Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sylvan Park Restaurant

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Sylvan Park Restaurant
4502 Murphy Road

You almost have to divide meat and three in this city into two categories: the old and the new. It’s a question of style, not so much when the place started business. Some folks are trying to update traditional Southern with new twists on the classics. Other joints are just doing it the way they’ve done it for many years. Sylvan Park falls firmly into the later camp. The tiny dining room on Murphy Road has been serving up good meat and three for more than 40 years.

You hit the door and count yourself lucky if there isn’t a line. They open up at 10:30 a.m. and depending on the day there could be a crowd inside by 11 a.m. The waitresses move quickly from table to table dispensing sweet tea and more “sugars” and “honeys” than you could count. It’s a natural part of the place and one of the prime ingredients that has brought people back for years: Sylvan Park is real down home Southern, not a facsimile created for business.

That food is pretty darn real as well. The corn bread muffins are a great start: just a little slight crunch. Yeast rolls are your other choice and they are doughy and good enough to give you a lunch dilemma right off the bat. The fried corn is sweet and semi-creamed, with kernels still holding their own. The sticky mac and cheese has real flavor and a nice consistency. The food is good at Sylvan Park nearly across the board. That’s a compliment for a meat and three, where the sides can often take a back seat in quality. That’s not to say there are not some bumps in the road. The country fried steak comes out looking like a car crash. The meat is pounded into submission and drowned in brown gravy. It is cafeteria food at best and a real let down given the rest of the plate. The interesting thing is people have been complaining about, and praising that country fried steak for years.

Another visit brings catfish to the spotlight and it is excellent. Some places focus on a thick crispy crust. At Sylvan Park they let the fish do the talking with a light fry and moist filet. Mashed potatoes have been whipped to death. They still have comforting goodness, enhanced by the brown gravy with little bits of debris. Green beans are left with texture and bite and the baked squash is simple and tasty.

Lunch at Sylvan Park simply has to finish with pie. The chess pie is about perfect: not too sweet, crispy and browned on top. It’s warm right out of the oven on this day and the combination is out of this world. Many people order the meringue creations. The coconut is tasty enough, but I’ve never been a big fan of huge, towering meringue. It is pretty on the plate. The chocolate pie is one of the best sellers.

There are currently two other Sylvan Park locations doing business: Melrose and Donelson. They opened an East Nashville version a couple of years ago. It never lived up to the quality of the original and soon shut down. If you’re looking for a taste of old fashion Nashville you can’t go wrong with Sylvan Park on Murphy Road. Overall the food is good and the atmosphere a throwback that makes a simple lunch a lot of fun. I paid $10 for meat and three with pie, and $13 for catfish and three with pie.
Sylvan Park Murphy Road on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Amish Road Trip

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Marion, Kentucky

Good news and bad news about our recent daytrip to Marion, Kentucky. The bad news: Marion itself is pretty damn boring and way overhyped by tourism marketers. The good news: We stopped at Marion Pit Barbecue which on this day was excellent. They have a bit of a reputation in these parts and a really simple menu - just pulled pork barbecue and a few of the usual sides. All of that attention to one cut of pig really shows. It’s an awesome, juicy barbecue sandwich. Add some of their hot barbecue sauce, a slice of onion and a pickle? Awesome.

Why did we think that Marion, Kentucky could be fun? A bunch of Amish folks moved there in the 1970’s and set up a small community. It is much more open than other Amish areas. They have active business ventures operating off their farms. One Yoder is selling baked goods and the next sells eggs. You can drive around a maze of rural roads and stop in every now and then and check out what they have for sale. Quite frankly the stuff for sale at most places isn’t that remarkable, which probably shouldn’t be surprising since they are not out to impress. Much of this trade is for their neighbors and the tourists are an afterthought. The simple white bread loaves were fine (we still prefer Schlabach’s in Guthrie) However, they also sell quite a bit of stuff from Ohio (not sure why Amish stuff from across the country is supposed to be better than anything else). Still, for us the trip was well worth the travel time (a little over two hours). We had a chance to see draft horses in action and working farms simplified with tried and true methods. And I’m still thinking about that barbecue sandwich.

Marion Pit Barbecue
728 S Main St

Marion, KY
(270) 965-3318

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Supporting the Locals

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Supporting the Locals

It’s a hard time for local indie restaurants. If we want to see our favorite places survive we need to get out there and support them. We hit up two funky, fun East Nashville spots on Saturday. We had a couple of beers at Family Wash, which continues to provide a cozy bar/restaurant atmosphere that makes you feel right at home. The food coming out of the tiny barside kitchen was really tempting. Then it was across the street to Zavos for dinner. They reopened this week after a brief battle with the tax man. All is right in the food department. Mom was keeping it simple for this night, sticking to the menu standards. That’s just fine with us. Pastitsio (kind of a Greek lasagna with meat and bechamel sauce) and Youvarlakia (lemon, rice and meat ball soup) are comforting ways to warm up on a chilly evening. The decadent pitas go well with everything. It’s nice to have Zavos back open and cooking again.

The Family Wash
2038 Greenwood Ave
(615) 226-6070

1115 Porter Rd
(615) 258-4637

Friday, October 9, 2009

Genie's lease runs out

Genie's Persian Palace, a true gem of a restaurant, has lost the lease at 6990 Moore's Lane in Brentwood. We were tipped off by Justin, a Nashville Restaurants reader, and confirmed it this afternoon with owner "Mo" Mohammad Karimy. He says the owner of the building would not renew the lease and so the restaurant was forced to close. He adds that good, reasonably priced locations are hard to find. If you loved Genie's and would encourage him to open a new location, post your message here. We can't afford to lose anymore truly original restaurants in the Nashville area.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Taco Mamacita Road Trip

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Taco Mamacita Road Trip
109 North Market Street

We would like to pretend that we are so dedicated to Nashville food concerns that we took a road trip to Chattanooga to get a preview of Taco Mamacita. We learned recently from the Nashville Scene Bites blog that the popular Chattanooga bar and restaurant is opening a Nashville location in December. The folks in the Scenic City have said good things. We planned a trip to the Tennessee Aquarium, so what the heck, we swung by Taco Mamacita for lunch. We have to say if they keep the great attitude and fun menu Nashville is in for a treat.

Southwestern Tex Mex has plenty of room for interpretation. Taco Mamacita takes a decidedly playful stance, which can be seen in the Mexican wrestler and 50’s poster girl style décor. Funky glass balls and colorful stars dangle from the ceiling. The bar and patio are standouts. This is clearly a place that takes drinking seriously. Happy hour and drink specials are posted proudly next to the full range of liquor and beer. Why do we stress this? Taco Mamacita should be one of those classic drinking/munching establishments when it hits Nashville. They plan a big expansion of the former Rosario’s location at 1200 Villa Place, including more patio and bar space. It’s easy to imagine folks in Edgehill and neighboring Music Row packing the place after work.

The food line-up is made for drinking and eating. It’s pretty much a la carte by design. They’re hoping you mix and match: pick up a taco for $3.99 and pair it with the salsa sampler or guacamole. Those starters and sauces get quite a bit of attention. The enthusiastic wait staff takes great pains to tell you all salsas (mango jalapeno, salsa verde and roasted tomato) are made every morning in house. The freshness of ingredients is a mantra in the joint, expressed often on our visit and well before they knew that we wrote for a food blog.

Queso Fundido gets a tangy twist with the addition of a tomatillo cream sauce. It comes in a hot, iron skillet so the Chihuahua cheese and peppers stay at a nice, melty consistency. We fly through two baskets of warm tortilla chips. A little Mama’s Smokey Chipotle sauce on the side brings out a new set of spicy and creamy flavors. A bottle sits tableside and we quickly found ourselves ordering a container to go.

Creative tacos are the centerpiece of the menu: Shrimp Po’ Boy BLT, General Homeboy (panko breaded shrimp in a sweet Thai chili sauce), Greek Chicken (topped with a Meyer lemon peppercini sauce) and Vegetarian Jerk (plantains, black beans and a jerk sauce). The Oy Vey is a fat taco filled with chipotle beef brisket, ranchero sauce, guacamole and habanera escabeche (peppers in vinegar). The six inch flour tortilla is homemade. The mushy mixture brings all sorts of flavors and the excellent brisket manages to stand out.

Chicken Tortilla Soup brings a dish filled with the main ingredients: cubes of queso fresco, tomato, chicken, avocado and lime fresh in the bowl. You pour the reddish broth in the bowl at the table. It leaves everything with a nice fresh texture. A few tortilla strips sprinkled on top gives it some crunch. It’s a light and tasty take on the classic soup.

Roasted Peruvian chicken is highlighted on the menu. You can choose from a ¼ chicken for $6.99 or a half-chicken dinner for $13.99. Enchiladas come in entrée form and there are a couple of creative salads on the menu,

They’re not afraid to shake things up in the kitchen: they profess no lime in the guacamole so the avocado can be the star. They’re also constantly coming up with new taco creations and new sauces. The server actually had to check to see what was new in the kitchen that day.

Veggie Eater: Loved this place; the vibe, the food, the staff. During the course of our meal, the waiter (darling), manager, and owner all came by to chat with us. The waiter was kind enough to let me know that tortilla soup can be made veggie friendly as it is made from meat free broth, and that they would essentially make anything veggie that my heart desired. Head Mama, Taylor Monen, absolutely oozed excitement over the Nashville venture. She and husband, Mike are old hands at the restaurant gig; he was the owner of the Sticky Fingers chain and sold it a few years ago. Taylor stated too much downtime for Mike led to the vision of Taco Mamacita, so that he could have a productive way to channel his energy. What good fortune for us. Their pride and vision shine through to the final product.

I opted for the black bean taco. Black bean cakes topped with crema, pico de gallo, cojita cheese, guac, and a habanera sauce. Pretty much every single favorite ingredient I could ask for and truly fabulous. The only negatives were the sides. The Jalapeno Corn Slaw was under salted (and I’m not much of a salter) and needed a generous sprinkling to bring out the flavors. The cilantro-spinach rice seemed a bit greasy and didn’t much taste of cilantro or spinach, but it was in fact green. I will happily return to eat nachos, fundido, try the Veggie Jerk taco, and drink a Negra Modelo.

Meat Eater: The demise of East Nashville favorite Alley Cat left a big Southwestern size hole in the Nashville dining scene. It will be nice to have another fun drinking/eating place for Tex Mex in Nashville. Now, of course that’s assuming they have the same close attention to detail and creative fun that they are having in Chattanooga. We paid $43 with tax and tip for two tacos, soup, queso, two sides, and a couple of drinks (and also the chipotle sauce to go).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Zavos reopening

The Nashville Scene Bites Blog is reporting that Inglewood Greek restaurant Zavos will reopen on Thursday and keep a limited weekend schedule for a while. Definitely great news! We reported that they have been locked up with a government notice on the door and according to the Scene they are trying to work through those financial issues.

We have e-mails and phone calls in ourselves to try and confirm. We wish them the best of luck and we'll be back soon.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro
700 Fatherland Street

Update: This restaurant has changed ownership and we have not had a chance to re-visit for an updated review. We leave this information up for background only.
What do we want from breakfast? A huge cup of coffee, an inventive take on our favorites and a few twists in the kitchen. A warm space, friendly wait staff and quick service. The folks at Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro get it. They’ve taken a small retail space in a residential neighborhood and created a successful breakfast and lunch venture. How successful? We arrived at 9 a.m. as they opened, to find one table already filled. By 9:30 a.m. the place was packed and people were waiting. There have been a couple of unsuccessful restaurants in the same spot, so it’s clear the Sky Blue owners have taken the pulse of the neighborhood and the neighbors have responded.
The interior is surprisingly large considering how it looks from the outside. There are about 10 tables inside and on nice days a couple out on the sidewalk. The tree lined streets and eclectic homes make for pleasant al fresco brunching.
There’s a big breakfast menu with plenty of interesting options. Start with the coffee. It’s rich and dark Drew’s Brews in a huge ceramic mug. Onto the cheese grits: creamy, cheesy and with good flavor. These appear to be stone ground, old fashion grits and we appreciate the firmer texture. Home fries have a light touch in cooking leaving them tender and nicely seasoned. Brisket Eggs Benedict leaps off the menu page. One forkful reveals it to be an excellent choice. Hollandaise, egg, brisket, barbecue sauce and muffin: the unlikely combo works well. That brisket is a highlight. It’s smoky and tender, raising the typical Benedict up a notch or two in the flavor department. The brisket is also featured prominently on the lunch menu.
There are several other interesting breakfast dishes to try. Eggs Under the Tuscan Sun places eggs on buttered French bread with parmesan cheese. Omelet Binoche features spinach and gruyere. Dakini Pancakes uses small pancakes to surround eggs, cheese and sausage.
There are a number of items for vegetairans. You can order veggie sausage and veggie chili as a substitute all over the menu. Given those possibilities it leaves many options for veggie eaters to enjoy.
Veggie Eater: There aren’t many negatives here, but let’s get them out of the way. 9 a.m. is simply too late to open if you offer a breakfast menu. I don’t generally eat breakfast, but when the hankering hits, I want the urge satisfied in a timely fashion. 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. is a long time to wait for breakfast. How about at least 8 a.m.? Second, the breakfast entrees are all a bit pricey. However, I discovered that the portions were very generous and made the prices seem like a reasonable deal. Better yet, the food was really good. I opted for the Breakfast Burrito. You can choose regular chili or veggie chili, both of which are homemade. A spinach tortilla is stuffed with fluffy scrambled eggs and home fries. Mine was topped with the veggie chili which consisted of 3 beans (kidney, pinto, black?) and corn. Fresh chopped tomatoes, grated cheese, and sour cream finished it off.

There was way too much for breakfast (I had snacked on the cheesy grits as well) and per my usual modus operandi, I squirreled away the remaining for left overs. I am very sad to report that I cannot vouch for palatability of the breakfast left overs, as they were left in the car for an extended period of time (approximately 5 hours). Meat Eater and I debated the pros and cons of ingesting them anyways and ultimately logic won out and I conceded I did not want to die because of my breakfast, nor did I want to harbor an unfair grudge against Sky Blue. I’ll simply have to return sooner. There are quite a few breakfast veggie friendly entrees on the menu (sides include the much maligned soysauge) and lunch has a nod to veggie eaters as well.
Meat Eater: Wow, that’s quite the dissertation about leaving food in the car. I can’t wait for the movie version.

Lunch brings pastas, sandwiches, and salads, to Blue Sky. Some items have a southwestern theme and others sound comforting: curry chicken salad and an Island chicken salad. They tried dinner service briefly last month and soon pulled back to concentrate on breakfast and lunch. The use of high quality ingredients and a deft hand in the kitchen should make any meal service they try a cooking success. We look forward to what they do in the future. We paid $34 for two entrees, a side of cheese grits, coffee, tax and tip.
Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Zavos Issues

We have several readers reporting that Zavos Greek restaurant in Inglewood has a State of Tennessee notice on the door and is locked tight. Carrie thinks it's a federal issue. Either way it doesn't sound good.

Carrie has left a new comment on your post "Zavos Closed for Repairs and Where’s the Beef?": I drove by Zavos today and there were giant "Seized by the US Government" signs on the door. Does this mean they're in foreclosure, or seized for tax purposes? If so, that would be a shame because the food was so outstanding. :(

We put in an e-mail to ownership to try and figure out what is happening. We're rooting for the Zavos folks. It was a fun spot with really good food.