Sunday, October 30, 2011
5821 Charlotte Pike
You gotta love the restaurant business. One moment you have a truly memorable restaurant name and in the next moment it’s been switched, and in this case for something less controversial. We speak here of the short-lived Ifuku. Owner Nicole Tran came up with the unforgettable name after taking over the former Pho Yen Hoa location on Charlotte Pike. While many of us were amused, apparently the folks at the Head Start children’s center across the street were not fans. The wait staff tells us that the complaints prompted the name change to Hieu Giang. If you haven’t heard of Ifuku and think we are crazy you can still visit their Facebook page.
Alright, so our first reason to visit was the funny name. That much is in the past and now it’s time to size-up Hieu Giang for the food. The menu provides a bit of a mystery and worry. The house specials include Greek salad, chicken kabob, fajitas, Kung Pao chicken and Caesar salad. That’s an around the world whirlwind that is likely to give you whiplash. Most of the menu is in fact Vietnamese and this review will stay mostly within those parameters (not that we don’t occasionally get a hankering for shish kabob and Mongolian beef). This isn’t one of those crazed buffet places, but simply a small restaurant trying to please a lot of different tastes.
The pho is actually quite good here. It’s a rich broth with perfect al-dente noodles. Beef and even the well-done flank steak are perfectly cooked, remaining tender, even well into the meal. A fried tofu starter is light, custardy and has a sweet breading and a sprig of mint. They make up a special batch of shrimp only Goi Cuon spring rolls on request. The rice paper wrapping is stuffed full of fresh greens, lots of mint and a fresh shrimp. They’re fat and quite good with the hoisin peanut dipping sauce.
Bun Bo Hue is similar to pho in design, but much bolder, sporting a hot and spicy beef broth and vermicelli noodles. Once again, the pork slices are still tender in that soup. Mint and onions are piled on top. They certainly do dig the mint thing here
Veggie Eater: There are a few items which appear veggie friendly on the menu, though there is a bit of a language barrier, so proceed with caution. First time out was the Bun Tao Hu, which touts thin vermicelli patties served with tofu on the menu. I had nothing in a patty form, but did have standard vermicelli noodles. The noodles topped a variety of cold, crisp veggies, such as onions, sprouts, carrots, cukes and radish. Peanuts and mint garnished the noodles and little tofu rectangles were scattered about. Simple and fresh. Next time around there appeared to be even more limitations with the English spoken, so I tried to pick something that looked fail-safe veggie. So, despite Meat Eater’s promises above, I did in fact ordered the Ma Po Tofu, a traditionally Szechuan dish. This affair was chock full of well-cooked and seasoned broccoli, in addition to crispy and savory tofu. I am used to Ma Po as having a bit of Szechuan kick, and this version was mild and without much punch. Nothing a little Sriracha sauce couldn’t remedy. It was actually better day two for lunch after all the flavors had a chance to meld. Other things of note: the women’s bathroom was a bit alarming; lights didn’t work, stall didn’t have a door, and door didn’t lock. Also, on our second visit, it was relatively calm, but our server disappeared from the dining area for 20+ minutes, leaving with us no way to retrieve the check or get a to-go box. Not sure I’ll be rushing back.
Meat Eater: Not much of a change in décor. It’s nearly the exact same interior at the previous joint. Dinner on a Friday night shows the place to be virtually empty, so hopefully things will pick up for them. The name may no longer be amusing, but the food is worth a stop.
We paid $30 with tax and tip on one visit and $28 on another visit.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
117 2nd Avenue North
When it comes to new downtown eateries, we’re always hoping for the best. Tourist land doesn’t have to mean mediocre food. However, it often does. There are a few Broadway and Second Avenue joints that rise above the rest. They’re in the definite minority. So when Mulligan’s closed we watched developments closely. At first blush it didn’t sound promising. The other ventures from these owners are fairly typical boring twenty-something cookie cutter places in Nashville. Benchmark may appear cut of the same tired cloth on entering. The band playing in the window. The waitresses dressed ready for a battle with the Hooters girls. Open the menu though and you find a few surprises. Wisconsin fried cheese curds anyone? That certainly got our attention and you know what? They were pretty darn good: salty, stringy and with a light fry and a little squeak on biting into the cheese (that sounds weird- it’s the sign of good curds). The horseradish dipping sauce on the side worked well.
Intrigued and hopeful, we ventured further into the menu. Another menu twist is section with skewers of meat, chicken, shrimp or veggies, which are served hanging from a cumbersome gyro-like contraption that is a bit overblown. The big surprise here was the tofu option. I’ll let the Veggie Eater handle that side of things. The house salad with tangy house made blue cheese was good, loaded up with fresh greens. Sweet potato fries are rather typical with a hint of cinnamon. A bacon burger ordered medium comes out quite rare, a bit of a concern, especially for those with food borne illness worries. I am fairly open to the risk and find that it has great flavor, served with a big purple onions slice and sweet barbecue sauce. That first visit goes well. They had a ton of staff on hand and plenty of sports on TVs. Even the live band seemed to work.
We waited on the next visit for several weeks. Unfortunately, the tourist serving mentality appears to have set in with the servers on this night. Our favorite was an argument over the menu. It showed the Philly Cheesesteak Quesadilla as coming with one side. Fair enough. I order mac and cheese and the bartender says that will be an extra $1.50. I point to the menu. It says one side. She gives me a deer in the headlights look and keeps saying she’s sorry but it comes with fries. I don’t care about a lousy $1.50. It’s just seemed like a bit of a rip-off, the type of thing you might do to… well, tourists. Anyway, we put that aside and spring for the extra $1.50 and of course the plate arrives with fries. We are out of fight and now watching a ballgame. Those fries are crispy enough if unremarkable. The cheesesteak quesadilla is a bit bland, suffering from a general lack of seasoning. The crunchy peppers do appear to be fresh and a little seasoning would make it a decent dish. Service is generally off on this visit. The staff is numerous, but folks appear distracted. Perhaps they’re gearing up for a busy night and saving their energy. We watch the Brewers win a fantastic game five of the NLDS and leave happy (we know- Milwaukee baseball goes downhill from here).
Veggie Eater: I must admit that I was quite effusive in my praise after visit number one, but somewhat more cynical after visit number two. The reason for my high spirits after the first visit was the option of veggie and/or tofu skewers that made for real veggie treat. Big chunks of tofu are served in a slightly sweet sesame sauce, skewered with pineapple and peppers and serviced with a giant bed of turmeric rice. There are a variety of dipping sauces to top off your roasting bits however you like it. The skewers were well cooked and it was nice to have a veggie option that is not limited to the usual fried fatty platter fare. Next visit, as noted above, was not quite so wonderful. I opted for the nachos and found them to be a bit flat. The queso was not much more than the Rotel version, the chips were not warm. It was topped with a heap of chiffonaded leaf lettuce, which I found a bit odd. The guac was a bit more interesting, as it seemed to be generously seasoned with cumin. They have recently added breakfast and I might just have to give it another shake.
Meat Eater: I think they have a fairly creative chef and we’ll be interested to see how the food holds up. Benchmark could be a decent go-to spot for the locals if they want to be. They just need to settle in and put the emphasis on quality. If you market for tourists you just try to get as much out of them as you can. They leave, and you don’t have to worry about a repeat visit. Working for locals takes a bit more effort. I would imagine it would do well for Benchmark to appeal to both.
We paid $45 with tax and tip on one visit and $60 with several drinks for another.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Cori’s Dog House
106 29th Avenue North
The bun or the wiener? The toppings or the dog? It’s easy to get into a fight with hot dog fanatics. Dog fans have their priorities and often those preferences collide. And then there are the many different styles: Chicago, Sonoran, Coney, Chili; it seems like everyone has a favorite. The new Cori’s Doghouse location in the West End falls into the big bun/mongo toppings side of things. They solve the topping battle by offering just about every possibility imaginable: 39 of them on the Nashville menu by my count. The choices span the country and get regional. Pick Arizona for an approximation of a Sonoran dog with bacon and jalapenos, or settle into Boston for a “Nor’easter” with maple baked beans.
It all starts with the buns and these babies are big ‘uns. They appear to be New England style buns, the type used at lobster shacks to hold a ton of stuff. They’re tall, doughy, slightly sweet and grilled nicely. They put those big buns to use by loading up the toppings to an absurd degree. For some folks, that may fly in the face of tradition. There’s no reason you can’t order your dog more reasonably topped. I enjoyed the topping craziness myself.
The dogs are good all-beef versions. You can multiply your options by trying a brat, Polish, andouille or Italian sausage with any combo you desire. Best of all the meat eaters can take a Veggie Eater along. Cori’s offers a veggie dog, vegan polish and vegan Italian. When combined with the veggie options for toppings, it leaves the Veggie Eater with an absurd number of combinations. That’s a nice development on a Friday night after a couple of beers.
I can barely lift the Arizona dog; it’s piled high with bacon, tomato, onion, cheese, mustard, salsa and jalapenos. It takes a couple of bites to actually reach dog. It proves thick and juicy. The Memphis has an interesting tang with the Cole slaw. The Alabama, with a juicy brat this time, features decent sticky chili and high-grade kraut. The Hawaiian is a bit much with the sweet pineapple and mango relish. The Italian sausage though, is quite good.
Veggie Eater: I know, I know…what is the point of a veggie dog? The point is this: if you happen to be a Meat Eater married to a vegetarian, you can call a truce. The good news here is that there are plenty of choices. Many versions are veggie friendly here. The Michigan offers sautéed mushrooms, and your choice of cheese. I found my veggie dog to be a delightful meal. Add to this, fresh-cut French fries and addictive fried pickles and you truly have a reasonable compromise night-out for a Meat Eater and Veggie Eater.
Meat Eater: A big bonus for this Nashville location is the parking lot, which avoids the usual West End trolling for a space annoyance. It’s vivid red and yellow inside, so you won’t be falling asleep. They can roll up the garage door windows in nice weather, giving the big space some air, or you can take to the patio. The staff seems well-trained and quick. We didn’t wait more than a couple of minutes for our dogs to be ready.
I paid $11 for a solo visit and we paid $22 together and that brings a ton of food, much more than humanly needed. It’s one of the better cheap eats options in the West End.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Midweek: Frugal Barbecue
Most folks think of booze when you say Frugal MacDoogal. You can now add barbecue to that name, at least for festivals and such. The well-known Nashville liquor store has been making barbecue on the road lately, winning the People’s Choice award at the recent Nashville Barbecue Festival. They set up shop at Oktoberfest/Germantown Street Fest this weekend and that gave me the opportunity to check it out. It’s a pre-sauced pulled pork, a choice that usually leaves me less than enthusiastic. However, this isn’t your typical over-sauced tomato wash. The sauce is a rather unique set of flavors that gives the pork a huskier flavor. Pretty darn good. The baked beans on the side were also a treat helped along by chunks of smoky bacon. Not sure where you’ll see the Frugal barbecue set-up next, but keep your eyes open.
It was also a good day for the Germantown gem Lazzaroli Pasta. They won some new customers who popped into the store, including our friends who bought a bag filled with stuff. They were also selling a few items for lunch. I made room for their meatball sandwich, a fine alternative to the Oktoberfest sausages, which for whatever reason we have already been doing a lot of lately (oh, yeah…it’s Brewers and Packers season).
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Moore’s Famous Fried Chicken
115 Walton Ferry Road
This well-worn strip mall in Hendersonville has produced so many restaurants it’s hard to count. Most have come and gone in a flash. Lately though, two contenders have taken over and they seem to have staying power: Sax Deli and Moore’s Famous Fried Chicken. Both give reason for Nashvillians to make a road trip. I reviewed Sax a while back and now it’s time to investigate Moore’s. Owner Dave Moore loves to talk about football and fried foods. That’s a good combo in my book. His recipe is an across the board batter and fry method that is hot chicken in style, even if he doesn’t advertise it that way. Moore’s is building a real following of regulars. On one day, what seemed to be half the Hendersonville Fire Department filled the place and they all knew the menu by heart.
The recipe is a spicy, slightly sweet and relatively complex batter that works well for chicken and for fish. Start off with Original and you get an extremely flavorful piece of chicken, with perhaps a hint of cinnamon? You can kick up the spice level from there. Spicy has a nice heat, comparable to Prince’s mild. Hot would be a safe bet any day for most hot chicken eaters, and Mr. Moore would probably be willing to kick it up a notch above that if you ask. He marinades the chicken and fish and makes every batch to order. You’ll find juicy chicken in a huge breast quarter. The next visit calls for catfish and while the batter flavor is the same, the firm and tasty fish does give it a different twist.
The vinegar Cole slaw is cubed and chunky and the baked beans have an addictive smoky flavor. Fries prove to be the generic crinkle-cut version and the seasoning on top seems vaguely reminiscent of the spices in the chicken.
Be prepared for a conversation as you eat, depending on how busy they are. It’s a tiny storefront with just three tables and a TV. It’s comfortable enough for indoor dining, if you can find a seat. You can’t get anything like Moore’s in Hendersonville, so it may be the perfect match to get folks off of Main Street, taking a turn onto Walton Ferry and then an immediate left into the strip mall lot. Who knows what will pop up there in the future?
I paid $11 with tax and tip for fish and $11 for chicken.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Midweek: Stone House Q and Lucy’s Hummus
October rolled in unseasonably cool, making hot coffee a popular item at the West Nashville Farmers’ Market in Richland Park on Saturday. A few vendors were apparently taken off-guard and shivered in short sleeves. You could say they were doing brisk business. There is still plenty of produce to be had for the season including a bounty of gourds, mushrooms and the return of arugula.
The folks from Stone House Q were giving away samples of their pulled pork at the Farmers’ Market. It’s mellow pork, with a light smoke. The barbecue went well with samples of their corn light bread: tangy, cakey and quite good. They will be opening their restaurant on October 13. It’s located at 333 54th Avenue, just off of Charlotte and just down the street from Richland Park. They’ve been showing off the goods on their Facebook page. Those ribs certainly look good. I’ll be looking forward to tasting them soon.
Lucy’s Kitchen has been selling muffins, cakes and cheese cakes at the West Nashville Farmers’ Market this year. We bought some hummus and found it to be light, almost whipped in consistency, and very fresh-tasting. It seems a bit staid on first bite and then you find yourself going back for more and more. It’s really good. Lucy Rizzo is selling some stuff at Whole Foods. You can check out her website at http://www.lucyfood.com/
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Five Points Pizza
1012 Woodland Street
We’re not saying anything new here for folks in the Five Points neighborhood. They’re already well acquainted with Five Points Pizza and the joint has only been open for a month. Why the popularity? It’s a combination of quality food and a relaxed atmosphere. It’s also a restaurant of necessity. Five Points has needed this type of spot for some time.
It’s a long and narrow room, Spartan and yet stylish. They have big wood booths and plenty of seating. The menu is simple and straightforward. Start with the garlic knots: buttery, salty, crispy and cheesy rolls. Continue with a salad. They have four choices and each one comes out in an overflowing bowl full of fresh greens. The house salad has big slices of raw white mushrooms, olives and our choice of a good balsamic dressing. The spinach is snapping fresh in the gorgonzola salad. Walnuts, mushrooms, red onion and dried cherries round out the personality.
Five Points prides itself on producing the N.Y. style pizza that has just begun to emerge here in recent years. Their take is a wide and flat slice with a thin, crisp crust that has a chewy finish. It’s not as thin as what you might get in a typical N.Y. pizza joint, but it’s quite good. You can order by the slice or in a 14 inch or 18 inch pie. A little experimentation shows that the pepperoni slice is quite foldable and that’s an important characteristic of N.Y. style pizza. A solid tomato sauce and well-chosen herbs give the pie some zip. A cheese slice is just as satisfying- basic but good. The Old World pizza is a simple blend of fresh mozzarella and basil. Once again the herbs elevate the pizza. The crusts have been ranging on our visits from a bit chewy to quite crispy, with the Veggie Eater preferring the chewy and vice-versa. We get the Bianca white pizza on one visit and find it nicely crispy with fresh mozzarella and ricotta. The waiter convinces us to get prosciutto on one side of the pizza and it is good advice. This isn’t fancy pizza by any means. It’s very good pizzeria pizza. The paper plates and napkins reflect the philosophy well.
Five Points has a good draft and bottled beer line-up with many local favorites and a few twists to keep things interesting. The well-trained staff seems to have service down to an art, even in the first weeks. The only issue may be with the popularity of the place. We saw 14 pies go out in a fifteen minute time span. Thankfully, the take-out situation has been managed carefully. Visit their Facebook page for the latest. As of this writing, they were restricting the take-out hours to avoid jamming up the kitchen. There seems to be an emphasis on the dining room as the top priority.
Veggie Eater: This place buoys my spirits about the pizza scene in Nashville. It was slim pickings eight years ago when we moved here, and in my opinion, we now have at least three respectable options in town to choose from (you’ll have to look at older blogs to figure out what the other two are and I refuse to rank them for fear of the ensuing squabbling) (we actually just had a fight regarding which is which…I would say five respectable options-M.E.). We’ve had a reader point out that the pies seem a bit pricey in comparison to the other well regarded joints in town (as well as in comparison to New York and New Jersey pizzerias). That may be true, but the salads and garlic knots seem very well priced for the portions offered and there is always the option of mixing and matching individual slices if you don’t want to mortgage your home to buy a large pizza. I found the crust thin, but a bit too crispy to achieve the delicate balance of floppy and foldable. Ingredients used are high quality and applied lovingly and with restraint, so all the elements can be tasted. Many of the pizzas sport fresh herbs, which complement the tomato sauce and other ingredients (especially the fresh mozz and ricotta). On both of our visits, our servers were attentive, knowledgeable, and down-right darling (both male and female variations). Five Points Pizza provides a wonderful after-bar restaurant option for a neighborhood which sadly, despite many great bar options, has been lacking in really good food options.
Meat Eater: 70’s tunes pumping out on the stereo. An eclectic mix of East Nashville residents. Five Points Pizza already seems like a fixture in the neighborhood. It’s comfortable and well-settled. We’ll be back soon.
We paid $40 with tax and tip on one visit and $42 on another visit.