Sunday, July 22, 2012
VN Pho and Deli
5906 Charlotte Pike
VN Pho and Deli is an unassuming little restaurant tucked away in a nondescript set of stores on Charlotte Pike. And that appears to be exactly what the Luu-Nguyn family is looking for. The big Vietnamese joints are just across the street. VN Pho is going for a homier approach.
You’ll feel that welcome the moment you step into the place. Tham Luu and his son Nam are quick to welcome you and explain some of their favorite items on the menu. You’re unlikely to see mom, Hoa Nguyn, out front. She’s in the kitchen carefully making every dish to order. It’s actually Nam rolling the Goi Cuon spring rolls to order on our visit and for the Veggie Eater that means leaving the pork out. Everyone’s English is excellent and they understand vegetarian needs. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have a lot on the menu for vegetarians, but they’re willing to do what they can. Those spring rolls are sticky, crunchy and fresh. The house made peanut dipping sauce is a real treat. Nam recommends the Vietnamese coffee. With this heat the coffee on ice hits the spot. It’s a strong brew with plenty of sugar syrup and spices of some sort.
The Banh Mi Thit features homemade Vietnamese butter on the soft bun. Pork spread, sausage, veggies and jalapenos round out this spicy, salty and excellent sandwich. Banh Xeo are super-crisp thanks to rice flour. The so-called Vietnamese pancakes are really more like a crispy omelet filled with shrimp and pork. The turmeric gives it a nice flavor. Wrap up pieces of the pancakes in fresh lettuce with a little mint and dipping sauce.
I go all the way on the Pho, which includes steak, meatballs, brisket, tendon and tripe. A conversation reveals that the family gets their meat from Atlanta to make sure they get the Vietnamese-style cuts they want. The steak and brisket are quite tender. The tripe and tendon have a good consistency, not chewy. The fine broth is made each day and they point out that at the end of the day they toss it out. It takes hours to cook a new batch so once they’re out, they’re out.
Veggie Eater: Meat Eater was kind enough to conduct reconnaissance prior to bringing me here to ensure that VN Pho could accommodate my veggieness. This is important because I find the Vietnamese joints in general are not very veggie friendly and frequent language barriers make menu deviations a dicey proposition at best. There is not a single veggie item on the menu, but Nam confirmed they could adjust the Mi Xoa to be a veggie dish. It’s a plate full of thin, lightly fried noodles topped with stir fried onions, greens, cilantro and served with a savory sauce (appeared to be fish sauce free) on the side. As always, the table is full of a variety of fun condiments (Meat Eater discovered he is not a fan of shrimp paste, but this is Nam’s favorite condiment)—I discovered a dried pepper powder which gave the dish a little pop. Nam and his father are literally beaming with pride at the product Ms. Nguyen is producing, as well as they should be. Meats are purchased from a wholesaler in Atlanta as they are not convinced of the quality and freshness of the products in Nashville. Whatever isn’t consumed in a day is tossed out; if they run out of Pho, it’s because they’ve had a good day and that’s ok. Dipping sauces are made on site, not out of a bottle. It’s already developing a loyal following, as evidenced by two guys at the table next to us, one of whom comes in regularly with his wife, but brought his friend on this day to turn him onto this hidden gem. I’ll happily venture back to see what Nam will recommend and what mom will conjure up for a veggie selection next.
Meat Eater: We enjoyed chatting with the Nam and his father. They’ve only been open a few months now, but it sounds like the place is catching on with the Vietnamese community. They’re not new to the restaurant business. The family had a restaurant in West Nashville about 10 years ago. They closed because mom was simply worn out from all of that cooking. Here’s hoping she can pace herself with VN Pho. It’s a nice addition to the Nashville restaurant scene.
I paid $12 with tax and tip on a solo visit and we paid $23 together for a lunch visit.
Monday, July 16, 2012
New Farmers’ Markets
This week launches the expansion of the Good Food for Good People Farmers’ Markets projects organized by our neighbor, Sean Siple. Sean and his folks are passionate about locally sourced, nutritious, accessible food and this extends well beyond the farmers’ markets that they organize. On any given day you can find Sean actually helping people farm, helping churches and schools build community gardens, providing hands on learning experiences at schools to help kids learn how to manage their community gardens. He’s also busy hooking up local restaurants with local farmers; the list is endless. Our favorite market in the Nashville area happens to be the West Nashville Market on Saturdays In Richland Park. And I’m not saying this just because Sean is our neighbor (after all, I did get to meet Emmylou Harris here and tell her my llama story). Good Food for Good People is adding a sister market, Country to the Core, to their already burgeoning projects. This market will be held from 11am-2pm on Tuesdays at the Bank of America Plaza between Bank of America and the Doubletree Hotel. There will be music, a variety of locally sourced food items and perhaps even some art. If you work downtown, I’d wager this will be the best lunch option on Tuesdays. You can check out their Facebook page.
Not content to merely be rolling out one new market, The Good Food folks are also adding a partnership with Donelson Fifty Forward to host a Friday market, named “Hip Donelson”, from 4-7 pm. It fills a farmers’ market void in Donelson.
If you’re interested in more information about the dizzying array of projects, markets, and local involvements of the Good Food for Good People peeps, check out their webpage.
Sunday, July 15, 2012
340 Welch Road
It’s catch up time on the blog. Folks have been saying good things about Pupuseria Salvadorena for some time now. It’s been a regular stop for Lannae and that’s a good recommendation for us. Salvadorena does some big family business. A Saturday afternoon finds the place packed and a bit smoky from cooking. There is understandably a bit of a wait because customers are not just in the dining room- they’re lined up for take-out orders. Still, the food keeps coming. That’s thanks to an army of ladies in the kitchen. You can hear them laughing and patting out dough for the pupusas and thick, doughy tortillas.
Pupusa loroco is just the right amount of cheesy and great flavor from the loroco flower buds. The curtido slaw on the side is vinegary and just right. A carne asada plate has nicely seasoned beef with big slices of ripe avocado, fresh pico de gallo and quality frijoles. A little spicy verde sauce and it’s a darn good lunch. However, that carne asada is even better piled up in a messy and delicious torta sandwich. Quesadillas also do well thanks to excellent ingredients. They’re lightly grilled and packed full of chicken breast, cheese, onion, lettuce and tomato. It’s an unusual pile up of stuff for a quesadilla and yet it works.
Veggie Eater: Central American restaurants seem to have fairly limited menus in general and this translates to even few veggies options. The options here amount to the pupusa loroco y queso or the pupusa frijole y queso. Feeling crazy, I had one of each. The fancier version (loroco) is pretty much as Meat Eater already indicated-the salsa verde has a nice afterburner heat to it. The curtido is tangy and sour. The cheese itself is both crispy and gooey. All of this on a homemade pupusa equals the perfect complement of textures and flavors. The frijole y queso version is a bit more filling, but simpler in both flavor and texture. Not much else to sample here, but a treat for every once and a while.
Meat Eater: The line to pay your bill is the same as the take-out line and that can cause a real logjam. Service, however, is friendly and efficient otherwise. I paid $13 with tax and tip on one visit and we paid $20 for two on another visit. Welch is a little side street off of Nolensville Road, just north of Harding Place.