Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Midweek Odds and Ends

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Midweek Odds and Ends

Brewsters is officially open in Madison. We had our fist look this weekend. The soon to be brew pub is serving lunch and dinner, but the beer is still a couple of weeks away. Our server said the primary issue seems to be permits and such. It’s an airy space with lofted ceilings and plenty of windows. It may be familiar to folks on that side of town. It has housed a couple of other restaurants, including Pargo’s and Zen Bar and Grill. The location is not optimal: it’s just a couple of blocks off the Gallatin Pike and Rivergate Parkway strip, and yet far enough to make you search for it. The menu is bar food with a few nods to originality. It’s basically split between flatbread pizzas and sandwiches. Blue cheese fries, pretzels and the deployment of knockwurst, bratwurst and kielbasa were all duly noted as beer oriented fare. They have a pretty decent selection of interesting drafts and bottles to help tide you over until the house beer can be served. Our first visit was a pleasant enough experience, although unremarkable in the food department. We’ll be interested to see how that beer turns out. We’ll make a return trip in a few weeks to see how they’re doing and have a review.

217 Gleaves Street

Farmers Markets Roundup

Saturday, April 2 is the first day outside for the West Nashville Farmers Market in Richland Park. They have been inside at 4611 Alabama Avenue all winter. The kick-off of the outdoor season will, of course, be limited, but the list of vendors this season brings some we didn’t notice last year, including Primm Springs Soysage (the Veggie Eater needs something to do while the Meat Eater is visiting the Peaceful Pastures stand). Check out the complete list on the website and perhaps we’ll see you there Saturday:

The East Nashville Farmers Market season opening is posted as May 11 on their website:

The Franklin Farmers Market is open year-round:

And of course the Nashville Farmers Market is buzzing year-round. With all of the vendors selling non-produce related items, it’s well worth a visit at any time:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Shish Kabob

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Shish Kabob
4651 Nolensville Road

The humble falafel gets a major makeover at the new Persian restaurant Shish Kabob and it’s a long time coming. The crunchy chickpea favorite often comes in ball form and seems, quite frankly, stuck in a rut at many Nashville kabob joints and gyro stands. The Shish Kabob version is flat, lightly fried and popping with spices. It’s just one indication that Shish Kabob is setting a new standard for Middle Eastern food in Nashville.

Hikmat Gazi goes to great lengths that elevate that falafel. He imports the spice mix from Lebanon via a distributor in Detroit. He’s paid quite a bit of attention to the falafel and that attention to detail extends throughout a wide-reaching menu. The name may sound familiar. Mr. Gazi started the House of Kabob, before selling to his cousins, and also the House of Gyros, both of which are still going strong. With Shish Kabob, even the d├ęcor proclaims a commitment to quality. The rich, dark red walls are accented by black table cloths and tasteful decorations of Persian culture. It’s every bit a dining room.

Cilantro and feta cheese start each meal, a fresh accompaniment to the puffy flatbread. You’ll also find a small bowl of light soup at the beginning of the meal. One day brings a chicken noodle broth with strong curry undertones and on another day a vegetable version. Both have a lovely flavor.

As the name implies shish kabobs are a specialty here and the menu lists 20 versions: chicken, lamb, Cornish game hen, salmon and liver. The Sultani is the traditional mix of barg beef (marinated with saffron, garlic and onion) and kubideh (ground beef and lamb). The kubideh is well-seasoned and the barg has a mild and subtle flavor. The char grilled tomato on the side provides a juicy tang to go with the meat. There is a massive mound of basmati rice, helping the dish live up to the name Sultani, which means sultan’s feast.

Khoresht Ghormeh Sabzi is a dense, fragrant stew of beef, herbs, beans and spices. It goes well with the fluffy basmati rice and fresh side salad of cubed tomato and cucumber. There is a brief nod to what is listed as Greek tastes on the back of the menu: gyros, a club sandwich and oddly a Philly cheese steak. With all of the Persian dishes just waiting to be sampled, we’re not sure why any of those “Greek” options would be a choice. Perhaps it’s designed with the kids in mind. We can imagine it might be tough to get junior partake in Khoresht Ghaymeh split pea stew.

Veggie Eater: The emphasis here is meat and there are limited veggie offerings. However, quality shines over quantity. On the first visit, we opted for the mast-o-musir. I must admit I’d never come across this before. It is a dried shallot yogurt dip; slightly tangy and sweet. It goes well with the bread and pita. As noted above by Meat Eater, the falafel is simply wonderful. This version is made from fava beans and chick peas, seasoned with garlic, onions, parsley and cumin. These are fried discs instead of balls and the result yields crunchy on the outside and still moist in the interior. On the second visit, I opted for the veggie plate. It was a heaping platter of expertly grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms served atop rice. Salad (diced cukes, tomatoes, and onions) and yogurt sauce is served on the side. This makes for a wonderful do it yourself sandwich when combined with the flat bread. We did actually make it to dessert on one occasion and had the Persian Ice cream with saffron and rose water flavor. These may be somewhat exotic flavors to some and one can be taken aback at the first bite (kind of like eating perfume). Be patient- your palate begins to wake up and understand. The flavors blend well with the creamy base.

Meat Eater: That rose water and saffron ice cream still lingers on my taste buds. It’s an excellent dessert. Be sure to drop by the other Gazi enterprise next door- Sulav International Market. It’s a well-stocked store with five varieties of bulk feta from across the globe, a number of torshi options (pickled veggies), dates, olives and bulk beans. They bake the flatbread and thinner lavash on the spot to serve both the restaurant and the store. You’ll probably want some for home. Shish Kabob is a fantastic addition to the Nashville dining scene. We’re hoping the falafel competition heats things up around town.

We paid $30 with tax and tip on one visit and $41 on another visit.

Shish Kabob on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thai Star

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Thai Star
563 East Thompson Lane

It’s a move down Thompson Lane for Thai Star owner Keo Douangtavanh and family. The old location was tucked away from traffic and this new one is hard to miss on the Thompson Lane strip. A bold red sign announces the spot. Clearly road frontage is a priority.

It’s a clean, utilitarian dining room with tall ceilings and room to grow. They serve up a little, complimentary lettuce salad with the meal and on one day the sesame based dressing works and on another visit it’s a bit weak. Tom Kha soup is sprinkled with fresh Thai basil, which provides a little zing to accent the mellow coconut milk broth. Thick slices of onion, bell peppers and mushrooms have snap and the chicken is tender. Tom Yum, the spicy and sour Thai classic, is also helped by careful chicken and veggie cooking. Red curry is served in a large bowl. The broth has a satisfying, if restrained, flavor and a subtle background heat. Pork, beef and shrimp are cooked well and once again the veggies are done justice. Malachi’s Steak Delight is cubed filet cooked in a light soy based sauce. It’s reasonably tender and flavorful, helped along by bits of mushroom and what tastes to be cooked ginger.

You’ll find a few Vietnamese dishes here as well, including pho. Thai Star is also one of the better dining options in town for the vegetarian.

Veggie Eater: Kudos to the folks at Thai Star for offering a tofu version of almost every dish. It’s a simple nod to the veggie eaters of Nashville. I love noodles and opted for the Pad Kee Mau on the first visit. This dish has stir fried, chewy and wide rice noodles served with rapini, onions, basil, and tofu with a mild spiciness. On my second visit, I opted for the yellow curry with tofu. It had diced pineapple, basil, onions, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms tossed in a silky coconut curry. Unfortunately, I had the bonus ingredient of a small piece of paper towel included with my curry. This seems a little odd here, as the restaurant is very clean and staff exceptionally attentive. Another oddity is the light fixtures which still sport white Westinghouse tags. Is this a status symbol that I’m not aware of? In any case, I had plenty of food for left over lunches on both visits. Somewhat uncharacteristically for Thai food, the menu does not mention heat options, nor does the wait staff ask about personal spiciness preferences.

Meat Eater: Service is friendly and efficient. Sometimes they appeared a bit understaffed out in the dining room, but the ladies working the room hustle to keep up. They have a patio that that is perched out on busy Thompson Lane looking at the train yard. While it’s not open yet, they appear to be prepping to do so.

Thai Star is a good bet for a positive Thai experience. We paid $33 with tax and tip on one lunch visit and $29 on another lunch visit.
New Thai Star on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Holland Burgers

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Holland Burgers

The Tennessean reports that the owners of the Holland House Bar and Refuge are considering opening an all-burger restaurant just down the street from the Holland House, on McFerrin in East Nashville. They have already set up a Twitter feed about the joint, which will apparently be called "Bonnie Blue's Icehouse". Here is how the Twitter page describes it:

Name Bonnie Blue's
Location East Nashville, TN
Bio Nash's Original Icehouse & Burger Parlor. Outdoor garden seating under the trees, over 15 specialty burgers, Tex-Mex faves, phosphate sodas & cold, cold beer

Do they have the burger skills to make it work? Judging from the Holland House favorite Meester Burger I'd say so. The Meester Burger is apparently an homage to a famously tasty and creative burger joint in Holland. It's wagyu kobe beef cooked perfectly medium rare as a default (they were too slammed  on the night I tried it out to ask what temperature). The sweet flavor of the beef is accented by aioli, cheddar and a hearty, floury Provence whole wheat bun. Sounds like Burger Up will have some competition and as a burger fan (married to a vegetarian that would appreciate more than one veggie option on the upscale burger menu) we say bring it on.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Welcome Music City Visitors and Oscar Provisions

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Welcome Visitors

We've noticed a trend on the blog. Traffic spikes significantly when big events come to town. So, for those basketball fans and radio folks in town this week- welcome to Music City. If you're staying downtown take a look at the right hand side of the screen. You'll see a label for downtown that will pull up just restaurants within walking distance of most downtown hotels. If you want to see our choices for the top spots over the last couple of years, check out the label marked "Top 3" that gives our top three new restaurants for each season. Have fun and enjoy your dining!

Oscar Provisions

The locals will recognize most of these good eating destinations. We went foraging for Oscar watching provisions this weekend. First stop: Lazzaroli Pasta in Germantown for the house made mozzarella (creamy and yet firm...a real treat) and peppercorn salami ( we picked up whole wheat linguine for later in the week). Next up: the Nashville Farmers Market. It's amazing to see the change in the Farmers Market over the last eight years. Even during the off season for produce the other vendors still come out. We picked up free range chicken from Emerald Glen Farm and a gallon of milk from JD Country Milk. We eyed the house made sausage and pickled peppers at Barnes Produce. Then, inside we found the International Market selling Swagruha Hot Pickled Cabbage (wow, that is some bold, deep spice and big heat...perfect in small amounts for perking up dishes). A number of vendors have moved inside the Market House with the colder weather including Bloomy Rind (always a select, wonderful cheese line-up) and a place called Doc Braden's creole seafood pies (in mind for a future visit). We bought a mini mushroom and spinach quiche from Foxy Baking Company (super flaky crust and thin). We can't wait for the Farmers Market to get into full swing, but it's well worth a visit now.

We prepared for the rest of our voyage with a spicy meal from Swagruha. They tell us the Brentwood location is still in the works for May.

We finished this shopping trip down at the Bangkok Market, just south of 100 Oaks and the Regal Cinemas and tucked away in a business park at 3207 Powell Avenue. Thanks to Lannae Long and her excellent blog for the tip. She says in her blog that it's a former design business and the decor certainly reflects such. This may be the most stylish grocery shopping in Nashville. Everything is laid out with care and there is actually a pretty good selection of Asian and International groceries and even books and gifts. We picked up a Thai sweet sausage and some jicama.

The Oscars themselves were fairly boring this year, despite the best attempts of James Franco and Anne Hathaway. We did have an excellent mish-mash spread of interesting tastes from all over the Mediterranean (the Veggie Eater made olive hummus) and into Asia. Great food always helps make Oscar Night a good time.