Sunday, March 24, 2013


Nashville Restaurants and Food
2834 Azalea Place

It’s always a good idea for a restaurant to showcase the brand in many different ways. Sunflower, the new vegetarian café in Berry Hill, starts the experience the moment you walk in the door. The sunny and bright farmhouse feel of the dining room matches the spirit of the food. Head chef Gabrielle Mittelstaedt takes pride in walking customers through the cafeteria line options, which revolve daily. She can also be seen hugging old friends and welcoming new ones, and that too is in the spirit of the place. Partner Laura Yazdian has formal instruction in macrobiotics and there is a health conscious focus at Sunflower, but not in an overwhelming way. The ladies let the food do the talking. It’s clear that the two take great care in the ingredients, which they source from local farms and dairies.

Step into the line and you’ll be choosing between four or five entrees and a number of side dishes. You can pick an entrée and sides in a meat and two or three fashion. You can even ask for the sampler and run down the full gamut of those inventive side dishes.

Enchiladas have a hearty bean base and the vegan faux sour cream and pico de gallo give them a bit of zip. Kale braised with sesame seeds work well, but the French lentils with lemon stand out on the plate thanks to the citrus accent. The big star of the sides is the kimchi potato salad- it has an awesome tang that puts it near the top of the potato salad samples we’ve had in Nashville. The kimchi is made in house and graces a number of dishes on the menu. The finish to this meal is a triple chocolate brownie that is moist, light and decadent. It is vegan and gluten-free, as with many dishes. Appropriate items are also clearly labeled as soy-free, nut-free, gluten free, and dairy-free. With the variety of dishes available on any given day, there will plenty to choose from for whatever your dietary requirements.

The veggie burger has been an entrée regular and for good reason. The unique rice, beets and sunflower seed is unlike most veggie burgers and a darn good sandwich topped with sundried tomato speared and aioli. The quinoa is a bit under-seasoned on one visit and the sweet and light cabbage and arugula salad picks up the slack.

Veggie Eater: What a wonderful change of pace to go somewhere and not have to vet the food and/or enlist others to be testers. Although many of us may have unflattering connotations of cafeteria style eating, this is a real positive here, allowing the diner to see and try many different items. There are several decisions to be made at the get-go--do you commit to one of the daily entree specials or veggie burger with 2-3 sides, just mix and match a variety of sides, or simply go hog wild and get the sampler, which is literally a dollop of every single side (maybe 15-20 items)? I tried the first and last strategies during my visits. First up was the lasagna, which was light and fluffy, chock full of eggplant and hearty greens. They have a gluten-free version as well. I coupled this with the sesame kale, which I found a bit bland, but was rectified with the liquid amino soy alternative found at the condiment station (perhaps my favorite condiment discovery of recent and I’m a condiment whore). I also had a spring green salad, which I found very fresh, but not terribly interesting. Again, this was remedied with some balsamic that is also stocked at the well appointed condiment station. Next time, I went for the sampler. The single spoonful of items seems a bit stingy for cost, until you see the heaping end product. It’s a dizzying array of dishes, which changes seasonally as well. This visit included baked apples, sesame kale salad, cumin lentils, quinoa, Thai tofu, beet salad, hummus, cabbage and arugula salad, sunflower rice, kale, caprese salad, and carrot salad. Standouts included the hummus, which is uber creamy, sunflower rice, which gains texture from sunflower seeds, the cabbage and arugula salad, which is crisp and gets zippiness from a sweet/sour dressing. Both visits seemed a bit pricey, but I think it’s well worth paying more for locally sourced food that is made with love and care. You’ll see many familiar purveyors here, ranging from Kenny’s Cheese, Noble Springs Goat Dairy, Bells Bend Farms, and Delvin Farms, just to name a few. Also enjoyable, is seeing the wide spectrum of folks that turn out to sample veggie fare in our home town.

Meat Eater: Azalea Place is off of Thompson Lane and Sunflower is located directly behind the motel and the Yellow Porch restaurant. Sunflower serves only lunch as of this writing, but they keep Saturday hours and have been doing good business. It’s a bit more expensive than you would expect for a cafeteria style serving line, but given the quality of the food, well worth the price. We paid $32 with tax and tip on one visit and $39 on another visit. It’s great to have another quality vegetarian restaurant in Nashville.

Sunflower Cafe on Urbanspoon