At 24 years and counting, senior account executive Stevan Steinhart has the longest tenure of anyone at the Nashville Scene--and a long memory for what Nashville restaurants were like back in the day. With Carrington Fox ably covering the changes over the past two decades in the Scene's 20th anniversary issue this week, we asked Stevan some questions about the other side of the story: the way things were back then.
Buckle up, folks--you're going back in time.
What was the place you'd go 20 years ago for a special occasion?
SS: For a special occasion (anniversary, etc.) dinner at Arthur's in Union Station was deliciously romantic. They had a "Caffe Diablo" coffee service that was really fun--you were sitting in a semi-circular loveseat while you ate, with classical music playing. For the family, a visit to Fountain Square and a meal at The Heartthrob Café was totally fun.
How about a date?
My idea of the perfect (and totally impressive) date: drinks at Marty's, dinner at The Third Coast and coffee/dessert plus a turn around Music City at the Pinnacle on top of The Crown Plaza Hotel.
What do you miss most?
I miss Faison's...it was unique. I wrote a lot of business there and Jody was fun to work with. I miss Laurell's and the energy that was there...downtown was taking shape during those years. I miss 101st Airborne...we used to take the entire family for Sunday brunch and listen to the gunfire and the '40's music. I miss Slice of Life...Heyung Popkin was a visionary...Sunday brunch was special. (She made whole-wheat Danish.) I miss Panama Red's...the conch fritters and the fish tanks.
What was that great barbecue place that was open on the hill off Murfreesboro Road? Later on it turned into Shell's, with the giant plastic crab and claws. What was the name of that place?
What are some other places you remember over the years that aren't around anymore?
Gone but not forgotten, by alphabet:
5th Quarter, 106 Club, 101st Airborne, 32nd Ave.
Arthur's, Atlantis, Arirang, Americana Buffet
Basante's, Box Seat, Briley's, Brothers, Boardwalk Café, Belle Meade Cafeteria, Belle Meade Brasserie, Brass Rail, Broadway Dinner Train, Belle Carol Riverboat
Ciraco's, Chef Sigi's, Chevy's (Happy Hour), Cakewalk, Cruiser's, Cockeyed Camel, Cajun Deli, Captain's Table, Crawdaddy's, Captain Bilbo's, Coyote's, Caffe Milano, Café 1 2 3, Clayton-Blackmon, Café Flamingo
Diamond Head Royal Luau, Dunham Station, Danzo's
East India Club, East Ocean
Fat Tuesday, Faison's
Giuseppe's, Goldie's Deli, Granite Falls
Heartthrob Café, Houston's, Hakka
Iguana, Ireland's, Ivorie's, Italo To Go
Jamaica, Julian's, Jack Russell's, JD's/ Regal Maxwell House, Joe D's Hot Chicken Club
King and I
Laurell's, Los Cunados, Le Cou Rouge, Loco Lupe's
Miss Daisy's, Mario's, Michaels, Marty's, Multi Bob, Major Wallaby's, Maude's Courtyard, Mr. Teriaki
New Orleans Manor (?), Nathan's Courtyard, Nashville Country Club, Nashville Bagel, New Asia
The Orchid, Old Heidelberg
Peaceful Planet, Polaris, Prime Cut, Pinnacle/Crown Plaza, Panama Red's, Peddler, Pizzeria Uno, Prime Cut, Playoff's
Rose Room, Rainbow Key, Rosario's (!)
Slice of Life, Starlite(?), Stash 'n Stella's, Stockyard/Bull Pen Lounge (it's not the same), Satsuma, Silver Wings, Sailmaker, Stage Deli, The Sutler, Schwartz's Deli, Shell's
Third Coast, Tokyo, The Trace, Toucan
Ultraviolet Diner, Uncle Bud's
So how do you think the restaurant scene has changed?
The dining landscape has evolved from rural to urban with local and regional flavors intact. At first, hotel dining was the easiest fine-dining experience to find. Hotels brought in trained and certified chefs to manage large kitchens and keep sophisticated visiting diners appeased. Four-star dining in the late 80's/early 90's included Julian's, Mario's and Arthur's.
Over the past 20 years Nashville has nurtured a unique dining culture. While local operators expanded their menus and wine cellars, ethnic restaurants arrived offering tasty and adventurous alternatives to meat-and-three. In the past five years we've seen the "burrito to go" phenomenon and the rise of big-box restaurants that offer a competitive fine-dining experience with value, tasty food and atmosphere. (Maggiano's and P.F. Chang's come to mind.)
I am amazed at the skill, perseverance and imagination of Nashville's boutique restaurateurs. With food costs spiking, demand weakened, perishable product, labor challenges, etc. the restaurant business has to be the toughest business to manage, refine and maintain. This year we've seen a lot of creativity, menu and price juggling, special promotions, etc. with some players closing their doors or filing for protection. Amazingly, new options are putting down roots. Some offer a limited menu done very well: Gabby's Burgers and Fries, Satay's Fast Thai, Local Taco, Italian Market, Zavos. It is now easy to find healthy food that is tasty and creatively combined.
What kind of restaurants would you like to see come to town?
I came up from a Big Apple dining background. So I have a penchant for ethnic food. My choices include: a Portuguese restaurant with a good paella; an Argentinean spot with short ribs roasting on a charcoal grate; and my personal favorite, Cuban-Chinese. Fried plantains go real well with fried rice!