Especially when you consider that you don't have to spend part of your lunch hour chasing down where the trucks are parked and then standing and eating in tropical Nashville summer heat. Suddenly a refined lunch at a nice place with valet parking for a couple of dollars of tip money sounds better and better.
If you want to brown-bag it for a while to save up for that special lunch, may I suggest dropping by two stalwarts, the Palm Restaurant on Fifth Avenue South across from the arena and the Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel on Sixth Avenue North. Both offer outstanding dining experiences that can get you in and out within a decent amount of time and at a price probably half of what you would pay for dinner in those same restaurants.
In honor of the 85th birthday of the Palm and the 10th anniversary of their outpost here in Nashville, they have done a fairly substantial remake of their stolid menu. Literally — the old paper menu has been replaced by a leatherbound, hand-printed version that features interesting facts about the Nashville location.
Not many people thought that our market could support a high-end steakhouse downtown based upon the traditional demographic analysis of discretionary dining money available within a 10-mile radius of the location. Not to be deterred, the original brains behind the location encouraged Palm corporate to abandon the circular "blast radius" map in lieu of a "pie slice" that incorporated more of the richer suburbs south and west of downtown. The Palm took the leap of faith, and Nashville has consistently been one of their best-performing locations ever since.
New items you can expect to encounter on the menu include an antipasti platter that is great to share. The platter is piled high with roasted peppers, artichokes, olives and mushroom relish, Parmigiano Reggiano, fontina, Calabrian salami and prosciutto, but don't fill up before you get a chance to try the Braised Veal & Sage Ravioli served with shiitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and Danish blue cheese in a veal demiglace. For dessert, they have added a kitschy little bag of warm Homemade Doughnuts dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with chocolate and raspberry sauce — which I'm told were a great hit when they dropped some off at the Scene offices. Working remotely, I'll have to take their word on that one. (Sniff.)
The business lunch special is still available with a choice of starter, entree, side dish and dessert for $23.95. With the impeccable service of the Palm, at least for an hour they'll make you feel like the biggest big shot in town. It's up to you whether you think it's worth it or whether you take that confidence back to your job after treating yourself.
Another great lunch deal is the midday menu at the Capitol Grille. People forget that it's a hotel restaurant, and as such must offer breakfast, lunch and dinner for the guests.
If you think of it only as a special-occasion restaurant, you're really missing out on an opportunity. At lunch, you're as likely to sit next to a couple of tourists in blue jeans reading the USA Today getting ready for a day of star-watching as you are to be next to a state senator enjoying a lunch between sessions. (I sat between both last time I went for lunch.)
The lunch menu at the Capitol Grille is truly over-the-top for what they charge. Similar to the Palm, they offer two business lunch specials, a sandwich with soup or salad for $16 or any main dish with soup or salad for $21. While that may sound a little steep, consider that the soups are made with farm-fresh ingredients from the mini-plantation that Chef Tyler Brown runs at the historic Glen Leven estate on Franklin Road.
The Sweet Onion Bisque served with a tiny brie grilled-cheese sandwich and sprinkled with smoky bacon is so good that I cannot even think of trying the other soups and salads. Of course that means that I'm missing out on the gazpacho and Brunswick stew.
The sandwiches and main dishes are also creative and feature the best in local ingredients. The hanger steak salad with perfectly cooked strips of medium-rare steak, tomatoes, avocado, finely crumbled egg and huge chunks of blue cheese may very well be the best salad I've ever eaten.
If you're more of a meat-and-three fan, the Capitol Grille has you covered with their rotating Blue Plate specials for $14. Old favorites like meatloaf and shepherd's pie are raised to transcendent levels in their presentation, and the chicken-fried steak that one of my dining companions had on a recent visit makes every other deep-fried gray hunk of meat that ever carried that name pale in comparison.
Don't get me wrong. I love some of the food trucks and spend a lot of money lunching at fast-casual TGI Ruby Alexanderllebys. But if I can get a blue plate special at the Capitol Grille for two dollars more than a sandwich, chips and a water that I eat on the sidewalk or for a generic chicken sandwich delivered by a server wearing suspenders covered with flair, I'm paying for the a/c and the farm-fresh food.