Sunday, January 29, 2012
731 McFerrin Avenue
Popularity can be a double-edged sword. It’s something that every new restaurant craves. And yet, there’s value in being able to start your business slowly, work out the kinks quietly and then build steam. The foodie buzz induced steam had already built to a whistling head when the Pharmacy Burger Parlor and Beer Garden opened its doors in December. The East Nashville spot is packing hungry customers in daily and nightly. The management and staff probably haven’t had much quiet time for reflection and yet they’re handling the fame quite well. People need to cut them some slack about long wait times and an evolving menu. It’s just the first month of business. With the veteran leadership of Terrell Raley and his brother Trent, they will do just fine. Our experiences were excellent.
There’s a good reason for the popularity. The combination of ice cream parlor, burger joint and beer garden is a hipster dream and yet it’s a wide-swath of humanity coming through those doors. There are three distinct spaces: bar/dining room, covered and heated patio and the large beer garden. All together it’s a large restaurant and one can imagine that come good weather there could easily be 200 people at once. There’s also plenty of value in an adult establishment that is kid friendly. Order up a mug of Belgian beer and a delightfully messy burger and enjoy them in the grassy beer garden. Let the kids run around a bit in the safety of a fenced-in environment. Fourteen picnic tables provide plenty of seating. We’re proud to say we put in the inaugural beer garden order. During the summer months, with strings of white lights illuminating the space in the sultry evening air, it’s sure to be prime real estate for good times. Oh, and starting at 9 p.m. the Pharmacy is adults only.
The burgers are getting much of the attention thus far. They come in creative combinations and that’s always appreciated. There was one immediate issue that has caused consternation. In the first weeks they would only cook the burgers at one temperature: medium. That always annoys me, and yet it’s becoming much more common as food safety worries trump taste. Lately, we hear they have been letting customers order them medium-rare and that’s a real victory. They use locally raised beef and thankfully the burgers are still reasonably juicy even at medium. The Stroganoff Burger piles on decadent mushroom béchamel sauce, sour cream and Swiss cheese. The floury and squishy buns are made by Provence breads and melt into the sauce for good effect. The Farm Burger is messy, and rather wonderful, from the get-go thanks to runny egg, bacon and maple mustard. The Mission Burger was well-received and piled high with black beans, guacamole, pico de gallo and the unlikely horchata crema fresca. Cheese choices that include Maytag blue and goat cheese are always appreciated. You can also pick and choose the toppings to create your own burger indulgence.
The big surprise for us was the wurstchen (German sausage) side of the menu. They make their own sausage at the Pharmacy and we found the result to be quite good. You can order a sampler platter with your choice of three versions. Our dining companions Scott and Lisa appreciated the execution: nicely grilled for a bit of char and yet tender and juicy. The Bockwurst combo of beef and pork simmered in dark beer was awesome. Bauernwurst was a treat and the paprika-topped Currywurst hit the spot. You can get a variety of serious and creative mustards and sauces to accompany and we would recommend trying a number of them for both wursten and the sides. Curry ketchup, horseradish mustard and beer gravy would be a good way to start.
Sides are undergoing some changes, thanks to quick reaction from management. Our maiden voyage found average, if crispy, thin French fries. Some folks have complained that they’re not up to the standards of the rest of the menu. Just a few weeks later management announced that they are doing hand-cut potato and sweet potato fries. Tater tots are always fun to see on a menu. On our initial outing they had much the same effect as the first version of fries: not bad, but not up to the menu standards. Word is they are considering some changes there as well. German potato salad is simple, mellow and has a nice balance of seasoning.
The final element of the vision of this restaurant is the soda fountain. The interior decorating itself is part-soda fountain and part-bar and thus provides the name for the joint. An egg cream soda with Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup (a New York tradition) is a high-quality and fizzy version of chocolate milk. A Rickey does better with more precise flavors thanks to lemon syrups and bubbly phosphate soda. They serve Pied Piper Creamery ice cream, mixing up malts and ice cream fountain drinks. At four bucks a pop the sodas may seem a bit expensive. Once again, management has responded with the promise of a $1 refill.
The drink prices will also cause a bit of conversation in regards to the unique beer selection. $4 buys you a relatively tiny glass of beer, with $6 being the average price for a mug. If you’re drinking at the Pharmacy you may be racking up a bill more closely resembling fine dining. It is an interesting beer line-up, which changes often. They seem to be consciously picking beers that you don’t see in many other places in town and certainly Belgian and German influences rule. What better to pair with that wurstchen?
Veggie Eater: There are a few limited veggie friendly options here, namely a falafel sandwich and homemade black bean burger. I sampled both during my visits. The falafel sandwich was a giant patty that was a bit of a sloppy affair to eat as a sandwich. The exterior was herby and crispy, but the interior was a bit cakey and lacked texture and flavor. It’s topped with crema, Noble Farm’s goat cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce. The blank bean burger suffers from gigantism as well; you really need a fork to tackle this monster due to the size and crumbly texture. You can dress up your burger any way you desire and I opted for a Tex Mex variation with chunky guac, crema, and cheese. On our first visit, we were the first patrons to christen the beer garden. Sadly, on our second visit, the first three beers I ordered from the menu were either out or no longer stocked…we did eventually get all of that worked out. The menu is decidedly meat heavy, but I’m sure I can be coaxed back with a promise of a big beer in the beer garden once the weather begins to improve and hopefully they will be fully stocked with the libations listed on the menu.
Meat Eater: The Pharmacy has been well-staffed at each of our two visits. While it’s clear that staff is still settling in to a groove, they’re enthusiastic and they hustle. You may find yourself waiting for a table if you hit them at peak. Also folks need to be aware that they shut down in between lunch and dinner service for a couple of hours, so be sure to visit the Facebook page to check on the hours before you come.
The Pharmacy sits next door to the other Raley enterprise the Holland House. With Mas Tacos across the street it’s creating a mini-restaurant district in up and coming Greenwood neighborhood. Our two experiences were both relaxing and fun and that’s a great way for a restaurant to get started. We’re doing this review early and there will probably be plenty of changes in the future. We’re doing the review now because we’re entirely confident that this restaurant will continue the excitement of the opening weeks and carry on to become a Nashville standard.
Okay, now for the obligatory food reviewer clichés that we could have put in this review, but decided to leave out:
- It’s clear that the Pharmacy has a prescription for success.
-If you’re feeling under the weather, the Pharmacy can fix you up with a burger and a beer in the sunshine.
-Who needs Oxycontin when you have ice cream, beer and burgers?
We paid $46 with tax and tip on one visit and had so much food and beer on visit two that we didn’t even bother getting the total.