Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Melrose

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Melrose
2535 Franklin Pike

The Saturday afternoon bar crowd is a good judge of a popular place. If it’s getting crowded at 3pm that’s an indication that they stay busy most of the time they’re open. The Melrose is a bar and restaurant that clearly meets that mark. While we’ve visited a number of times in recent years, we’ve been lax in reviewing the joint, which isn’t fair, because they offer above average bar food in a comfortable, alternative rock and roll styled bar room.

One visit find them a bit understaffed- one waiter is trying to handle 20 tables, most of them filled. They apologize and hustle to catch-up. Basketball is on the TV and tunes are on the stereo. You’ll find many beers on tap and bottles you can’t find many other places. We enjoyed seeing the addition of Sprecher beer from Milwaukee.

The blue cheese fries are a spectacle coming out of the kitchen. The waffle cut potatoes are pilled so high with blue cheese sauce and blue cheese crumbles that it’s an avalanche of blue. Throw calories to the wind and dig in. It’s a perfect companion for a big beer. Next up comes creamy and thick tortilla soup with chunks of chicken and melted cheese. The smoky, rich soup is well-seasoned and filling fare on a cold day.

Burgers are one of the highlights of The Melrose. They get their beef from Hillview Farms in Franklin and take the cooking seriously-hitting medium-rare spot on for this occasion. The patty melt is a bit of a surprise with the burger between two up-ended grilled buns. It’s odd and yet juicy and delicious. The beef is slightly blackened on the exterior and dressed up with grilled onion.

Buffalo wings have an extra-crispy fry, keeping them juicy. The sauce is pleasantly spicy with solid flavor. A steak sandwich proves to be a tender, quality cut of beef grilled up with Gouda cheese and onion. It’s served on a soft, chewy and dense French loaf.

The menu is simple and short: sandwiches, wings, soups, salads and appetizers. They also serve up a concise Mexican-themed brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.

Veggie Eater: Most recently, I ventured out to have the black bean salad. It’s a gargantuan affair of greens, sliced avocado, black beans, salsa, and cheese topped with a lime ranch dressing and fried tortilla strips. It’s really too big for a single meal and if you are opposed to left over salad due to wilted greens, then it seems a bit wasteful. Thankfully, I have no qualms with left over salad, especially when you have salad dressing on the side to dress as needed, preventing future gloppiness. The salad itself was good, but I found the dressing to be a bit underwhelming; I think it needed a bit more acid to zip up the greens. Next venture entailed the black bean quesadilla. It too is a somewhat oversized affair consisting of cheese, onions, fresh guacamole, roasted salsa, black beans (which appear to be fresh, as they still had a bit of texture to them), and sour cream. It’s perfectly satisfying bar food. The vibe is delightful; John Prine, great alt rock band posters, and most importantly, not just Sprecher beer, but Sprecher Mai Bock (sorry folks, I’m sure it’s already gone for the season).

Meat Eater: The Melrose reminds me of a Chicago bar. It’s the type of place you would find twenty-somethings in Lincoln Park. That’s the Nashville crowd that it attracts as well and yet it’s enough of a mixture of folks to keep it feeling diverse.

We paid $34 with tax and tip for a lunch visit and $70 on a visit with three of us, dinner and many drinks.

The Melrose Neighborhood Pub on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fish N Grits, Weenie Opening and Los Gordos Closing

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Fish N Grits, Weenie Opening and Los Gordos Closing

It’s tough keeping up with the restaurant world. Places open and close in the blink of an eye. So, please fasten your seatbelts…

People have been watching folks prepare a restaurant called Fish and Grits at 8th and Division. They opened up late last week and we visited Saturday night to take a look. The menu is a bit unusual with a breakfast leaning that probably fits with their promise to be open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. It sounds pretty ambitious for a new place, but we wish them well. The interior is a funky, do-it-yourself affair with a bright wash of pastel colors. The grits are the star and come in several versions: barbecue, Swiss, smoked, country, cheddar, cinnamon, pepper jack, mozzarella and bacon cheddar. Jalapeno featured a strong kick from the chunks of fresh, crunchy peppers. The fish is represented by blackened tilapia, fried catfish, barbecue shrimp, grilled salmon and crab cakes. Salads, sandwiches and appetizers round out the menu. The fried green beans with a raspberry ranch dipping sauce caught our attention. We’ll pop back in a few weeks and check in for a review. A shout out to Lannae  and Matt, who just happened into dinner at the same time.

Fish and Grits
715 8th Avenue South

Leslie Allen reports that she is reopening the I Dream of Weenie hotdog stand soon. She has opened up a facebook page describing her efforts to find a new East Nashville home for the signature yellow VW bus that has been sitting on Woodland Street. It’s moved just around the corner to the new home at 113 South 11th Street, across from the Pied Piper Creamery. Leslie bought the business, bus and menu in total, after landlord issues closed the joint last year. We wish her the best and we’ll be by to see how the dogs are doing under new management.

I Dream of Weenie
113 South 11th Street

In the whiplash department the doors are locked and the landlord has cleared the place out at Los Gordos on Nolensville Road. You may remember we talked the place up just a couple of weeks ago. The Honduran specialties and tender care in cooking really surprised us and we had great hope for the place. Anyway, it’s gone in that location. If anyone spies a resurfacing please let us know. The house made tortillas were just one of the many lovely touches that set the place apart.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Dog of Nashville

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The Dog of Nashville
2127 Belcourt Avenue

Let’s go straight to the instant replay. Walk-up and the patio is jumping: A birthday party of little girls is happily munching away, college kids brave the daylight in sunglasses and a guy dressed in khakis and a blazer sits next to his well-coiffed wife. Inside, the counter folks keep things moving along nicely. Make your order and grab a seat. Be sure to take note of the ceiling plastered with the flattened cartons of Chicago Vienna dogs and the well loved décor, which speaks to the popularity of the place since it’s only been open a few years. In a rush, a staff member comes hustling out of the kitchen yelling your name and then it’s game time.

The chili dog is a long hot dog on a traditional mushy bun, loaded up with sticky chili and shredded cheese. It hits the spot and the stickiness of the chili keeps it from running down your hand. Next up to the plate is a pretty-looking corn dog with a doughnut like batter: super crisp, sweet and excellent. Move over to the house made potato chips coated in buffalo sauce: oddly cold and a little moist and yet with good flavor. We’re going to declare this an error and surmise that, judging from the rest of the team, it doesn’t happen often. The jalapeno Dog Bites are simply hot, fried fun. End of the first inning and the crowd is quite satisfied.

Next batter up and we have the Rise and Shine dog. It’s breakfast time at the ballpark and the snap of the bacon on top of the dog is a little strange at first. Combined with the fried egg and old fashion cheese sauce on top, it all comes together for a solid hit. That egg splits open and it starts to get messy and even better tasting- call it extra bases. Cole slaw is good pinch hitter and with an interesting background flavor. Chunky onion rings are straightforward veterans, with a thick batter and a good fry.

The rest of the line-up at the Dog of Nashville is quite creative: Redneck Dog with bacon chili and jalapenos; Y’all Dog with polish sausage, French bread and house made Dijon; Diet Starts Tomorrow Dog, a deep fried hot dog topped with bacon and cheese sauce and if you have a vegetarian on the team the Not Dog comes served on a whole wheat bun.

Veggie Eater: Let me preface the review by stating that even when I ate meat (more the 20 years ago), I never was a hot dog fan. I don’t really understand the mass appeal of them. That being said, this really is a pretty enjoyable eatery. The veggie dog was well grilled, picking up flavor and texture. Since there are so many condiment options, you really can dress it up any way you like and have something very different every time. I opted for peppers, onions, mushrooms, and a slice of cheese. Given the sheer number of toppings, along with other options (they serve burgers which can also be subbed with a veggie burger); this place allows a Veggie Eater to keep a Meat Eater content without great sacrifice.

Meat Eater: Come on, absolutely no effort in keeping the baseball theme going Veggie Eater. You’re out. Ah well, you can create a fantasy league combo dog by choosing from 25 different toppings including: cream cheese, mushrooms, guacamole and the usual assortment of peppers. About the only other menu items, aside from those tasty sides, are a few burgers and yes, they have a veggie option for that as well. We’ll play ball with these folks any day.

We paid $26 with tax and tip for one visit and I paid $11.50 on a solo venture.

The Dog of Nashville on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Naoko’s, Karla’s, Clear Creek Smokehouse and 3 Crow

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Naoko’s, Karla’s, Clear Creek Smokehouse and 3 Crow

Farmers Markets have become a location for folks to set up shop to sell all sorts of prepared food- sandwiches, soups and desserts. Often it’s an opportunity for caterers to reach or a larger audience or aspiring restaurateurs to start-up a new concept. We had excellent snacking on Saturday at the West Nashville Farmers Market in Richland Park.

Our first stop was Naoko’s Delights. These Japanese ladies from Franklin have a variety of bread based items for sale: green tea pound cake, sweet red bean pan and a veggie curry pan. The pan are Japanese filled buns. In the case of the curry, it's a lovely, Indian blend of spices inside a light bread. They were also cooking up Yaki-onigiri, which are basically rice balls. They’re grilled up, brushed with soy sauce and sesame and then topped on each side with seaweed wrappers. It’s a delightful, light snack that you can eat like a small sandwich. They have only been in business a short time and at the West Nashville Farmers Market for the last few weeks.

Next up was Karla’s, run by Chef Karla Ruiz, where the empanada is taken to new levels. We sampled the raja: a spicy and savory blend of roasted poblano peppers and cheese inside a delicate masa empanada shell. It’s topped with pickled onion, crema, farmer’s cheese and salsa Verde. It’s excellent and one of the best empanadas we have had in Nashville. Catering is Karla’s main gig, but man we would love to see those empanadas featured at a sit-down restaurant. Check out her pan-Hispanic themed summer catering menu and tell us you wouldn’t be dying for a restaurant serving this in Nashville:

Another Farmers Market buy was Clear Creek Smokehouse hickory smoked pulled pork. It comes frozen in shrink-wrap plastic. I love the list of ingredients on the package: pork, sweet paprika, brown sugar, kosher salt, spices, apple cider vinegar and natural wood smoke. Simple and the end result is outstanding barbecue. It’s a perfectly balanced smoke and the tender pork has bits of spicy bark throughout. I put it to work on a pizza (thanks for the awesome dough Mike…you really should open a pizza joint!) and the result was quite good.

A gray, drizzly day is made for whiskey sampling. We did just that at the 3 Crow Bar in East Nashville on Sunday. The Veggie Eater downed a Bourbon Barrel Stout from BBC and a fine Rasputin Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing Company. I settled in with a Collier and McKeel sour mash whiskey. It’s made here in Nashville at the Corsair facility. It’s strong, smoky and reminiscent of Pritchard’s Double Barreled Bourbon, but with the sour mash twang. A Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey caught our eye. The West Coast brewer puts out legendary beers, but who knew about whiskey? It’s a light whiskey, perhaps due to the white oak barrels they use. It’s named for the ale and uses the same grains. It’s smooth and clean. I also had a little taste of Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey out of Bardstown, Kentucky. It’s mellow, sweet, smoky and silky. Nothing new here, people have been enjoying both of these for years. I appreciate that 3 Crow makes it easy to find a new favorite by stocking so many whiskeys. I also appreciate one of the best Bloody Mary’s in town. The 3 Crow version is dark, rich and spicy. The little hit of Guinness stout on the top is a nice touch. Thanks for helping us warm up on a dreary day folks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Top of the Hill, Derby Party Middle Eastern and Coopers for Mother’s Day

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Top of the Hill, Derby Party Middle Eastern and Coopers for Mother’s Day

Pizza equal parts crispy and chewy, straight from a wood fired oven. House made salad dressings. And this can be found…now wait for it…in Joelton? Yeah, that was kinda our reaction as well. It’s a pretty cool development for the Joelton dining scene. We’ve been watching work on the location for the last few months. Top of the Hill is a new restaurant at the summit of Germantown Hill on Clarksville Highway, in what is actually Whites Creek by the map, but what most people would think of as Joelton. The owners took great care in the renovation and, as you might imagine from a restaurant started by a family in the masonry business, rock is a big part of the décor. The wrap-around bar is stone on the bottom and finished concrete up top. That wood fired oven is a thing of beauty in and of itself. Cedar planks finish off the airy space for an upscale sports bar type of look. We were surprised to find that some of the first pies served to the public came out of that oven spot-on. House made tomato sauce and exacting cooking make a difference. Fried pickles and fresh cut French fries were pretty decent as well. Even the house burger was good at a medium (they won’t do medium-rare, as with a growing number of joints around). We’ll keep checking back in to see how things progress and have a review down the road. It’s a beer bar and restaurant for now- we’re told liquor is in the works. General Manager Devin Roberts was making the rounds, welcoming everyone. He says they’re putting a big emphasis on making it a family joint. In Joelton that will mean a lot. Plenty of people head into town for dinner and a drink because the bars in Joelton are primarily watering holes (gruff and loveable watering holes).

Top of the Hill
5432 Clarksville Highway
Whites Creek
Facebook page

Derby Party

Veggie Eater: Nothing says Kentucky Derby Party like Middle Eastern food and Moscow Mules; at least that was my vision for this year’s wing ding. This idea was hatched during my first visit to Shish Kabob Restaurant several months ago. Following that visit, we made our way to Suvlav International Market next door and I found myself like a kid in the candy store wandering with wide-eyed wonder and wanting to try everything they had in the deli case. Our annual Kentucky Derby Party gave me the perfect opportunity to do just this. It also gave me another excuse to eat at Shish Kabob.

Accompanying me on this journey was my mom from Connecticut, in Nashville for a visit. As always, the meal starts with complimentary soup, feta, cilantro, and flat bread. Mom stated the Greek chicken soup was delightful, as was her lamb shank. My falafel was out of this world, again.

Next door, we literally bought every single version of feta available (Bulgarian, French, Turkish, and just plain feta) as well as each version of torshi (pickled veggies). The flat bread had just come out of the oven and was still warm. The helpful and attentive clerk (we had to keep letting her cash people out because our order just kept increasing) asked us, “Are you having some sort of an International party or something?” and I replied, “No, this is our version of a Kentucky Derby Party,” and she just giggled. Everyone at the party loved experimenting with the torshi (much of our friend base is ex-Wisconsin Cheeseheads and love all things pickled) and fetas. Least favorite feta: Turkish (dry, not much flavor). The favorite feta: Bulgarian (creamy, pungent). If you haven’t been to Shish Kabob Restaurant or Suvlav, you need to put it on your “To Do” list.

Cooper’s Brunch

We returned for the Cooper’s on Porter brunch last weekend and found it to be excellent, once again.

The occasion was Mother’s Day and Katie’s mom was digging her corned beef hash. I have to say the steak and eggs may be one of the best versions in town. A thick-cut steak comes out perfectly medium-rare, juicy and covered in melting truffle butter. Scrambled eggs are wonderfully creamy and the hash browns hit the spot. The Veggie Eater remarked that the egg and cheese sandwich was elevated by the thick, toasted wheat bread. Still no liquor available from what we can see. They offer a sake Bloody Mary and a Shandy (cider and orange juice) for brunch drinking needs. Head to the deck for sunny brunching or stay inside the dark, cool confines if you had a little bit too much to drink the night before.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sax Deli

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Sax Deli
260 West Main Street

Update 7/12: Sax Deli has moved down the street to the City Square shopping center on West Main Street. They tell us they have much more room now, which they have needed for some time.

Restaurant simplicity: attention to every ingredient and attention to every customer. If you stay focused it’s a pretty good business model and one that seems to be working for Sax Deli in Hendersonville. It’s in a location that is easy to overlook. The mini strip mall is tucked away, just off of Main Street, and has hosted a revolving door of eateries. Make a point of finding it- Sax Deli knows how to do sandwiches.

The house made corned beef is super-tender and pairs well with the house made Russian dressing for the Sax Reuben. Provence marble-rye bread, Swiss cheese and quality sauerkraut are all pressed just right into an excellent sandwich. The hot brown Panini is more sandwich than the traditional Kentucky creation. It works, thanks to crunchy bacon, a light parmesan cheese spread and smoked turkey. The wheat berry bread is also well pressed for a warm consistency. The Sax Burger is a thick 1/3 pound patty on a brioche-style bun. It’s a simple, juicy backyard burger in the finest tradition.

Sides get attention at Sax as well. The baked beans are exceptional and full of complex spice and what seems to be brown sugar. The French onion soup is so loaded with bread and cheese that it is almost hard to call a soup, and yet it has a deep, rich flavor, quite frankly surprising for a deli. The rough-cut thin and crispy French fries come in a paper bag and are a highlight of any visit. Even Cole slaw is a bit different than what you might expect: light and with a subtle tang.

Veggie Eater: Given the fact that the menu has really only one veggie sandwich item, aptly named the Veggie Sandwich, I opted for this. It is chock full of lettuce, cukes, avocado, tomatoes, onions, and provolone. The hearty wheatberry bread is then smeared lightly with a chipotle spread. Pair this with the hand cut fries and you have a fabulous, simple lunch. I’m pretty sure if you wanted to alter an existing meat sub on the menu to make it a veggie version that they would be happy to accommodate. A few more veggie menu items or a make your own option would make this more veggie friendly.

Meat Eater: Service is welcoming, attentive and fast. The little place has only six tables and take-out is a big part of the business. Still, it’s kind of fun eating with a bustling lunch service going on all around you. Okay, now for my only complaint: Sax Deli has perhaps one of the worst restaurant websites I have ever witnessed. Please do not visit the website before you visit the restaurant- the pictures of the food are some generic pictures an amateur web designer found online. It does not do the business justice in the least. Take the trip to Hendersonville and get a sandwich. The rest will speak for itself.

We paid $16 with tax on a lunch visit for two. I paid $10 on one solo lunch and $7 on another solo visit.

Sax Deli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Flood Recovery Party

Many Nashville and Tennessee residents marked the anniversary of the May flood with an event this week. We can't think of a better way to celebrate recovery than visiting the newly rehabbed house of friends and then settling in with a Yazoo beer and some great food. Doug and Jennifer invited us to their flood recovery party in Old Hickory and it turned out to be one heck of a food and drink day. Let's start with the beverages: five different types of Yazoo in growlers and a mini-keg. Homemade white wine with a Riesling-like snap and Sangria that had been steeped for days. And then came the food: pizza stone pizza, carefully cooked for a perfect crust, with homemade dough and toppings; oysters and shrimp literally packed in a cooler and driven from Florida straight to curbside; a fruit torte from Milan, tangy rough-cut slaw..we could go on. For a few hours this particular driveway may have been one of the better restaurants in town. We appreciate the invitation and the opportunity to share the occasion.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chago’s Cantina

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Chago’s Cantina
2015 Belmont Blvd.

The Belmont restaurant row is packed with establishments, shoulder to shoulder, in the short stretch on Belmont Blvd. On a sunny weekend it’s a fine venue for strollers, joggers and dining al fresco. Chago’s Cantina is a good fit for the neighborhood. And while the menu may seem full of Mexican standards at first glance, if you take a closer look there are some rewarding differences.

Shade is a priority and summer diners will appreciate the awnings over the two patio spaces. Inside, the dining room is festive enough. Tunes on the stereo range from alternative rock on one visit to vintage Latin pop music on another. This is already a popular spot for happy hour and the bar is well stocked to accommodate. Small batch bourbons and fine tequilas await.

Our first visit took in the menu standards. The dip sampler proffers an average white queso, fresh guacamole with a nice onion crunch, uninspired pico de gallo, and what they call Mexican hummus (sure, why not). The free, smoky salsa, with what tastes to be roasted peppers, outshines them all. The carne asada burrito has juicy, seasoned beef, guacamole and onion. The toasted tortilla is a nice touch. Black beans elevate the usual frijoles and the rice is studded with corn and peas. On this visit everything seems a bit skimpy in portion size for price.

On the second visit we’re determined to explore the more interesting parts of the menu and we’re glad we did. While the first visit left us less than excited, the second trip was an entirely different meal. We start with the mofongo, made of mashed sweet plantains, which yield a sweeter and tastier version of the Caribbean classic. Curtido slaw is quite vinegary with inventive herb touches. The fajita de pina is a real spectacle on the table: it’s a pineapple split in half and stuffed full of meat, peppers and onions. The pulled pork is excellent: rich, smoky and with enough bark to give it some texture. It’s one of the better fajita grill-ups I have had in Nashville, with everything is given taste bud vibrancy thanks to chunks of pineapple. The sweet and succulent combo works perfectly.

Veggie Eater: The Chago’s menu is solicitous enough to have a Vegetarian section and details of vegan options. The menu also uses a plant like “V” symbols to delineate veggie options scattered throughout the general menu, as well. This being said, our first visit was not fantastic. We were in fact greeted at the door, by a person who questioned why we were there and was not sure that they were in fact open. We went back outside, looked at the hours posted, and pointed the employee in the same direction. The dip sampler wasn’t very interesting or original. I ordered the Chile Relleno, I thought from the veggie menu, but apparently in fact from the a la carte section. The relleno itself was tasty; it was roasted, not fried, stuffed with black beans and rice, and topped with queso and a poblano cream sauce. It was good, but seemed a bit stingy at $8. Again, there was some confusion as the a la carte price was in fact $5 (still seems a little stingy). To mitigate our feelings on our first trip, there was fantastic music: Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Dandy Warhols. The first visit left me feeling as if I would not come back, were it not to give it a fair shake on the blog.

What I really wanted on my second visit was a combo platter, so I could experience several different items. For whatever reason, this is not possible with the veggie items. The waitress said that I could make my own version of a combo platter, with the veggie enchiladas plate and a Taco Dos al a carte. It was too much food for one meal, but ample enough for two. The enchiladas were stuffed with spinach and beans, then topped with cheese and rojo sauce. The menu indicates that there is a choice of rojo or verde sauce, though I don’t remember being given a choice (would have opted verde). I had a hard time discerning any beans through all of the spinach. The Taco Dos is a thing of beauty: whole fried chick peas, roasted mushrooms, and freshly sautéed spinach topped in a poblano cream. The chick peas have just a bit of firmness from frying, which pairs well with the spinach. The mushrooms lend a wonderful earthiness. After the second visit, I left wondering what I would order on my next visit. I really appreciate a veggie menu which is not limited to rice and bean combinations.

Meat Eater: Those veggie options are really appreciated. It makes dining for us mixed-marriage types much easier. There are plenty of other interesting menu items to bring us back for future visits. We hope they continue to be creative and open up the menu to more pan-Hispanic influences. We paid $39 with tax and tip one on visit and $38 on another.

Chago's Cantina on Urbanspoon