Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Nashville Restaurants and Food
West Nashville Farmers Market
There’s a cool vibe at the West Nashville Farmers Market this year. They moved the market farther into Richland Park, next to the library (47th and Charlotte). The number of vendors is growing and the addition of yoga, massage therapy and music brings it alive. Last Saturday a drummer did his solo thing for a while. Then folks from the Nashville Old-Time String Band Association tuned up to play. Kids played in the grass and parents chatted over fresh-squeezed lemonade. The market has a festive atmosphere.
Sean Siple has been working on this project for some time now and it’s really coming together. Visit the Good Food for Good People website for more on all of his various food ventures. http://www.goodfoodforgoodpeople.org/
Sunday, June 27, 2010
1109 Davenport Blvd.
Folks from New Mexico are really picky about their peppers. Hatch, New Mexico is chile central. And not just any chile; Hatch chiles are green and large, similar to an Anaheim. The meaty flesh is usually roasted and the heat runs from mild to hot. You need the right green chiles to make New Mexico cuisine, which is one of the reasons the owners of Sopapilla’s have shipped in hundreds of pounds of Hatch chiles for their venture. Is it chile hype or can you taste the difference?
Steve and Sharon Dale started this Franklin restaurant after noticing the lack of New Mexico cooking in Middle Tennessee. Sopapilla’s is an upscale joint rendered in a classic black and dark red palate. The menu is too familiar at first glance: queso, quesadillas, tacos and enchiladas. It’s the New Mexico take on these standards that is the point. The namesake sopapilla is like pastry- fried-up and puffy. Usually a dessert item they take center stage in several of the entrees. The corn tamale is a comforting masa studded with corn kernels and those Hatch chiles. It’s mild, cheesy and pretty darn good. The chipotle shrimp taco that accompanies is spicy and tangy, when you get through the over-abundance of sliced lettuce topping. Beans, swirled with yellow cheese, are perhaps a bit too runny on one visit and then much better and served in a bowl for the next. The al dente white rice, flecked with cilantro, is a nice twist from the usual offerings around here.
The menu keeps expanding and in just the month between our two visits they added significantly, including several veggie options. Oddly the menu on our last visit included items marked coming soon: green chile stew, huevos rancheros and carnitas pork.
The stuffed sopapilla is loaded up with pulled chicken and cheese and covered up in a pile of lettuce, hatch chili sauce. The sopapilla itself gets a little mushy. It’s still a reasonably satisfying dish. The cheese crisp is a huge tortilla baked up puffy, toasty with a bit of burned bits here and there. Smothered in cheese it’s a solid starter that’s big enough for an entree and at $6.25 a bargain.
Those Hatch chiles are in just about everything and for the most part they seem pretty mild. We actually asked for some on the side on one visit, just so we could taste them directly. They have a pleasant flavor and even watered down in a sauce, a nice tang. Very mild though. We thought the chile con queso could have used more. It’s a flavorful dip, but needing a bit of bounce. Combined with beans the queso works better. The guacamole is quite creamy, almost whipped in consistency, and yet fresh and helped by a bit of pico de gallo. The salsa is dark and complex. On one visit the chips were a little stale. The waitress picked up on this pronto and brought us a fresh batch.
Veggie Eater: Let’s start with the space- earth tone reds and browns on the walls help create an understated, funky vibe. There’s not a single bleached cows’ head to be found, nor framed posters of a myriad of chile peppers. Look more closely, and you’ll find some short cuts which don’t seem to work. The tables for the booths are faux wood. The baskets are plastic, as are the Molcajete bowls for salsa. On our first visit, it was very cold inside, to the point of being uncomfortable. On to the food. ..There are few veggie options, but if you ask your server, they’ll be happy to modify most of the menu items to make them veggie friendly. On the first visit, I had the stuffed sopapilla. Take a sopapilla (think a thicker flour tortilla puffed up into a shell) and stuff it with beans, onions, lettuce and topped with a green hatch chile verde sauce and sour cream. The chilies provided a muted heat; just enough for a bit of glow, but not enough to force you to grab for water. The salsa verde could have been more generous. Our second visit found an expanded menu. A few more veggie menu items were available. I opted for the Chili Relleno combo, subbing a veggie taco for the beef and a blue corn tortilla for the standard corn tortilla. The waitress was happy to oblige my custom made veggie combo. The blue corn tortilla was delightful; almost crepe like in consistency and the refried beans were delightful; creamy and with a mild heat (assumingly from the prized Hatch chiles). Their relleno is a twist on the traditional; again the Hatch chile takes center stage. I found the relleno a bit doughy. The complementary dessert sopapillas at the end of the meal were simply prepared; no cinnamon dusting on these. A large bottle of honey sat on the table for the purpose of dressing up these treats. Info about the restaurant states they are in the process of obtaining a locally sourced honey for the sopapillas. I opined that it if they offered samples of multiple types of local honey, it could elevate a simple, good dessert item to an extraordinary one. I could see tremendous growth from our first to our second visit; the salsa finally had a little punch, the menu has become more inventive. Doesn’t look like they need an affirmation from us, though; it was the meet and greet place on our second visit.
Meat Eater: They have a great, friendly and on the spot staff. Our waitress even marked up each to-go box with exactly what it contained. It’s cool that they don’t push the New Mexico thing in the slightest in the décor and environment. With Coldplay on the stereo and the modern feel to the place they let the food take center stage. We paid $46 with tax and tip on one visit and $42 on another visit. That purchased an appetizer, two beers and two entrees each time.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Farm House Opens
The Fontanel mansion in Whites Creek has been going through a transformation of sorts. It’s been a celebrity retreat and video production location for years. Recently, the former home of Barbara Mandrell has been turned into a performance, event and tourist destination by owners Dale Morris and Marc Oswald. Part of the operation is a new restaurant called the Farm House. Tom Morales of TomKats Catering and Loveless Café fame is involved in the project. It certainly feels like a big production. It’s a huge room with towering ceilings. It’s only been open a little more than a week and already the crowds are filling the place. It’s a mass-market, Cracker Barrel kind of feel inside. They do have live music on a small stage. Friday night a bluegrass group entertained diners.
The menu ranges through Southern classics and some hybrid ideas. Butter bean dip was described by our waitress as “Southern hummus”. Well, it was pretty good, even if served in an odd, squat mason jar and with a couple of crackers in plastic for dipping. Some work to do there. You’ll find fried chicken, meatloaf, deviled eggs, pimento cheese sandwiches…all the usual suspects. They stir up some interest with more inventive menu items such as cornbread “Panzanella” salad and a tofu, potato hash and egg skillet. We’ll get back and have a review in a few weeks, once they’ve had a chance to settle in.
They are using local products, proudly touting the list on the menu. That’s always appreciated. News releases have hinted at a brewery and perhaps distillery in the future, although that’s been subject to neighborhood scrutiny. It’s a nice facility, supposedly with public trails. We look forward to seeing what they offer in terms of concerts.
The Farm House is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s just a couple of miles off of Briley Parkway on Whites Creek Pike.
Greenlight Deli has been open at 2905 12th Avenue South for about a month. We popped in last weekend and found them selling Falls Mills grits. The Belvidere company is one of our favorites for grits: hearty and creamy. We had a chat with Greenlight owner Brent Woodard. He described his own grit quest: from corn procurement to grinding. He expects to have the results for sale soon- he’s just looking for the right bags. We’re all for artisan grits. Greenlight sells produce, fresh eggs, milk, pasta and meats. It’s a small store so you may need to ask what they have in stock. It’s just down the street from Burger Up, on the newly bustling end of the 12 South strip.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Village Pub and Beer Garden
1308 McGavock Pike
There’s nothing like an open air café to make a neighborhood come alive and the Village Pub is doing just that for Riverside Village in East Nashville. The gently whirring fans hovering above the well shaded wrap-around deck makes for a relaxing break, especially if you’re hoisting a massive 24 ounce mug of beer. It feels a bit German and that certainly seems like the vibe Jesse and Tracy Hamilton are going for with the joint. The deck is the beer garden and while that may be a little weird it works. You’re close enough to strike up a conversation about Doggy Day Care with folks having a beer before they pick up Fido across the street.
The Village Pub is a bit of a community work in progress. David Mitchell from nearby Mitchell Deli has put together the food menu and while limited, it has been growing. Part of the problem is the teeny-tiny kitchen. The latest addition to the line-up is sausage. The bratwurst is cooked in Abita Turbo Dog and nestled between a hearty, chewy Silke’s bun. Silke’s is a Clarksville Bakery that takes great pride in bringing back Eastern European bread styles. That bun is a bit thick and overwhelming for the tasty brat. It's the stereotype of the big, broad shouldered peasant woman suffocating her little husband. I guess that’s even more of an old world taste perked up with good sauerkraut, red peppers and stone ground mustard. They also serve an Abita enhanced Italian with melted mozzarella, onions and the fresh confit bruschetta. You may want to opt for the beer sausage and cheese platter, which puts both of those links on a bed of sauerkraut and the bread on the side.
Hot, doughy pretzels go great with that heavy-duty mustard or even better dipped in the Yazoo beer cheese dip. The confit bruschetta puts the tomatoes on the side: it’s cold and popping fresh. The toasted Silke’s olive bread is a warm and welcome twist. Once you pile the tomatoes on the bread, you get fresh and cool, hearty and hot all in the same bite.
The rest of the menu keeps it easy for the kitchen, serving up meats and cheeses that you’ll instantly recognize as Mitchell Deli favorites. Spicy Capacolla, salty prosciutto, big time Benton’s aged country ham, Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheeses from Kentucky…it all goes well with big beers.
Veggie Eater: It’s a limited menu for the veggie eater, but really, my two favorite food categories, starch and fat, are well represented. Nothing is better than a cold beer, a homemade warm pretzel from Silke’s served with homemade stone ground mustard and beer cheese dip, and an assortment of Kenny’s cheeses. Although it is very simple food, they pick the best products out there. The cheeses from Kenny include garlic paprika Monterey jack, cumin seed Gouda, and Kentucky Rose (a light blue). The cheeses come with fresh fruit, honey, more fabulous Silke’s bread, and olives. Although this is nosh food, not necessarily designed for a full meal, you will leave with a full tummy and a happy heart when finished. What can I say, I’m a simple girl.
Meat Eater: The inside is actually rather modern in design and rather airy. They were going to hire a kitchen manager, so hopefully the menu will keep expanding. I can’t think of a better place to snack, drink and watch Riverside Village roll past you on a slow, summer night.
Depending on what you order this won’t be a cheap experience. The higher grade 24 ounce beers can cost as much as $7.75 and those meat and cheese platters run about $12.75 each. Still, consider the quality and you probably won’t quibble. We paid $60 with tax and tip on one visit and $44 with tax and tip for another.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Top 3 for Spring 2010
Ah, spring: the smell of flowers; the odor of your loved one- having not showered for a week; the look of brown sludge coating the streets. It’s been a tough spring here in Nashville and many people will be in recovery mode for months to come. There were a couple of bright spots on the restaurant scene this spring. We couldn’t include a couple of great new joints that we have visited but haven’t reviewed yet. Needless to say they will make it into the running for the Summer Top 3. For now, here are our Top 3 favorite new restaurants for Spring 2010.
1. Holland House: It’s nice to see East Nashville spreading out a bit. Holland House is a lively and whimsical outpost. The cocktails are the stars and the expanding food menu shows some promise. Nashville needs more joints like this.
2. Havana Grill: This Madison restaurant just recently moved into a new, spacious location on the Gallatin Pike strip. The food is down home Cuban with robust flavors and filling portions. Try the Congris and you’ll never wish for white rice again. This isn’t diet food and it’s probably not for vegetarians. For everyone else- el cerdo, por favor! http://nashvillerestaurants.blogspot.com/2010/04/havana-grill.html
3. Lucky Bamboo: This selection is likely to inspire fist fights. We think Lucky Bamboo is a welcome addition to the Nashville restaurant scene. It’s far from perfect and yet seems to be improving. The fun of dim sum is just one reason to include this West Nashville Chinese restaurant. The clattering carts, and multitude of doughy and dumpling-y treats makes for an enjoyable weekend morning. The traditional Chinese menu provides some tasty dishes you can’t get at most other places in Nashville. Service can be troublesome or very good. We think Lucky Bamboo may just keep getting better. http://nashvillerestaurants.blogspot.com/2010/03/lucky-bamboo.html
Friday, June 11, 2010
There's more barbecue popping up on that stretch. Just north of the Bordeaux Library Rocs Barbecue will be opening soon.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Ideas for CMA Festival and Bonnaroo Visitors
Hello visitors...Glad to have you in Nashville. We hope you enjoy your stay here in Music City. If you are looking for restaurants downtown just click on the "downtown" tab on the right hand side of this screen. There are many of options in the downtown area, and some good ones that we list. Quite frankly though, the best food in Nashville is probably elsewhere. Even a short car ride can get you to many good restaurants. If you find a place you like just click on the Urbanspoon tab at the bottom of the review and it will take you to a page with a map.
Bonnaroo folks- If you plan a pit stop in Nashville before or after the festival consider East Nashville. And for all the summer visitors out there check out our "Top 3" tab on the right hand side of this screen. We list our favorite new places.
Enjoy and sorry about the heat. It always seems to be broiling hot when CMA and Bonnaroo roll around.
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Road Tour 2010
We’re back from a two-week odyssey spanning 11 states and several major American cities, all in the quest to visit 22 relatives. We are beat, but we had lots of fun and plenty of good eating. We could go on for days about Indian food in Washington, D.C., pasta in the North End of Boston or crab cakes in Baltimore. Instead we offer a couple of surprises:
West Asheville, NC: Most people know that Asheville, North Carolina is a funky little city nestled in the mountains. They have so many great restaurants that it’s hard to keep up with it all. We did love our lunch at Rosetta’s kitchen. It’s a vegetarian joint and the tempeh Buffalo wings were awesome, both in crispy fried texture and the sweet-hot buffalo sauce. http://rosettaskitchen.com/
The big revelation for us was actually West Asheville. It’s kind of the East Nashville of Asheville. It’s primarily a local neighborhood with a strip of bars, restaurants and funky shops. We had a bartender suggest the Admiral restaurant for dinner. We called and found out they are booked for weeks. We took a chance and found room at the bar. I guess you would call the Admiral a gastro dive-bar. It’s housed in a cinderblock bunker of a building. Aside from the little logo and cool retro paint job you might never know this place serves top-notch food. Inside it’s completely black and still fairly divey, with the open kitchen taking up most of the bar area. The punk rock vibe gives way to great food. The arugula salad is a huge mound of fresh greens with two big wedges of Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog sheep’s milk blue cheese. Perfectly dressed and a real treat. A rib eye comes with a bit of seasoned char on the outside and perfectly medium rare. Combined with a potato puree, crunchy asparagus and caramelized onion and you have a great plate. The cocktail list is limited. The Manhattan went down quite smoothly thank-you. If you go, be sure to go across the street to Mike’s Corner Pocket and look for the crickets behind the bar…http://www.theadmiralnc.com/
Stew Leonard’s: This Connecticut superstore was a revelation to me (none in Boston sadly…only a few in Connecticut and Westchester). It’s kind of a Trader Joes on a massive scale. They are apparently known for their dairy products. Over the years they’ve moved into all sorts of foods. Local and select sourcing is a hallmark of the place. It’s like walking through a Wal-Mart where everything is of a reasonably high quality and with plenty of interesting items. The lobster that night was awesome. http://www.stewleonards.com/
Lowell, Mass: We had some great food in Boston. Probably the most fun though was in the former industrial mill town of Lowell. It’s about 45 minutes northwest of the city. Lowell used to be a hell hole of mill fires and crime. It’s come a long way, with a renewed downtown and a strong Asian and Latin American immigrant community. Lunch buffet food is usually mediocre at best-not at Southeast Asian restaurant. They serve up a Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese buffet that is fresh and tasty. They also don’t dumb down the food. The owner describes how the locals will now holler if she makes the Phad Prik Bai Gra Pao (chopped chicken and chili peppers) anything but red hot. I dug it as well. http://www.foodventure.com/
New York, New York: We trekked through the Village and SOHO, finally opting for Joe’s Shanghai for lunch. It’s an institution in Chinatown, with quite a few other restaurants in the area trying to trick unassuming diners into assuming they are the Joe’s Shanghai. Do not be fooled!!! We know, we know, the best Chinese in New York is not in fact found in Chinatown (fine, please bust us for being tourists). But if for no other reason, you must go to Joe’s Shanghai for simply the best cold sesame noodles; it’s not just the dish, but the creamy, tender noodles themselves that are phenomenal. Service is curt, hurried, and not very friendly, but it makes a perfect lunch spot for a quick meal while out sightseeing. There are several locations in the New York area (and also now in Tokyo, should you happen to be that way). http://www.joeshanghairestaurants.com/
Pompton Lakes, New Jersey: Although most humans would never have reason to be in this neck of the woods, if you do, be sure to check out Thatcher McGee’s Irish pub. It’s just off of I-287 and was a delightful surprise for lunch on the road. We were choosing from the typical awful fast food options for lunch, when we happened upon this gem. It was already bustling with regulars enjoying Guinness at noon on this Friday visit. The goat cheese salad was very good and they happily obliged the Veggie Eater’s desire for a veggie Rueben and were kind enough to take $5 off the cost of the sandwich since it had no corned beef. It was one of the better veggie Rueben’s/fancy grilled cheese sandwiches consumed in recent past. Service was excellent and somehow a Guinness at lunch makes a 7 hour car drive more bearable. http://www.thatchermcghees.com/menu.html
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.