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!
When you move to a new city, as we did to Nashville in 2010, there are certain places you need to find pretty quick: a barber shop/salon, a mechanic, a good grocery store, and a burger place. Historically I’ve struggled finding No. 1 (the reason my hair is…long), but it wasn’t until we moved here until I realized what a struggle No. 4 can be. Not that Nashville doesn’t have great burger places (it does) or that we haven’t found them (we largely have), it’s just that there are nights you will be sitting at home, and you’ll realize you want a burger, and if you don’t have your go-to place at the ready, you’re done for. So it’s something you’ve got to find pretty fast.
Not long after we moved here we ate at Rotier’s, then Burger Up, and last December I discovered the wonder that is the burger at Athens Family Restaurant…all quality choices and some of my favorites. But I haven’t stopped looking, which is why I was excited when The Pharmacy opened in East Nashville recently, promising a soda shop and beer garden and a small menu (yea!) with just a few burgers. We tried to go on a Friday night a couple weeks ago (hilarious), but needless to say that didn’t happen. Who knew Tuesday at 11:20 a.m. would be a better time to try it?
The Pharmacy is, indeed, a throwback to a simpler type of restaurant. It’s not a 50s-style soda shop as much as it is a rustic American lounge-style restaurant. Actually…I’m not even sure if it’s that. It’s just a small, wooden, warm place to get a burger in a cool neighborhood. Dark wooden beams run the length of the ceiling above pressed metal plates that hold light fixtures, and long wooden benches stretch the length of the wall with two-tops and four-tops that make for a spacious, yet still cozy, space that doesn’t feel too crowded. (Then again we didn’t make it in the door Friday night, so it could be a different story there.) The bar is a monolithic callback to a different era of restaurant…there is no mirrored pyramid of Jose Cuervo and Grey Goose stretching to the ceiling; a row of spigots and carbonation spouts (is there a term for this?) trace the edges, where bartenders can overlook the dining room. Outside, a large beer garden and what looked like patio seating waits for spring.
So it’s a cool space. The food, like I said, is burgers and a few sausages, a chicken sandwich or two, and that’s pretty much it. What you see is what you get at The Pharmacy, and I ordered the basic Pharmacy burger: cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion, subbing grilled onion for raw onion, which was a good call. Jessica ordered the black bean burger, which comes with three topping choices from a long toppings menu. She went with grilled onion, lettuce, and a lime crema fresca. Sides are fries, sweet potato fries, tater tots, and some other things I didn’t look at because, really, anything else at a burger place is just static.
I’ve heard good things about The Pharmacy’s milkshakes, but at $5 a pop we didn’t go for them; there is a cool beverage menu, though, with specialty sodas (I ordered a ginger and Jessica a strawberry ginger-ale) for about $2.50 or $3. These are a big deal at The Pharmacy—they help make it what it is and help it stand out with every other burger-and-fries joint around town. It’s definitely something you take with you.
The food was much bigger than I was expecting. It’s sloppy food, but that’s what you expect, of course, and it really is a good burger. I usually choose to start a new place with a basic burger and eventually build up to the more exotic choices. (The Pharmacy offers a Farm Burger with bacon, ham, and an egg, as well as a Stroganoff Burger, with a mushroom stroganoff beschamel, sour cream, and caramelized onions.) The burger, as you can see, was huge and messy, but it was really good—made by a person who you can tell knows burgers and how to do them.
In my quest to find my go-to place in Nashville, it’s pretty much been Burger Up, Athens, and everyone else. What makes these places different isn’t just that they do good burgers—they have flavors that you crave later. You want specific things about them. I find myself feeling the same way about The Pharmacy. Not bad for a debut, indeed.
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.)
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One of the coolest things about being a part of the food scene in Nashville, even from the fringes just as fans, as we are, is watching the work of Nashville Originals—the group of local Nashville restaurants that has banded together to encourage residents to ditch the chains and eat locally. I’ve never lived anywhere where the restaurants willingly endorsed each other in the name of local sustainability. It’s pretty awesome, and I’m a big fan.
One major part of this is Restaurant Week, the annual week where all the Nashville Originals restaurants, which include some of the absolute best restaurants in the city, offer crazy good deals to encourage people to try them out. It’s a great chance to try a place you’ve never been but have always wanted to, or to let your eating out budget stretch just a little bit farther. Here are this year’s deals, courtesy Nashville Originals’ website:
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55 South: Three-course dinner $30.12
Bound’ry: Seared Salmon $20.12. Salad and entree $30.12; Entree and dessert $30.12
Burger UP: Two burgers and one of three apps (pimento cheese, fried pickles or fried okra) for $20.12
Cabana: Three-course tasting, $20.12; wine flight with each course, $10.06
Caffe Nonna: Two-course lunch for two, $20.12; three-course dinner $30.12 per person
Cha Chah: Mama Myint’s “House Salad” or “Comfort Food Cha Chah Style,” $20.12; Three-course prix fixe, $30.12
Copper Kettle: Lunch for two $20.12; Sunday Brunch for two $30.12
Cross Corner: $20.12: 3 apps and bucket of domestic beer; or 2 burgers or specialty items and 2 soft drinks; or 2 large 1-topping pizzas and domestic bucket or pitcher.
Crows Nest: Three courses, $20.12
DrinkHaus: Changing daily special coffee drinks $2.12
F. Scott’s: Three-course dinner $30.12
Fido: Two entrées from Daily Specials board & two desserts, lunch and dinner, $20.12
Fish & Co.: Two-course lunch $10.12; two-course dinner $20.12
Flyte: Three-course dinner for $30.12
Germantown Café: Three-course dinner for $20.12
Germantown Café East: Three-course dinner for $20.12
Goten: Hibachi dinner, $20.12 per person
Holland House Bar and Refuge: Three courses from the dinner menu $30.12
Jackson’s: Two courses, $20.12
Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse: Four-course dinner $30.12, Jan. 16-21
The Listening Room Cafe: One app and two menu items $20.12; Four Sunday brunch entrees $30.12
MafiaOza’s: Piccola Morsi Chef’s Tasting $20.12
Mambu: Two courses, $20.12, three courses $30.12
McCabe Pub: Two burgers with chips or fries $12.12
Midtown Café: Two-course lunch $20.12, wine pairing $5; Three-course dinner, $30.12, wine pairing $15.12
Nero’s Grill: Lunch $11.12; Three-course dinner $20.12
Noshville Delicatessen: Breakfast, lunch, dinner for 2 $20.12 (Midtown, Green Hills, Cool Springs)
PM: Three-course dinner $20.12
The Pineapple Room at Cheekwood: Lunch for two, $20.12 (includes gate fee)
Provence Breads (Hillsboro Village, Downtown): Cup of soup with bread, $2.12
Puckett’s Gro. & Restaurant, Franklin: Three-course meal $20.12
Puckett’s Fifth and Church, Nashville: Three-course meal $20.12
Red Pony: Three-course dinner $30.12
Rumba: Two course dinner, $20.12
Rumours East: Two course dinner $20.12; 3-course dinner $30.12; wine pairings $16
SOL: Three-course dinner $30.12
Sunset Grill: 2-course lunch $10.12, wine pairing $5; 3-course dinner $20.12, wine pairing $10
Suzy Wong’s House of Yum: Three course dinner for $20.12
Table 3: Two-course lunch $12.12; two-course dinner $20.12
Tayst: Three-course dinner, $30.12
Tin Angel: 3-course Asian Touch dinner $20.12; 3-course W. Mediterranean dinner $25.12; 3-course American Northwest dinner $30.12
Watermark: Three courses, $30.12
Wild Iris: Two-course dinner, $20.12
Yellow Porch: Two-course meal $20.12
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If you can’t find something awesome on that list, well, I don’t really know what to tell you. Lunch at Fish & Co. for $10? Three courses at Germantown for $20? If ever there was a week to cut your grocery list in half and spend a couple nights out of the house supporting Nashville’s local chefs, this is it, people. (Was that nice enough to earn a gift certificate from anybody? Hello? Hel–is this thing on?)
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We’ve been running this site for about nine months now, and along the way we’ve talked about some of Nashville’s gems—its hidden dives, its top restaurants, its best products. One obvious omission has been that of Baja Burrito, the swanky joint in Berry Hill that was slinging out burritos and tacos long before the chains came to town. The reason for that was because, frankly, we just hadn’t eaten there. We are Nashville transplants, remember, and though we live only 10 minutes from Berry Hill and go there all the time, Baja Burrito was never on the agenda. Until last week.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on Baja Burrito’s menu or its processes or its legacy—I’m new to it, remember. I do know about its following and its reputation in Nashville, both of which preceded it and, honestly, spurred us to eat there in the first place. I know what it means to the city and to its neighborhood; I know how it built its legacy on the backs of flour tortillas and fresh ingredients, and now I know firsthand, finally, that the food is the reason people love to eat there.
The Sharks and the Jets of the quick-service burrito world have long been Qdoba and Moe’s. Having such a successful local burrito shop is really an anomaly for me; I’ve never lived in a city that claimed one of its own, much less claimed one with such a loyal following or established neighborhood roots. But that’s kind of a Nashville thing again, isn’t it? It isn’t Memphis barbecue or New Orleans seafood. The clamor is over a burrito.
And rightfully so. The simple truth is that Baja Burrito continues being awesome, day after tortilla-wrapped day. The concept is as simple as it is successful—when you walk in the door, you must make the most basic of food decisions: will I have a burrito, and if so, what will I put in it? My answer to this question upon my first trip last week was No. I opted for Baja’s fish tacos, which were, without any shade of hyperbole or exaggeration, the best I have ever had. You get three per order, with Mexican rice and black beans, and the flavor was so vibrant and fresh, the fish so delicately breaded, that the reward for risking my dinner over a quick-service fish-based dish was immediate. I can’t say enough good things about what I ate at this restaurant. It was cheap and fast and amazing.
I also have to say this. Successful local restaurants weave themselves into the fabrics of their neighborhoods by doing a few things well: they have to offer good food, the prices have to be fair, they have to make it easy, and they have reach back into the community through outreach and communication. Baja Burrito does all of these things. One of the most impressive is the last—when we tried to go there twice between Christmas and New Year’s, only to find each time that the restaurant was closed, it took me all of 10 seconds to get on their Twitter feed and see that the restaurant was closed til after the New Year. That’s how you do it. That’s how you leverage the social and digital tools we have to your customer’s benefit.
Jessica ordered the veggie burrito and had only good things to say about it. We both took advantage of Baja’s salsa bar, which is something I’ve found that is unique only to them, as is their option of having horchata or their own fruit tea (tea + lemon + orange) to drink. Good things must also be said for Nashville’s Joyful Cookie Company, which was founded last year and is featured prominently by Baja’s register. The PB original, which blends oats, peanut butter, dark chocolate and M&Ms, is as good as you would think something so kind to mix together all those great things would be. (Glancing at their website, it looks like you can order 1 cookie online, though I haven’t done it. If true, that’s pretty awesome, and makes me glad I live in 2012.)
Baja Burrito is like a small San Diego sidewalk joint that you would remember long after your vacation ended. It’s a treasure to have in Nashville. Really.
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