Everyone’s life can be hectic from time to time, and sometimes here in Nashville we feel as though we’ve been sequestered into seclusion (when it comes to family and friends). This post is intended to be an update for what is going on up here and the stages of life Scott and I are going through.
The most imminent life change we are about to go through (me more directly) would be that I am starting back to school this coming Monday. After a three-year hiatus from tests and homework, I have decided to rejoin the realm of the classroom learner. For about the past four to five years, I progressively and earnestly became more and more interested in food, nutrition and the classic fundamentals of culinary arts and have a blog and journals filled with recipes to prove it. During my short internship with Southern Living magazine I was afforded the opportunity to get to see how the test kitchen worked and food has been my obsession ever since. About a year ago I decided that self teaching, a job as a baker at a local Nashville establishment, books and independent research were no longer enough to quell the desire for more knowledge on the subject and that led to the decision to start researching and saving for culinary school. In a digital world where anyone can be a self proclaimed “expert,” I have determined that I want to go through a more classical training to gain the knowledge that I crave and to become a credible member of the culinary society. Thankfully, due to courses transferring from my prior education, this process should only take about a year to complete.
Another big change for us is our recent undertaking with a local startup apparel company called 1907 Apparel. Scott is charged with doing what he does best by heading up the Creative Development side of things. He’s writing, brainstorming and making contacts with people to get the word out about this awesome company. I offer up my photographic services to the team as well. 1907 Apparel at its core is about helping build communities. Every purchase helps in one of three areas: Poverty, Education and Sustainable Agriculture. If you’d like to learn more about 1907 Apparel, their story and their products you can click here to learn more.
I believe it is important to note here that I have not given up on photography. I am still scheduling photography work in my free time and still love and enjoy it as an art form. Maybe someday I will be able to find a way to combine culinary arts with my visual journalism degree in ways other than our blog. Scott and I are also in the works of our own start up business here in Nashville and hope to bring details of this venture to you soon, but we will see what the future holds.
Despite all this, we still plan to continue posting to this site about our many adventures out-and-about Nashville, in the kitchen and in our travels. Scott is currently writing a piece about our recent trip to Fall Creek Falls and our fun and mishaps canoeing on the Harpeth river and I have peppers roasting in the oven as we speak. The format may change a little as I am hoping to spend more time sharing what I will be learning in school at the time, but the content will mostly remain the same. Just me and Scott,”lovin’ life, lovin’ each other.”
One of the coolest parts of living in Nashville is discovering all the little hidden gems around town. That doesn’t just mean restaurants, either—it’s hard to keep a good restaurant a secret long around here, and it never takes long for even a tiny closet of a dive in Nashville to become overrun with foodies and others scoping out what all the hype is about.
No, I’m talking about the other gems—the markets, the special events, the less-publicized things-to-do that interest food and food culture lovers. Look hard enough and you can always find some sort of movie or discussion or talk somewhere in the city about a food issue, and we found a great one this week with “A Place At The Table,” the weekly dinner hosted by Martha Stamps, known for her work with Martha Stamps Catering and FEAST Together. “A Place At The Table,” hosted at West End United Methodist Church downtown, is a $10 per person weekly dinner held every Wednesday at 6. The food (as, you know, it’s hosted by the lady running Martha Stamps catering) is as excellent as it is earth- and vegetarian-friendly: This week’s menu consisted of chicken salad, roasted new and sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus, carrots, and mushrooms, and glazed carrot cake.
After the dinner there is a movie or a presentation or a talk of some sort relating to food, food culture, or, as in this week’s case, clean-earth initiatives. It was really interesting and completely worthwhile, and we left with a pretty sweet Swag Bag from Home Depot filled with light bulbs, power strips, reusable shopping bags, and other cool stuff.
There were probably close to 100 people at the church for dinner, and probably 40 or so stayed for the presentation. It’s very low pressure, and you don’t at all have to be a member of the church to attend. (We had never walked in the door before 5:55 p.m. Wednesday.) All in all, if you’re looking for a cool way to get out in the middle of the week, A Place At The Table is a really cool option by a lady doing a lot for sustainability in and around Nashville. It’s a hidden gem, alright—that was right under our noses the whole time.
From time to time we’ll be guest posting on a national food and restaurant review site called 2 Dine For. They spotlight areas like Nashville, Boston and Houston, but occasionally have reviews from other locations as well.
For our first guest post we made a home version of a local restaurant’s dish in what 2 Dine For likes to call “Recipe Box.” Click here to read the whole story.
We visited City House, a local Nashville favorite, and had their famous pork belly pizza with a farm fresh egg on top. If you live in Nashville and haven’t tried it, you must.
We flexed our at-home culinary muscles to attempt to recreate the wonderful dinner. We made our own pizza dough, used thick cut prosciutto, dried red pepper flakes, parmigiano reggiano, and a fresh egg on top. Almost as good as the original. Have I piqued your interest? Want the recipe? Well you’ll have to head over to 2 Dine For to get it. Be on the look out for our other upcoming guest posts as well. Cheers!
Part of the reason we go to restaurants is to escape. Every time we walk in the door of a restaurant that’s not our own we trade our jobs, our responsibilities, our routines, and our schedules for an hour-long chance to just sit and be waited on—for the opportunity to try something new, to experience someone else’s craft, and to observe, even for just a few minutes, the job, the responsibility, the routine, and the schedule of someone else who has chosen to give us a place to come.
So many of the indelible memories we make in life happen at restaurants: the birthday party at McDonald’s, the prom dinner downtown, the little place you found on your honeymoon, the Mexican place you get glared at now because your screaming daughter regularly drowns out the mariachi muzak. Often, when you walk in a place that’s going to stick with you, you know it immediately—there’s a “whoa” moment where you realize you should have been coming long before, where you get mad at yourself for the lunches at Panera and biscuits at McDonald’s that could have been spent here instead.
We had one of these moments Sunday, after finally trekking to East Nashville for brunch at Marche, a European-style cafe and marketplace not much bigger than a boutique. In the last month we’ve knocked off several local restaurants on our Nashville Restaurant Bucket List, but this is the one that has left the best impression. Marche is Paris in the 20s, Italy in the 50s, London in the 60s, and, somehow, Nashville in the 2010s.
The layout at Marche is striking; the restaurant is divided into two floors, much like a raised living room, with the kitchen and small market housing the upper level, and a handful of tables laid out on the bottom. The hostess stand is in the center of the upper level, facing an open kitchen, where seven cooks worked among exposed-brick walls and stainless steel appliances. Pastries and coffee are placed to order at the counter, and small goods can be bought off to the side. More than any restaurant I’ve been in this year, Marche is something to watch as much as it is to eat. Seeing what’s around you is part of the experience. With a 25-minute wait, we were able to get coffee, choose a pastry, and just take in what was around us to pass the time. When it came time to sit, at a small two-top below, we already felt like we were part of the scene. It takes work for a restaurant to accomplish that.
I haven’t been to Marche for lunch or dinner, so I can speak only for their brunch menu—six starters, eight entrees, and six sides. Neither of us wanted meat, so steak and eggs, polenta with lamb ragu, Italian sandwich on sourdough, smoked salmon crepes, house gumbo and the white wine mussels were all out. Jessica, as is her personality, ordered an oven-dried tomato and Fontina quiche, which came with a small salad ($9), and I ordered a half-order of the croissant French toast ($4.50) and the pears and Camembert on toasted bread with honey ($6). Within an instant of seeing what we had ordered we knew we had hit a home run, and there’s really nothing to say about how perfect the food was other than to say that to order food at Marche is to trust that whoever is in that kitchen knows full well how to prepare European bistro food, and to say that they can do it perfectly. The pears and Camembert was one of the best restaurant creations I’ve had in this city, and certainly one of the most fun things to eat in my life.
French toast, when done wrong, is at best soggy and uninspiring, and at worst thick and chewy, like eating a sweater covered in syrup. It is not wrong here. The flavors were light and popped off the soft croissant; I used very little syrup, because I didn’t order syrup, I ordered toast, and too many people drown their food in condiments. But this dish doesn’t need it, and to waterboard it with syrup—sweet and smooth as the syrup was—robs it of its better elements. As for the pears and Camembert, the texture combination of the melted cheese, soft baguette, and smooth pears made for an easy plate of food to eat, but the star was the flavor: the thick richness of the cheese, the sweetness of the honey, the threadbare wheat of the bread, and the tartness of the pears. It made for an awesome dish.
There’s more to our brunch at Marche than to say that nothing was wrong—everything was so right. Marche makes people who love food love it more. It makes you want a restaurant, to take a chance at doing what they do and dig your heels into a community with a place for people to come, even just for a few minutes, and abandon their lives, make a few memories of their own, and take away an experience they won’t soon forget. Marche is one of the best restaurants in Nashville.
Over the last year we have recommended several local restaurants in and around Nashville, each of which we feel meets certain standards for informed consumers and healthy food advocates to feel comfortable with—restaurants like Baja Burrito, The Wild Cow, and Sloco. One that’s been on our radar since we moved here that we finally got to try over the weekend is The Silly Goose, tucked away in East Nashville. The Silly Goose opened in 2009 and, in its own words, makes “nourishing, wholesome food with love and care from the purest and highest quality ingredients available to us. We search for and buy local, organic, sustainably produced, minimally manipulated food.” Sounds good to me.
The first thing you notice about Silly Goose is that it’s small—there aren’t more than seven or eight tables, plus the bar, and the inside of the restaurant is warm and inviting. What struck me was the mix that room seemed to have between modern industrial fixtures (an exposed ceiling, raw lightbulbs hanging, etc) and a homey, Southern, almost woodsy atmosphere with the furniture and art. (Silly Goose’s napkins are red handkerchiefs; their glasses are jars, and the silverware is delightfully mismatched.) Had the entire restaurant been too modern or too industrial, it could have come off cold—the right mix of old and new, however, gives it an upscale welcoming feel that isn’t intimidating at all. (See in the picture, for instance, an antique chandelier hanging over a thick wooden slab table.) It’s really beautiful.
The food is as much a work of art as the inside of the restaurant. There aren’t many restaurants whose first menu section is devoted to different forms of Couscous, but then again The Silly Goose isn’t like most restaurants. In this restaurant’s case, the menu finds its variety not in an inordinate amount of dishes available (I saw a billboard today for Demo’s downtown that I think was advertising 48 different dishes under $7.99), but in its ability to creatively manipulate different ingredients within a few families of dishes. For instance, there are four Couscous options, five salads, nine sandwiches, and four evening main dishes. Just taking one of these categories, though, each of the four Couscous dishes is so different and wildly flavorful, that there is no shortage of options:
Crisp cappicola, roasted red pepper, almonds, basil, kalamata
olives, blue gouda, and balsamic reduction
King Kong 11
Sesame couscous with curried shrimp, mint, ginger, cashews,
coriander, and avocado
Mexico City 9.5
Red chili couscous, grilled chicken, poblano peppers, cilantro,
goat cheese, mango, and lime juice
Roasted almond couscous, sundried tomatoes, lemon, sage,
red pep. goat cheese, and grilled port. mushrooms
We both ordered Couscous the night we went: I ordered the King Kong and Jessica the Spalding. When I ordered, I was asked if I wanted it mild, medium, or hot. “How hot is medium?” I asked the server.
“Not bad,” he said. “It’s really not. At least I don’t think so.”
Good enough, so I went with medium. Now, the dish was beautifully presented and really flavorful, especially the shrimp, which were cooked perfectly and blended beautifully with the curry sauce. But that thing was the hottest thing I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know if I’m a wimp, or if there was a mistake, or maybe if I’m just not ready to handle The Silly Goose. But I was dying. Again, this isn’t to say the food wasn’t awesome, which it was, or beautiful, which it definitely was, or worth the money, which it absolutely was. It was just absolutely scorching. But hey—I was awake, and next time I won’t trust the word “medium.” (I absolutely cannot imagine what “hot” would have been like.)
Each dish was great in that it didn’t get overcrowded by its own flavors. There are a lot of ingredients in those dishes, and it would be easy for all of them to drown out the others, but I was really impressed (especially in mine because of the heat) that each flavor still was able to come through. Sometimes spicy dishes murder any hope of getting other flavor out of themselves. Not in this case. The avocado slices provided enough relief between bites that I still got a great feeling for each flavor, and it really was a great dish.
The Silly Goose is a great restaurant, and East Nashville really needs it. It works so perfectly in that neighborhood, and I hope people keep supporting it. In using local vendors, farms, bakers and suppliers, they are super-sustainable and everything a restaurant should try to be. I can’t wait to go back and try something else. A sandwich, maybe. Mild.
(Another quick note about Silly Goose’s service. We were told the wait for our table would be an hour, and were offered to go next door to Ugly Mugs’ coffee. Thirty minutes later the hostess came and got us herself and offered to let us bring our drinks into the restaurant. Not bad.)
Follow @souschefjesus on Twitter.
Anyone who has spent any decent amount of time in Nashville knows that you can’t hardly pass an intersection in this city without seeing a vendor for The Contributor—Nashville’s street newspaper that empowers the homeless community and features their contributions. Now, a former homeless chef who worked his way up to the No. 2 position at Fleming’s downtown is about to give the city’s homeless population another opportunity: the same one he got.
The Tennessean featured Brett Swayn’s story earlier this month. Swayn, he says, moved to Nashville in 2002 with the clothes on his back and a Bible. After a night in a Greyhound station and many at the Nashville Rescue Mission, Swayn was offered a position at Fleming’s, where he worked his way up to the No. 2 spot in the five-star restaurant’s kitchen. Now he’s giving back in one of the most creative ways I’ve ever seen: a culinary school for the homeless, to train (and perhaps even house) more of Nashville’s homeless in the culinary arts and help place them in kitchens where they can work.
Says Swayn in The Tennessean:
“I didn’t know I had a talent. I just picked up things quickly and was given good teachers,” he said. “We want to give others the same opportunity for restoration that was given to me. We want to show the homeless hope exists.”
The Cookery, which already has a location, will teach homeless men and women how to budget, as well as provide counseling and health care. What is so great about The Contributor is that it places current and former homeless men and women in situations where they can work and contribute immediately. The Cookery will do similar, while at the same time giving them a skill that makes them stick out in the workforce. It’s a great idea that will hopefully transform a city’s homeless population that needs it.
A word, too, about the Nashville Rescue Mission, which does some of the greatest work for the city’s homeless population every year. There are tons of ways to give on their website, and the Great Thanksgiving Banquet that the organization puts on every year for the homeless is one of the best non-profit events of the year. Read more about the banquet here.