Welcome to The Road, my column in which I'm going to attempt — key word: attempt — to eat at every non-chain restaurant on Nolensville Pike between I-440 and the county line. I'll readily admit that even though I live right off Nolensville — Paragon Mills represent! — and revel in the diversity and quantity of its eateries, I have barely scratched the surface of what the strip has to offer. But now I'm going to rectify that, and hopefully you'll join for what's likely to be a wild ride.
Episode 5: Al-Rasoul Restaurant
Address: 367 Elysian Fields
Did you notice that I skipped about three miles worth of restaurants between this and the last installment of The Road? Yeah, about that: Sometimes luck is a tricky thing.
On the one hand, I got stuck in the rain and happened to watch my bus drive by just as I was turning the corner, ready to head up to Woodbine to eat at the newly open Taqueria San Luis 2. Then I'm standing there waiting for the next bus, in the rain, when the wind picks up and it starts to pour even harder. But! Oh, but luck was not through with me! For on that wind I smelled food, and it dawned on me that I hadn't ever eaten at the restaurant behind the kind-of creepy looking Gorilla Muffler center. It's food, it's on Nolensville and it has a roof and walls and could offer me respite from the crappy weather. Bam! All my criteria had been met!
My wife is a really big fan of Azid International Market & Bakery — their bread is great — so I figured their neighbor Al-Rasoul had to be pretty good. And I was right. The first thing I noticed was a butcher, doing his butcher thing, and if there's anything that makes me feel comfortable, it's watching somebody break down meat right before I eat. Or even better watching the dude break down beef cuts while I was eating, which I did. Maybe a bit gory for some, but I'll take that over lunchtime TV anytime, and don't worry, the butcher table is really only visible from one or two seats. But I'm gonna mention that for real-deal meat fans, these are the best seats in the house.
Also, the market is really well stocked with a nice selection of Middle Eastern staples and a nice selection of fresh halal meat including pre-cleaned cow heart, which sort of takes the fun out of heart but could be a game-changer at the Maloney house. Cow heart is delicious, but cleaning out the really gamy bits can be time-consuming. Am I talking too much about the grisly portions of the food prep process for you? Tough luck, those are the fun parts. At least I didn't get too far into my love for the noise it makes when the knife severs all the ... oh, never mind. I'm guessing you guys didn't fall asleep watching Galaxy of Terror last night, either. Well, maybe Mr. Pink did.
Anyway, on to the restaurant! Al-Rasoul has cafeteria-style setup with 12 or 14 different options. I tried being a journalist and getting proper names for things, but the language barrier was getting between my grub and me. Plus, you can't really go wrong when you see something delicious and point at it. I, for instance, pointed at some red soup with beans and a little piece of meat sticking out. Ends up it was oxtail soup, which is exactly what a soggy, shaggy food writer needs on a rainy day like today. It was rich, warming and hit the spot. Yes, it's a game of roulette when you're just pointing and going, "I'll take whatever that it is," but it's a technique that almost never fails.
The two beef options I got — they'll basically let you pile as much on the plate as you want — were really good, one on the spicier side of things, the other more savory, both with vegetables. I got a chicken dish that was, well, chicken, but the vegetables it was mixed with were top-notch — look for the one with the mushrooms; the mushrooms were rad.
I also got a mint-flavored Karoun's Yogurt Drink, which is more sour than your average American lunch drink, but pretty tasty and probiotic, so my stomach is loving me right now. And that all cost me eight clams. It's a bargain for a good lunch at a desperate time. Then I bought a whole bunch of the candies they had next to the register, which might have been an irresponsible choice, but daaaaaaaamn did they taste good after I walked home. In the rain. Again.