and the stout is creamy and light, much like a fresh brewed Guinness, which you can only get in Ireland. The Belgian is a seasonal light and sweet, but not as cloyingly sweet as many Belgian whites.

Second test: The food. Start with the Beer Cheese Dip. It’s a spicy and tangy blend of cheese with horseradish perhaps providing some kick. You can really taste the beer. The flatbread pizza is a crispy, lighter alternative to their fine pizzas. The Mozzarella, basil and grape tomatoes are lightly spread on top and don’t dominate the crust. Homemade blue cheese stands out in the fresh house salad. It’s hard to go wrong on this menu. We’ve been several times and burgers, pizza and pasta have all been excellent. They have an array of sandwiches, including a Spicy Black Bean Burger and a wheat bread backed creation called the Boo Radley with smoked turkey, Monterey jack and bacon. The pizzas are a big draw and feature options like Blue Cheese and Spinach, and the unique Tunisian that comes with garlic butter, honey and curry base covered in roasted chicken, red pepper and cheese.

The verdict: Top notch on all counts. Sure a few things here and there may be average, but there are enough standouts to make the Blackhorse well worth the drive.

Veggie Eater: OK, so maybe a “day trip” to Clarksville is stretching it, but a lunch trip to the Black Horse is well worth the visit. For us, since we’re located in J-town (Editors note: She means Joelton, I think we’re the only people on the planet that call it J-Town), the drive to the Blackhorse is as close as Brentwood or Franklin. I have never been disappointed with the food here. The cheese dip is sublime; so much better than standard queso. Chips are freshly fried. Salads are fresh and with homemade dressing. They have many veggie items and the waitresses do not blanch when I request a veggie Rueben. We generally have to limit ourselves when we are there, as we will undoubtedly order far too much food.

Meat Eater: The service is usually quite good. Pizzas range from $15 for a 12 inch to $20 for the big 16 inch. Beers are in the $3-$4 range. So, other folks must have some Clarksville favorites. Chime in with comments to let us know where else people should visit up there.