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.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Willie Mae’s Barbecue
200 8th Avenue East
Barbecue eaters know that to get the good stuff you often have to forage well outside the city limits. Willie Mae’s Barbecue in Springfield provides another good reason for a ‘cue road trip. They’re smoking some of the better barbecue this eater has sampled in the Nashville area.
The restaurant is located just off the court house square in Springfield. You can’t miss that smoke; it permeates the place and gives the joint a true barbecue atmosphere. The bluegrass/country themed decorating is simple road house barbecue style and yet clean and inviting. That smoke will pull you right up to the counter. It’s a familiar menu of pork, brisket, sausage, turkey and chicken. The hickory smoke and Texas-style dry rub provide great flavor.
They cook ribs up each day and they’re beauties: skillfully cut with a nice char on each side. The thick rub is mellow and compliments the ribs well. You don’t need sauce, but if you indulge the sweet red is a solid tomato-based treat. The mustard sauce is vinegary and spicy. The ribs were excellent, but the brisket proved to be the revelation. On this day it’s incredibly moist and tender, and if that holds true on other visits it’s some of the better in the area. The pulled pork has a lighter smoke and while very moist needs just a little sauce to kick it up a notch. There are bits of bark and the dry rub once again works well. They serve the sandwiches piled high on thick Texas toast. It’s not my favorite barbecue sandwich choice. It seems that squishy buns do a much better job of soaking up the juices. It’s still a fine sandwich.
It’s always cool to see a barbecue joint that takes sides seriously. The hand-cut red cabbage slaw is creamy, vinegary and addictive. It has an excellent kick and might even keep the Veggie Eater happy in a barbecue joint (not that I’m brave enough to ask). Cakey corn bread is a welcome accompaniment to the meal. Traditional Mac and cheese was sticky and good. The green beans had very great flavor.
Kudos to Joe Tuten and Gail Norman for their fine new addition to the Nashville area barbecue scene. This will be my new go-to spot in Robertson County. Right now they’re only open weekdays for lunch. Check the Facebook page for updates; they have been considering extending hours. This review was originally scheduled to run weeks ago; however they had an electrical fire in the pit that caused major problems. We decided to hold off until they were open again. We’re happy to report that Willie Mae’s is back up and running.
I paid $13 with tax and tip on one visit and $11 on another visit.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Joey’s House of Pizza
897 Elm Hill Pike
Anyone worried about the new Joey’s House of Pizza location pulling in customers can rest easy. Joey has brought his regulars up from Brentwood and is garnering a new fan base for the lunch spot just off Fesslers Lane and I-40. While some have worried that it isn’t near any real neighborhoods, it is just a quick hop from downtown. Errands necessitate an early lunch one day, so I arrive at 10:50 a.m. and there are already three other cars waiting. When I leave at 11:26 a.m. every parking spot is filled and the dining room is packed. Don’t let that deter you. Joey and his crack staff keep things moving quickly.
We never made it to the Brentwood location, so we can’t compare. The new layout is a long serving line with trays full of traditional American-Italian favorites, such as chicken parmigiana, baked ziti, lasagna and spaghetti. They have several salad options, including giardineria and antipasta. Then you hit the pizza rolls, laid out for inspection and ready to be popped in the oven. Joey’s has several pizzas ready to go by the slice, or you can put in a custom order. They do a big take-out business and if you want an entire pie it would be best to call it in. That said, the dining room is a fine place to eat your lunch. It’s a sleek, modern black and grey decor and the bottle cap bar stools add just the right touch of fun.
The double crust slices are an entire meal in one. The Gladiator is a thick combo of pepperoni, sausage and mozzarella. It’s layered once, topped with another thin crust and then layered again. Somehow they manage to keep that crust super-crispy, even with the mammoth topping spread. The massive slice is a greasy treat. The crust for the pizzas is some of the better in the Nashville area with just the right balance of floppy and crispy. The pizza rolls are baked super-crispy as well. The spinach version features fresh spinach, which still has life. A little sweet ricotta and stringy mozzarella bring it all together. The light and tangy marinara on the side is perfect for dipping. The calzone may seem similar to the pizza roll, but it’s puffier, enclosed and filled with more of that sweet ricotta than its cousin. The Joey’s Specialty version combines herby meatballs, savory sausage, chicken and spinach.
Even the salads get respect at Joey’s. The house is nicely dressed with a generous dousing of smooth balsamic. Fresh greens, black olives, green olives and a sprinkling of oregano make it a good starter. The pasta salad hits the spot as well with big pieces of sundried tomato.
Veggie Eater: As with most Italian pizza joints, if you are an ovo-lacto vegetarian, you have plenty of choices. There’s pasta, eggplant parm, salads, calzones, pizza rolls, and yes, of course, pizza. Granted, the same ingredients show up in different configurations, but those staple ingredients make for infinite combinations. I opted for the standard cheese slice and found the pizza a tad bit thicker than the NJ/NY styles I’m accustomed to. The crust is more crispy than floppy. The tomato sauce is a sprightly affair which balances well with the mixed cheeses on top. I’ll happily dash in here for a meal to sample the other goods when I am in this neck of the woods. It’s especially enjoyable to watch the entire family working the line, the interactions between customers and owners, and the even handed way they deal with lunch time stressors (to go order—man is handed two slices of whatever type of pizza he had ordered via phone; problem is he ordered two pizzas, not two pieces…not to worry, they still got him out the door in quick order).
Meat Eater: The finale at one meal is a flaky, crumbly and utterly decadent calzone. It’s so completely fresh that the memory lingers far after it is gone. Here’s wishing Joey the best of luck in the new location. It looks like he’s going to stay busy.
We paid $22 with tax and tip on one visit and I paid $14 on a solo trip.
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Nashville Restaurants and Food
Pharmacy First Look
We broke in the Pharmacy beer garden this weekend. A sunny Saturday prompted the Veggie Eater to insist on outside seating and the staff promptly informed us that we were the first. Folks quickly joined us as the new East Nashville eatery filled up. It’s a terrific outdoor space and perfect for letting kids run around, which a couple of families were trying out. It’s safe to say this place is going to be a hit. An eclectic, high-end beer selection and creative burger combos are just two reasons to visit. In the warmer months that beer garden may be one of the best places in Nashville to spend an evening al fresco. It’s a huge, green, terraced space with 14 large picnic tables. It’s opening week and the popularity is probably tough for a new spot. With the experience of the ownership they’ll be fine. A falafel burger and stroganoff burger proved to be a great introduction to the place. We’ll be back for German sausages and the much talked-about, house-made soda treats. We’ll have a review soon. Visit their Facebook page for updates and to keep in touch about hours. A reminder: they close after lunch at 2:30 p.m. to get ready for dinner, opening again at 4 p.m.
731 McFerrin Street
Sunday, January 1, 2012
2905 12th Avenue South
It’s not unusual for a successful owner/chef to start a new restaurant. Jeremy Barlow of Tayst certainly has the credentials and reputation in Nashville to start a new joint. What’s cool is that he is tackling a whole new concept in the process. The focus of his new 12 South sandwich joint Sloco is quality, locally sourced food, served quickly. Barlow describes it as his vision for what “fast food” can be.
Sloco is a narrow space and that doesn’t leave much room for dining. They have seating for about 8 or 10 people at a sliver of a counter. But Sloco is primarily designed for take-out. The neighborhood seems to have embraced the concept. The restaurant put a call out for cool lunchboxes and people have responded. Witness the array of cartoon and movie boxes displayed above the prep area. We’re there when a woman brings in a Star Wars lunchbox that stops the sandwich making for a moment as everyone oohs and ahs. The joy in that little exchange shows the connection that Sloco has already built with neighbors and visitors alike. It’s a comfortable and warm vibe.
Sandwiches come wrapped in brown paper for recycling. Pick a re-purposed tomato jar to fill a glass of water, sometimes flavored with herbs or whatever strikes their fancy. Tayst has been at the forefront of the environmentally responsible, locally sourced food movement for some time now. At Sloco the effort means that you’ll find seasonal, locally grown and raised ingredients. We arrived at chicken roasting time and the aroma was magnificent. Mustards and other sauces are house-made. They bake their own bread in house and take great care in selecting ingredients.
The menu is simple: just 12 sandwiches. The Pastrami is juicier and mellower than the usual and given little bursts of extra flavor with a unique pickled relish and micro herbs. The chewy roll is sized just right. It’s not a huge sandwich and some have complained about price versus portions. We found the portion size to be just right for lunch and we’ll trade quality over quantity any day. The $8 for the pastrami feels like a fair deal. The Redneck Reuben substitutes pork and slaw for the corned beef and kraut. The pork is corned, and yet subtly so. The slaw proves tangy and melds well with the pork.
There are three vegetarian options on the menu and all three appear to be vegan. The Slow Roasted Veggie sandwich is served on thick, herbed multi-grain bread which is really good but rather overwhelms the delicate marinated veggies. There’s enticing flavors there, just not well-balanced in this particular construction.
Veggie Eater: As noted above, Sloco had three veggie dedicated sandwiches when we visited and I opted for the Vegan Meatball. The balls are nutty and spiked with little pearls of red quinoa, and topped with a creamy vegan daiya mozzarella. The sauce is sprightly and accented with minced fresh parsley. It’s a filling and satisfying affair. The “dining” area is bedecked with posters espousing their philosophy about locally sourced food, in reasonable portions, for realistic prices. It’s a great place to duck in for a quick meal, stock up on left over mason jars, and take in the rapport between staff and patrons.
Meat Eater: The crumbly cookies are worthy deserts in either chocolate chip (huge chunks of chocolate) or peanut butter. Right now sides are limited to avocado oil potato chips and pickles. We appreciate the simple menu, but perhaps one day they’ll add more sides to the menu. We would be excited to taste what Barlow and friends cook up.
We paid $22 with tax and tip on one visit and $16 on another visit.