Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pied Piper Eatery

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Pied Piper Eatery
1601 Riverside Drive

You can’t beat funky sandwich shops: the bohemian places with funny sandwich names, an eclectic decorating style and best of all, really good food. Pied Piper Eatery is all of that and more, because the menu goes beyond a big list of sandwiches to include things like a Jerry Garcia Frito Pie. The music theme permeates the Pied Piper offerings, and who could resist the Randy Jackson’s Big Dawg giant hot dog or the Clay Aiken, which features nothing but cheese. The sense of humor on the menu works and it’s joined in the dining room by a friendly and funny wait staff. As you can imagine with the fun food and relaxed atmosphere, it’s a good place for kids, and indeed several families were having a nice time on the evening we visited.

The restaurant location on Riverside Drive was last known as the Veggie Café. The new place is run by the same family that owns Pied Piper Creamery ice cream. They’ve turned the room into a warm, and slightly smaller space, with the rock and roll theme everywhere: rock and roll album covers sealed into the table tops and rock band inspired art on the walls.

We should say right away that we ordered way too much food. We try to sample as much as we can, and this time the generous portion sizes did us in. We took plenty home though, so it’s not a bad thing. The chili is sticky, meaty and slightly sweet; a great combination. This is the thick type of chili you can put on a burger or a dog, which they do for a few menu options, but it’s plenty good in the bowl as well.

The fries are long, thin and crispy and with great flavor. There’s a big pile of them that comes with the sandwiches. You can also get the fries smothered in chili and cheese as an appetizer.

After perusing the menu it quickly became apparent that the Monty “Python” Cristo would have to be a part of our night out, perhaps just for the sheer preposterousness of the sandwich. It’s ham, turkey and cheese, piled between Texas toast slices and then battered and fried. Topped with powdered sugar and served up with a side of raspberry sauce, it’s kind of like a donut sandwich gone wild. The bread gets all fluffy like a funnel cake, with the sweet taste of a dessert. Then you hit the gooey cheese and meat interior and it turns back into a sandwich. Pretty evil and pretty damn good.

There has to be something for just about everyone on that menu, including a big list of inventive burger designs and some creative salads. The Veggie Eater about lost it when she found out they serve hash browns for dinner. Pied Piper has a small breakfast line-up that they serve all day, starting at 8am.

Veggie Eater: Love this place. The hash browns are the best that I’ve had in this town. You get to choose 2 topping items with them, but don’t feel like you’re only limited to 2. There are 40 toppings you can choose, ranging from corn to corned beef. The hash browns are shredded, perfectly crisped on the outside and tender in the middle. This made me wax nostalgic for one of my favorite junk food spots in college, the Hamburg Inn, in Iowa City, Iowa. We opted for provolone and sour cream, but we literally have thousands of future combinations to choose from. This puts the Waffle House to shame. Then there was my veggie burger. There were a few tense moments when I was about to summon the waitress back to inform her that a mistake had been made on my veggie burger; I was convinced it was a real meat burger. Turns out, upon further analysis, the rare looking “meat” was in fact mushrooms, rice and beets, which give the appearance of a rare burger. You can order any of the burgers veggie style (there are 11 styles to choose from), and this is not your average Harvest Burger. Don’t get me wrong, I keep the frozen veggie burgers on hand at all times, but they are kind of dull. Not the case here. It was moist and not at all chewy (as is the case with most faux burgers). Topped with Swiss, cheddar, and pepper jack (the Wisconsin Special; as an ex-Cheesehead, it was simply a must), you cannot go wrong. And then there were the fries. Also the best fries I’ve had in town. I like my fries skinny and crisp and these fit the bill. They are as good as McDonald’s, but with no secret beef seasoning. This will definitely be my new East Nashville, post FooBar, eating spot.

Meat Eater: Okay the return visit will have to include a sample of their country fried steak or chicken breast with white gravy. Ooh, or maybe the fruit salsa and chips, or the Thunder from Down Under Burger (fried egg, bacon and cheddar)…so much food so little time. And did we mention that they have a list of side things, like avocado or Fritos that you can add on to just about any order? We paid $33 with tax and tip for much more food than two people should ever order. You could get out of there for significantly less if you are not a pig.

Update 9/5/09

They call it “A Little Bit of Country”: your choice of steak of chicken fried up in a spicy batter. The ribeye version makes for an excellent chicken fried steak. It’s chewy because of the real cut of steak (they don’t pound it to death) but I kind of enjoy that. The white gravy is an excellent topping and very southwestern in flavor. Combined with hand mashed potatoes (skins mashed in) it’s a real feast. Our friend loved her Monty Python Cristo (ham, turkey and cheese on battered and fried Texas toast…always a must do for a newcomer) and the onion rings were really good: a light batter and thin cut onions.

Veggie Eater: Roasted Veggie Sammy: I thought my sandwich was a bit gloppy and a tad greasy. It was stuffed with zucchini and squash and topped with pesto mayo and cheese atop thickly sliced bread. My sandwich funk may have been fueled by the fact that I really wanted the fabulous homemade veggie burger, but was talked into trying something new by Meat Eater. The fries are still awesome; thin cuts perfectly fried and salted; puts McDonald’s to shame and I’m pretty sure Pied Piper’s aren’t deceptively seasoned with beef (as McDonalds).
Pied Piper Eatery on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Las Cazuelas Mexican Grill

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Las Cazuelas Mexican Grill
4114 Nolensville Road

You can tell right away that Las Cazuelas is a party spot: the festive dance tunes belting out of the stereo, the interior dressed up in vaquero/cowboy style, the stage just waiting for a band. Indeed they have live music Thursday through Sunday nights and a wide range of tequila at the well-stocked bar. So, it begs the question: is the food any good?

The huge menu runs from tostado ceviche and fresh oysters on the half shell for appetizers, to grilled meats. It might be worth visiting on a Friday when they serve up Mole Poblano as the special. Sunday features barbecue goat. The seafood section is extensive and interesting. Fish relleno is a fillet stuffed with chopped shrimp and octopus. Pina Cantamar puts the shrimp/octopus mixture into a cored pineapple. Mojarra Frita is described as marinated tilapia deep fried.

The guacamole is clearly fresh made. The chunky avocado and tomato is accented by fresh squeezed lime. We could tell from the lime seed we found while devouring the guacamole. The zippy salsa has plenty of fresh cilantro.

Everyone around us was ordering seafood, primarily big bowls of sopa de mariscos. The shrimp and fish veracruzano comes in a delicate olive oil and tomato broth with onions and green peppers. The fish fillet is flaky and light and the shrimp nicely cooked. It’s a mellow dish that needed some perking up with hot sauce. The accompaniment is a real treat: homemade corn tortillas. They are light as a feather and quite tasty. A squeeze of lime and orange and you have good fish tacos. The special white rice served with seafood dishes is savory and full of flavor.

Veggie Eater: There is not an extensive amount of veggie friendly food. The combo menu proudly notes that pretty much all combo platters can be made veggie, with the exceptions of platters with tamales (sorry, they have pork). My standard combo is cheese enchilada, chile rellenos, beans, and cheese. This is not inventive Mexican food, but it was good. The enchiladas were spared from drowning in sauce; a plus. The relleno was huge and it struck me as being a bit overdone; not the fried exterior, but the pepper itself. The rice was fluffy and included peas. The beans were creamy and smooth. I liked the salsa. Although I tend to prefer a salsa that has recognizable ingredients left in it, this was closer to a puree in texture, but was flavorful, nonetheless. Not terribly hot, but lots of fresh cilantro and garlic. What I really enjoyed was the atmosphere. It was kind of like being at the Latino version of Cheers. The host knew most of the customers, the customers knew the other customers. Our waitress had a large smile, was attentive, understood the “veggie” request”, and was genuinely pleasant.

Meat Eater: We’ll have to make it back for a music night. We paid $35 for two entrees, guacamole and two drinks.
Las Cazuelas on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pleasant Thyme Café

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Pleasant Thyme Café
2004 Highway 49 East
Pleasant View

There are plenty of home-style restaurants to be found in the rural exurbs north of Nashville, and perhaps that’s what you think you’ve stumbled on while traveling a rural stretch of Highway 49 in Pleasant View. A peek inside the restaurant reveals something much different: a sleek, tasteful coffee shop style design, with dark wood and an upscale vibe. Pleasant Thyme Café is a rare bird. It’s a family run restaurant in a small town, with big city menu executed by a talented chef. Okay, so this isn’t fine dining. Pleasant Thyme Café is a lunch joint, but the sandwiches, soups and salads would be welcome in any better Nashville restaurant. Indeed owners Rich and Susie Van Etten worked in several of those Nashville kitchens, including Provence, Tin Angel and Zola. They opened the doors at Pleasant Thyme last September.

It’s a fun place with a mix of folks, ranging from construction workers in dirty jeans and baseball caps to middle-aged ladies dressed in slacks and sweaters. It’s clear they are there for the same reason: excellent food.

You can taste the quality in the first spoonful of the tomato basil bisque. The chunky bits of tomato provide a bright accent to the rich, velvety soup. The broccoli, in the broccoli and bacon salad, has a fresh, satisfying crunch. It’s studded with raisins and dressed in a tangy, light dressing for a sweet finish. All of the sandwiches on the menu come listed as specialty Panini sandwiches, which seems to mean a variety of sandwiches, some of which are finished in Panini press. It may seem like an attempt to take ordinary food upscale, but it works. Most importantly the care with which these sandwiches are created is evident immediately. The New York Reuben Panini is filled with juicy, well seasoned corned beef, quality Swiss cheese and the usual sauerkraut and 1000 Island dressing finish. The Panini press grooves mark the tasty rye bread. It is a really good Reuben and ready to rumble with any you can find in Nashville. There are plenty of other recognizable sandwich options in the Pleasant Thyme line-up. The Flank Steak comes served with a spicy bleu cheese dressing. The Turkey California has avocado, cheddar and mango chutney. The Roasted Turkey features a rosemary and sundried tomato mayonnaise.

Pleasant Thyme also serves up wrap sandwiches such as Turkey Bacon, and a Spicy Fajita with smoked cheddar, jalapenos and a southwest sauce. The sides are a simple list of chips, potato salad, pasta salad and the broccoli and bacon salad. They usually have a couple of soups available each day, which on this day included a chicken gumbo and creamy artichoke. Breakfast includes an egg and cheese Panini, and quiche of the day.

Veggie Eater: My mother and I hit this restaurant for her birthday lunch while she was in town. We figured we
should try to support a local business and had heard good things about Pleasant Thyme. I am shamed to admit at how long it took to get me there, since it’s just a hop, jump and a skip from our J-town home. We were not disappointed. Mom ordered the Reuben Panini. She indicated the corned beef was very high quality. The Panini was stacked high like a true New York deli sandwich. She opted for potato salad, which was fresh. I on the other hand opted for the Veggie Delight. It consisted of artichoke spread on foccacia and had fresh veggies to top it: red peppers, tomatoes, cukes, onions, and provolone. A respectable veggie sandwich. There are not a ton of veggie choices (really just the Veggie delight sandwich and the house salad). However, quite a few sandwiches can be made veggie friendly easily. I also notice that it appears they do 2 quiches each morning and it appears one is veggie and one is meatified. They have breakfast Panini as well. It’s close enough that when I want a quick treat, I’ll stop in again. My mother was thoroughly pleased with the new addition to our area.

Meat Eater: Thanks to the readers who e-mailed us about this place. We never expected to talk about Pleasant View and mango chutney in the same review, but we are glad we can. The Pleasant Thyme Cafe had a bustling weekday lunch business going on both of our visits, so it seems the locals are responding. I think one reason for that success is the down home feel to the place. It may look upscale, and serve up some outstanding lunch food, but at its heart Pleasant Thyme Café is a family run, small town place where everyone knows everyone. It’s great to have all of that and really good food to boot.
The Pleasant Thyme Café is located just 2.5 miles from the I-24/Highway 49 exit and well worth a day trip. Pleasant View even has an antique store and a gift store just off Highway 49. Pleasant Thyme Café is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, and until 2pm on Saturdays. A sandwich, side, cup of soup and a diet coke cost $12 with tax and tip.

Pleasant Thyme Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Nashville Restaurants and Food
1805 21st Ave. South

Update 9/14: Boscos has closed.
Consistency is a good thing, if of course the constant is great food. We’ve shied away from talking about Boscos in Nashville, mainly because we focus on independent restaurants. Boscos is a small brewpub chain based out of Memphis. They have four locations: Nashville, Franklin, Memphis and Little Rock, Arkansas. Well, we can’t let that keep us quiet any longer. We enjoy Boscos for both the beer and the food, and it is high time we talked about it.
The Hillsboro Village location does get busy. On a weekend night it is often packed with Vandy students out for a treat with mom and dad, and couples on a casual date. It’s an energetic bistro style space: heavy on the brass, exposed pipes and spotlights. It’s loud enough to be fun and not too loud for a good conversation. A nice way to start that discussion is with a beer. Boscos brews their own beer and it’s a big reason people visit. Each variety has a distinct flavor, which is not always the case with brew pubs. The Bombay IPA is tight with a dry, slightly bitter finish. The Isle of Skye Scottish Ale is a rich, brown ale with a slightly sweet finish. The Germantown Alt is another favorite, with nice malt flavor. They also feature a number of seasonal beers, which on our latest visit included the rich and sweet Export Stout. A real treat is the cask conditioned beers which are inventive, and packed with flavor you don’t normally experience in larger batches. They don’t offer the cask conditioned on Saturdays, which we always tend to forget.
Really good beer is enough of a reason to get us to visit, but at Boscos the food is also quite good. It’s the typical sandwich, pizza, pasta, salad and soup menu. The quality of that menu is what stands out. We started with fresh, crisp baby greens in the side salad. The thin Gorgonzola dressing may cry out for more cheese, but it does coat better and made for a nice salad. A reader recommended the black bean and goat cheese tamale. It was a good tip. There’s a little smoky flavor and a subtle background heat to the corn masa and black bean dish, which gives it a little more zip than the usual comforting tamale. The burger was ordered medium rare and came out more on the rare side. That’s okay. It’s a juicy burger with lots of flavor. The Parmesan fries on the side are always a highlight. They’re made with real melted Parmesan cheese, not some dried out flakes.
Past visits have shown that they do a good job with the wood oven pizzas. A delicate margherita and a decadent quattro formaggi top our list, along with the delicious Germantown which features barbecue chicken and smoked mozzarella.
Veggie Eater: I opted for the Calzone de Bosco this visit. Interestingly enough, you can order it calzone or pizza style. As I tend to prefer less crust, I opted for pizza style. I chose it because it encompassed all of my favorite pizza ingredients: spinach, artichokes, pesto, tomatoes, and olives with whole milk mozzarella. An Italian pizza purist, I prefer that ingredients be applied with restraint so that all parts can be tasted. I was not disappointed. The brininess of the artichokes and olives married well with the comfort of the pesto and mozz. Whole milk mozz does not have the stringiness of its cousin, part skim, and allows you to enjoy your slice without a struggle. As always, there was more than enough left over for lunch the next day and it made for wonderful leftovers. I must admit, I really wanted the tamales (thanks to Kristen who was kind enough to tip us off to her favorite veggie tamale spots in town), but my mother in-law had her heart set on them (she recently turned veggie after the whole downed cow debacle). The Calzone (or Pizza) de Bosco was a delightful alternative.
Meat Eater: Boscos gives a nod to vegetarians by marking the vegetarian dishes with an asterisk on the menu. Sunday brunch at Boscos is another treat. They have one of the better eggs Benedict options in town: the oyster Benedict is out of this world. Omelets, Belgian waffles and shrimp and grits are more brunch favorites. We paid $68.50 at dinner for three people with two beers.
Boscos Nashville Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon