Sunday, February 28, 2010

Gabby’s Burgers and Fries

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Gabby’s Burgers and Fries
493 Humphreys St.

Who could find a restaurant, hidden away in an industrial area, and surrounded by a construction maze? The burger army, that’s who. Gabby’s pulls the faithful in, despite all the literal roadblocks. You gotta figure the food is pretty darn good if folks are willing to put up with a major detour. And the answer is yes, the food is decadent and atmosphere convivial at Gabby’s Burgers and Fries.

The burger army tends to fall into the middle-aged guy mold, although there are plenty of younger people and women seeking out this patty palace in South Nashville. Owner Doug Havron gives a boisterous welcome to just about everyone as they come in the door, and if he’s busy someone else on the staff will throw out a hello. They recognize regulars, shout out orders and show real camaraderie behind the counter. Havron has a wealth of experience in the Nashville restaurant scene and it shows: the place runs like a top. It all makes the modest little dining room one of the most entertaining lunch spots in town, although those seeking a quiet repast might want to get that burger to go.

At 11 a.m. on a Wednesday there is already a line. The Gabby’s staff keeps the food moving fast. Luckily that doesn’t take away from the consideration they put into each of those burgers. On one visit the Gabby Burger topped the agenda. Two large patties are cooked to an exacting medium rare. With cheese and the works it’s almost tough to get your mouth around it. It’s a messy delight. Pair that with thick, hand-cut sweet potato fries and you have heaven. Even the condiments get respect at Gabby’s. The kickin’ ketchup and wasabi mayo may not be rocket science, but they do hit the spot. Zippy chili comes in a generous bowl for a side dish.

Doug keeps the pace going, so even if you hit a line you can expect fast service. Four guys pick up their burgers with abandon, while a business woman carefully cuts her burger in two with a fork. The B-B-Q burger with a fried egg on top seems like a quick trip to heart attack city. Enjoy the ride while the egg oozes over the meat and the grilled onions provide a little bite. Let’s face it: burgers should be sloppy, juicy and occasionally calorically outrageous.

The menu is short and to the point: six burger options, a couple of chicken sandwiches, a veggie burger, a hot dog, and various permutations of all. What they don’t cover in range, they make up for in quality.

When the bridge construction project is done it will actually be fairly easy to find Gabby’s. They are located right next to Greer stadium, where the Nashville Sounds play. They are directly behind the big guitar scoreboard. Right now they have weekday lunch hours, (which is why it has taken so long to do this review) although recently they have been staying open until 7:30 p.m. on Fridays.

The burger army will probably keep growing in size (numbers I mean, although perhaps in pounds as well). Gabby’s is just that good. Do yourself a favor and enlist now.

The burgers and sandwiches are in the $5-$6 range and come with your choice of side. I paid $10 with tax and tip for a burger, fries and a drink on both of two visits.
Gabby's Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Robert Head’s Bar-B-Q

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Robert Head’s Bar-B-Q
1055 Dorris Winters Rd.

There’s a certain mystique to a barbecue joint that only the locals know about. Word of mouth is the only form of marketing. That’s all it takes if the food is good enough to create some country gossip. Robert Head’s Bar-B-Q is out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a day trip worth making and for one reason: chopped pork butt with a real kick.

Robert Head and his wife Fuzz used to operate the restaurant out of their barn. They moved into a building that looks like a machine shed from the outside. Inside it’s warm, homey and about as friendly as you could imagine. You sit down with a plate of barbecue and watch the horses across the pasture munching on hay. Neighborhood families fill the little dining room and spill out into the heated addition.

And then you take the first bite: this is some serious barbecue. There’s a strong smoky-salty taste that sets Head’s apart. This isn’t wimpy pig. The chopped Boston butt is plenty juicy and that flavor comes ripping through in each bite. It’s all about the sauce. The Head’s vinegar sauce is super thin, with a hint of hot sauce and something salty. It’s a bit too much on its own, but combined with the succulent pig it takes on a more mellow tone. Mr. Head puts a bit of the sauce in the chopping process. You can add more with bottles on each table. A nearly clear cousin is practically just vinegar.

The ribs have the same smoky-salty flavor, although on this day not to the same degree. They’re flavorful, greasy and good; perhaps not up to the level of that barbecue. The chicken is also good: pink from smoking, juicy in parts and perhaps just a tad dry in the breast.

The slaw and potato salad prove fairly generic as sides. Spicy white beans and sweet brown beans are a much better bet. The skillet fried corn bread pancakes are crispy, tasty and a must-do.

This would be an excellent road trip in the summer. The bucolic surroundings make for a pretty drive. Head’s is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6pm. It is actually fairly easy to get there. Just take I-24 north to exit 19, which is one exit north of Pleasant View. Take a left. At the Shell Station cross 41A and jog just a little to your left to get on Dorris Winters Road. Head’s is about a half mile on your left. It’s about 40 minutes north of Nashville.
I paid $12.75 on one visit for a rib plate, two sides, a drink and a half pound of barbecue to go. On another visit I paid $11.75 for the chicken plate, two sides, a drink and a half pound of barbecue to go (I had to get some for the freezer.)
Robert Head's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Smiling Elephant

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Smiling Elephant
2213 8th Ave. South

The Kopsombut family takes great care in just about every aspect of this Melrose area Thai restaurant. From the homey cedar interior to the modern stylish dinnerware, there is a delicate spirit to the place, which is an extension of the food itself. The Smiling Elephant is a bit of an adventure. In one dish you might experience a softer touch in the flavor department, and then in another dish you encounter fiery Thai spice.

The short menu is highlighted by the pad Thai. It’s their signature dish, and when you proclaim the best pad Thai you need to live up to expectations. It is a precise rendering with good flavor and distinct textures and tastes. The daily curry specials also receive top billing, and for good reason, they are likely to get your attention quickly. The green curry ordered at normal spice level is like a rocket going off in your throat. That doesn’t mask the great flavor though, and once you settle in with a couple of napkins to mop the brow, it really does feel like the perfect balance of spice and taste. The pork was nicely moist and held its own in the spicy curry.

You can order dishes as entrees or as a set. The set comes with the vegetarian soup, featuring a light slightly vinegar broth and crisp baby corn, cucumber, water chestnut, spinach and mushrooms. A little red pepper provides a pleasant heat. A tiny dessert comes with the set, on this day jack fruit with milk and syrup. While the combo provides a nice array of flavors we found that instead of ordering the set you may want to consider just getting an appetizer. The fresh rolls have thick, chewy rice paper wrappers with cellophane noodles and carrot inside. They are cut into six pieces for a pretty presentation and topped with ginger.

The classic Pad Kra Pao gets a kick from holy basil, which despite the name tastes quite different from Thai basil. The stir fried pork is perfectly cooked and nicely spiced. A fried egg underneath gives a rich note to the dish. You’ll find the portions a bit smaller at the Smiling Elephant. That combined with the prices may turn some people off. In the end you get plenty to eat and the difference in quality of ingredients and execution in the kitchen is worth the money.

Veggie Eater: I ordered my pad Thai native hot, only to find it without any discernable heat. However, what it lacked for in capsaicin, it made up for in other flavors. The noodles were wide bean noodles and perfectly prepared; a little slippery, a little chewy. The sauce was very light and virtually no syrupy gloppiness that pad Thai seems to be prone to. This was then adorned generously with bits of tofu, eggs, and bean sprouts, pea pods, and scallions. Perhaps not the best pad Thai I’ve ever had (I’ve not experienced that since living in Nashville), but certainly better than what I usually get. I understand the curries can bring tears to your eyes and I absolutely must try one next time.

Meat Eater: Restaurants run in this family. The Kopsombuts are relatives of the Myints, Arnold of Cha Cha and Suzy Wongs and Patti of the International Market. The restaurant has a homey touch and at the end of the meal if you have enjoyed what you have eaten, you’re encouraged to bang the little gong on your way out the door. Given the smiling, bustling crowd, even at 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday, there is going to be plenty of gongs heard on 8th Avenue for some time to come.

I paid $20 for the lunch set on one visit, with tax, tip and a drink. For a dinner visit we paid $35 for an appetizer and two entrees.
The Smiling Elephant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sky Blue for Sale

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Sky Blue for Sale

Another report from the ever changing Nashville restaurant world. The quirky and cozy little eatery in East Nashville, Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro, is for sale. Owner Kara Christian says she loves the cooking side of the restaurant, but not the business side. Her husband Kevin apparently took care of the front of the house, and after a divorce Kara is looking to sell the business.

We recommended this joint for Valentine's Day Brunch and the good news is they will be open. Kara says they plan to stay in business Friday through Monday from 9am-4pm through the end of the month. After that she can't say. She reports several people interested in buying her equipment and taking over the lease.

The restaurant is located at 700 Fatherland Street. Here is our review from last year:

Here is her note:

Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro is for Sale Are you looking to open a coffee shop or restaurant? This is a great deal for someone! All equipment and supplies will be included. Total turn key business! Equipment and inventory worth more than asking price. Includes everything you need including your P.O.S system, coolers, stoves, ice machines, neon signs, cappuccino machine, the list goes on and on even down to silverware! We have all the vendors you need. Our customers are used to a wait on Saturday and Sunday. Contact: Kara Christian at 615-521-3494

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Valentine’s Day Ideas 2010

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Valentine’s Day Ideas 2010

What is it about Valentine’s Day dining? Everyone wants romantic. Really though, what does that mean? Is it the ambiance? Low lighting? Soft music? Sexy food?

This rather chilly winter keeps coming back to a more utilitarian definition of romantic for us: Cozy. We don’t look for expansive restaurants with huge lofty ceilings (well, at least in the winter…those are great attributes in the summer). Give us close, comfortable, and cheery this season and we’re happy.

This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday. That seems like a bummer at first - eating out on a Sunday night just isn’t the same. It does offer a new possibility though: The Valentine’s Day brunch. With that in mind, here are four suggestions for Valentine’s Day dining. We encourage you to offer up your ideas: some favorites or new spots that you enjoy. And restaurants, if you’re doing a special brunch for Valentine’s Day feel free to let us know in the comments.

1. Garden Brunch Café

This Jefferson Street restaurant blends a historic setting with a sleek, modern makeover. While the entire house underwent a transformation, it retains a sense of comfort and style that evokes an earlier age, when dining was a real event. Many folks dress up for brunch here, but if you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt you won’t feel out of place. It seems like dressing up would make it more of a Valentine’s Day occasion. As the name implies this is a brunch-only spot. The Germantown West Benny, a salmon version of eggs Benedict, and Bananas Foster pancakes were a pleasure on our last visit. Pop for a mimosa and things can get even more romantic. For Valentine’s Day they will have regular Sunday brunch hours. They tell me they expect big business, so they suggest you make reservations. They are also having special candlelight dinners on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights on Valentine’s Day weekend. Check the website for details and the menu:

Expect to pay about $35 for two with coffee, tax and tip.

924 Jefferson St. Nashville- 615-891-1217

2. Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro (This restaurant is for sale, however the owner says they will be open Valentine's Day weekend 9am-4pm and probably through the end of February-ed.)

We’re going to run with the breakfast/brunch idea. For whatever reason, a laid back Sunday brunch just seems romantic. Sky Blue Coffee and Bistro offers up a jovial, warm neighborhood setting -that fits our bill for romance in 2010. Just make sure you are okay with casual for Valentine’s Day. It’s also a smaller location, so you may have to wait. They serve up an inventive and well executed breakfast and lunch menu. Quite frankly that Brisket Benedict is still calling my name. Sky Blue does not take reservations on Sundays. They will be open 9am-4pm on Valentine’s Day.

Expect to pay about $28 for two entrees, coffee tax and tip.

700 Fatherland Street in East Nashville- 615-770-7097

3. Mere Bulles

If you’re looking for a more upscale Sunday brunch, Mere Bulles features romantic surroundings and a decadent all you can eat buffet with inventive flair. Items like crème brulee French toast and fried green tomato eggs Benedict bring in the crowds. It’s one of the more restrained buffets in town size-wise, with a just a few breakfast items, some entrees, sides and plenty of deserts. The legendary She-Crab Bisque is probably worth the trip on its own. The sherry based soup is silky and plenty crabby at the same time. The blackened grouper was also a hit at our table. The pork loin was dry and a little tough on our visit. The chocolate fountain and mini-key lime morsels certainly hit the romantic notes. A full bar (starting at noon) and mimosas can also help promote the spirit of the day.

If stuffing yourself silly doesn’t seem very romantic (it’s hard not to overindulge at a buffet) they also have a jazz inspired theme all weekend for dinner, with a prix fixe menu and wine specials.

We paid $55 for two buffets and a mimosa, with tax and tip.

Mere Bulles is located just off Old Hickory Blvd. at 5201 Maryland Way in Brentwood - 615- 467-1945.

4. Mad Platter

If you intend to do dinner, consider this Nashville stalwart. The Mad Platter has been a fine dining favorite for 20 years. The 1880’s building housed a butcher shop and drug store in years past. Craig and Marcia Jervis utilize the long, narrow room well, maintaining an upscale sensibility that blends with the historic nature of the creaky wood floors and original brick. Don’t miss their famous take on Caesar salad; it may be one of the best versions in town: decadently creamy, with hints of sweet provided by sun dried tomatoes. Veggie Eaters will need to ask about options, and while there are only a few on the menu, you’ll find the wait staff glad to help. An inquiry with the kitchen revealed the roasted tomato soup was not veggie friendly, but the hearty, warming white bean was not only safe but subtly spiced and herbed. We asked for the blackened beef tips on the side so the Veggie Eater could taste the savory ricotta gnocchi in a three cheese sauce. They were happy to oblige. They only do dinner service on Sundays. The Valentine’s menu will include some favorites and a few offerings special for the night. They will come in a five course and three course options.

We paid $120 with tax and tip for one five course and one three course dinner, with a couple of glasses of wine and a cocktail.

The Mad Platter is located at 1239 Sixth Avenue North in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville - 615-242-2563.