When Elizabeth Stelling Bills and her husband Brian Bills were scouting for a location to opening a new restaurant last February, they discovered a building at 316 White Bridge Road that they'd never even noticed before. The nondescript little house is actually set into the side of a hill with a large parking lot hidden behind it. If they'd asked me, I could have told them that it was the former location of Andy K's and that I'd shot many games of pool and consumed many cans of cheap beer in my misspent youth. Since the demise of the pool hall, more than one restaurant has attempted to open in that spot, but nobody ever really got any traction.
As a former co-owner of the Blue Moon Cafe, Brian knew what it takes to get a restaurant up and running, so the couple jumped at the chance. Their Twitter feed and Facebook updates provide a fascinating account of the trials and tribulations of the build-out process as they remodeled the space to insert a wood-fired oven and repair all the damage done by previous owners and their strange ideas on how to design a restaurant. I think the residents of West Nashville will thank them for their efforts.
One of their first smart moves was to hire Chef Jon Smyth, who had previously worked at Cabana, Sunset Grille and MacK & Kates. Chef Smyth definitely knows his way around the kitchen and is a double threat as a dessert chef.
Since the Bills' have young children themselves, they recognize the importance of providing good affordable food that is family-friendly. The menu they have concocted hits that mark without sacrificing inventiveness or high-end ingredients. Can you say $7 pizza with caramelized onions, herbed ricotta cheese, roasted garlic, charred scallions and Benton's bacon?
In fact, that pizza was the first thing that caught my eye when I dropped in for a sneak preview last week. In deference to my dining companion, the lovely and witty Lesley of the eponymous vegetarian blog
*, I uttered words that I never thought would come out of my mouth. "Could you please remove the BENTON'S BACON from that dish?"
The resulting pie shockingly did not suffer from the lack of porky goodness. The charred scallions actually made it look like the rabbit food that the restaurant's name playfully hints at. The wood oven provided a smoky char for the crust, and the tomato sauce has a pleasant tang to it, which I discovered came from the inclusion of grated Romano cheese. Although Chef Smyth said he was still tinkering with his pizza dough recipe, we gave four thumbs up for this ridiculously affordable pizza which was big enough for two to share.
Salads and starters range from $4-$7 and feature a wedge salad topped with a fried goat cheese croquet and local farm fresh deviled eggs with roasted jalapeño and pickled okra. The eggs were also topped with a slice of roasted smoky gouda cheese for good measure. The jalapeño gave a nice bite to the creamy egg filling and the okra convinced Lesley the okra-hater to give Lady's Fingers a chance. Personally, if I had already eliminated all food with a face from my Venn diagram of available nourishment sources like Lesley has, I'd find a way to like every vegetable on or under God's green earth.
Entrées and sandwiches are priced from $5.00 for a California BLT made with Benton's Bacon!, roma tomato, mixed greens, avocado and sundried tomato mayo to $15 for a 10-ounce black angus rib-eye. In an offering that would make Jake Blues very happy
, whole beer-butt roasted chicken is available for only twelve bucks. I decided on the cornmeal fried catfish with fries and a hushpuppy for $8. While I wish the breading had a little more spice to it, the fish was perfectly fried and I could tell it had been swimming in Bucksnort the day before. The serving was a huge fillet, and I'm confident that they'll find a way to kick the flavor up a notch as they experiment. The hush puppy had whole kernels of corn in the middle which separated it above any box-mix hushpuppies I've ever tried to make for myself.
Finally a word about the side dishes. They are served in cute little cast-iron pans from IKEA and demonstrate a real attention to detail and creativity. The gouda mac-and-cheese was so smoky and delicious that after one bite, Lesley made me confirm with the kitchen that it actually was vegetarian and hadn't been flavored with bacon. The mac was creamy and velvety, and the serving was plenty large enough that two people should have been able to share it and still take some home. Notice I said "should have been able." Only the fact that it was served in that sizzling cast-iron kept us from licking up the last bits of cheese.
I used to have the same attitude toward brussels sprouts that Lesley did about okra, but of late I've been working to add them to my diet. So I ordered up a batch to see if The Wild Hare could reinforce my changing attitude toward the bitter little bastards. The plate of caramelized micro-cabbages was attractive and definitely acquitted the reputation that I had attributed to the humble sprouts in the past. Now if I can get them working on cauliflower. ...
The last treat we tried was a small dish of the chef's house-made spicy pickles. They were intended to come on top of the Wild Hare Burger, put they were so good that I demanded that they find a way to put them on the menu somehow. Torqued up with more jalapeño slices and several other mystery peppers, they reminded me of the spicy bread-and-butter pickles I enjoyed recently at Holeman and Finch Public House in Atlanta.
I hope that The Wild Hare will either make them an appetizer or even better provide them as an amuse-bouche like the cucumber chips at Ted's Montana Grill. If you visit, make sure that you ask for some and tell them I sent you so that they can blame me for the groundswell of pickle-love. Break free of the fried pickles that you're already addicted to and add some spice to your life.
If all goes well, they've targeted today as the official opening. Follow the The Wild Hare on Facebook or on Twitter at @TheWildHare1 for the latest news and specials and tell us what you think in the comments. They'll initially be open for lunches only until they work out all the kinks, with expectations of adding dinner some time in the next month.
The Wild Hare
316 White Bridge Road
*Lesley has recently redesigned and moved her blog, so adjust your bookmarks and feedreaders accordingly to see the new attractive layout.