Sunday, June 6, 2010
Diana’s Sweet Shoppe
You see tourist families all up and down Broadway. They wander in the t-shirt shops. They take a picture in front of the fiberglass Elvis. Where are they all eating? One look at the lines at Hard Rock or Demos or hell, even Hooters, and you know the answer. The plain fact is that sometimes the best stuff in downtown Nashville isn’t for kids at all. Diana’s Sweet Shoppe should be a welcome change for families. It’s an old fashion, and sweet respite from honky tonk row.
They moved the joint, walls and booths to floors and light fixtures down to Nashville from Lake Huron, Michigan, where Diana’s opened in 1926. They stress that it’s not a reproduction and when you step inside you can see it for yourself. The booths feel like an old ice cream parlor and that’s the vibe that permeates the place. You can linger over the rows of fudge as you walk inside and then watch the ice cream being scooped into classic, tall sundae glasses. Check out the Violano-Virtuoso, kind of a player piano-violin combo. They say it actually still works, although not on our visit.
Sit down and check out the sandwich menu. It looks all nice and retro and some of the line-up is diner food: meatloaf sandwich, tuna melt, footlong chili cheese dog, BLT and ham and cheese. They do throw a couple of updates on there with a Panini list. The three cheese grilled cheese comes Panini pressed, but just barely on this day, leaving it just short of hot. The standout for all the sandwiches is the hearty bread from Nashville’s own Charpiers bakery. The sourdough does well on the press and yet the cheese is not very melty. The corn chowder is standard issue, thick and reasonably satisfying. A few other soups and salads round out the simple menu.
Another visit and the tuna melt sits at the pass for a while, which is a shame because it’s otherwise pretty good: tangy tuna and fresh lettuce and tomato, just not much of a melt. Red potato salad is creamy and decent. We watch the soup get ladled out of a plastic tub and into the crock. The broccoli cheese tastes as such- thick, creamy and a tad industrial.
The real stars come out for dessert. Who could resist one of those sundaes? Just looking at them, piled high with hot fudge and whipped cream, takes you back about 35 years. The folks managing the place know how to source locally, so the ice cream is from the Pied Piper Creamery in East Nashville. The sundaes are piled high with careful layers of ice cream and hot fudge. The name sake Diana sundae is decadence in a glass. Chocolate ice cream is buried in caramel, spiked with marshmallows and topped with a swirl of whipped cream and sliced pecans. It’s an ice cream shout-out to the GooGoo Cluster and may be the best item we sampled. Although caramel pecan and s’mores sundaes could give you fits trying to make a decision.
Veggie Eater: The meat eater already addressed the issue with the Paninis; my tomato, mozz, and pesto version was not hot, so the flavors didn’t really have a chance to meld. I also opted for the House salad as my side. It was generous with baby greens, carrots, onion, cukes, tomatoes and croutons. However, the unpardonable sin of bottled bleu cheese was committed, dousing the salad in a slightly preserved bitter taste. On the second visit, I opted for the veggie sandwich. It consists of hummus, roasted peppers, cukes, and tomatoes. I chose the wheat bread and found that this was the highlight of the sandwich. It was thickly cut, which preserved the moistness and the chewiness of the bread. I find the so-so food a bit annoying given the prices, but it would certainly be a nice alternative for families. The portion sizes were reasonable and my left over Panini sandwich went to a good cause as it was donated to two hippie kids right outside the restaurant; I’m sure my left over Pesto Panini was probably better fare than they had had for some time.
Meat Eater: Gibson Guitars made this investment and we’re glad they brought the place downtown. Max and Ben Goldberg (Paradise Park Trailer Resort and Patterson House) manage the joint and can be thanked for the local sourcing. You’re on Broadway and you’re paying for all this nostalgia, so don’t be looking for a bargain. We paid $33 with tax and tip for two sandwiches, a sundae and a cone. On a return visit we paid $36 for two sandwiches, soup and a sundae.