Sunday, February 20, 2011
407 Gallatin Avenue
It seems like every bar in Nashville is picking a point in history and styling the surroundings and feel of the place to meet a retro vision of that era. Plug No. 308 directly into the late fifties and early sixties: days and nights of beat poets, jazz and the origins of counterculture. No. 308 puts a literary spin on the theme, honoring favorite authors with drinks, including Charles Bukowski and William Burroughs. Those legendarily crusty dudes would probably be more at home next door at Dino’s, but the décor certainly evokes late 1950s cool. It’s a stripped down, dark space with a vaulted ceiling and vintage living room seating. It reminds one of a retro rec room with an attitude. You’ll have to climb up on the tractor seat bar stools to reach the towering bar. Behind it, t-shirt and black jeans clad folks are pouring and shaking with vigor. This may all sound a bit over the top, but it works well, in large part due to the sincerity of owners Alexis Soler and Ben Clemons, and the dedication of the hard-working staff.
Drinks are the primary concern at No. 308. They take the cocktail trend seriously. You’ll find house-made soda syrups and on the spot carbonation. A whiskey and ginger is an eye-opening rendition. A simple vodka tonic is smoother and the whiskey and cola is heads and tails better than any variation this drinker has ever had. The carbonation is fun to watch: they mix up the liquids, throw it in a two-liter plastic bottle, squeeze out the air and pump in the carbonation. We had one bartender eye his work afterwards and pronounce it insufficient. He took the glass away and went at it again.
The drink pricing is fairly reasonable, considering the amount of work going into those concoctions. Those house mixers are normally $7 a pop and only $5 each during happy hour. They have a quality selection of liquor and at $5, a shot the Bukowski boilermaker (Four Roses bourbon and a Carlsberg Elephant beer on the side) is one of the best drink bargains in Nashville.
The attention to detail also shows with the short food menu. The only gripe is that it seems to keep shrinking in options. The small plates run $8, $6 and $3 and are made for sharing. Yam chips with sorghum aioli are a little chewy, a little sweet and a new addiction. Marinated olives are beefy and citrusy. Sweet potato soup hits the spot on the first visit and is off the menu by the next visit. Kale and grilled chicken salad shows dedication to the green by leaving it with some snap in texture and spritzing it with a vinegar dressing. Pumpkin raviolis have a sweet, creamy sauce and a nice filling. Thai chicken wings were a stand-out on visit two: super-plump grilled wings in a spicy sauce with just a hint of sweet. The slight char really makes them pop. A skirt steak salad is well marinated and sliced atop mixed greens and blue cheese. It too was remembered from visit one and gone on visit two.
No matter what the tinkering, or all out changes to the menu, clearly this kitchen takes the food seriously and we would probably be happy with whatever they put out. We just hope the menu can grow a bit and not get smaller. Great food is always welcome at a cocktail joint.
Veggie Eater: I must apologize in advance for being a bit sketchy on details, as each time I have ventured to this spot, I have embraced the libations wholeheartedly. I am not much of a cocktail drinker, but when in Rome. I opted for the Pisco Sour on my first visit and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. It was perhaps the best Pisco I’ve had outside of Lima. I assume, like all other mixers here, that the sour mix is house-made. What’s a Pisco? It’s a Peruvian drink featuring the national liquor called Pisco. The sour mix and Pisco is combined with raw egg white and shaken vigorously by hand until it achieves an Orange Julius like consistency. This one was simply fabulous.
On the food side of thing, the cheese plate is generous and changes according to availability. On our first visit it included the highly prized Humboldt Fog Blue Cheese and pecans, along with an assortment of breads. On our second visit, they were kind enough to serve the pumpkin ravioli with bacon on the side. Tempura veggies were lightly fried and included an interesting assortment of onions, green beans, and cauliflower. The crispy mozz is not the lame frozen mozzarella stick version, served most other places, but a disc that is lightly fried and served with a balsamic dressing. On the second visit, I opted for the gin and tonic and was glad I had given gin another chance after a 20+ year long absence in my life (we won’t go into the details). Adding to the charm is $5 Carlsberg Elephant beers (though sadly they were out on our second visit) and fabulous ambience and music (I got to hear the Pixies two times in one night—always the sign post of a best night ever). Gripes: First, the bar is really tall and the bar stools difficult to get in and out (they’re made from antique tractor seats) if you are vertically challenged (I am). Secondly, the bar is really dark, making the black menus almost impossible to read (we used the candle on our table to read.) Third, our server was delightful, but apparently had either ADD or Alzheimers, as every time he returned to take an order, we had to remind him of Meat Eater’s name for the tab. I can happily live with all three of these issues. I can sit at a table, will be sure to bring friends with better eyes than mine, and can happily recite my husband’s last name as needed.
Meat Eater: The crowd here is laid-back East Nashville with minimal pretention, at least for the early hours we visited. No. 308 is just a short hop around the corner from Five Points and definitely extends the neighborhood vision. We kind of went wild on both visits, so don’t take our bar tabs as an indication of expensive pricing. We were simply having too much fun to stop. We paid $98 with tax and tip on one visit and $80 on the next.