Wednesday, February 16, 2011
2421 Vanderbilt Place
It’s time to play catch-up with a Nashville vegetarian classic: Grins. We know, we know. What took you so long? We beg forgiveness.
Vegetarian cuisine is often seen as a challenge to compete with the meat world, in both creativity and flavor. While there are many veggie joints that do a fine job with meat-inspired recipes (Buffalo chicken-style tempeh, lentil loaf) the other route is accomplished by focusing on the ingredients at hand. Grins Vegetarian Café falls into the second category. They’ve been putting out quality food for many years now and the result is simple, flavorful and well executed sandwiches, salads and sides.
A paper bowl of poblano corn chowder starts off one visit. There is a subtle, smoky heat, creamy texture and a satisfying finish. Some of that Southwestern-style background heat also comes out in the macaroni salad with some crunch provided by bits of olives and red peppers. A goat cheese and roasted tomato quiche is tangy and well-cooked. The combo is a relaxing, informal lunch that quite frankly, didn’t leave the meat eater missing anything from the animal kingdom.
It’s not a big menu- on any given day just a couple of salads, a soup, a few sides, a Panini du jour and several wraps. They give you the choice of cheese, dairy products and vegan condiment options. The specials seem to be some of the more inventive and fun offerings of the day.
Grins is located on the Vanderbilt campus, so there is a challenge in making the trip from the outside world. It’s tucked away in the Ben Schulman Center, which is a center for Jewish life on campus. That gives Grins double billing as not only one of the few all-vegetarian restaurants in Nashville, but also one of the few kosher spots in town. The large number of vegan items is also rare for Nashville. Your best bet for parking is the two-hour meters on 24th avenue. There are only a few spots available on most weekdays, and that’s the only time you’ll find Grins open for business.
Veggie Eater: I opted for the Panini and side dish special on my visit. I’m actually not much of a pasta salad fan, but this was thoroughly satisfying. Carrots, peas, radishes, onion, and macaroni are happily tossed with a veganaise and vinegar dressing; creamy and zesty. The Peter Piper Panini is an expertly toasted creation consisting of cheddar, tomato, pepperoncinis, spinach and garlic mayo. The peppers add a hint of heat and pair well with the mayo. It’s a bustling lunchtime spot, and if you are insecure about your advancing age, body image, or station in life, Grins will not be kind to you…it is a college lunch joint after all.
Meat Eater: Wow, I never knew the Veggie Eater worried about such things. The college kids were perfectly nice to me. The tight hours and tough parking are one reason it has taken us so long to get to Grins. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the best lunch spots in town. Just beware that they are closed for school and Jewish holidays. Check out the website for an updated list.
There are only a few tables in the restaurant area itself, but it seems that the Schulman Center folks wouldn’t mind someone spreading out in the lobby. This place, part of the Bongo World empire (think Fido and the coffee joints) is yet another reason why the Bongo Java folks have such an important role in the Nashville eating and coffee drinking community. We did separate visits with my tab coming to $12 and the Veggie Eater tab coming to $12.