Recently I made an offhanded disparaging remark about "hotel food," and Bites reader Sara correctly called me out for it. Not many people appreciate what chefs in hotel kitchens have to deal with in terms of overhead costs and pressure packed massive meal seatings. The fact that they can create appetizing meals under these conditions is pretty remarkable. Occasionally they create something truly exceptional, think 1808 Grille at the Hutton or the Capital Grille at the Hermitage.
Speakers Bistro doesn't aspire to that sort of haute cuisine, but they do offer a solid meal at an incredible value. The airy dining space in the atrium of the Sheraton Downtown has long been the secret of the legislators and lobbyists who work across the street at the Capitol. You would have thought that the Sunshine laws would have forced them to tell the rest of us, but consider me your Woodward and Bernstein.
In addition to a full lunch menu and some decadent desserts made from scratch, the real bargain is their hot/cold buffet. Served daily 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the buffet offers a full salad bar, seven to eight rotating cold dishes including Southwestern Chicken, Broccoli & Beef and several vegetarian and vegan options. (The hotel's food and beverage director is a vegetarian and is very sensitive to the needs of meat abstainers.) While serving the proteins cold might seem a little odd, the cost savings are substantial and shared with you.
Finally there is a full made-to-order pasta bar. A chef takes your order of a choice of three pastas, four meats, seven vegetables, three sauces and add-ons like garlic, pesto and basil.
While the chefs necessarily use a light hand with the seasoning to cater to the convention crowd who might be a little less adventurous in their dining choices, they do respond to requests to torque the flavors up a little bit. The sherry mushroom sauce was particularly delectable the day I dined at Speakers. Servers bring your pasta to your table for you while you enjoy your salad and the cold dishes.
A buffet like this can cost $20 or more at hotels that cater to expense account travelers. At Speakers, the whole shebang including your drink and a decent bread selection at the table costs $12.95. But here's the kicker; if you dine or are at least in line to get in before noon your meal is half price. I challenge you to find a better deal downtown for an all-you-can-eat.
Parking can be a concern, since parking in the hotel garage will set you back five bucks. Luckily the two new free MTA Downtown Circulator routes will run every 10 to 12 minutes within a couple blocks of the Sheraton. Get out and walk a little bit. It'll do you good.
Sheraton Nashville Downtown
623 Union St.