Sunday, July 24, 2011
The Wild Hare
316 White Bridge Road
The West side has needed this for some time now: The Wild Hare combines an eclectic, affordable menu with a comfortable, family-friendly dining room. The informal attitude is well-balanced with sharp cooking skills. All of that adds up to one of the better recent Nashville restaurant debuts. Brian Bills was co-owner of the Blue Moon Cafe and runs the place with his wife Elizabeth. They have brought in Jon Smyth from Cabana as chef. The word seems to be out. The parking lot was packed and the dining room buzzing at 12:30 p.m. on a recent Friday. They had the restaurant well staffed on the days we visited, keeping pace with the crowd.
The Wild Hare has only been open a few weeks and there is still plenty to be done on the exterior. Don’t let the dirt parking lot and non-existent landscaping scare you away. You’ll be greeted at the door by the staff and step into a bungalow of sorts, with low ceilings, bright red paint and funky decorating. For whatever reason those low ceilings keep making me think of the Hobbit homes in Lord of the Rings. It does make for a cozy dining experience. Long wood booths are big enough for a family and the staff even has Cheerios and raisins on hand to keep the kiddos happy.
Check out the list of microbrews to get a feel for what this place is about. Butternut’s Pork Slap Ale anyone? How about a milk stout? Sure, they have the usual American favorites, but the small list of unusual brews says a lot about the joint. The PBR tallboys also say something good. There is a general lack of pretention at The Wild Hare.
The wedge salad may surprise a bit on presentation: it’s a do it yourself, de-constructed version that provides a solid wedge, fried goat cheese croquet, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes and avocado. It allows you to mix and match to your own desires. The tomato stack is a cool, refreshing tower of mozzarella, basil, balsamic and a watermelon cucumber salsa. It’s summery and a great starter. The beer battered mushrooms are huge, juicy and yet with a tempura-style fry that helps them keep their inherent mushroomness. The smoked Gouda dipping sauce is fondue-like and a rich match for the fungi.
Beer can chicken is served in a wide bowl with broth lining the bottom. It’s an indication of just how juicy this bird is, and even better, how flavorful. The chicken is perfectly cooked and the basting gives it a real depth. Mac and cheese comes out of the kitchen in a heavy cast iron serving dish. The firm noodles go well with the sticky cheese sauce. It’s understated in seasoning and needs a little pepper to perk it up. Deviled eggs get some help from what appears to be a smoked cheese of some sort, perhaps the aforementioned Gouda. It’s an unusual twist that helps elevate the Southern standard. Fresh greens and okra round out the plate for a nice garnish.
Pizzas seem to be popular, based on how many tables had the pies as a centerpiece of lunch. Zesty tomato sauce and fresh toppings may be part of the reason. Zucchini, squash, portabella and tomato made our veggie pizza almost like eating a nicely marinated and grilled garden. The kitchen tends to make a thicker crust than what you might have come to expect from a wood-fired oven, but it keeps with the country cooking style of the place. Paying $7 for a pie as good as this is an absolute steal.
Veggie Eater: The menu has many veggie options for appetizers, sides and salads, including the veggie pizza. Alas, not a single veggie friendly sandwich or entrée could be found on our visits. So, the first time, I enjoyed a variety of appetizers along with salad and pizza with the Meat Eater, leaving not much else for me to try the next visit. On the next visit, I asked for the grilled cheese, Benton’s bacon on the side for the Meat Eater. It consists of hearty thick-sliced whole grain bread, big tomato slices, and cheese (perhaps Emmentaler?). The sandwich is served solo and appears a bit lonely on the plate. Sides cost extra.
Good, funky music mix adds to an enjoyable meal; something about the Clash always perks me up. Servers were attentive and seem to genuinely be proud of the product they were bringing to the table.
Meat Eater: Despite the fact that sides come al la carte, the prices are simply unbeatable for the quality of food. We appreciate the fact that they are treating customers fairly and we think it will build a strong loyalty for the establishment. They opened with just lunch service and have since added dinner and cocktails thanks to a liquor license. We hope they keep their unique vision and continue to grow The Wild Hare. It’s about time West Nashville had a little East Nashville style.
We paid $33 with tax and tip on one visit and $29 on another visit.