Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Nashville Farmers’ Market Update

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Nashville Farmers’ Market Update
900 Rosa L. Parks Blvd

The blue tarp is gone, new restaurants are dishing up business and the spring seems to be back in the step at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. It’s taken long enough. Let us not dwell and instead focus on the positive developments. The main dining area is done and in a stylish and functional form. Swagruha Indian cuisine, B and C Market BBQ, Nooley’s Cajun, Swett’s meat and three, and Chicago Style Gyro’s seem to be doing well. New joints include Nashville Coffee and Company, Farmers’ Market Deli and a new Mexican place called El Burrito that isn’t open quite yet. Fleur de Lis New Orleans Sno Balls is also new in the last couple of months. While we haven’t sampled yet we understand they are basically snow cones on steroids and in many different flavors.
On this lunch visit we opted for a favorite, Jamaicaway restaurant. The jerk chicken was piled high and while tasty, I did kick myself for going mild instead of spicy. The beef ribs and ox tails looked particularly good this day. The Johnny cakes have to be some of the best in Nashville: a delicate fry leaves them cake like, not greasy, and generally delicious. The dirty rice and pineapple sweet potatoes are excellent sides and provide a good pairing with the chicken. There is so much to choose from for the vegetarian that they actually spooned out little bits for the Veggie Eater to taste. It’s almost enough to get the Meat Eater to switch sides for the day.
Veggie Eater: I had one of the citrus chickeny flavors du jour; appeared to be wheat gluten based and had a bit of a curry taste to it. I sampled all veggie items for that day and decided this one best fit the bill, though any of the others would have made me perfectly as happy. I have heard the Jamaicaway folks tell meat eaters, “you won’t even realize it’s vegetarian” when touting their veggie items and they are absolutely right. Half of the menu is veggie entrees (there were at least 8 this visit) and all side items are veggie friendly. I had hoped to take some home for left over lunch the next day, but it was so good, I figured, “What the hell” and plowed through an ample plate. Best thing is, all of it is pretty darn good for you, so even in excess, you don’t feel all that guilty. Great space, great mix of folks, customers and staff alike.

Meat Eater: We’d still like to see more specialty stores and vendors at the Farmers' Market, especially baked goods, cheese etc. We look forward to seeing Geraldine’s Pies on Saturdays, picking up a loaf of sourdough from the Schrock Family Bakery and spicy Italian sausage from Barbour Farm. It all works perfectly with ripe locally grown tomatoes and freshly picked squash. The Farmers' Market is one of the great things about Nashville and we hope to see them keep growing.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Elotes Nayarit

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Elotes Nayarit
313 Gallatin Pike

Tender corn on the cob, coated in Mexican mayonnaise and crumbly cheese; you get sweet corn and savory topping in every bite. Elote are a Mexican treat that you can find at several places in South Nashville. Elotes Nayarit is a teeny, tiny little taqueria that finally brings some authentic Mexican food to Madison and, needless to say, they pride themselves on their elotes.
We’ve been meaning to eat at Elotes Nayarit for months. It’s easy to miss: just a little concrete building next to El Parasio Super Mercado, just south of Old Hickory Blvd. Look for the bright colors and the hand painted sign declaring elotes. Lunch time on a Saturday finds most of the six tables filled with families. The menu board lists the line-up and it’s pretty simple: elotes, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), quesadillas, sopes (fried maize masa), carne asada tostadas, chicharron (fried pork rinds) and menudo (tripe soup). We start with platanos fritos, which are plantains split down the middle and then lightly fried. Plantains are the cousin of the banana, a little less sweet and with more of a sweet potato texture and flavor. Elotes Nayarit serves them up with crumbled cheese and crema. They offered strawberry jam as well, which could be just the hint of sweetness needed. It’s a good starter.
The elote came out and everything else faded into the background. The corn is perfectly cooked and the topping oozes over it all. We made the mistake of ordering just one and then fighting over it: they are that good. You can also get chili pepper sprinkled over the mayo and queso if you want to shake it up.
The waitress didn’t know any English. She summoned a fellow back from the kitchen who was more than happy to help us. I think she was more worried about it than us. At this point we have enough Spanish to make sure the veggie eater just gets vegetarian stuff and our order turns out as expected. The pastor torta is good, perhaps a little lacking in the dressing department (I’m a sucker for mayo and cheese on my torta).
Many folks were ordering up the carne asada tostados. The meat looked nicely grilled and everyone was polishing off the plate. They serve up a nice variety of salsas at Elotes Nayarit. There’s a slightly creamy hot red sauce and very spicy verde sauce. The pico de gallo seems to have tomatillos, a nice twist.
Elotes Nayarit has several Aguas de Frutas available. These homemade drinks are favorites in Mexico, featuring mashed up fruit pulp and sugar. We went with pineapple and found it fresh, fruity and not too sweet.
Veggie Eater: The menu does not have many veggie friendly items, but it is easy enough to substitute frijoles and queso for the meat items. I had a bean and cheese sope; not very inventive, but satisfying. What really rocks is the elote. Don’t get me wrong, I love corn, but had no idea it could be this fantastic. As meat eater noted above, I pronounced sadness about halfway through the ear of corn that we had opted to share it.
Meat Eater: This is among the most authentic Mexican restaurant food you can find north of Briley. Don’t be put off by the handmade signs and do it yourself exterior. Elotes Nayarit is down home and quite welcoming and those elotes are definitely worth a visit. By the way Nayarit is a state in Mexico on the Pacific west coast. It’s a place known for seafood, so I was a bit surprised to see very little seafood on the menu, just shrimp. Perhaps that will be an area they explore in the future. I’d like to see what they do. Prices range from $2.50 to $3 for most menu items. The carne asada and menudo goes up into the $8 range. We paid $21 with tip due to mucho sampling.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

P.S. Noodle Pot

Nashville Restaurants and Food
P.S. Noodle Pot
1307 Bell Road

Ethnic food doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to cuisine from the same country. There are a few restaurants in town that spill over the borders and build their own theme. P.S. Noodle Pot is a welcome addition to that scene.

The restaurant is located in a humble strip mall storefront in Antioch. The interior is low key and tasteful. The sticky linoleum floor and generic chairs kind of take things down a bit; and that seems odd given the upscale dinner ware they use for service.

Noodles are the star here and the menu stays in theme while moving across Asia from Vietnam (pho) to Thailand (pad Thai) China (lo-mein) Laos (bee boun) and Japan (ramen). Along the way you get egg noodles, rice noodles, cellophane noodles and pasta noodles. The variety is a nice change of pace. We started in China with a couple of crispy, tasty vegetable egg rolls. We wanted to sample something different but had trouble finding veggie options in the appetizer section; same problem with the soups. The egg drop is good: light and delicate, but everything is either chicken of beef based. There are a number of veggie options in the entrees and the staff is happy to substitute tofu for beef.

Chicken with peanut sauce arrives in a carefully arranged swirl on a wide white plate. You can tell immediately that the kitchen takes pride in presentation. One bite later and it is clear that they also take pride in preparation. The extra large rice noodles are spectacular in texture and taste. The delightful peanut sauce balances savory, sweet and slightly spicy. Every ingredient in the dish is perfectly cooked, from the crunchy cucumber and peppers to the moist chicken and crunchy, chopped peanuts. A sweet little pop from an occasional bit of pineapple is the final touch for a truly wonderful dish.

The hot pots are the signature item at P.S. Noodle Pot. The koi see mee offers egg noodles, meat, bok choy and brown gravy served boiling in a clay pot. The homemade brown gravy comes up in a number of dishes on the menu and will definitely be part of a return visit. There are a bunch of curry and rice options to round out the offerings and some Thai salads. It’s a big menu with about 50 main items and another 20 appetizers and soups.

Veggie Eater: The world’s stickiest floor is what I will remember first about this place. However, on a more positive note, I will remember the fabulous noodles. Perhaps is my Italian heritage or perhaps my general love of complex carbohydrates, but I love noodles and they have to be really good noodles. I ordered the Pad Thai and was not disappointed. I generally like very hot/spicy Thai and found it odd that they did not ask me how hot I would like my dish. Even though the dish was mild, it was very flavorful and the noodles were expertly cooked. Frequently with Pad Thai you get a big gloppy mess; not the case here. The thin rice noodles were elastic and slightly chewy from pan frying. They were more than happy to substitute tofu on my version and there were generous chunks of pan fried tofu, along with crumbled peanuts, ribbons of egg, scallions, mung bean sprouts, and a shimmering slightly sweet red sauce. Again, I prefer a spunkier version in general, but having the noodles so well cooked was a winner in my book. Not a ton of veggie items on the list, but again, they seem very happy to substitute tofu.

Meat Eater: Once again it’s taken us a while to get to this restaurant, even though we’ve heard such good things. The readers and various reviewers (especially Lesley and the Nashville Foodies) who have suggested it are right: P.S. Noodle Pot is inventive and delicious. That’s a great combination in our book. We paid $33 with tax and tip for two appetizers and two entrees.
Update 8/21/09:
Meat Eater: The clay pot soups are a specialty at P.S. Noodle Pot so a return visit put that at the top of our order. The dish called P.S. Noodle Pot comes out sizzling hot. The brown broth is savory to the point of perfection with a slight thickening agent that gives it a silky feel. Tender beef, slightly chewy mushrooms and crunchy bok choy all retain flavor and texture thanks to perfect cooking. It’s a delightful combination and the egg noodles are like gourmet ramen: thin, tangly and tasty.
Veggie Eater: The floor was noticeably less sticky this visit, which is a plus. I had the Tom Yum Pot and it was fabulous. The broth was both delicate and assertive; lemongrass floating happily, a mystery herb (after a conversation with the owners apparently akin to lime leaves), scallions, and garlic, all with a shimmering red glow (presumably from hot chili oil). There were big chunks of tofu and whole button mushrooms bobbing away in the broth, all of this atop rice noodles. My only complaint is that it is a logistical nightmare to try to eat it; just try to get noodles, broth, tofu, and mushrooms all in one bite. Do you use a fork? Do you use a spoon? I resorted to both. Not a bad dilemma to have.
P.S. Noodle Pot on Urbanspoon