On a night before a recent Nashville Symphony performance at the Schemerhorn, my girlfriend and I decided to avail ourselves of the valet parking service at Merchants at Fourth and Broadway and enjoy a quick meal before the show. Not that the valet parking was the only reason we chose Merchants. I've eaten there a few times since the Goldberg brothers revamped the restaurant and found the downstairs bistro atmosphere to be quite charming. Plus since there was a Preds game that same night, we knew that getting our car out of valet after the show would probably be pretty challenging and went ahead and planned for a nightcap while the crowds thinned out.
But lawdamighty, why have I waited so long to try out that appetizer of tater tots fried in duck fat?! Carrington wrote about them in her review, Dana mentioned them in her announcement of the reopening, and hell, even I wrote about them in my Best of Nashville write-up. Yet I hadn't tried them and was more enamored of the idea of them than sampling the execution.
Then I actually ordered a basket of those tots. Though the Fabulous Ms. Fox found them "ordinary," the kitchen must have been firing on all cylinders that night, as they arrived crisp and sizzling at our table. Perfectly browned on the outside and fluffy and steaming in the middle, these little delights made us wish we hadn't ordered a meal to follow them. Served with three dipping options of a smoky ketchup, a buttery Béarnaise and a tangy malted mayo, they were almost impossible to stop eating.
For just $6, the basket was more than two sane people could finish, though Lord knows we tried. As I savored my 20th tot I realized that this dish cost less than the fried fiberglass mozzarella sticks at TGI Friday's. I wish more diners would grasp the fact that there are great cheap small-meal options at some of our downtown-area restaurants and overcome our "mall mentality" that requires all destinations to have free parking within 20 feet of the front door of any establishment that we want to visit.
Go ahead and valet-park and tip the guy a few bucks. Or park at the library garage for $4 and walk a few blocks to any number of great happy hour deals downtown at fine places like Merchants, the Palm or Morton's. You'll be glad you did!