Sunday, August 15, 2010
2600 Grandview Ave.
Update 11/11: This restaurant has closed.
Central American food is a mish mash of regional specialties and shared cuisine. You might find the same dish in four different countries and have it prepared in seven different ways. That’s why restaurants like La Antigua are a good thing for the Nashville food scene: they allow us to explore.
The unassuming building is just off Nolensville Road and has housed a number of different restaurants, including a Sylvan Park branch. The interior is painted atomic yellow and vivid red for a wake up and smell the coffee effect. There is a mellow and friendly vibe in the room. One day they might have Honduran folk music on the stereo and on the next day a TV show from El Salvador.
They start you off with thick and crispy house made tortilla chips topped with a drizzle of light salsa and grated farmer’s cheese. It’s a welcome twist from the usual chips and salsa.
The owners speak English and are more than happy to describe each dish to you. The menu is short and oriented around chicken and beef dishes. They proudly point out the national origin of each dish. Most are from Guatemala and Honduras. There is not much here for the vegetarian, which is a shame since many of the sauces would lend themselves well to veggie fare. Pollo en pipian is the classic chicken in pumpkin seed sauce. The nutty sauce is savory and understated. You won’t find big bold flavors with this cuisine. There is a laid back taste in just about everything. Other menu items include tamales, chuchitos (a favorite Guatemalan type of tamale with pork or beef), hilachas (shredded beef in tomato sauce), valeadas (Honduran burrito, folded with beans) and tajaditas (sweet plantains).
They seem to be hunting around for new ways to pull people in. The latest venture is the lunch buffet. One early lunch visit found three entrees, a bunch of sides and salad fixings. The Guatemalan chile relleno features a whipped, omelet-like batter, a tangy chile and ground beef for a surprising and flavorful take on the Latin standard. Chicken in a tomato and peanut sauce is comforting and well suited to the buffet line. The boiled chicken is simple and well cooked. Pico de gallo is fresh and zesty. Thick black bean frijoles and fluffy rice are a tasteful, if unremarkable, accompaniment on the line. One worrisome item was spaghetti and meatballs. I had hoped these might be done Latin style and found them generic and not worthy of a position in the line-up. I’m not sure if this is a nod to the less adventurous crowd. I hope not. The Guatemalan and Honduran dishes are plenty welcoming. Dessert item for the day was a dense Guatemalan sweetbread- and in the usual Latin style not really sweet at all.
La Antigua opens early for breakfast and keeps the huevos and strong coffee going through lunch. The big plates of eggs and thick ham looked good for breakfast. They’re served with hunks of cheese on the side and fresh baked bread. They do baking in house and on some days have a number of Latin-style pastries available.
La Antigua is a refreshing change of pace. I paid $11 with tax and tip on one visit and $14 with tax and tip on another.