This year, Nashville no longer needs to prove anything to the rest of the world, so we're just gonna have a week of parties. The week kicks off with an event for Elite Yelp reviewers only, so if you've ever wanted to be a restaurant reviewer (trust me, you'll get rich beyond your wildest dreams, I promise!) sharing your opinions on Yelp.com is the path to Elite status. The schedule of events is long and intriguing, so you might have to turn your computer monitor to portrait format and buckle your seat belt before reading:
Midtown Wine and Spirits is teaming up with Tayst Restaurant and beverage director A.D. Matthews to put on what promises to be an outstanding Martinelli Wine Dinner on Wednesday, March 7, starting at 6:30 pm. A.D. is my go-to bartender when I want to learn a lot about wine while getting a snootful at the same time. It helps that I live a block away and can always get home safely on foot.
I’m certain that in his hands and under the culinary direction of Chef Jeremy Barlow, this will be an amazing opportunity to enjoy some of the most highly sought-after wines produced in California while indulging in fabulous food at the same time. Here are the details from the official invitation:
Back for repeat nominations are Nashville chefs Tandy Wilson of City House and Tyler Brown of Capitol Grille. They're both nominated for Best Chef in the Southeast. A new Nashville player is The Catbird Seat — the small, gemlike eatery where a handful of diners gather in a semicircle around a tiny kitchen where two chefs cook and deliver the food directly to the patrons. It was tapped as one of 10 finalists for Best New Restaurant in America.
Tuesday's announcement was the third national honor in 10 days for The Catbird Seat. On Feb. 13, the co-chefs, Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson, cooked dinner at the James Beard House in New York, wowing a sold-out crowd with their cuisine. Also last week, GQ magazine placed The Catbird Seat at No. 5 on a list of Top 10 New Restaurants.
"People are paying attention to Southern food," says Catbird Seat co-owner Ben Goldberg, whose Strategic Hospitality group also includes Nashville's Merchants and Patterson House. (The latter got its own moment in the national spotlight this week when Stephen Colbert praised it while interviewing Nashville writer Ann Patchett on his show. Goldberg says Colbert has indeed dined at Patterson House.)
In the James Beard category of Outstanding Chef, the top honor for an individual, a former Nashvillian is nominated: Sean Brock of McCrady's in Charleston, S.C. Brock is the former chef at Capitol Grille, and Tyler Brown worked under him before being promoted upon Brock's departure.
And lucky for you (and more importantly, me), today's bargain at Big Deal Nashville is half-price coupons for Shish Kabob — $20 coupons for $10. I just bought two, and as far as I know, there's no limit. (Keep in mind, only one coupon per table, and they expire May 23.)
Here's an excerpt from my review:
The appetizers are worth the trip alone. All patrons are given a complimentary bowl of a slightly spicy chicken noodle soup, a nice welcoming gesture. Our party consisted of four seasoned House of Kabob veterans, and we were thrilled to find kashk-e-bademjan on the menu, and equally thrilled that the dish — sautéed, pureed eggplant with spices, topped with cream of whey — was every bit as delectable as its Thompson Lane counterpart [at House of Kabob, which Gazi formerly owned]. Opinions were split on the hummus, with some finding it too tart and lemony, and others liking for the same reason. The stuffed grape leaves (dolmeh), however, were unanimously voted the best in town: The ground-sirloin-and-rice filling was accented with a subtle blend of herbs that elicited moans of ecstasy. And while many Nashville iterations of falafel are too dry for our liking, Shish Kabobs' falafel was moist and flavorful, and vanished off the plate in a flurry of blurred hands.
And that's just the appetizers! Get on it fast — deadline is midnight tonight!
UPDATE: I forgot to note earlier, these coupons are good for dinner only.
A few years ago, management decided to add sandwiches to their limited menu and have recently rolled out three "gourmet mac & cheese" items as well. What's so ingenious about these additions are that they have managed to almost double the variety of the menu by "creatively repurposing" ingredients that were already available in their pantries.
Local GM Zach Allen took me through the new menu which includes a Truffle Mac with Baby Portabellas, Chili Mac and Bacon, Mac and Cheeseburger. He told me that "95 percent of the ingredients were already in-house." Combined with fresh local produce that the restaurant receives six times per week, they have created some pretty tasty dishes.
My brief: explain to the group what a professional looks for in a restaurant's front-of-the-house operation.
The simplest answer is that if there were a formula for it, every restaurant would be a success. And that's not the case at all. And there are successful restaurants of every description — hard to see one formula there.
For me, in the end, it's the cooking. Not the concept, or the inspiration, or the menu. The cooking. I'll put up with a lot of inconvenience and discomfort for good food.
At every price point, I look for food that surprises and satisfies, and is good value for money. I find it all over the place: the boffo Philly steak sandwich at Cori's Doghouse; meats from Corner Pub on Smokin' Monday; fried oysters at Wild Hare; Lazzaroli's pasta; the $3 banh mi from Viet Noodle House. Hot hen from Fleet Street, duck burger at Table 3, duck confit at Firefly Grill.
Notice that one of these is a particularly upscale joint. I get much pickier as the price point rises, and quite honestly, I'm disappointed more often than not.
With my $25 and up entree, I want more goodies; coat check, comfy banquettes, tables roomy enough to hold all the dishes, a thoughtful wine list, draft-free seating, enough light for reading the menu, good service, vegetarian selections that aren't just an after-thought, daily specials that really are special, fabulous ladies room, decent parking.
But in the end, the cooking clinches it for me. Tough parking, drafty tables, zero vegetarian options, loud music, even neglectful service can be endured for the sake of good cooking.
What about you? What do you think makes a good restaurant experience?
Family cemeteries are much more interesting than memorial gardens. In a family cemetery, the stones tell the story, if you know how to read them. My great-great grandfather had the grim task of establishing a cemetery when his beautiful, smart 27-year-old daughter died giving birth to her fourth child. Seventy-two years later, that son chose burial beside the mother he never knew in a small, remote cemetery instead of a busy, cheerful family cemetery among a sprawl of his siblings, cousins, aunts, grandparents, and everyone else with his last name.
You have to listen carefully to cemeteries, and brace yourself for what you might learn. That's the dark side venerating deceased ancestors.
While it's good to know where you came from, it's also relief to leave the dead to bury the dead and seize life.
So with "barbecue eyes" on, we turned the car back toward Davidson County and found Papa Kay Joe's, which got its own sweet write-up by the Southern Foodways Alliance (it's a stop on what they call The Southern BBQ Trail). Here's a quote from a 2008 interview with pitmaster Devin Pickard:
"There’s no knobs, there’s no gas lines, there’s no eyes, there’s no thermometer; there’s — there’s nothing. It’s just coals and a shovel and you do it — you do it long enough and you begin to learn how to fire the meat. ..."
Smoky, pink, juicy and irresistible, the meat is offered with a choice of three sauces, but it doesn't really need them.
There are two locations in Centerville: the mothership on the Linden Road (which Nashvillians call Highway 100) and a satellite on Ward Street (that's by the McDonald's, behind the gas station). Papa Kay Joe's has been operating for years; not having eaten this fantastic barbecue yet is an indication I need to drive out and see the family more often.
Starting with a reception at 6:30 p.m. and followed by a four-course dinner kicking off at 7, Davis will work with local treasure and F. Scott's wine director Elise Loehr to present some really unusual wine pairings for Chef Ramquist's menu:
Stand-up Reception with Passed Hors d’oeuvres
Ceci "Otello Nero" Lambrusco
House-made Ricotta Cheese, 1 Year Aged Emerald Glen Farms Ham, Vincotto Reduction
Cured Local Beef Sausage, Manchego Cheese, Smoked Balsamic Onions on Crostini
2010 Emile Beyer "Tradition" Pinot Gris
Pan Seared Black Pepper Crusted Dry Aged Beef Tenderloin, Horseradish Potato Puree, Brandied Beef Jus
Rare Wine Company "Charleston" Sercial Madeira
Wild Mushroom Soup, Caramelized Onions, Bone Marrow Toast
2008 Chateau Coudray Monpensier "Le Grand Bouqueteau" Chinon
Grilled Block Island Swordfish, Romesco Sauce, Swiss Chard, Wild Mushrooms
2001 Bodegas Olivares Monastrell Dulce
Marcona Almond and “Olive & Sinclair” Salt and Pepper Bittersweet Chocolate Terrine
Lipman is providing the free libations, and tasty food will be available from some of your favorite local restaurants including Tin Angel. Fido, Sunset Grille, B & C BBQ, Wild Iris and AM@FM. Here's the official announcement:
"Nature Votes" is Tennessee Conservation Voters' annual fundraiser honoring our Legislative Friends (from both parties!), Good Green Deeds Award winners and celebrating our successes during the past year. The event is always fun and includes food from some of Nashville's best chefs, open bar, music, auction, and a chance to meet friends, state leaders and public officials.
Click the link below for more information about Tennessee Conservation Voters, this year's honorees, tickets are $75 or to make a (more modest) donation. www.tnconservationvoters.org
Now that the polls are open for early voting, maybe it would be a good time to put aside partisanship and enjoy a convivial evening supporting those who support the environment.
Woodbine Coffee Co. is taking over a 1930 retail building at 2519 Nolensville Pike. Owners Eddie Christy (in the picture at right, he's the guy on the right) and Todd Rossbach are doing the work themselves, removing the plaster by hand to expose brick walls and create what Christy calls a “clean, open and comfortable environment.”
Christy is a music business veteran and former marketer; Rossbach owns the popular dive bar Twin Kegs, not far away on Thompson Lane. But don't expect a big food menu, at least not at first. Christy says they'll stick to pastries at first.
Coffee beans will come from several vendors, but the main provider will be Humphreys Street Coffee, a nonprofit roaster that mentors and employs teens in South Nashville.
Christy said the coffeehouse will be “a straightforward place to meet, with free wireless and comfy chairs.” He hopes to have the place open by early March watch the Facebook page for updates.
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