Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tough Times for Restaurants

Okay, another restaurant closing to report. Kellogg’s Southern Restaurant at 7541 Old Hickory Blvd. in Whites Creek has shut down. This has been a hard location for restaurants...with several taking up residence and failing in the last four years. This may also be an indication of the impact of the economic downturn. The newer, struggling operations are closing first, but who knows how far it will go. If you have the money keep visiting your favorite restaurants.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Veggie Cafe closes restaurant location

The Veggie Cafe has closed at 1601 Riverside. The good news is they will go back to operating the mobile kitchen. We'll leave the review up for now at http://nashvillerestaurants.blogspot.com/2008/03/veggie-caf.html

Check their website for details on the mobile kitchen:

http://www.theveggiecafe.com/

Sunday, October 19, 2008

La Usuluteca

Nashville Restaurants and Food
La Usuluteca
2761 Murfreesboro Road
Antioch
615-367-1288


There are dozens of Mexican taquerias in Nashville these days. You’d figure that the growth in the Hispanic population would lead to restaurants featuring the specialties of other Latin American countries, but these joints are far fewer and often don’t last long. Pupuseria La Usuluteca has been turning out El Salvadoran food for about three years and the longevity is well deserved. They have excellent pupusas and a number of other unique El Salvadoran dishes.
We found out about La Usuluteca from a reader named Sarah, who fell in love with pupusas while she lived in Washington, D.C. Now in Nashville, she has been on a quest of sorts. A Salvadorian neighbor of hers made the recommendation and we thank them both.
La Usuluteca is on Murfreesboro Pike just past Bell Road in Antioch. It’s a long trip for us, but well worth it. The interior is bright with a high ceiling and plenty of solid wood tables for a rustic feel. The menu is fun to navigate and made easy with English translations, and help from a friendly staff. Pupusas are thick, stuffed corn masa tortillas often served with curtido, which is basically a vinegar cole slaw. At Usuluteca they come stuffed with pork, cheese, bean and cheese, and Loroco, which is a green flower popular in El Salvadorian cooking. At some places in town pupusas are served up oily, flat and quite a bit like quesadillas. La Usuluteca seems to pan fry the pupusas gently and with just a slight char. They are light and substantial at the same time. The curtido adds a tang and a light tomato broth gives it a little brightness. The result is a real treat.

The rest of the menu includes tamales, which come in chicken, or corn and cream. You can order the corn and cream tamales either fried or baked. The fried version is rich, cakey and delicious. Antojitos translates to snack in many Mexican restaurants. Here though, the section goes a bit further, and includes at least one full meal. Bread and chicken sounds odd at first, and then when you hear the ingredients you realize it’s the El Salvadorian version of how Southern joints often serve fried chicken. The dish is basically bread, with a layer of fresh tomato, radish and cucumber, and then a big piece of lightly fried chicken, topped with a mayo based version of curtido slaw and a light, savory brown sauce. It looks like a big mountain of food at first. Then you dig down through the layers and realize that all of the flavors (savory and tangy) and textures (crispy and chewy) combine for a truly great take on fried chicken. It is one of my new favorite chicken dishes.

The main menu includes several other versions of chicken, as well as steaks, stewed beef and some dishes with eggs. One popular item when we visited was soup, which comes in several varieties depending on the weekend day. We saw one fellow splitting open mussels and getting every last spoonful of broth from a huge bowl of seafood soup. There are also beef and chicken sopas. For the more adventurous there is traditional Mondongo, which is diced and slow cooked tripe.

Veggie Eater: I don’t believe that I’ve ever had Salvadorian food before, but I assure you that my Salvadorian cuisine drought is now over. I LOVED this place. The interior is cheery without being garish. Appears the owners actually popped for both d├ęcor and restaurant supplies/appliances. And it’s clean. Enough about the restaurant, let’s get to the food. I had the bean and cheese pupusa as recommended by Sarah. The beans and cheese are a smeared in between masa that is about the thickness of a pancake. They seem to be pan or griddle fried on cast iron, as the masa took on a bit of a smoky flavor. I also had to take advantage of the tamales; I rarely see a veggie friendly version. Mine were corn and were fried; street food at its best. The tamales come with crema; don’t be scared by the color of crema; it’s supposed to be that color and simply tastes better than sour cream. The salsa was light and tangy. The waitresses smile broadly and are very friendly. There are quite a few veggie friendly items on the menu and not your usual bean and cheese burrito or cheese enchilada fare that I am usually reduced to at Latino restaurants. I need friends and family to come visit me soon, so I have an excuse to stop in (it’s right by the airport). Or, I might just have to make the trek just for the joy of it.

Meat Eater: Thanks again for the tip Sarah. We even washed it all down with crisp, clean El Salvadorian beers (Suprema and Pilsner 100) as you suggested. We paid $25 including tax and tip including two beers.
La Usuluteca on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One closing, one opening

We're sad to report that Nashville's Most Wanted Pizza has closed. Readers noticed it some time ago, but this is the first chance we've had to take a look ourselves. We wish the former owners well, they had some of the best pizza and wings in town. If anyone knows what they are up to now please drop us a line. That location seems to have issues. But the PadThai Kitchen is giving it a shot. We'll try and swing by for a taste in a few weeks.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Nashville Biscuit House

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Nashville Biscuit House
805 Gallatin Rd.
Nashville
615-228-4504

Revisit 8/13:

East Nashville deserves a good, hot breakfast and these days they’re getting it thanks to new management at the Nashville Biscuit House. It’s the second-year anniversary for the owners in this latest incarnation of the old Knife and Fork building, which has seen far too many proprietors in the last 10 years. It has always been a breakfast and lunch diner. While that concept may seem simple, it requires spot on execution and that hasn’t always been the case.


The Nashville Biscuit House staff is hopping on our Sunday morning visit. Folks are lined up in the parking lot waiting for a table. We see at least 15 people ahead of us and yet the wait actually is the promised 15 minutes. Inside you see why: the energy level of the wait staff is highly caffeinated and best of all: they never lose those smiles. It’s what a diner should be.

The menu is simple. You won’t find lingenberry pancakes or avocado eggs Benedict here. It’s all the Southern classics, piled on high. The sausage gravy is sticky and peppery.  It’s a tasty partner for those biscuits, which are fine, if not a bit dry on this day. Grits are served swimming in butter. They’re an upgrade from the cream of wheat stuff served in some joints. A pancake is thick and satisfying. The Supreme Omelet rolls up three types of meat, although they’re finely chopped and grilled crispy. The cheese is decidedly of the Velveeta school, which is fine with us for a diner.

Veggie Eater:  Let’s start with the disclaimer-I do not have enough tattoos to be permitted into this place.  That being said, once I got the golden ticket and won the wait list lottery, no one seemed to mind.  No fru fru food here.  The veggie omelet is a flat, burrito like affair, generously stuffed with fine diced mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, scallions; it oozes with processed cheese.  The home fries are large chunks that are crispy and simply seasoned with salt.  The syrup is of the corn syrup variety.  That being said, all food was well cooked (including the grits) and is a vast improvement over the previous incarnation.

Meat Eater: This place is beyond popular on a weekend morning. Some of that may be due to the lack of breakfast joints in East Nashville. But clearly the Nashville Biscuit House is providing that old-school diner breakfast that everyone seems to crave after a big Saturday night. We’re glad we could revisit. And as always, if you know of a restaurant that we have reviewed in the past that has gone through big changes or has new management, please let us know.


Here's the old review, from 2010:

When Nashville Biscuit House is your name, you’d better live up to the promise. And actually the biscuits are pretty good here. It’s the rest of the sides that fail to hold up.

The restaurant is probably best known as a Knife and Fork, which we reviewed and found kind of mediocre. Things didn’t improve much when it changed over to the Sylvan Park East and we visited. Bland, canned sides, and average meat and three fare caused a less than enthusiastic response. And now the Nashville Biscuit House, such promise in that name. Inside the place is cleaned up a bit. The wait staff is friendly and down home. Many of them have worked at all three of the recent restaurant incarnations. The menu is revamped a bit. Aside from the usual meat and three options they have a line-up of specialty burgers, including the Big John, a one pounder named after the new chef and owner. If you eat it, and the sides, they’ll put you on a wall of fame.

The biscuits are hot, flaky, buttery and with nice flavor. The fried chicken was better at the previous joints. Here it suffers from a blandness issue: well cooked and moist, just lacking any distinction. The mashed potatoes are okay and the white gravy rather non-descript. It’s like everything on the plate is in some sort of food witness protection program: scared to come out and be noticed. And perhaps for good reason; the beans and yams point to the real problem: much of this stuff seems to be straight out of the can. The yams even have an unpleasant after taste.

Oh, well. Perhaps things will improve. The burgers may be a good option. I haven’t had a chance to try them yet, but they looked okay coming out of the kitchen. We had always heard this location serves as a breakfast spot for this part of East Nashville. We went out on a Sunday morning to see if this perhaps could be the real niche for the Nashville Biscuit House.

There are not many surprises on the breakfast menu. They have a line-up of combo breakfasts, like the Lumberjack which features two pancakes, three eggs, sausage, bacon, grits or home fries and toast or biscuit. You can even throw a pork chop or steak onto that plate for a buck or two more.

The chicken fried steak started the meal off well: crispy and nicely cooked. The same lifeless white gravy as the lunch meal didn’t serve it well. The grits are the flavorless, fine grain type favored in so many restaurants. Overall not a bad breakfast, but it wouldn’t take much to make a difference. The home fries seem like they are probably frozen and straight out of the bag. Making a few things from scratch would really help elevate the breakfast and lunch menus.

Nashville Biscuit House on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Las Maracas

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Las Maracas
2704 Gallatin Pike
Nashville
615-227-8000


Update 12/09: This restaurant has moved and taken up two new locations, one down the street in East Nashville at 2704 Gallatin Pike and another in Madison at 1107 Gallatin Pike North. 868-0011. This review is of the old location. We have not been back since they have moved.

Our readers have been suggesting this place for a long time. We’ve been so busy scouting out the little mom and pop Mexican joints in Nashville that we have skipped over the Las Maracas on Gallatin Pike. Perhaps that’s because it looks like your typical Americanized Mexican joint from the outside. Well, boo to us. Las Maracas serves up Mexican food that is several notches above what you usually get in Nashville.

It’s a huge menu with all the usual Mexican American favorites. What sets Las Maracas apart is the care and flavor they put into those dishes. The zippy salsa has tons of cilantro, garlic and perhaps a little chipotle? The tortilla chips are hot and fresh. With the guacamole the avocado rules the day. It’s kind of tame but good.

The Chimichangas Suprema stand out on first taste. They’re really crispy on the outside with a surprisingly delicate cheese sauce on top. Inside all ingredients hold their own: the shrimp nicely grilled, beef and chicken flavorful and done just right. The chefs seem to choose good ingredients and put attention into the cooking. While some Mexican places in town cook meat to death, these guys take it easy on the grill and it really shows.

It was crazy busy on the Friday night that we visited with our good friends Jackie and Don. One order came out wrong and when we pointed it out, the correct dish was back in record time and perfectly cooked.

Veggie Eater: I had the spinach enchiladas and chili relleno plate. Beans and rice were perfect. The spinach enchilada was fabulous. What made it so wonderful was that the spinach actually appeared to be fresh spinach that had been lightly cooked down; it still actually had some texture to it and made a delightful stuffing for the enchilada. The relleno was fresh and very carefully fried; a hint of heat from the poblano pepper.

Jackie: Las Maracas is the bomb. On our first visit I ordered "Las Parilladas" which apparently translates into "At least a pound and a half of seared fajita meat", including pulled chicken, pulled pork, beef tips, a steak (no kidding), shrimp, and the most delicious chorizo I've ever tasted. If you must return (and you will), I suggest the Jumbo Burrito which is stuffed with chicken, fresh tomatoes, rice, beans and salsa. Did I mention the salsa? I bought some to go because it is fabulous--fresh tomatoes, cilantro, onions and loads of garlic. Yum. Directions: Head up Gallatin road nearly to Briley, definitely pass the Taco Bell, and it's on the left side. Both meals for two around twenty bucks. Service is great--tip big.

Meat Eater: I must say I thought there was no way the mountain of meat in the “Las Parilladas” could possibly be cooked well, given the mass quantity. I was wrong. Each bite was just right: tender and delicious (and kindly Jackie let me taste quite a few.) Kudos to bp and all of the other readers who recommended this place.
Las Maracas on Urbanspoon