Friday, April 23, 2010

El Paisa Does Rock!

Nashville Restaurants and Food
El Paisa
Gallatin Pike N at One Mile Parkway

I took Citizen Taco's advice (The Austin resident recently did a Nashville taco truck tour and called this number one...scroll down a couple of stories to see) and hit El Paisa today for lunch. They are certainly a cut above the rest. Tacos are deceptively simple. A great taco has to have everything just right. At El Paisa they put each side of the standard two corn tortilla combo on the grill for a nice, crisp browning. The carnitas (fried pork) is moist and nicely seasoned. The barbacoa (pork barbecue) is also moist and tasty. Each one gets a generous topping of finely chopped cilantro and onion. Radish and lime are on the side to add to taste. These are excellent tacos. It makes me wonder about other menu items like ceviche tostado, tortas and gorditas. They offer up chicken by the 1/4. Given that pork the pollo might be the next stop. Other gringos were coming in, no doubt driven by the Internet buzz. Thanks to the Nashvillest for originally spotting the Citizen Taco Nashville tour entry on Serious Eats.

Say Cheese Nashville

We love cheese. Cheesemakers were part of the landscape when we lived in Wisconsin. A four-year-old cheddar was our standard sandwich cheese. While Wisconsin is primarily known for mass market producers there has been an artisanal revival in recent years. Southern states are also starting to make some inroads thanks to a few pioneers. Kenny Mattingly is one of those brave souls. His Kentucky dairy, Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, is one of the most innovative and quite frankly one of the very few in the area.

The kind folks at Loews Vanderbilt Hotel invited us to an artisanal cheese dinner recently. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity, especially when we heard that Mr. Mattingly would be speaking at the affair.

Top on the agenda was Kenny’s famous blue Gouda; it’s a little creamy, a little crumbly and with a lovely blue flavor. Kenny described sprinkling it on top of chili, something he figured out during dinner with his sister. The Tomme de Nena is a firm, brie-like cheese with a slightly creamy texture. Mr. Mattingly explained that the St. Jerome is kind of a cross between Swiss and cheddar. It’s fine on its own and even better melted on crusty bread and served with fig vinegar.

It’s amazing to see how Kenny has expanded his line-up since we first started sampling his cheese six years ago. His wife Beverly remarked that Nashville has changed quite a bit in recent years and people are starting to pay attention to cheese. They’ve had strong supporters from businesses as diverse as Yazoo brewing (they serve his cheese in the taproom) and the Silly Goose (where the blue Gouda is a star in several dishes). You can also find Kenny’s at the Turnip Truck, Whole Foods and Mitchell’s Deli among others.

Loews put this dinner together in part to highlight their adopt-a-farmer program, of which Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese is now a part. All of the Loews hotels are picking some local providers for cheese, beef, chicken and produce. The dinner was prepared by Loews Chef Elaine Taubin. She featured beef from the Gunn Family farm in Robertson County. The Gourmet Pastures tenderloin was firm and a little sweet in flavor. The big standout of the evening may have been the fried green tomatoes, covered with Dallas Mozzarella Company mozzarella and accented by snappy apple cider vinaigrette. The arugula accompaniment provided a tart taste. The combination was fantastic. The bourbon glaze on sweet cornmeal cakes for dessert paired well with brown butter and ricotta ice cream.

Clark Wolf hosted the event. He’s author of “American Cheeses: The Best Regional, Artisan and Farmhouse Cheeses, Who Makes Them and Where to Find Them.” Mr. Wolf points to a revival of American cheesemaking. “We’re just hitting our stride,” he said. He talked diners through the cheese course that included an amazing Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog. The creamy, dark-tasting blue has a line of grape ash running through it. The taste is exceptional. A brined and bold Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk cheese bullied its way around the plate and worked well with a bit of dried apricot.

There are new ways to get your artisanal cheese fix in Nashville. One of the cheesemakers featured in Mr. Wolf’s book is the venerable Cabot Creamery in Vermont. While Cabot is mainly known these days for mass market cheese the cooperative still produces small batch cheeses, including clothbound cheddar. A chunk of that cheese is currently sitting in our fridge awaiting a party, thanks to Kathleen Cotter and her business The Bloomy Rind. Cotter is a cheese purveyor without a shop. She buys cheese for area restaurants and now has started selling her wares at the Nashville Farmers’ Market. It’s a great addition to the main shed.

Last week she featured among many others: Green Hill, Asher Blue and Thomasville Tomme from Sweetgrass Dairy in Georgia; Oma from von Trapp Farmstead in Vermont and Seahive from the Beehive Cheese Company in Utah. Kathleen plans to be out at the Farmers’ Market on a regular basis. Swing by and say hello. It’s a real pleasure talking to her about cheese. Visit the blog for more info:

Kathleen mentions that there is a new dairy getting ready to produce cow’s milk cheese near Chattanooga. For the most part Tennessee has been growing in goat cheese production, so any expansion would be welcome. If you are visiting the main shed of the Nashville Farmers’ Market on a Saturday you can find the tasty Noble Springs goat cheese for sale. Dustin says he has a whole new batch of goat babies and things are busy on the farm. We picked up a bit of Santa Fe chevre.

For a list of some other regional cheesemakers (including our favorite Bonnie Blue) visit the Southern Cheesemakers Guild website: A few of our Kentucky favorites are apparently not members and a couple of Tennessee makers are absent, however we spied a couple of places to visit next time we are headed to Asheville.

Here’s to cheese! We have high hopes that we’ll have even more local cheesemakers to challenge our taste buds in coming years.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Citizen Taco Hits Nashville

What happens when a Texas taco lover samples the taco truck fare in Nashville? Serious Eats has the scoop this week, and kudos to John Lamb at the very cool Hispanic Nashville Notebook blog for pointing it out.

Citizen Taco is from Austin and the manifesto on the website brings a tear to our eyes:
As Citizen Taco, I aim to be nothing less than the ultimate enabler for every person who seeks the same joy from their meals that they get from any other part of their lives. Food is more than a mere necessity. It has the ability to refashion us, to turn us from sour to sweet, from rotting to ripe. It stokes the fire of our bodies and powers the engine of our being. With fulfilling food comes a fulfilling life.

Citizen Taco hit up nine taco trucks on Gallatin Pike and Nolensville Road and while we think he missed a couple of our favorites, he has a great take on it all. he has some pretty amazing things to say about his top pick:

El Paisa
Gallatin Pike N at Elmore Avenue
Like that first hit that sends you down the road of addiction, the tacos at El Paisa started me off on a journey that would never yield anything quite as good. Simply stated, their tacos are some of the best I've ever tasted, on par with anything in Texas or California.

That's pretty cool coming from a Texan. We haven't been there yet and now it's on the itinerary for this week. Thanks for the visit Citizen Taco and we salute you for your work. I agree that there are some fantastic hole in the wall taco trucks and taquerias out there if only people would jump in and try them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Corsair Taproom is Open

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Great Nashville Taproom Swap
Corsair Distillery Taproom
1200 Clinton St.
Yazoo Taproom
910 Division Street

You walk into the grand brick factory building and into a cloistered set of chambers. There in the back you find beer, really good beer, and in a cozy room that reminds you of a hole in the wall pub in Europe. Sounds like the Yazoo Brewery taproom. And it was. But now the great switch is underway and the taproom in the historic Marathon Motors building on Clinton Street is the Corsair Distillery taproom. The new Yazoo brewery and taproom is located over in the gulch.

In case you think this switch was easy, we point out that Linus Hall from Yazoo was still packing his stuff up on this sunny Saturday afternoon. The Corsair guys meanwhile are taking out part of the roof to fit their 22 foot distilling contraption. All of this is met with smiles and a couple of beers.

The all beer taproom is just for fun and a way to get people interested in the Corsair products: artisanal vodka, gin, absinthe, rum and whiskey. They can’t serve those spirits on the exact site of the distillery. The Corsair guys hope to begin distilling in the next few weeks. They’re starting with whiskeys for the Nashville location. Triple smoke whiskey and Rasputin stout whiskey will be aged. The Rye whiskey is un-aged.

We’re really happy that the Clinton Street location is open again as a beer drinking establishment. Even that ratty courtyard is a welcome place to toss a few back. The Corsair folks are doing all of this in a soft opening. They have 15 beers on tap, including a complete selection of Yazoo, and a few menu items. A Scrimshaw Pilsner went well with the spicy feta dip. The boys are keeping the Yazoo tradition of cheese and Provence bread. Roasted jalapeno salsa was pretty good with a Coney Island Lager. They’ll even do beer flights for you.

We enjoyed all of this thanks to longtime reader mIKES who tipped us off to the soft opening. We had a blast with mIKES and his friends as we talked and drank beer in the glorious spring weather. And the funny part is that each one of us had been to the new Yazoo location just a couple of hours earlier.

The new Yazoo taproom isn’t much from the outside yet, but give it time. Inside you’ll find a sleek and modern room, about 10 times larger than the old taproom. And they need that space. They open at 2pm on a Saturday. By 2:18pm we spotted 18 people in line and most of the tables filled. The sunny patio is another nice addition. Despite the crowds the Yazoo staff keeps the beer pouring and no one was waiting in line for long. The only downsides: the room still needs some soul and that will probably come with time. It’s also really loud; perhaps some acoustic tiles on the ceiling might help cut down the din. We enjoyed our Hop Project #28 (a little milder than previous batches) and the Rye Saison (like a heffe but with a nice bite to the finish). They serve Mattingly cheeses from Kentucky and Sweetwater cheeses from Tennessee, along with those specially made Provence breads. It’s awesome to see an original and independent Nashville brewer do so well. Yazoo has been a tremendous addition to this city and we think Corsair will be the same.

Hopefully the Marathon Motors building will be back on track now. We were worried when Yazoo moved out, but With Corsair as an anchor we could see all sorts of funky and cool joints opening up. We’d love to see Clinton Street be the new hip neighborhood in Nashville.

The Corsair taproom is open Thursday 4-8pm, Friday 4-8pm and Saturday 2pm-8pm. Ditto for Yazoo.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Groupons Examined

It you are not already a Groupon buyer you may have noticed the ads on this blog and in many other locations on the web. Groupon has been sweeping the Nashville food and restaurant fan community. But are they harmful to restaurants or a good marketing idea? Since they are such a big advertiser (we don't control the ads, Google places them) we wanted to make sure people knew exactly how it works and take a look at any potential downsides of Grouponing.

It seems to be a matter of marketing versus profits. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has a good article on the dilemma, reprinted in today's Tennessean:

"While recession-weary consumers may be happy to buy a $50 dinner for $25 at websites like, a participating restaurant makes only $12.50 -- an unprofitable deal for the restaurant."

"You may barely break even on Groupon customers the first time," said David Rangel, Groupon's director of merchant services. "But if you bring them back once or twice, you'll get a terrific return."

"They know the restaurant industry is on the ropes, and they are offering people a quick fix. ... They are preying on people's fears," said Lenny Russo, chef and co-owner of Heartland Restaurant in St. Paul, who refused to participate in the coupon program."

Pulling new customers into your restaurant may be a good idea for new joints or established ones looking to expand a base. Breaking even on a marketing promotion is actually not such a bad deal. However, if restaurants are considering it on a regular basis you could see a real problem developing. That probably means you won't see restaurants doing this more than once, so don't get hooked grouponers.

The long and short for me, as someone who buys Groupons occasionally (only when it's a place we really want to go) is that we need to get out there and support our favorite independent and locally owned restaurants. Buy an internet coupon of some sort if you want, but be sure to keep visiting places at normal prices. And you need to check out new places you want to see prosper. Eventually the economy should improve. Until then- keep eating out Nashville...