Sunday, June 24, 2012

Al-Quds

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Al-Quds
Inside A and H Food
1104 Murfreesboro Pike
Nashville
615-360-8092

Some of the best places to eat are often hidden away in Nashville. That’s certainly the case for restaurant Al-Quds. You probably wouldn’t know it was there if you didn’t stumble into A and H food mart for some fresh pita bread. The Middle Eastern grocery store is in a tiny strip mall, just up from the Mapco on Murfreesboro Pike near Thompson Lane. Inside you’ll find a small restaurant next to the groceries. Al-Quds has several tables and a decent atmosphere for a grocery joint.

You will have to work for your food here. There is no menu, so you have to ask. There is also a significant language barrier. The fellow running the kitchen is Palestinian and quite friendly. He’ll help you figure out what to eat. It pays to point and ask questions. After two wonderful lunches I want to get back and ask him about the stews and soups bubbling away on the stove. I also need to be more adventurous with the meats. They operate a Halal butcher shop and offer what they call on their business card “stuffed sheep”.

The first visit was with the Veggie Eater. We knew from past experience that they made their own falafel at A and H, selling it frozen in bulk. We decided to check out the restaurant and were not disappointed. The fresh falafel mix is given a few stirs and then into the fryer. It comes out crispy on the outside and with a little bit of moistness inside. Served on a fresh pita it’s near perfect. Spanakopita is offered one day. It’s a doughy version, made in house and featuring a great selection of bold spices. That’s what really sets Al-Quds apart from other Middle Eastern joints in town. They’re not afraid to lay on the spices and that makes for some seriously good food.

Another visit brings a beef sandwich. In this case the use of herbs and spices is exceptional. There’s a savory hot sauce and the beef has a nice char. It’s one of my new favorite sandwiches on Murfreesboro Road. Peruse the baked goods display and point to items you want to try. Za’atar is a spice mixture, usually made up of sumac, thyme, marjoram, sesame and oregano. They serve it with olive oil on pita bread for a tasty and eye opening appetizer.

Veggie Eater: The folks here seemed to understand “vegetarian” when steering us to veggie friendly items. The spanakopita is not the Greek version; it’s not greasy or flaky, but served in a doughy bread chock full of fresh spinach highly seasoned with thyme. The falafel is perfectly cooked, as alluded to by the meat eater; crusty exterior with moist, herby interior. If you are looking for a quick lunch and want to avoid the fast food racket, this would be a perfect place to pop in. Infinitely more satisfying than sodium-laden, beef- seasoned French fries served at well known fast food restaurants.

Meat Eater: Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem. A and H seems home to many different Arabic nationalities. Perhaps if you’re lucky you’ll find a cab driver that speaks English and can help translate for you. This place is a high quality bargain. We paid $15 with tax, tip and drinks on one visit and I paid $10 on another visit.

Restaurant Al-Quds (inside A and H Market) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The New York Times Takes on Nashville

Nashville Restaurants and Food
The New York Times Takes on Nashville

It's always interesting, and sometimes amusing, to see what outsiders think of your city and it's dining scene. The New York Times chimed in today with a decent article that at the very least seeks to show the breadth of the dining scene in the Music City. It does tend to make East Nashville sound like a den of crime, only undergoing development in the last two years. Oh, well. It's a positive piece and they hit up many of our best spots. For a while today the article was positioned front and center on the NYT website.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Jay Luther

Our hearts go out to the family and restaurant family of Germantown Cafe and Germantown Cafe East co-owner Jay Luther. He died after becoming stuck in the cooler at Germantown Cafe East. Luther and his partner Chris Lowry had the vision to see the potential in the Germantown neighborhood and took another chance with the Fifth and Main project, first called Allium. We enjoyed a lunch at the relaunched Germantown Cafe East a few months ago. Luther was 47 years-old. Here's more about the tragedy in the Tennessean.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bang Candy Company

Nashville Restaurants and Food Bang Candy Company
Marathon Village
1300 Clinton Street
Nashville
615-587-4819
www.bangcandycompany.com

Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oklahoma, Ohio. It’s easy to play the license plate game at Marathon Village these days. Everyone has antique fever and the tourists are lining up to check out the Antique Archeology store, made famous by those genial guys from “American Pickers.” What does all of this have to do with Bang Candy Company? The wise folks located well.

I struggle to find a place in the parking lot across the street. An elderly lady in rhinestone bedazzled sunglasses asks me “Is this where the American Pickers are?” I nod and continue on my way. The line in front of the place should have provided the answer for her. It’s a pretty cool Nashville story, stretching back to Yazoo, Lightning FM, Corsair and all of the other folks who homesteaded the gigantic, red brick Marathon Motor Works building. It’s turned into a hopping area. Many hip and interesting folks have set up offices in the main building and the owners are doing a great job with the renovation. The Marathon Music Works venue packs them in at night for concerts. A cool gallery is right across the street. It’s a great place to be…a marshmallow maker? Well, that may have been how Sarah Souther started her enterprise. The store has become an emporium of many things sweet and delicious.

It would be a shame not to start with one of the creative lemonade or tea mashups. They do their own syrups at Bang and sell them by the bottle. Ginger Rosemary, Habanero Lime and other interesting concoctions provide a number of choices for customers. The blueberry, sage lemonade cuts the tart with fruity sweet and hits the spot. Those square, house-made marshmallows are things of beauty, but don’t be afraid to dig in to the delicate goodies. Chocolate dipped is the trend and when it’s cinnamon, orange and ginger chocolate you get a brush of exotic with that dense and tasty marshmallow. They always have several marshmallow varieties and you can get them boxed for a gift. The fudge is pretty darn good as well. We sampled moist and rich peanut butter fudge and lovely almond fudge.

Don’t despair lunch hopefuls, there is more than just Candy at Bang Candy Company. They take great pride in a tiny and awesome lunch menu. Wes is apparently the cook and baker. His bread puts their Panini’s over the top. The Bandolera for the Meat Eater is salami, red pepper, goat cheese, olives, and pesto-mayo. The bread is super-crispy and light. You won’t find these Panini’s drenched in oil or butter. The ingredients are allowed to shine on a crispy-pillowy bed. Things get even better with the quiche Lorraine. That crust is truly awesome and the creamy, light consistency inside is near perfect. They only have a few Panini options each day, so look for the specials. The small menu doesn’t provide a lot of choice for the Veggie Eater. I didn’t hear her complaining.

Veggie Eater: I had a fabulous Bandolera (veggie version) which features that floury, delightful homemade Panini bread, with fresh spinach, olives, tomatoes, onions, goat cheese, and pesto mayo. Completely satisfying, though seemed a bit pricy for the serving (a bit on the small side-I may just be holding a grudge because I ate it all and did not have any for leftovers the next day). I opted for a fresh tropical green tea spritzer-not overly sweet and very refreshing on a hot day. I also ate the peanut butter fudge for my appetizer—it held me over until my sandwich made its way to me. They’ve got an old fashioned turntable and encourage customers to pick an album to spin. It makes for great people watching, as the lines for Antique Archeology spill over into this space on the sidewalk.

Meat Eater: They make hand pressed coffee and take equal care with tea. We’ve heard amazing things about that hot chocolate, after all, marshmallows go best with hot chocolate and Souther says that’s where she got her inspiration. They also sell that hot chocolate mix by the jar.

The tourists come in small herds, check things out and then usually leave. That’s a good thing. Bang is a small, comfortable space. Plenty enough adventurous folks stick around for sweets or sandwiches to have made business quite good for Souther and her staff. There’s an Americana instrument store next door now (amazingly cool dobros) and the Corsair Distillery tasting room just down the street. Heck, did we forget to mention the Corsair craft beer taproom? We love that place. It’s in the former Yazoo space and it has some of the best beer hall character in Nashville.

So, here the deal: Let’s not have Marathon Village become tourist land. It’s fine if the tourists can help those businesses. They’ll need us locals to really thrive. This would be a fantastic location for a bar/restaurant and maybe some more specialty shops. Once the American Pickers hype has died down a little bit Marathon Village can settle into a comfortable and hip neighborhood. And for that we should thank Mike and Frank for putting their store here. I would bet they’re excited about how the spillover is helping the neighborhood. Marathon Village was cool before they came, but the extra money can help that cool grow much quicker.

We paid $33 with tax and tip on one visit and I paid $15 on another (with plenty of candy sampling included).

Bang Candy Company on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Café Fontanella

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Café Fontanella
Fontanel Mansion
4225 Whites Creek Pike
Whites Creek
615-724-1600
Website

Ah, the wonder of a good eggplant rollatini. It’s a dish that always reminds us of Valentine’s Day, because the Veggie Eater always ordered it at our favorite Sicilian joint in Milwaukee. The version at Café Fontanella is our favorite on their menu of Italian-American classics. The success of the eggplant is a combination of a delicate fry, creamy-sweet ricotta stuffing and fresh herbs.

How did Eggplant rollatini make its way to Whites Creek? It’s collaboration between the owners of the Fontanel Mansion and long-time pizzeria owner Anthony Amico. His Nolensville restaurant has garnered great reviews. The new spot occupies the space formerly held by the Farmhouse Restaurant. That joint focused on Southern staples. The room has been nicely revamped for a darker, upscale look…well, at least for Whites Creek. There’s a comfortable bar and a full-range of liquor, beer and wine. The tables are a bit more pizzeria in style and the overall feel is laid-back and casual. There is a bit of a disconnect between the servers and the menu. We’ve watched the former Farmhouse waiters understand the new menu. Some of the results have been amusing. What shines through is a genuine caring attitude and a Southern charm that we always appreciate.

You’ll get garlic bread at the start of the meal. The rolls are quite oily, herby and sport plenty of garlic. The Amico salad has fresh greens, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Caesar has to be one of the most abused salads around- and yet this version restores your faith: light and fresh with a lemon tang and plenty of parmesan shavings. The potato gnocchi comes in a Vodka sauce with big pieces of basil. The white pizza Bianca was flavorful and featured a well-executed thin crust.

A pork chop proves to be the only downside of several visits. It’s a super-thin cut and drowning in mushroom Marsala sauce. It’s too bad because the seasoning is just right and the gorgonzola and rosemary give it extra pop. Just a little restraint with the ladle and a better cut and this would be a solid dish as well.

Tiramisu is fluffy-light and rich at the same time. The cannolis are crispy and flaky on the outside and fresh and sweet on the inside. Either is a nice way to end the evening.

Veggie Eater: I have been known to actually publically cry (and I’m not much of a crier) due to bad Italian food and thankfully was not moved to tears during either of my visits. I was even pleasantly surprised. The Café Fontanella folks offer truth in advertising when they bill themselves as Italian American fare and that is greatly appreciated. As the meat eater attested, the eggplant rollatini is a delightful affair with the ricotta stuffing generously studded with big bits of fresh basil. The spaghetti on the side is fairly non-descript, but the pasta itself was cooked perfectly al dente. The side salad was generous, but the bleu cheese dressing did not seem house made (how about gorgonzola vinaigrette?). The staff is bustling and attentive. Jazz plays in the background when the staff is not playing live. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of Italian American and Southern, where staff respond with “y’all” and “preciate you.” As it’s close to home, very veggie accommodating (as most Italian joints are) and offers pretty good food, we will probably become regulars.

Meat Eater: When we heard they were going to have singing waiters our hearts sunk. We imagined the awful Italian singing waiter kitsch of bad East Coast joints in the 1970s. Luckily, it’s all very Nashville at Café Fontanella. Those waiters take the stage, pick up a guitar and play you an original song or two. It’s genuine and fun. Another night featured a fellow playing about every string instrument known to mankind. It’s good dinner entertainment that doesn’t take away from table talk.

The drinks are a bit expensive for Whites Creek. However, the food is reasonably priced. We paid $57 with tax and tip on one visit and $55 on another visit.

They have national acts playing a couple of times a month in the summer on the big outdoor stage in the woods. That venue is an excellent outdoor amphitheater and if you get a chance to combine dinner with a show you’ll be in for a good night.
Café Fontanella on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Welcome CMA Visitors

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Welcome CMA Visitors

Downtown is going to be busy for the next few days. If you would like a list of restaurants we recommend in downtown Nashville you can click here for the list. Have a great visit and be sure to wear that sunscreen!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bella Nashville

Nashville Restaurants and Food
Bella Nashville
Nashville Farmers’ Market
900 Rosa Parks Blvd.
Nashville
615-457-3863
Facebook

It’s back to basics at Bella Nashville. The new pizzeria in the Nashville Farmers’ Market is keeping things simple and putting all their attention to quality. It’s a mere wisp of a menu and the pies themselves are blissfully simple. However, it all adds up to good, honest food. Bella Nashville is an excellent addition to the Market House.

Musicians and restaurant veterans Emma Berkey and Dave Cuomo have a wood fired oven roaring away in the space that used to house Swett's. Those pizzas come out lightning fast (about four minutes). The 900 degree heat provides a nice light char in spots and a thin crust that is equal parts crispy and chewy. Where the pizza goes from there really depends on your order. The Bella folks are not afraid to shake things up and those specials have been quite inventive. One day brings smoked pork, asparagus and peaches- no cheese and no tomato sauce – just a generous drizzle of olive oil. This lets the crust do the talking and allows the ingredients to shine. Peaches and pulled pork? Who knew they would pair so well? Another day might bring duck and turnip greens with a balsamic reduction.

The house made mozzarella on the Margherita makes it a standout. The tomato sauce is zippy and bright. The wonderful scent of fresh basil hits your nose before you even take a bite. This pizza is heaven on a plate. Meat features Benton’s country ham and you’ll find truffle oil a real treat on the Marinara pie. Another must try is the Hummus pizza, which sounds a bit odd at first, until you consider that pita bread and pizza dough are closely related. The toasted nuts, mint, chili oil and zatar make the Hummus another standout.

Alright, did you notice a trend? Just five pizzas on the menu and we just called each one a standout, which I suppose doesn’t make any sense. They’re all worthy of standout status, though, and that’s what makes Bella Nashville so much fun. You won’t have many options, but the ones you have will probably be great.

Veggie Eater: The standard menu has a few veggie friendly pizzas: Margherita, Marinara, and Hummus, in addition to weekly specials. Ingredients are carefully chosen and assembled, which shines in the final product. Herbs are supplied by friends and devotees and make appearances in pizza, tea and marinara. Mozz is homemade daily, as is the fresh sourdough pizza dough. They sell fresh loaves of bread made from that sourdough starter, which is available for nibbling as you wait for your ‘za. Perhaps most remarkable is how little you actually have to wait for your meal; given the extremely high heat of the pizza oven, it takes only a few minutes to cook and deliver the pizza to you. The oven yields a fluffy, slightly charred crust with several different textures, which are then juxtaposed with the toppings. The marinara sauce is simply divine; light and sprightly. The hummus pizza is a surprising treat, with zatar and fresh mint adding a bit of zestiness to the creamy hummus. The weekly seasonal specials sport ingredients from the multitude of purveyors at the Farmer’s Market, so one visit had a peach pizza special (both meat and veggie versions). The veggie version featured fresh peach slices atop fontina with roasted veggies. Inventive and light. The drinks are also given top billing, with homemade sodas in addition to black and herbal tea, often sporting more fresh herbs. Customers, owners, and staff all seem to be having fun sharing this food experience.

Meat Eater: Watch as they pour an orange soda: they mix fresh squeezed juice and sugar soda on the spot for a delightfully light drink. The Iced Yerba Mate tea is also quite good. You can buy loaves of the nicely-sour bread in white or whole wheat desem.

If all of this sounds fussy, it’s not. They have a few seats at the counter and you can chat with the laid back staff. Pizzas run about $8 or $9 each for the 9 inch size. That’s a fast, filling and fun lunch- just what the Farmers’ Market crowd is looking for.

We paid $30 for two with tip and drinks on one visit and $25 on another visit.

Bella Nashville on Urbanspoon